Which 5-door hot hatchback did/would you buy?
October 4, 2015 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I've never had a fun-to-drive car, and after selling my gas-guzzling FJ Cruiser and driving an equally thirsty F150 for a while (a free loaner), I've decided to buy a fast, fun, but also fairly practical car in the $30,000 range. Anyone done the same?

I've done all the research and I've narrowed the list down to:

Ford Focus ST
Subaru WRX (not a hatch, I know)

I think that's it, but I'm open to other suggestions. I drove the GTI and the Focus today, and I'm partial to the GTI, but while VW's reliability has supposedly improved, I think cost of repairs is probably pretty high compared to the Ford. Plus there's the whole lying to the world and actively killing us all to make more money thing.

I think the Mazda's going to be a bit tame compared to the others, and the WRX might be a bit too much, and the mileage isn't good.

Am I missing anything?
posted by Huck500 to Shopping (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport is a hatchback. I like mine a lot, but just read that my car is the last year this was offered with a 2.5 liter engine, it's now 2.0. I rented a Subaru Crosstrek recently and I really liked it. Size and handling like my car, but on more of an SUV base.
posted by readery at 5:03 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love my 2009 Mazda3 (top level trim) and would probably get another one. Fun and reliable. There was a thread a couple months ago where Mazda3 drivers were all agreeing that the main thing wrong with it is the road noise but that is something most of us are willing to live with since it's an awesome car.
posted by matildaben at 5:05 PM on October 4, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's below your price range, but have you considered the Honda Fit? It's very maneuverable, excellent gas milage, has lots of interior space and a very good fold down/up seat system for interior storage, and is reliable.

On an unrelated note, smaller cars are much more fun to drive if you get a stick. I find automatics tend to feel underpowered relative to a stick.
posted by pie ninja at 5:11 PM on October 4, 2015 [6 favorites]

I really like Mazdas, but they don't do a Speed3 anymore and I'm not sure if even the larger-engined 3 manual would be "hot" enough for you. Would be worth taking a spin though. They always handle real nice.

I take it you need four doors and four actual seats? Otherwise the BR-Z would be worth a look. It's "practical"-ish but a coupe.

On Car and Driver's Focus ST page you can scroll down and see a list of what they have in the segment (by their definition). There's not much else... the Minis are there if you can deal with that style, there's the Lancer which is too much car/money and is going away, there's the SI which I don't know much about the most recent edition but Honda seems to have totally lost the plot of late. There's the Fiat which apparently is the least reliable car sold in America?

I'd probably go with the Focus ST, but I also don't really like hatches so you can safely ignore my opinion.
posted by selfnoise at 5:21 PM on October 4, 2015

I love my Mazda3 - it's a manual and has plenty of pickup! I got the base model and it was around $19000. The only drawback I can find with it is that I'm long in the torso and my head sits a little too high to look around without ducking a little or slouching. YMMV.
posted by bendy at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, just to add one thing. Mazda WILL be selling a Speed3 again... sometime next year.
posted by selfnoise at 5:22 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The GTI is a super fun car. VW also makes an electric version of the Golf. I think Peugeot is about to come out with a fast hybrid hatchback, maybe next year? And Fiat makes a tiny electric hatch.

On the decidedly non-hot side, I have to make a pitch for the Prius: totally reliable, excellent mileage, comfy, amazing cargo space, etc. Not fast, though.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:24 PM on October 4, 2015

You'll have to decide for yourself about the ethics thing, because if you've driven it then you know full well that the GTI is the answer :)
posted by ftm at 5:24 PM on October 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mazda3 (2011) here. Not a speed, but love that little car.

