My aunt complains that being a parent condemns her to a life of boring cars. She isn’t entirely wrong. Her Kia Sedona drives more like a school bus than a sports car and, as far as we know, Ferrari has no plans to do an affordable seven-seater any time soon.
It can feel as if automakers are telling drivers to pick two: practical, affordable, fun. You can’t have all three. Partly, it’s simple physics. Size and weight are the enemy of speed and agility But, it also feels as if automakers sometimes just aren’t trying that hard. They assume parents will be happy with anything that has 32 cup holders and a five-star safety rating if the price is right.
What if you’re not ready to settle down into your minivan years? There are a few rare exceptions to the pick-two rule; we’ve assembled our favourites here. They all have four doors, fun handling and won’t break the bank.
Honda Civic Si
- Price: $28,690
- Fun factor: 5/8 Vin Diesels
Long ago, when the Fast and Furious was but a twinkle in some producer’s eye, the Honda Civic Si was revered among tuners and gearheads on a budget. A generation of teenagers grew up fetishizing JDM Type Rs and explaining VTEC to people who couldn’t care less. Sadly – or thankfully – the Civic has grown up a little. It’s bigger, safer and more practical than ever. It has lost some handling pep, but the Si is still a sweet spot in the lineup. It gets a 205 horsepower turbocharged engine, a limited slip differential and the all-important “Sport” button.
Toyota Camry XSE V6
- Price: $39,890
- Fun factor: 2/3 Kleenex boxes
It’s a Camry, but hear us out. Toyota is trying hard to rid itself of its beige, boring image. Nowhere is this more evident than in the brand’s new mid-size sedan. Hold on to your Kleenex box; this isn’t your grandpa’s Camry. This one is overtly, almost ridiculously aggressive with that new frown-y front end and two-tone paint scheme. The naturally-aspirated 3.5-litre V-6 motor has a smooth 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque.
Volvo V60 T6 AWD
- Price: $48,900
- Fun factor: 6/11 pickled herrings
Volvo’s all-new lineup is excellent. The Swedish brand is making a great comeback with funding from its Chinese owners. The new models are stylish, well thought out and an interesting alternative to German luxury brands. The V60’s steering lacks feel, but the clever turbo- and supercharged motor is peppy. In truth, we hope Volvo makes a 400 hp T8 hybrid model and/or a high-performance Polestar edition, but this will do for now.
Hyundai Veloster Turbo
- Price: $25,899
- Fun factor: 7/9 chili peppers
We promised these cars would all have four doors, but three-plus-a-hatchback is close enough. The old Veloster looked like a hot-hatch but never quite had the suspension and handling chops to back it up. The all-new 2019 model is, finally, the South Korean hot-hatch we knew it could be. It’s gone from bland bibimbap to a steaming bowl of spicy soon tofu stew. (That’s a good thing.) The 1.6-litre Turbo puts 201 horsepower through a dual-clutch automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Later this year, the 275 horsepower Veloster N arrives with handling honed by the same person who made BMW’s M cars great in the 1990s and 2000s.
Dodge Charger SXT
- Price: $36,545
- Fun factor: 6/7 HEMIs
This is one for all the moms and dads who ever fantasized about owning a muscle car. The Charger is a huge hunk of good ol’ American yee-haw. It’s not small and it’s not shy. The base model has a large (by modern standards) 3.6-litre V-6 with 292 horsepower. All-wheel drive is available for $41,945, but the $44,440 HEMI V-8 model is the one you’ll want. Its 5.7-litre motor makes 370 hp. Add a set of loud exhaust pipes and it’s like you’re right back in 1969.
Volkswagen Golf GTI
- Price: $30,595
- Fun factor: 4/5 plaid shorts
The Golf is so predictable, but it’s so hard to beat this mix of price, practicality and handling. The GTI has been the poster-car of responsible fun since it was introduced in 1976. The current seventh-generation model has 220 horsepower and a great six-speed manual. (A DSG automatic is also available.) The steering is sharp, the chassis always feels well controlled and you can push its limits without endangering your licence. With an all-new Golf likely coming in 2019, you may be able to get a good deal on the current one.
- Price: $27,300
- Fun factor: 5/7 zoom-zooms
Mazda is celebrating 50 years of selling cars in Canada. The brand is still a niche player in terms of overall sales, but somehow manages to make cars that are more stylish and more fun than the rest of the mass-market competition. The base CX-5 only has 156 hp, but a bigger 2.5-litre, 187 hp motor is optional; that would be our pick. Even with the bigger engine, fuel economy is a respectable 9.3 litres/100 km in the city, and 7.6 highway.
Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo
- Price: $175,600
- Fun factor: 9/10
For the parents who win the lottery or sell their startup to Google, Porsche makes a 550-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 station wagon that is both extremely weird and extremely good. It has ample trunk space for strollers, a pillowy ride, and the kind of high-G acceleration that will amuse adults and children alike. It’s the rocket-powered luxury school bus nobody asked for. Well, nobody except my aunt.