Top 10 Most Affordable High Performance Cars Under $40,000

Top 10 Affordable New Performance Cars

Need performance? On a budget? Here’s the best fun you can have behind the wheel, for under $40,000. By John Cadogan


1. Citroen DS4 DSport

Intricate, eccentric and distinctive – that’s the DS4 DSport. Six-speed manual transmission behind a punchy 147kW turbo petrol four. (It’s actually the same engine as the one in the Peugeot RCZ coupe, and almost the same as the one in the one in the MINI Cooper S.) It turns more heads than a Volkswagen Golf GTI (but the Golf is a better performance drive) – and probably not quite as slick as the Toyota 86. But the DSport DS4 is a head-turner with unmistakable French flair (and quirks).

Citroen DS4 DSport

2. Ford Focus ST

The Ford hot hatch certainly holds its head high in this crowd. ST stands for ‘Sports Technologies’ and delivers exceptionally crisp handling and good punch from the 2.0-litre turbo four (184kW). So, you’ll love the way it handles and goes, as well as the great seats and feature-rich interior, but you probably won’t fall head over heels for the torque steer, which is significant, or the government bus-like turning circle.

Ford Focus ST hatch

3. Hyundai Veloster Turbo

This is a very quirky – but capable – car. As Hyundai’s first turbocharged hot hatch, it’s a rock-solid first attempt. You’ll either love or hate the three-door design (two on the kerbside; theory being that’s safer for passengers) but you’ll love the performance. The turbo 1.6-litre petrol four delivers 150kW and both the six-speed transmissions are excellent. The manual feels great and the auto is the conventional type, which drives much better than the dual-clutch auto in the non-turbo Veloster.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo

4. Kia Cerato Coupe Turbo

This is another entry-level hot hatch – better looking than the Skoda Fabia RS or the Suzuki Swift Sport, and with great engine technology. The 1.6-litre turbo direct injection four delivers 150kW, which is right up there for the price. The styling is 100 per cent contemporary Kia (thanks to Peter Schreyer; the bloke who designed the Audi TT). Check the outputs, and check the Hyundai Veloster: this is the Veloster’s twin, under the skin. So, if you like the way the Veloster goes, but find the look too confronting, here’s the solution – at just a smidge over $30k.

Kia Cerato

5. Mazda3 MPS

The Mazda3 is Australia’s most popular car, with good reason, and the MPS is the hottest version. It’s just a rocketship, and any self-respecting performance nut would enjoy driving it. What’s not to like about a 190kW 2.3-litre turbo petrol four with great dynamics? This is a lot of car for the money – probably lacking some of the premium feel of the Euro entrants (especially Golf) but right on the pace nonetheless.

Mazda 3 MPS

6. Skoda Fabia RS

Too close to call, against the Swift Sport. Same sort of dollar value, touch of anti-kudos Euro-quirk-factor … and a brilliant (Volkswagen) 1.4-litre turbo four. Unfortunately there’s no manual transmission, just a seven-speed DSG, but the steering and ride quality is outstanding – and, statistically, nobody will know what you’re driving. And you get change out of $30k – lots of it.

Skoda Fabia RS

7. Subaru WRX

The WRX is a mighty car for the money. With 195kW from the 2.5-litre turbo petrol four, the WRX pumps its drive through Subaru’s renowned and time-tested symmetrical all-wheel drive system. Result? Blistering fast and amazingly sure-footed driving performance in just about all conditions, wet or dry. OK – it is a bit cheap on the inside … but you’re driving the quickest car under $40k. You got a problem with that?

Subaru WRX

8. Suzuki Swift Sport

OK – it’s not going to light your wick the way some of the others in this list will – but it’s the most affordable new car you could rightly call a hot hatch. Seven airbags, solid dynamics, considerable refinement, and lots of change out of $30k. This is an engaging driver’s car that won’t break the bank.

Suzuki Swift Sport

9. Toyota 86

This car is brain-bendingly un-Toyota. It’s refined, engaging and Pininfarina-esque beautiful. And unbelievably cheap – scratch that: unbelievably good value. It’s got the GT look, and it goes just as good as the look suggests. And it’s an authentic rear-driver in a field where front drive predominates. This thing kicks off at $30k. How in God’s name did they manage that for the price? In a word: Brilliant. Take another look at the Veloster Turbo and ask yourself which you’d prefer… (See also Subaru BRZ – same car; different badge.)

Toyota 86

10. Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen is having growing pains, for sure, but the Golf GTI remains a beautifully tactile car. It just oozes sex appeal. Brilliant to drive, and the most premium feeling car in this field. About the only downside is: Everyone has one, or so it would seem. Just remember that only the manual three-door scrapes in under the $40k limit we imposed here – it’s a premium car at a premium price. Take another look at that Toyota 86…

Volkswagen Golf GTI