The Ford Wagon came out right after I got the Mazda. I'd try that one, too :)
posted by getawaysticks at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm on my second Mazda3. I love it and may well get another in a couple years.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:39 PM on October 4, 2015

My next car will be either a Mazda3 or Ford (Focus, probably).
posted by persona au gratin at 5:40 PM on October 4, 2015

Definitely below your target price range, but I love the crap out of our 2014 Chevy Sonic LT hatchback. If I haven't driven it in a while, I do a happy little dance because I've forgotten how fun it is. Not zoom zoom fast, but faster than you'd expect from this little car, and it has the tap-to-shift manual/automatic hybrid for extra oomph. (I came from driving manual, though, and find it entirely counter-intuitive, so I don't use it - YMMV.) Quiet, as long as the seats are up, and nice gas mileage.
posted by okayokayigive at 5:41 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe also look at the new Mazda CX-3? Different from the 3, but very interesting looking I think.
posted by cecic at 5:41 PM on October 4, 2015

I think Matt Farah says it best: The Fiesta ST is probably the best performance car under $25,000. (YT+bleeped out expletives)
posted by Giggilituffin at 5:45 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was checking out similar cars, so you may want to look at this thread. I ended up leasing a Focus (SE; ST was out of my price range) and am very happy. Before I made my decision, I rented a Mazda 3 for a few days. I was pretty sold on it... until I drove the Focus. The handling is much, much better, as is the interior you get for the same price. I don't know if it would be as reliable as another car in the long run but I don't care since I'm leasing.
posted by desjardins at 5:56 PM on October 4, 2015

What is the factor on the hot hatch you're seeking? Performance? Fun to drive? Mileage?
Because to me anything manual is 10 fold greater fun than any sporty automatic. If that holds true for you as well, I'd recommend looking at (knee jerk metafilter car recommendation) the base model Subaru Forester which is SO PRACTICAL, and as a manual will get better MPG than sticker if you care to drive it that way.

That said, FIAT has some intriguing options.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:04 PM on October 4, 2015

Mini 4 door clubman s!
posted by Jacob G at 6:29 PM on October 4, 2015

The Mazda3 is fun. But with your budget, you can get a Mazdaspeed3 which is an entirely different beast.
posted by 256 at 6:37 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Try a Nissan Juke! I adore mine. It's so much fun to drive, even without putting it in sport mode, and I get an average of 28-30 mpg with probably 60/40 freeway/city driving. I have the AWD model. When I bought mine new in June, Nissan was having a zero interest for 72 months special. I paid $23K with tax. It's the only CVT I've ever driven that rather than sucking spectacularly instead feels really seamless.
posted by jesourie at 6:38 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would never buy a VW. Those guys are traitors of the highest order. I am hoping (unrealistically no doubt) that they go out of business. At any rate, there are better companies to do business with. I would go with the Mazda 3 or the WRX. Both nice cars. More reliable than the VW by far, people have a ton of problems with that GTI anyway. Check the CR reliability reports.
posted by jcworth at 6:40 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

My boyfriend has a VW GTI and is truly happy with it. Then again, he bought it three years ago, before VW revealed itself as just another corporation.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:41 PM on October 4, 2015

GTI. I had a '02 VW GTI that I loved, despite the random electrical issues. Those cars are seriously fun to drive (with a standard. An automatic in that car just seems wrong). I'm seriously thinking of going back with my next car. Yeah, they're having issues today... but they're just the ones that got caught.
posted by cgg at 6:51 PM on October 4, 2015

We had a Mazda Protegé in the last year they made them before that line turned into the 3, and it was superb fun to drive but the cost of ownership was very high -- after we paid off the car, we were paying nearly as much for maintenance every month, and for some reason that car went through tires super fast.

I have a Honda Fit now and I'd encourage you to take a look -- a tricked-out sport trim may be what you're looking for, even at a lower price point. I prefer little zippy cars to SUVs any day of the week, and I loooooooove my Fit.
posted by Andrhia at 6:53 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Another Mazda3 owner here, mine's a somewhat older (2006) base model. It's been a nice car, very zippy! It's been extremely reliable since I bought it four years ago, although part of that might be the fact that I really don't drive that much.

