What's the Best Cheap Speed Car for $30,000?


Plenty of drivers want a level of performance without breaking the bank. We found eight cars that prove fun at the track is not limited to the well-to-do.

$30,000 Cheap Speed Challenge
Index | What the Judges Said | Mileage Test

We focused our Challenge on compact coupes, sedans and hatchbacks that cost less than $30,000, including destination charge. We picked the price based on Cars.com's listings for cars of this type that came with the features we know are popular with younger drivers looking for a performance kick. After five days of testing (including a day at a drag strip and a day on a road course) by experts from Cars.com, USA Today, "MotorWeek" and a real-life, in-market family, here's how the results broke down:


What You Get for $30,000 (click for full table)


Cheap Speed Results

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears



Hmmm. Funny how the Ford Focus ST was conveniently left out of this test for it's little sibling, the Fiesta ST.
I've driven the top 3 and the Fiesta, and I can say that the Focus ST should have been included in this test, and had that been the case, would have won. IMHO
You really didn't play the right cards for this test. I'm disappointed.
You also left out the Sonic Turbo, however slow, and the Mazda Miata. Two cars anyone on a budget would also consider.
This seems like a convenient way to get VW back on top of the ratings, for a car that is slow, soft, and doesn't even allow you to turn off the granny electronic systems.
Good on you for doing tests like this, but be fair. Don't leave out cars that many people would consider.


Thank you for not choosing the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger V6 variants. Only their owners would argue they're actually sporty.

But, the Kia? Really?


"MotorWeek" and a real-life, in-market family...read the article. They say why they don't pick the Miata. Focus ST would have been a great comparo.


And the Civic Coupe SI missed the cut due to a tire problem that kept it out of the track competition. Would have been interesting to see where the SI would have fallen within this list given its price performance.


Do people really have trouble understanding speed times in seconds?


cars.com- I agree with Jim here. Why no Ford Focus ST? It meets the price criteria.


2005 Mazda3Mazdaspeed would win this


Lots of comments about the Focus ST - I agree it would have been a strong competitor. Cars.com, why was it left out?

Bob Maluga

This is an odd test. Maybe a good test for the average buyer in this market??

Only the GTI, WRX, Fiesta ST, Scion FR-S and 500 Abarth are real enthusiast cars. The fact that the Kia and the Hyundai are in and around the Scion and the Ford was shocking. But, looking at the rating criteria, performance and driving experience isn't the dominant factor only small parts of the whole deal.

For many this makes sense. For someone looking to enjoy their driving forget the Juke, Veloster and Forte5. Also, the new GTI has been reviewed against other fun cars and it's just not the leader, it's a compromise of luxury and performance. The Fiat would not win a driver's car comparison, although it's supposed to be very fun. Depending on what you like, the WRX, Fiesta ST and FR-S are the leaders in good driving cars. People not really into cars will have doubts about a front wheel driver competing but drive the Fiesta ST or check any of the reviews. Everyday Driver has a good one comparing the ST and the Abarth.


The gti is far and away the best driving car here. If you argue that is not the case, then you have not driven it. Did I buy one? No. I don't trust the reliability. But not counting reliability which this test did not, it's no contest. Those saying the focus st would win are drastically wrong. The fiesta st is better than the focus. Don't think so? Then drive them all! Please drive before commenting.


a fully loaded ford focus ST is 28 grand net price, assuming a dealership has the vehicle fully loaded and not counting any incentives the focus would most defiantly be in the 30 k range. so why wasn't it included. @cars.com

We did request the Focus ST for this challenge from the beginning. Ford did not want to include the Focus ST in this competition opting for the Fiesta ST instead. Even our real-world shopper commented that he was considering Focus ST as well. It did turn out that the week of this actual test Ford announced slight changes to the 2015 Focus ST.


David- can you describe these changes for us?

