Compact snaps: Five speedy compact cars

These five affordable cars come from humble beginnings, but feature tuned-up engines and suspensions for maximum fun.

Automakers, recognizing some buyers' need for speed, oblige by tuning up their inexpensive compact models, delivering more power and better handling. At the same time, most of these cars retain their basic practicality, whether it is the stylish and easily parked Fiat 500 Abarth or the cargo-friendly hatchback design of the Focus ST.

Not only do these cars cost less than top performance models, they can also work as your only car, good for the daily commute, a road trip, and maybe even a track day.

Here are five cars designed to perform.

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth
The standard Fiat 500 is a cool-looking little city car, but its 1.4-liter engine doesn't exactly roar. For the Abarth version, Fiat straps a turbocharger to the engine and tunes the suspension for more-aggressive handling. Even more impressive is the loud exhaust note, unexpected from a little Italian car.

Base price: $22,000
Horsepower: 160
Torque: 170 pound-feet

2013 Ford Focus ST
Ford's newest Focus makes for a very practical all-around car, and includes the very useful Sync feature for hooking up cell phones and digital audio devices. The ST version adds quite a bit to that formula, with a wound-up Ecoboost engine featuring some of the best efficiency technologies available, and seat-of-your-pants handling.

Base price: $23,700
Horsepower: 252
Torque: 270 pound-feet

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
The Veloster may have looked cool, but it was not really a performance car until Hyundai came out with the turbo version. Adding the turbo to the Veloster's direct-injection 1.6-liter engine, and fitting it with a six-speed manual transmission, should please any enthusiast. And the Veloster Turbo's unique looks will earn it admirers.

Base price: $21,950
Horsepower: 201
Torque: 195 pound-feet

2012 Mini Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works
Dropping the John Cooper Works package on any Mini model instantly makes it a superhero version of its former self. That package means a bigger turbo for more power, and even tighter suspension tuning to enhance the already impressive handling. The new Coupe model makes this car a unique style statement.

Base price: $31,200
Horsepower: 208
Torque: 192 pound-feet

2012 Volkswagen Golf R
Throughout the years, VW offered a series of superpowered Golfs. This year's Golf R comes with a turbocharged and direct injection four-cylinder engine displacing only 2 liters, running power to all wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. It is the only all-wheel-drive vehicle in this lineup, and offers excellent handling.

Base price: $33,990
Horsepower: 256
Torque: 243 pound-feet

Read the full CNET Review

2012 Mini Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works

The Bottom Line: Love or hate its styling, the 2012 Mini Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works is easily one of the best-performing front-wheel-drive cars we've tested. Unfortunately, it's also priced about $10,000 too high. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

2012 Volkswagen Golf R

The Bottom Line: The 2012 Volkswagen Golf R is a blast to drive on curvy roads, but can also handle the everyday routine, offering solid, if not cutting-edge, cabin tech features. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

The Bottom Line: A turbocharger, closer gear ratios, and suspension tuning make the 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth ridiculously fun to drive, but it takes the TomTom navigation option to overcome problems with the cabin tech interface. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

2013 Ford Focus ST

The Bottom Line: A very rewarding car to drive, the 2013 Ford Focus ST will satisfy enthusiasts on weekend runs and the daily commute, but the cabin tech is a mixed bag, with the excellence of Sync offset by the navigation system interface. / Read full review

Read the full CNET Review

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

The Bottom Line: The 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo adds a healthy dose of straight-line performance to its techie, trendy formula. / Read full review

About the author

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.



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