Small Cars, Big Fun – 2016

© BMW AG; © Ford Motor Company; © Hyundai Motor America; © Mazda North AmericaRight-Sized Rides
There are plenty of reasons for buying a small car — you don’t need tons of storage, you drive in a city where parking is an issue, you’re looking for better fuel economy, or you simply want a cheaper monthly car payment. But wanting a smaller car doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a spirited driving experience and everyday fun when downsizing your ride. Pick wisely from the following cars and you’ll get a great driver in a right-sized package: small in stature yet big on the fun meter.

© Mazda North America2015 Mazda Mazda3
Starting Price: $16,945
Mazda’s long-lasting advertising slogan is “Zoom-Zoom,” and if you’ve ever driven a Mazda you know why that slogan persists. Available as either a 4-door sedan or hatchback, the Mazda3 offers a versatile interior in a stylish design that fits nicely within the Mazda lineup. The best part is the driving experience — the Mazda3 makes every drive feel sporting, even the daily commute.

© Mazda North America2015 Mazda Mazda3
Two fuel-efficient SKYACTIV engines are available — a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter unit and a 2.5-liter that puts out 184 horsepower. Either engine can be teamed with a 6-speed manual or quick-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is impressive with either choice, ranging as high as 41 mpg on the highway with the 2.0-liter option. With quick steering, nice grip and tight suspension, the Mazda3 is a compact made for more than just getting from point A to point B.

© Toyota Motor Sales USA2016 Scion iM
Estimated Price: $20,000
Unveiled earlier this year at the New York Auto Show, the sporty-looking iM provides the versatility of a 5-door hatchback in what should be a fun-to-drive package. Inside, the driver will find bolstered sport seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 4.2-inch multi-information display in the main instrument cluster. A 6-speaker Pioneer audio system is standard, as is HD radio and Aha.

© Toyota Motor Sales USA2016 Scion iM
The 137-horsepower engine under the iM’s hood can be mated with a 6-speed manual or CVT, and its broad torque curve should provide snappy performance. An added benefit for those who opt for the manual transmission — the iM features a hill holder to prevent rolling backwards when starting on an incline. The all-new Scion iM will arrive in showrooms this fall.

© General  Motors2015 Chevrolet Sonic RS Hatchback
Starting Price: $20,545
The Sonic RS is a fantastic example of why fun cars don’t have to be prodigiously powerful or extremely expensive. One of the best compact cars to come from GM — ever — the Sonic RS is stylish (we prefer the hatchback) with sporty proportions enhanced by 17-inch wheels that look even larger on a car this size. The RS also stands out from the rest of the Sonic lineup with a unique front fascia, rear spoiler and sport exhaust with chrome tip.

© General  Motors2015 Chevrolet Sonic RS Hatchback
Inside the RS hatchback are leather-trimmed sport seats and a surprising amount of space in the rear-seat and cargo areas. With its lowered and stiffened suspension, the RS is great fun on any curvy road, owing to its 6-speed manual transmission teamed with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. Added bonus: Sonic RS is rated at 34 mpg on the highway.

© BMW AG2015 MINI Cooper
Starting Price: $20,700
When the MINI came to market in 2001, the brand introduced the idea that a small car could also be a premium ride. Slightly larger than when it first arrived, the MINI is still mini and carries a “bulldog” look. But unlike a bulldog, the MINI is agile and quick with its base turbocharged 3-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual transmission. Upgrade to the Cooper S or JCW for more power and even better handling.

© BMW AG2015 MINI Cooper
Inside, MINI has sport seats swathed in cloth or leather, and old-style toggle switches in the center stack are a nice touch. For a bit of added fun, MINI now touts “You-Ification,” offering a number of customized bits for your car such as special wheels, a chrome grille, racing stripes, body-colored or contrasting-colored roof, or carbon-black door panels.