Richard Joash Tan

For me personally is the WRX because it should have won


This is a one of the worst comparisons I have ever read. The Fiesta ST costs considerably less than a GTI their not even in the same class. The fiesta is an economy car not a hot hatch. The Focus St is in the same class and is still cheaper than the GTI. I also believe it is a much better car. It also wouldn't have had the cramped seat complaints. This is either an extremely biased comparison or a poorly planned one. No one anywhere ever would include a WRX and a GTI with this group of cars. That is like doing a comparison on a v6 mustang v6 camaro and a V8 challenger. Who could have guessed the 2 cars that are literally in the next class would win. As for the Actual title for comparison of the best cheap speed under 30k. Someone suffered short term memory loss or just ignored the fact that there are many other cars under 30,000 that are not only faster but more sporty. Hyundai Genesis any v6 muscle car are just to name a few.


Having just bought a 2015 GTI over a Focus ST, I can say that I did prefer the styling of the Focus, but the backseat wasn't large enough to accomodate my recaro childseat. Otherwise, I definitely would've taken the Focus and saved a couple grand in the process.

Cuse R

No Focus ST or Mazda 3? Who the hell picked these entries? The Fiat, the Joke and FRS didn't belong.


I owned a Fiat Abarth and loved it. I agree, it's small, the three-door setup not as family-friendly as the 5-doors on the Fiesta or GTI, and the ride is really jittery. That said, it made me smile every time I drove it.

I personally found the exhaust just fine. I was pretty impressed with how it mellowed out and wasn't noticeable while driving at speed like on freeway trips. Around town, though, it was a total riot and the sound was one of the best parts of the car.

The back seat was actually useful once you got in and with the rear seats folded it was more than capable of handling the Costco trips I threw at it.

Then again, mine was a totally base Abarth that cost $22k, so comparing it to a nearly $30k GTI isn't something I did.


@Steve you are correct. The Fiesta is not a hot hatch. The Fiesta *ST* most definitely is and belongs on that list. Please look up any youtube reviews. I would start with the one from Top Gear since they named it 2013's car and HOT HATCH of the year. Oh BTW C&D rated the Abarth 500 last when compared to the Fiesta ST and Mini Cooper.


Although reliability, repair costs, maintenance costs etc. are not logical in a comparison like this, I wish that the judges involved would have taken these things into consideration. The above would truly be important when the consideration of price/cost is injected for cost conscious consumers.


This order is perfect and makes perfect sense. The thing off was some of the competitors chosen here. Replace the Hyundai/Kia twins and the Juke with at least the Civic Si, Focus ST, and Cooper S. Possibly even throw a Jetta GLI in there for good measure.

However the GTI and WRX would still go 1 and 2 with those changes. More like this;
1 - GTI
2 - WRX
3 - Focus ST
4 - Fiesta ST
5 - Jetta GLI
6 - Cooper S
7 - 500 Abarth
8 - Civic Si

However realistically the Fiesta ST and 500 Abarth (and even Cooper) operate in a class below the others. So maybe more like this in TWO different tests.

Sport Compact;
1 - GTI
2 - WRX
3 - Focus ST
4 - GLI
5 - Civic Si

Sport Sub-Compact
1 - Fiesta ST
2 - Cooper S
3 - 500 Abarth



Uhh, I understand that the veloster turbo stacks up well against the Fiesta ST (looking at power figures alone) but a better Hyundai to be included woulda been the Genesis Coupe...

Joe t

I agree. Why add the veloster instead of the Genesis Coupe? Also, the 370Z would have been good competition and it's barely below the
$30,000 budget.


repeating some:
Why the veloster turbo vs the genesis coupe?

why the fiesta vs the focus st

no miata?

no 370z?

maybe even the new 200s fwd v6...

especially for the price point given...

Would also call to fact the GTI has had a history of less than even GOOD reliability


for those who like the gti but want more power, The new Golf R looks like an incredible car based on the reviews I've seen . Im considering getting one.

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