My only complaint is that the road noise is a bit noticeable on longer drives (only on the highway, but still) and the suspension is really thin compared to my wife's Fusion - you really feel those potholes!! However, that might have improved in newer models.

I'm already looking for my next hot hatch and another Mazda is definitely on the short list. I'm also considering a GTI (despite VW's current issues), although my only concern is the higher cost of parts & repairs.
posted by photo guy at 6:55 PM on October 4, 2015

I recently bought a Focus ST and don't regret it for a minute, it is easily the most fun car I've ever owned. With the 6 speed manual, getting stuck is bumper to bumper traffic isn't fun, but everything else makes up for it. I've owned a couple vdubs and things got extremely expensive once the warranty expired and things started breaking.
posted by fatbaq at 7:12 PM on October 4, 2015

I loved my 2002 VW GTI, but holy God was I happy to be rid of it. I owned it for 9 years and it was basically one STUPID repair issue after another the entire time. It was fun as hell to drive so if that's your main criteria then I think you know the answer already, but on the whole I wish I'd gone with the Mazda 3.
posted by gatorae at 7:22 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a Mazda3 hatchback (2007). The only thing I don't like is the particulars of the AC control system. I chose it because it fit two requirements I had: 1) 5-speed transmission, which makes me feel more connected to the act of driving, and 2) it is possible to fit 8'-long pieces of lumber into it. It's been pretty good.

If you have extra money after buying this car, you could spend it on travel.
posted by amtho at 7:23 PM on October 4, 2015

VW reliability is leaps and bounds better than it was in the early 2000s, so that's less of a concern.

I'm a current GTI owner, but test drove a Focus ST about 3 years ago. Fit and finish in the VW is much better (it's basically a small Audi), but the ST is definitely more of a hot hatch temperament. I think the steering feel is much better in the GTI, which was important to me.

If you can stretch into the Golf R, that would definitely be a quick ride.
posted by hwyengr at 7:31 PM on October 4, 2015

Lots of bad advice here. I want to buy a honda fit or a prius because I'm an enviro-nerd, but "fun, fast?" My ass! They are both leaden little cars. A forrester? Really? Terrible mileage on ones that were $25k.

The FiST is amazingly fun by all accounts.

I think one thing you should consider is that pony car effective size (how they feel to drive) has been decreasing, and mileage has increased. Most freeway mileage is aerodynamics, so if you aren't driving around town a lot, a slightly bigger car isn't going to kill your mileage.....and opens up a lot of fun. The ford mustang is the least bloaty of the current ponies

e.g. A 1yr old mustang gets better mileage than the subie, not as good as the FiST and comparable with the others (21/32 for the turbo 4, 19/28 for the v6) and will hoon nicely in a straight line - both of these cars have sub 6.0 second 0-60 times! - and aint too shabby on a track, four seats, a trunk and you can pick one up for less than 25k. Hell, if you went a couple of years old you could probably get the GT v8 for 30k.
posted by lalochezia at 8:03 PM on October 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I currently drive a 2015 GTI. It replaced an 05 WRX wagon. I would have gone with the Subaru again, but really needed the hatch rather than the sedan.

I'm really happy with the GTI. It's a bit nicer materials- and finish-wise than the other products in the segment. It's got a wide power band and the smallish turbo spools quick, so you don't get the turbo lag of the Subie. It's FWD versus the WRX's AWD, and the GTI does not rotate as well as my old WRX, and its a little fussier to balance in the turns. Stock the WRX was a bit stiffer. I added VW Racing sport springs to the GTI, which stiffened it nicely, but not so much you rattle your coffee cup.