© Ford Motor Company2015 Ford Fiesta ST
Starting Price: $21,460
The entire Fiesta lineup certainly falls under the “small but fun” category, but we’re calling out the ST. The sporty trim comes in some perfectly-named eye-catching colors, including Race Red, Performance Blue, Green Envy or Molten Orange (our favorite), as well as a unique black grille, rear spoiler and stylish 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside, the sporty look continues with Recaro sport seats, aluminum pedals, ambient lighting and a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel.

© Ford Motor Company2015 Ford Fiesta ST
Best of all, Fiesta ST has great performance to match that sporty styling, courtesy of a tighter sport suspension, torque vectoring control, a lower ride height and quicker steering response. Bringing everything together is a 1.6-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine that puts out 197 horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a 6-speed manual transmission. Rated at 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway, the Fiesta ST is pure guilt-free fun.

© Hyundai Motor America2016 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec
Estimated Price: $22,000
This Hyundai looks a bit different than everything else on the road — not that there’s anything wrong with that. The 3-door Veloster (one door on the driver’s side, two on the passenger side) is available in a number of unique versions, but we like the new Turbo R-Spec for its custom interior and performance upgrades. Inside are red seat belts, red leatherette bolsters in the sport seats and a special electroluminescent gauge cluster.

© Hyundai Motor America2016 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec
The Turbo R-Spec gets enhanced chassis tuning, sport suspension and more responsive steering to take advantage of the 201 horsepower generated by the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. A short-throw B&M Racing Sport Shifter makes rowing through the 6-speed manual transmission more satisfying. The R-Spec is available in Elite White, Ultra Black or Pacific Blue.

© FCA US2015 Fiat 500 Abarth
Starting Price: $22,495
The base Fiat 500 is certainly small, but it’s a bit underpowered and not exactly what we’d call fun. That said, the 500 Abarth certainly fits the bill. Referred to by Fiat marketing wags as “small but wicked,” the Abarth looks the part from its unique aggressive-looking front fascia and optional 17-inch forged-aluminum wheels to the dual exhaust tips and rear spoiler. Of course it’s more than good looks that make the Abarth a kick to drive — the lowered ride height, sport suspension, larger brakes and wider tires make any twisty road your happy place.

© FCA US2015 Fiat 500 Abarth
Under the 500 Abarth’s hood is a power upgrade from the standard 500 — the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine puts out 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic is available, but we suggest taking the 5-speed manual for the full-on fun experience.

© Honda USA2015 Honda Civic Si
Starting Price: $23,090
Generally speaking, we wouldn’t call the Civic fun to drive, but there is one exception — the Si. Honda has offered the Si version of the Civic off and on since 1986; it stands out from the rest of the lineup with special body treatment and stepped-up performance. The current Si gets 17-inch alloy wheels, a decklid spoiler, an aluminum shift knob, aluminum pedals, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and bolstered sport seats with red stitching.

© Honda USA2015 Honda Civic Si
Seeing the Si in your driveway would surely make you smile — especially in Orange Fire Pearl paint. Keeping that smile on your face is a 205-horsepower engine teamed with a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission. Power stays put on the pavement via a sport-tuned suspension and limited-slip differential. The Si is available as a coupe or sedan, but we like the 4-door for its added versatility without any loss of performance.

© Toyota Motor Sales USA2015 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
Starting Price: $24,900/$25,695
Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, light weight and great handling — a super formula for a true sports car, and exactly what you get with the Scion FR-S or it’s virtual twin, the Subaru BRZ. The 2.0-liter 200-horsepower engine is perfect for an exciting, spirited drive, but it’s not enough to get in real trouble (at least not easily).

© Subaru of America2015 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
The stylish coupes can be had with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission — again, we’d opt for the manual for most fun. Inside are sport seats with a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, and — like a proper sports car — the tachometer is the center focus of the gauge cluster. The 300-watt audio system with HD radio and Bluetooth streaming will add to the enjoyment, no matter which one you choose.

