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

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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:

By Patrick Olsen | July 28, 2014 | Comments (16)

$30,000 Cheap Speed Challenge: Mileage Results

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Any car owner will tell you the cost of driving does not begin or end with the sticker price or the monthly payment notice arriving in the mailbox. There's insurance, maintenance and yes, the cost of gasoline.

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

The competitors in our Cheap Speed Challenge may be relatively affordable considering their performance chops, but six of the eight require premium gasoline. Going into the contest, mileage didn't seem like it would be much of a story.

After a 220-plus-mile route through Wisconsin and Illinois that mixed in winding country roads, city streets and plenty of construction-laden highways, we discovered mileage was indeed worth talking about in this class.

By David Thomas | July 28, 2014 | Comments (1)

$30,000 Cheap Speed Challenge: What the Judges Said

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To test our sub-$30,000 speedsters, we put them through an even more rigorous set of tests than we usually use in our Challenges:

  • We spent one day at the Byron, Ill., Dragway to get zero-to-60-mph times and quarter-mile times and speeds; we also captured 60-mph-to-zero braking distances there.
  • We spent one day at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., where the experts put the cars through a long day on the road course there.
  • We took all eight on a mileage drive of more than 200 miles to judge real-world fuel economy.
  • The experts drove all eight over the same course, back-to-back, to judge real-world ride and handling, acceleration and braking.
  • And then we brought in a real-life car shopper, Joe Weiss, a 38-year-old quality assurance manager from Chicago who's in the market for just such a car for himself and his fiancee.

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Weiss joined our cast of judges (left to right):

  • Brian Robinson, producer for PBS' "MotorWeek"
  • Joe Wiesenfelder, Cars.com executive editor
  • David Thomas, Cars.com managing editor
  • Joe Bruzek, Cars.com road test editor
  • James R. Healey, auto writer for USA Today

We set a maximum price of $30,000, including a destination charge. We had 10 cars on our list when we started, but we ended with eight (more on that in a bit):

  • 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth
  • 2014 Ford Fiesta ST
  • 2014 Honda Civic Si
  • 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
  • 2014 Kia Forte5 SX
  • 2015 Mini Cooper S Hardtop
  • 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS
  • 2014 Scion FR-S
  • 2015 Subaru WRX
  • 2015 Volkswagen GTI

Mini said it did not have a Cooper in its press fleets that could meet our price cap; the Civic lost a tire after hitting a Chicago pothole, and repairs could not be made in time for track days. The judges did drive it in our round-robin day, and a report on those tests can be found here.

$30,000 Cheap Speed Challenge
Index | Results | Mileage Test

Here's how the scoring broke down: The experts' scores accounted for 50 percent of the total score; 10 percent came from the shopper's scores; 30 percent was based on track performance; and the remaining 10 percent was based on fuel economy.

Here is what the judges had to say about each car, in order of how the cars finished:

By Patrick Olsen | July 28, 2014 | Comments (5)

2014 Scion FR-S Photo Gallery

Cheap Speed Challenge: 2014 Scion FR-S

The 2014 Scion FR-S finished fifth in our $30,000 Cheap Speed Challenge. "The FR-S has responsive handling that most in this group can only dream about," said one of our judges. Check out our gallery below of the FR-S up close and on the track.

Click on any image for a larger version.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

By Matt Schmitz | July 28, 2014 | Comments (0)

Scion FR-S TRD Exhaust Makes All The Right Notes

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Scion's lightweight, rear-wheel-drive FR-S only left us with a small list of wants after we gave it and the nearly identical Subaru BRZ our most prestigious Best of 2013 Award. At the top of the list is more power, but that of course hasn't happened yet. The twins' weak aural experience from under the hood and the exhaust is thankfully a much easier and less-expensive issue to address than squeezing another 40-50 horsepower from under the hood.

Cars.com Names Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ Best of 2013

A 2014 Scion FR-S we recently tested equipped with Toyota Racing Development's performance exhaust system hit a home run in the area of the ear-pleasing notes. That's important because we always thought there was something lacking from the FR-S' factory equipment.

A sound tube designed to make the engine more audible inside the cabin was not the robust sound I wanted to hear more of; the noises out back were more pleasant and less audible. TRD's exhaust adds a whole new layer of fun to the already entertaining FR-S.

By Joe Bruzek | June 2, 2014 | Comments (0)

Why I Can't Buy a Scion FR-S (Even Though I Want To)

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Cars.com named the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S our Best Cars of 2013, and we ended up buying a BRZ for our long-term test fleet. During the following 12 months I discovered it was a practical daily driver on top of being fun to drive.

