Best New Hot Hatchbacks to Buy for $20,000
All-time favorites with enthusiasts, like pony cars, ricer coupes or small performance sedans (Civic) will always dominate the US marketplace. But a steady flux of small, powerful and fun cars are being introduced.
If you’ve got $25,000 or $30,000, you’re spoiled for choice, but what if you’re budget simply won’t stretch that far. What if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of that performance and keep some cash in your pocket.
If you’re after a hot hatchback for $20,000, you’re going to have to navigate a maze of models, some of which aren’t very good. With that kind of money, the amount of features, equipment and cabin room you’re getting are limited.
Still Waiting for the 2014 Fiesta ST
Focus ST, a car you should definitely look into. But if practicality isn’t really your thing, how about the upcoming Fiesta ST. Pricing has not yet been revealed, buy we think it will start at about $20,000-$21,000.
That might sound like a lot of money, but think about it this way: It’s powered by a 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbo engine which has been tuned by the SVT division to produce 197 horsepower and 14 pound-feet. That’s more than you get with a MINI Cooper S, which has the same sort of setup, but costs about $3,000 more but probably isn’t as well equipped.
It’s also quite a serious little car. Before they put the revised Fiesta on the market, Ford’s European engineers went through over 500,000 miles of durability testing, which means that even though it’s as crazy looking as a clown, the chassis should last more than you’d expect. In addition, it should get you about 30+ rear world highway mpg, which is amazing for a car with this much power. For this reason and the fact that it’s the closest to what’s on offer in the more competitive market, we think you should definitely wait until the Fiesta ST goes on sale before making a decision!
Kia Rio SX 5-door
Designed in California by Audi's former chief designer Peter Schreyer, the Rio is awesome to look at if you can afford going for all the options, and we do mean all of them. The end result well specked car that won’t be very fast but will get you plenty of attention. 17-inch wheels, metallic paint and leather seats should all be considered. But even after adding all these features, the car is still quite good value. We’d suggest skipping the factory navigation and sunroof.
A word of warning: the suspension on the SX is firm and becomes even more so with the low-profile tires that are fitted to its 17-inch wheels. Also, the 138 horsepower engine is good, but it’s about as hot as an ice cream. Configure your own Kia Rio!
Honda CR-Z: a Hot Electric Stove
Its 1.5-liter engine hasn’t got a turbo for added power, but it does come with an advanced IMA hybrid system, a sporty 6-speed manual gearbox (a first in the hybrid world), a sport button and a display cluster that glows blue.
There’s a good choice of standard kit: 16-inch wheels, stability control, traction control, lots of airbags, LED accents, a rearview mirror with integrated reversing display. The steering wheel is small and the pedals are aluminum, so you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a much faster car. Which brings us to the bad points.
What bad points? Well, with 130 horsepower on hand, you’re not going to win any Friday night races between the lights. Proof then that if you want to heat something up, you should use proper fire, not an electric stove. This just to show that what Honda should really do is think about offering the new European hatch with a small turbo engine, not the 2.4-liter four-banger in the Civic Si models, which has lived on for far too long now.
Also, there’s barely any room in the back and the floor or the boot is very high for some reason, so luggage capacity is small. Configure your own Honda CR-Z!
Not Really a Hatchback: the Juke Crossover
Renault Clio RS is widely considered to be the best hot subcompact car in terms of smiles per buck. Sadly, there’s no such car over here, but there is a distant cousin of the new generation Clio RS.
The Nissan Juke is available in the US with a 1.6-liter direct injection turbo engine which puts out a respectable 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. On Nissan’s website, it’s filed under “crossovers” but it was never meant to go trailing. The Juke is actually a lifestyle vehicle, like a MINI Cooper. It’s impractical, crammed and quite expensive.
However, at just over $20,000 you can have that powerful but small engine, 17-inch wheel and front-wheel drive, which is all you really need. We’ve tested the Xtronic CVT that’s fitted as standard and found it’s actually a well balanced transmission. Configure your own Nissan Juke S!
The Korean Import… from Europe
As standard, it comes with a 148 hp 1.8-liter engine, a surprisingly snippy 6-speed manual, 16-inch wheels, daytime runners, fog lights, 7 airbags plus stability and traction control. The build quality and the serious packaging makes this a far better buy than the Veloster in our opinion.
The reason we have the oddity of suggesting the Elantra GT for this list is that for $950 extra you can have sports suspension, bigger wheels, aluminum pedals and leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob. Even after you’ve speced that, you’re still under budget.
It’s a slightly bigger, much more practical hatchback than all the others on this list. It’s also the freshest styling and its relative lack of power is made up for by good economy. Configure your own Hyundai Elantra GT!