© Mazda North America2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Starting Price: $24,915
If you have any love for cars or driving, you’d be hard-pressed to spend more than a few minutes behind the wheel of a Miata without getting a big smile across your face. The short-throw transmission, go-kart-like responsiveness and instant connection to the road will make most drivers giddy. Drop the top on a beautiful day and you may never want to get out of this fun little roadster. Clearly other folks are of the same opinion — the MX-5 is the best-selling 2-seat sports car in the world, according to the folks at Guinness World Records.

© Mazda North America2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Aside from a few special editions, the MX-5 has never been big on power — being lightweight and perfectly balanced has always been more important than grunt, and frankly makes the small roadster even more fun to drive. The all-new MX-5 arriving in showrooms this summer sticks with the formula that made this roadster a success; the MX-5 gets a 2.0-liter SKYACTIV engine putting out 155 horsepower. Although a bit lower in power than the outgoing version, the new model is also around 150 pounds lighter.

© Subaru of America2015 Subaru WRX
Starting Price: $26,295
Sure, a sunny day is often the desired setting for a fun drive in the country, but some might wish for inclement weather while piloting the WRX. This compact sedan comes standard with Subaru’s legendary all-wheel drive, and with a turbocharged 268-horsepower engine under that big hood scoop, slick conditions are where the WRX really shines.

© Subaru of America2015 Subaru WRX
In addition to AWD, the WRX features Active Torque Vectoring and sport suspension, which make this rally-bred car even more agile on twisty roads. The base WRX is well equipped with sport seats, HD radio, Bluetooth streaming audio and a rearview camera. Spend a bit more to get into the Limited with leather-trimmed power seats, keyless start and a touchscreen navigation system.

© Ford Motor Company2016 Ford Focus RS
Estimated Price: $35,000
The new Focus RS was revealed earlier this year at the Geneva Motor Show, and this serious performance machine has fun written all over it (figuratively speaking). Sure, earlier we said small cars can be fun without a lot of power, but that doesn’t mean the flipside isn’t better — the Focus RS boasts 320 horsepower from its 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine.

© Ford Motor Company2016 Ford Focus RS
Full-time all-wheel drive with side-to-side torque distribution means the Focus RS should be an absolute thrill to drive. Want to have even more fun? The Focus RS will have “drift mode” for those who like to drive sideways — on a racetrack, of course. We can’t wait for the fun to begin when the RS arrives later this year.

© Volkswagen of AmericaVolkswagen Golf R
Starting Price: $36,595
If you think $36K is a bit pricey for a Volkswagen Golf, you’d be right. But this is not your typical Golf — think of it as Golf on steroids. This small 4-door hatchback stands out from the standard GTI (which is no slouch) with specially designed bumpers, side skirts, quad exhaust tips, the option of 18- or 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and bi-Xenon headlights. You’ll also notice the difference when you put your right foot down and send 292 horses galloping through a quick-shifting, dual-clutch 6-speed gearbox.

© Volkswagen of AmericaVolkswagen Golf R
Handling in the Golf R is impressive thanks to sport suspension and the latest version of VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system. The Golf R comes well equipped with features including a 5.8-inch touchscreen with SiriusXM Satellite radio, leather trimmed heated front seats, LED reading lights, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless access with pushbutton start, a rearview camera, a 12-way power driver’s seat, and dual-zone automatic air conditioning.

© Audi of America2015 Audi S3
Starting Price: $41,100
The S3 is certainly on the pricier side of the small-car spectrum, but you get a lot for your money. The S3 features a luxury interior with heated leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, a high-end audio system with Bluetooth streaming, and keyless start and entry. Not only do you get these premium features, the S3 boasts a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that produces 292 horsepower.

© Audi of America2015 Audi S3
Audi’s legendary quattro all-wheel drive system manages all that horsepower, so this little sedan can hit 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds. Fuel economy is quite respectable given the performance — the S3 is rated at 31 mpg on the highway, 23 in the city. And with its split-folding rear seat, the S3 offers considerable versatility along with the fun factor.

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