Individual tastes differ. This is especially true when conducting a comparison of this magnitude with seven different editors. After all the scores were tallied, the fist fights stopped and Craig returned from the ER, each member of AutoGuide was asked if it was their money, which of these eight would they put in their garage. Here are the answers:
Michael Schlee, Road Test Editor: Although practicality most likely would win the day and I’d probably end up buying the Subaru WRX, when it comes to a fun-to-drive, nothing beats the Mazda MX-5. As the former owner of an original 1990 MX-5, the 2014 Mazda MX-5 still retains the spirit of the original car. Surprisingly livable and all weather capable, the MX-5 is a blast to drive no matter what the conditions. Even stop-and-go traffic is tolerable thanks to a light clutch. And once traffic subsides, it’s time to exploit the car’s short ratio gearbox and perfect chassis balance.
Dave Pratte, Touring Car Driver: I already have a Scion FR-S that I’m prepping for Targa Newfoundland, so lets exclude it here even though it’s by far the most enjoyable option around a race track thanks to its peerless combination of precision, balance and willingness to hang the tail end out. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a very impressive road car, with an unmatched sense of refinement and solidity in this group, but from the driver’s seat things feel a little too computer-aided to be my choice as a truly engaging fun-machine. As much as I share Mike’s feelings about the MX-5, it’s too impractical for a daddy of two like me, which leaves me with either of the Fords or the WRX. The Subaru is unquestionably the fastest in a straight line and the AWD grip is addictive, but the Fiesta ST just has this irresistible hyperactive quality to it that leaves me grinning like an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson every time I drive it, and for that reason I’ll take the Fiesta ST. Heeeeeere’s Johnny!
Colum Wood, Editorial Director: I love the twitchy feeling of the Focus ST, but those seats are terrible. The Fiesta’s ultra grippy tires, I fear, would wear out in a year of commuting. I don’t fit in the Civic Si and the Juke, well, it’s a Juke. The MX-5 is a blast, but convertibles are a pain. So I’m down to the cars with three letters, the GTI, WRX and FR-S. I love the FR-S, but it’s true fun comes in pushing it hard, not in driving it every day. And as a dad, a real back seat is a must. The GTI’s turbo is plenty fun to play with and it’s arguably the best commuter of the bunch. Plus I love those seats. But I worry about German reliability. That leaves the WRX. LOTS of power, all-season grip and amazing functionality. I’m sold!
Craig Cole, Associate Editor: Let’s be honest, every one of these eight cars is fun to drive, even the somewhat maligned Honda Civic Si, which still delivers a rousing VTEC snarl when you wind it out. They all bring sporty dynamics, brisk acceleration and suitably aggressive looks to the table. Certainly some are more engaging and attractive than others but they’ve each got their plusses and minuses.
But for me one of these diminutive performance brawlers stood head and shoulders above the crowd. It’s a car that blends rapid straight-line speed with an intoxicatingly engaging chassis and micrometer-precise steering. Seconding Dave’s opinion, the Ford Fiesta ST is my pick. It’s an enticing package with decent interior space, more-than-respectable fuel economy and a delinquent nature that’s impossible to ignore. Throw in affordable pricing and (in my opinion) the BEST shifter in this group and you have a winner.
Sami Haj-Assaad, Features Editor: It should come as no surprise that I’m picking the FR-S as my personal favorite. I bought one of these two years ago and it took just one lap around the track to remind me why I dropped down the cash for this rear-wheel-drive sports car. It’s not rocket-ship fast like the WRX, but the FR-S satisfies in delivering an authentic sports-car experience on the road and track thanks to its fantastic chassis and sharp handling. If there’s one issue, it’s that the additions of the fancy-pants Monogram Edition model we have just aren’t worth the extra cash. Instead, grab a base-model and consider using the extra dough to get some fresh, grippy tires or more power via aftermarket options, therefore resolving any issues with the car as it comes from the showroom floor.
Stephen Elmer, News Editor: Sure, you want a cheap sports car to be fun, but is it really worth getting your spine crushed on the street for? That’s why I’d take the VW GTI. Out of the whole pack, this car functions the best as a daily driver. The suspension setup won’t jar your teeth loose, the hatchback allows extra practicality and the turbocharged engine is smooth and fast. Exceeding speed limits on major highways is hard to avoid, as this car just feels so dialed in at Autobahn-level speeds. Combine all of that with an amazing Fender audio system, and the GTI would look the best in my driveway.
Luke Vandezande, Managing Editor: It might not come as a surprise, but my top choice out of the test is the Subaru WRX. The MX-5 offers more sheer enjoyment, but otherwise there’s nothing in the pack as entertaining to drive as the Subaru.
Beside any of the other cars, it feels vastly more powerful and you can enjoy it for a price that fits our category. Yes, it means driving a car without extra equipment but I honestly wouldn’t mind. It’s comfortable, quick and I have firsthand experience with the merits of both forced induction and all-wheel drive at high altitudes. In other words, the Subie will perform pretty much anywhere.
I’m pleased the WRX proved to be the overall winner and if it were my money, that’s exactly where it would be going.