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.
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: