The Ford Focus SVT is the hot hatch that led the way for today's Focus ST. Featuring tweaked bodywork, stickier tires and a higher-output 2.0-liter engine, this 170-horsepower three-door hit the market in the 2002 model year. A practical five-door model joined the lineup a year later.
Fun fact: The Focus SVT uses the same Getrag six-speed manual transmission as the Mini Cooper S.
For under $5,000, you should be able to find a clean 2004 SVT with about 144,000 miles on the odometer.
Sure, it's not going to be as quick as all these modern turbocharged rides, but the SVT stands as a great and inexpensive way to get a little more enjoyment out of your daily commute.
For Volkswagen fans, the Corrado is one of the most coveted cars of the '90s, and the 1994 SLC is the ultimate model. (At least, it is in the US -- the car lived on until 1995 in Europe.)
Earlier models offered a unique 1.8-liter supercharged engine, but the 180-horsepower, 2.8-liter VR6 offered more power and reliability. That's the one you want.
For your $5,000, you can get a well-equipped Corrado SLC (Sport Luxury Coupe) in good condition -- at least, as good as you can expect a 20+-year-old model to be. A steal for a car that, in 1994, cost about $25,000 -- that's over $40,000 in today's money!
The Honda Civic Si of this generation has been all but forgotten, but it's fun to drive, frugal and comes with a fantastic manual gearbox, racy small-diameter steering wheel and snug seats. It's powered by a 2.0-liter, 160-horsepower four cylinder and sits astride the same chassis as the pricier Acura RSX.
With its stock small alloy wheels and upright proportions, it's pretty anonymous for a hot hatch, but that's good news for those looking to avoid attention from the local authorities.
This 2002-2005 hatchback body style is quite rare in North America, as it was offered exclusively in Si trim. Interestingly, it wasn't assembled in Japan or the US -- it was built in Swindon, England.
For $5,000, you'll find a 2003 Si with upward of 150,000 miles, but with Honda's reputation for bulletproof reliability, it's just getting warmed up.
This may be stretching the idea of a "hot hatch," but why go for a tiny little compact when you can have a meaty muscle wagon? 2005 marked the debut of the Dodge Magnum, and enthusiasts and family folks rejoiced.
For around $5,000, you sadly won't get a V-8, you'll probably only find a low-end SE model with 130,000 miles on the clock. Even then, its understressed 2.7-liter V6 is good for 190 horses and an equal amount of torque, more than most of the other cars here.
But let's not forget the best part: rear-wheel drive. That's right, you can load up your kids and do burnouts in the parking lot.
If you're lucky, you might find a more powerful Magnum SXT with its optional heated front seats, sunroof, Sirius satellite radio and navigation head unit with an integrated six, that's right, SIX-disc CD player.
At over 3,800 pounds, the Magnum is a heavy beast, but its pulchritude is distributed nearly 50/50 front to rear for better handling.
Even if headroom is in short supply, with maximum cargo space of over 71 cubic feet, the Magnum is one of the most capacious vehicles in our roundup.
1989 Acura Integra LS -- Brian Cooley, editor at large
When it debuted, the Acura Integra was something new in hot hatches: A nicely appointed, well-made car. 1989 was the last year of the first generation that had crisp, chiseled looks that hold up well today.
You'll be shopping a single US engine choice, a then-exotic four-valve DOHC 1.6-liter transverse four-cylinder with computer-controlled fuel injection, aluminum block and head and 118 horsepower at 6,500rpm. It's pre-VTEC, but still likes to run. And, of course, five-speed manuals were common.
The 1988-89 cars are the ones to seek, with their more athletic engine internals good for five more horsepower than earlier cars, and a better ignition system and HVAC unit. High-trim LS cars have a power sunroof.
First-gen Integras are valued well below our $5,000 target price but are hard to find, let alone in unmolested condition. So budget $2k extra to remove the giant aftermarket wing you'll probably inherit and paint the car -- they had obsolete three-stage baked enamel finishes from the factory.
You'll end up with a hot hatch steal and a future collectible.
The Matrix launched in 2003 with a sporty wagon profile, and while it could have been relegated to boring suburban-hauler status, Toyota recognized its potential immediately, bringing a supercharged TRD version to SEMA that year.
With a factory TRD supercharger kit, you can spool up the Matrix's standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine from 130 to 166 horsepower. That might not seem like much, but with a curb weight just over 2,000 pounds, its power-to-weight looks pretty good.
To meet our $5,000 goal, we had to go for the earliest model year in a base trim, which shows the Matrix has really held its value.
To achieve proper hot hatch status, you'll need to spend a bit more on TRD parts, such as lowering springs and a strut brace. If you can afford a little more, look for an all-wheel-drive version, or go for the top trim XRS.
The top-dog variant of Mitsubishi's entry-level sport compact, the 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX arrived powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder making 195 horsepower -- very good for its day. Whereas lesser Eclipses made do with lower-power, naturally aspirated engines and front-wheel drive, the GSX put its power to the road via an all-wheel-drive system.
Part of the GSX's appeal is its easy upgrade path; its turbocharged engine is wonderfully receptive to power-boosting modifications. Oh, and it's got pop-up headlamps. We love pop-up headlamps.
When new, the top-trim Eclipse GSX retailed for $16,449. These days, it easily slips beneath our $5,000 price target with a rare, clean example being valued at about $4,325.
What won't be so easy is finding such pristine example that hasn't been modded and hooned to within an inch of its life. Happy unicorn hunting.
Cooley's first-generation Acura Integra pick is a classic, but the third-generation Integra is a winner, too. The GS-R I've chosen may play second fiddle to the unobtainium Type R in the minds of enthusiasts, but that doesn't negate the fact that it's still a great sport compact with excellent handling characteristics and a potent drivetrain.
A 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder with an 8,000rpm redline provides power, and comes connected to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
Popular with the tuner crowd, it may be difficult to find a GS-R that hasn't been tinkered with, but with enough digging, finding a cleaner model-year 2000 example with about 180,000 miles for roughly $5,000 is possible.
After that, the fun can begin, with the Acura's healthy aftermarket performance parts support that can turn this hot hatch into something even hotter.