Follow Our Long-Term Test Fleet

I loved the BRZ. Then I spent a few days with a Hot Lava 2014 Scion FR-S. It fixed the one complaint I had with the BRZ, offering a better entertainment system, plus it came with an ear-pleasing racing exhaust (courtesy of Toyota Racing Development) that doesn't sound anything like a coffee-can-equipped Honda Civic racing down Main Street on a Friday night.

Granted, if I truly owned the BRZ I would've been at Best Buy getting the stereo swapped out. But even though I liked the Scion's color and exhaust better — plus it had the preferred off-the-lot entertainment system — I still wouldn't buy it because of the name.

By David Thomas | May 27, 2014 | Comments (16)

Scion Updates FR-S, tC for 2015

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Just in time for the summer cruising season, Scion is updating its coupes with additional equipment and more exterior color choices. Both the 2015 Scion tC and FR-S go on sale this June; the tC's prices carry over, the FR-S sees only a small price increase for 2015. 

More Scion News 

The FR-S coupe was new for 2013 and received a standard touch- screen audio system for 2014. For 2015, Scion gave the coupe a more rigid front suspension and retuned the rear shock absorbers for “a more communicative driving experience,” the automaker said in a statement.

By Jennifer Geiger | May 15, 2014 | Comments (0)

Limited Edition Scion FR-S Debuts in Yuzu Yellow

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At this week's 2014 New York International Auto Show, Scion unveiled the latest special edition of the rear-drive FR-S coupe. Dubbed the now-familiar Release Series, in this case the inaugural Release Series 1.0, the special edition will have a production run of just 1,500 cars when it hits Scion showrooms in August.

More 2014 New York Auto Show Coverage

All of them will have Yuzu paint — to wit, bright yellow. (Yuzu is an Asian citrus fruit; it's also the name for an untold number of Japanese restaurants.) Changes to the FR-S' taut lines include a custom rear spoiler, front and rear ground effects, and side fender garish — er, garnish.

By Kelsey Mays | April 16, 2014 | Comments (0)

Dodge, Scion Bring Limited Editions to Detroit

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Detroit's debuts won't just be all-new concepts and productions; several automakers are announcing special-edition versions of existing models.

With its new Monogram Series, Scion hopes to embroider its name onto car shoppers' minds in association with premium features. The Toyota-owned brand announced today that the limited-edition versions of the 2014 FR-S and tC — debuting at the 2014 North American International Auto Show next week in Detroit — outfit the coupes with a host of premium features. The Monogram Series' first run will include only 2,000 of the FR-S rear-wheel-drive sports car and 2,500 of the tC front-wheel-drive coupe, both are set to hit dealerships in February.

Scion Series 10 Limited Editions Celebrate Brand's 10th Birthday

In the FR-S, standard Monogram features include leather seats with Alcantara simulated suede inserts; a BeSpoke Premium Audio system with navigation and connected services; high-intensity-discharge headlamps with LED running lights; dual-zone automatic climate control; heated front seats and side mirrors; a color-keyed rear spoiler; and a rear-seat center armrest. The Monogram FR-S starts at $28,155 with a six-speed manual transmission and $29,255 with a six-speed automatic, plus an additional $395 for the exterior Whiteout color. Base 2014 FR-S models start at $25,455; all prices include a $755 destination charge.

By Matt Schmitz | January 9, 2014 | Comments (1)

Cool Compared: Subaru BRZ Versus Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

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Untrained eyes could easily overlook the Mitsubishi Evolution sports sedan. Its front-mounted intercooler for the turbocharged engine, large wing of GSR models and wide fenders are the type of cool features performance nerds appreciate. The turbocharged, all-wheel drive Evo was in its prime at one point, but now in its seventh model year — relatively unchanged — it is slowly losing pizazz each year the capable sedan goes untouched by Mitsubishi.

Follow Our Long-Term Fleet

There's a new import turning heads on the streets among sub-$40,000 performance cars, and Cars.com owns one: the 2013 Subaru BRZ. The rear-wheel-drive, lightweight BRZ and Scion FR-S are no match for the Evo on the track or the dyno, but the rear-wheel-drive twins exude an unheard of dry-ice cool factor. The Evolution GSR we recently tested provided a good opportunity to drive these affordable performance cars back-to-back.

By Joe Bruzek | October 4, 2013 | Comments (5)

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