All in all I'm happy with the decision, and probably would make it again. But if Subaru had offered a hatch when I was shopping? I'd have chosen that, and been just as happy.
posted by notyou at 8:05 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 2015 Mazda3 iGrand Touring and I would highly recommend it. Bought it based on recommendations I found here. Road noise is the worst thing about it but the other bells and whistles more than make up for it. Incredible gas mileage, very responsive, and it can fly.
posted by good lorneing at 8:20 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Shame there isn't a MazdaSpeed 3 yet. I'm liking my 3 - it's a definite step down on fit and finish from the class of VWs you're looking at, but there's something very recognizable about it after having a nice Golf. The one thing I'd add is that I had a recentish dsg gti, and the transmission ruined it for me.
posted by wotsac at 8:51 PM on October 4, 2015

Here's my thread on the Mazda3 vs. the MazdaSpeed.
posted by bendy at 9:32 PM on October 4, 2015

I know two folks with newish Gulfs and they're both plagued with minor faults after a year or so. The engines seem fine, but all the little electronic and fitting bits inside the cabin seem to be a high risk of failure in VWs.
posted by bonehead at 10:09 PM on October 4, 2015

I've been pretty happy with my Scion tC.

It's more or less a Toyota Corolla frame, so the back seat is spacious (all adults I've had back there have been happy with the leg room, though getting in and out of the back seat of a two-door remains an issue), and looks like a sporty car despite being actually a hatch.

It has more power, with a 2.5L engine. It doesn't have quite the turning radius of the 2008 Kia Rio5 that I used to have (that was quite a good car to drive! Only downside: even the sport model didn't have cruise control), but it has an average turning radius for cars of its size. It also doesn't have quite the same pickup as the Audi that I test drove (that was a very fun car to drive!), but has better pickup than the recent Mini, Fit, Yarus, or (though by a lesser amount) Mazda3 that I test drove; better than the last Focus that I drove; about equivalent to the VW Golf that I test drove. I haven't driven a Fiesta.

I get in the low 30s for in-city mileage with windows and sunroof open, and 35-37mpg highway (I can get 38-39 just after a tune up, driving smoothly in the 55-60mph range, but those are not standard conditions), with a manual transmission.

I test drove every single hatchback in my price range that was available in my market to find the one that had the best mix of comfort, visibility, and fun-to-drive for me. If you have time, I recommend this method. (I find that a lot of newer cars have seats that are either immediately uncomfortable for me, or would become uncomfortable on long drives. Also, visibility is important to me, and that's been getting worse in newer cars too. A lot of that seems to be related to me not being the size person that the cars are designed for. That sort of personalized information is only available through a test drive, though.)
posted by eviemath at 4:33 AM on October 5, 2015

I very recently bought a car after my 2002 WRX was totaled, and test-drove the Focus ST, Mazda 3, and Golf Sportwagon (but not GTI). I didn't test-drive the current WRX, but did the current Impreza.

Some observations:
  • The Focus ST is a lot of fun to drive, but the interior feels very cheap (the same as the base-level Focus).
  • The Golf has a sporty ride, good performance, feels very well-planted on the ground and solidly built. Probably the quietest of the lot also.
  • The Mazda3 has a lot of bells and whistles, and generally feels like a nicer car than the price would suggest.
  • I really wanted to like the Impreza but didn't. It felt uncouth without being fun.
I wound up getting the Mazda3, which I'll admit was a compromise, but not a bad compromise. One nice thing about the Mazda compared with my old WRX (and something that doesn't seem to have changed with new ones) is that it has low-end torque. The WRX torque curve keeps climbing to ~3500 RPM, so you have to drive it like a banshee just to avoid stalling when pulling away from a stoplight. My WRX got lousy mileage (something I was hoping to change with the new car), and I'm sure that's part of it.
posted by adamrice at 6:46 AM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just, I mean three day ago, bought a new 2015 Hyundai Veloster. Super fun, bigger than expected. A little cheaper than your price range. Visibility isn't great.
posted by Classic Diner at 8:26 AM on October 5, 2015

To expand on lalochezia's take, the 2015 Mustang is completely unlike older years. It is actually a really fun car to drive, even when the road curves. The EcoBoost engines are really torquey (to the point that the 2L they put in the Fusion gives it enough power to kick you in the butt!) yet are still reasonable on gas. The Premium trim puts you right about 30k and gets you the better-than-most MyFordTouch infotainment and a pretty neat retro-modern interior with leather, heated and cooled seats, etc. And somehow, the pony lights never cease to amuse me.

