Ford Focus ST
Base price: $29,999
I frankly didn't think the Focus would win this category; my money would have been on the second-place Scion FR-S or virtually identical Subaru BRZ sports cars. But this brilliant, affordable little sports sedan won my heart almost before I found my way out of the parking area and on to Niagara Region roads. By the time I'd thrashed it around the autocross-style handling circuit, the love affair was well and truly requited.
The just-arrived Focus ST comes from Ford's Global Performance Vehicle division, which has thoroughly tweaked this five-door hatch. Under the hood is a 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbocharged four making 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual box, and delivering up 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds. And, under bodywork visually boosted with racy rocker panels and spoiler, are uprated springs, anti-roll bars and dampers, variable-ratio electric power steering with torque steer compensation and bigger brakes.
Screaming Tangerine barely does justice to the paint colour, and sliding into the snug Recaro seat and aligning myself behind the leather-wrapped wheel was a great first-touch introduction. Followed by firing up that two-litre motor, which emits an exhaust growl that delivers an unmistakable invitation.
The Focus ST was pleasantly driveable and comfortable for day-to-day use, but point it at those orange cones and it attacked like a mongoose facing a six-pack of snakes.
As these 10 cars are in the sports/performance category, I'll rate them on a five-star basis as weekend autocrossers. The Focus ST gets five.
Base price: $25,990
Jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru, ths rear-drive FR-S has a 2.0-litre, 200-hp/150-lb-ft "boxer" four, a six-speed manual and gets from 0-100 km in 7.3 seconds. Sports seats, leather wheel, alloy pedals and generous equipment inside make it pleasantly usable and its handling and power make it a five-star weekend racer.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Base price: $26,499
The Genesis coupe – which included a $2,300 R-Spec kit adding 19-inch wheels, Brembo brakes and "track" suspension – outgunned all but the Accord coupe with its 2.0-litre turbo four putting out 274 hp and 275 lb-ft, six-speed box and a 0-100 km/h time of 6.9 seconds. But it feels more at home on the street than tracking through the cones, rating 3.5 stars.
Base price: $27,295
The BRZ should have pipped the Scion FR-S. That it didn't may have come down to weighting factors that lowered its score. These cars are near-identical twins, but the BRZ has an edge in front-end styling and, with a price of $27,295, was better equipped. It has a crisper feel, for which it gets a five-plus star rating.
Volkswagen Golf R
Base price: $39,675
Volkswagen has taken one of the most iconic hot hatches of all time to a new level of sophistication, performance and price – and a class-topping price of $39,675. That buys you a lot of leather and features and a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four generating 256 hp and 243 lb-ft with a six-speed manual and a 4Motion AWD. It was quickest at 6.6 seconds from 0-100 km and stormed through the handling course, earning a five-star ranking.
Honda Accord Coupe
Base price: $35,390
The Accord Coupe has a great-sounding and revvy 3.5-litre V-6 making 278 hp and 252 lb-ft, a crisp-shifting six-speed manual, and was second-quickest to 100km/h at 6.7 seconds. Plus attractive styling and an interior with comfortable seats, dual-zone climate control, fine audio, etc., which make it an excellent tourer. But it's a less-than-keen cone-carver with a 3.0 rating.
Hyundai Veloster Turbo
Base price: $25,999
The Veloster Turbo takes already wild-child-styling up a notch with a "ground effects" kit, while inside there's leather, a panoramic sunroof, heated seats, rear-view camera, touch-screen navi and Dimension audio. Its turbocharged 1.6-litre four pumps out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft and propels it to 100 km/h in 8.1 seconds. On-road handling is fine, but it's not as happy dodging cones, so a rating of 3.5 stars.
Base price: $32,900
The Mini Roadster is yet another answer to the question, what the heck else can they do with this platform? This "mini" two-seater is mega-cute and quick enough, with a turbo 1.6-litre engine putting out 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque and a six-speed box that gets it to 100 km/h in 7.5 seconds. It's competent in handling and braking terms, and funky/cool inside. And it gets a four-star autocross rating.
Chevrolet Sonic RS 5-Door
Base price: $14,155
The Sonic RS hatch is, if not a giant killer, at least a giant annoyer, as I discovered chasing a 380-hp Camaro on the handling course. It was shy on power though, with 138 hp and 148 lb-ft from its 1.4-litre turbo engine, and could use more suspension and tires. But it is fun, looks the part with sporty aero add-ons, is well-equipped, a decent value at $23,500 and scored a 3.5 star auto-cross rating.
Base price: $23,995
Legendary Fiat tuner Carlo Abarth would give two thumbs-up to this hot-rod that carries his name and lets owners deliver a ruder Italian gesture to more potent machinery. With 160 hp and 170 lb-ft produced by its turbocharged 1.4-litre four, bigger brakes and a tautly tuned suspension, the Abarth is a little terrier, quick (0-100 km/h in 8.0 seconds) and agile when let off the leash, and always fun to play with, garnering it four stars.