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Ford Mustang (Ford Ford)
Ford Mustang (Ford Ford)

Best of the Lot

What car is fun and frisky with a dash of flair? Add to ...

I’m always impressed by the advice you offer in The Globe, so I thought that you might be able to help me out. I’m looking for something fun to look at and fun to drive, with a sporty-ride feel, good driving dynamics, style and some get-up-and-go, as opposed to, say, a roomy trunk and a commodious back seat. All that for less than $30,000. I've got my eye on a VW GTI ($29,375 for the base two-door hatchback), a Mini Cooper S ($28,950 for the two-door hatchback) and a Mustang V-6 Coupe ($26,999 for the Premium version), but is there something I'm missing? – David in Ottawa

Vaughan: Davey, you’re not missing much – except maybe another 30 or 40 grand to get into some really exciting stuff. But for the dough, you’ve picked three winners. Now, let’s see which one....

Cato: While Vaughan stares at his navel, let me give you a little insight into what’s happening to cars like those you covet. Skyrocketing insurance costs have beaten down the small, affordable, sporty class. Just dropped it like a Muay Thai knee to the chops from MMA legend Anderson Silva.

So pickings are slim. The three you cite are perfectly good, perfectly fun, but they won’t send you to gearhead heaven. You might also look at the Scion tC ($20,940) and the upcoming turbocharged version of the Hyundai Veloster (TBD) with its’ quirky three doors.

I suppose you could also throw the BMW 1-Series Coupe ($36,000 for the 128i coupe) into the mix, and maybe the budget-priced Kia Forte Koup ($24,595 for the 2.4L SX Luxury). Volvo has the mostly overlooked C30 ($30,995), too.

Vaughan: You like your lists, Cato. This car, that car…

I like Veedubs and the sixth generation Golf GTI – which has an Audi 2.0-litre inline-four-cylinder with turbocharging, direct fuel injection, 200 horsepower and tons of torque – is the thoroughbred of the VW stable.

Skip the automated manual DSG transmission, a $1,400 option, and take the six-speed gearbox. Also skip the $1,990 hard-drive-based navigation system and music server. Listen to the sound the engine makes.

Cato: Ah, the engine. To dress up an allusion from Dan Neill, the car columnist at The Wall Street Journal, when you downshift the GTI it sounds like pop-singing sensation Adele catching her breath – Adele, who demands Marlboroughs at every gig – after a 100-metre sprint.

The whole GTI package is tremendous – very quick in the corners, solid in the straights and refined overall, inside and out. You cannot buy better seats at any price and the hatchback design is useful – more useful here than in the Mini. The Cooper S is smaller and has less cargo and backseat room than the GTI.

Vaughan: Mini Cooper S – yes. Mini Cooper S Coupe ($25.950) – no. The Coupe is cramped for even two occupants and the thing looks goofy.

You buy a Mini because it is fun to drive. There is no question that whipping around corners like a go-kart is quite a kick.

But Davey, give it a good long test drive before you make up your mind. Make sure that seat-of-the-pants stuff is what you really want in a daily driver. They’re not selling comfort and that’s good because they don’t provide much.

Mini Cooper

Cato: Goofy? The Mini Coupe looks goofy? Not so. I disagree entirely. You are wrong.

Anders Warming, the young buck who runs Mini design, walked us through this package and explained it all. Completely. Thoroughly. You were there!

I think the proportions are perfect. This is a balanced design with plenty of dressy features. David is obviously an enthusiast and he’ll like driving it. What it does not have is room; I agree with you there. So if David wants more cabin space, he should also look at that V-6 Mustang; it’s a big car.

Vaughan: I’m sure everybody’s tired of me telling how much I enjoyed my old 5.0-litre ’Stang convert. The Mustang legacy is a big deal for some people, but the new one is so much more modern and competent in engineering than mine.

The 2012 with V-6 gets 305 horsepower, which is more muscle than the former 4.6-liter V-8. I like the exterior styling and the interior is best ever in a ’Stang.

Take the six-speed manual transmission, which is a treat. With an improved rear-wheel-drive chassis, the Mustang is one of the great performance bargains ever.

Cato: Enjoy it while you can. Word is out that Ford plans to scrap the live axle rear end in the next-generation Mustang.

If you want a real pony car, a real muscle car, the Mustang fits the bill, though the V-6 is not quite muscle car stuff. Another pony car worth a look is the made-in-Oshawa Chevrolet Camaro ($27,965 base for the coupe).

Vaughan: In the “is there something missing” category, I’d say the Hyundai Genesis Coupe ($24,899 base) is definitely worth a drive, too.

But for me it’s the ’Stang or the GTI. Drive them both and you’ll know which one is right for you.

Cato: GTI for me. The complete package.

VW GTI

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI two-door hatchback

2012 Mini Cooper S two-door hatchback

2012 Ford Mustang Coupe V-6

Wheelbase (mm)

2,578

2,467

2,720

Length (mm)

4,213

3,729

4,778

Width (mm)

1,779

1,683

1,877

Height (mm)

1,469

1,407

1,412

Engine

2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

3.7-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

200/207 lb-ft

181/177 lb-ft

305/280 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Rear-wheel drive

Transmission

Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,376

1,210

1,520

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

9.9 city/6.7 highway

7.8 city/5.6 highway

11.6 city/7.3 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$29,375

$28,950

$26,999

Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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