And surprisingly, the automatic transmission is really good, even to this die hard stick shift lover. No, it's not a real tiptronic, but it is reasonably responsive to the flappy paddles and the sport shift mapping is pretty decent, too. If you ever find yourself in traffic, it saves your left knee a lot of pain for very little loss.

This is in stark contrast to the immediately prior generation, which looked pretty neat, but was absolutely terrible to drive.

If it does have to be a hatch, you will find any of the GTI, Focus ST, Fusion ST, or MazdaSpeed3 to be a blast. They all have good handling and all have enough grunt to give you a nice kick in the butt when you hit the go pedal. In years past I would definitely have recommended the VW over Mazda or Ford, but a couple of years ago VW really downgraded their interiors to get the price down on the Golf, Jetta, and Passat. Sadly, higher trim levels still don't get you anywhere near what they used to be in a base model.

I'm driving a Passat Wolfsburg right now and while it is mechanically fine (road noise is slightly excessive, but not bad), the interior is just chintzy. Only a slight step up from an early-2000s Ford interior, which a modern Ford puts right to shame. I haven't driven anything newer than a 2013 Mazda, so I can't say how they are today. The 3 is pretty sporty, but kinda gutless without the turbo, however. Not as bad as a Fit or Aveo or non-ST Fiesta, but my SO's now dearly-departed RAV4 (V6) was faster. More fun to throw around the curves, though.

Point is, if you're looking for a hot hatch, the Mazda3 is not it unless you get the full turbo experience.
posted by wierdo at 8:45 AM on October 5, 2015

Mazda 3 . I have it and I love it. Its not a hot hatch but if you want a fun car that is also practical, you cant go wrong with the 3. Memail if you want more details but by far I would def take the 2.5 litre(s version) for a spin .
posted by radsqd at 8:50 AM on October 5, 2015

Best answer: It's between the GTI and the Focus ST if you want a new car at this time.
A mazdaspeed version of the current 3 would be nice but it's not here yet (probably in a year or two).
The regular Mazda 3 is way way less fun than either of these.

GTI - grown up interior, subtle styling, plenty of power, solid and predictable handling

Focus ST - loud/busier interior (lots of lights and things), 'tuner' styling, plenty of power, solid and raw handling (more fun)

If you are considering an automatic transmission then go with the GTI. The DSG is fantastic/amazing/awesome.
If you are considering a manual transmission then go test drive both.

Also if you go with a GTI get the lighting package. The headlights are noticeably improved over the halogens and make the car look much better.

I bought a 2015 GTI with DSG and Performance Package earlier this year- no complaints here.
Can't go wrong with the GTI or the Focus- personal preference.
posted by gatsby died at 10:50 AM on October 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

In 2012 I bought a Ford Focus Titanium (higher end package) but without the hatchback - I wish I'd have gotten the hatchback as it would be very practical.

I'd buy a new one in a minute.
posted by DandyRandy at 1:13 PM on October 5, 2015

Seconding the suggestion to try a Hyundai Veloster. Really fun little car at a good price; a bit down on power from something like the Golf, but you won't find a better warranty on a turbo boosted engine.

The eGolf was also mentioned above. It's worth noting that it's quicker off the line than a GTI (0 to 30), and a surprisingly fun drive, but current-gen electrics still have too many drawbacks for most people...
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:50 PM on October 5, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice, I'm going with the GTI since an automatic means everyone in my house can drive it instead of just me. The GTI DCG is really excellent, better than I was expecting.

The Mazda just isn't enough, although it's a great car. If it were just me I'd probably go with the Focus, it's a blast.
posted by Huck500 at 2:12 PM on October 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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