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

Ford Mustang


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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.


2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI two-door hatchback

2012 Mini Cooper S two-door hatchback

2012 Ford Mustang Coupe V-6

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





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


Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)




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)




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

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