AutoGuide Under $30,000 Performance Car Shootout – Part Two: Track Test Elimination Round

Seventh Place – 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS


I think most of us at AutoGuide assumed the Nissan Juke would finish last, and not because it’s slow or lacking in personality, because the truth is it’s pretty darn quick in a straight line and is plenty of fun to rip around in. But as a crossover based platform with a relatively high center of gravity, the assumption was it just wouldn’t cut it around our test track.

A half-second quicker than the Civic and less than 1.5-seconds behind the universally loved MX-5, the Juke Nismo RS acquitted itself quite nicely, 2014-Nissan-Juke-NISMO-RS-seats.jpgthanks in large part to the proper 6-speed manual gearbox it’s equipped with along with an equally proper helical limited slip differential. Combined with the punchy turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder engine and a curb weight under 2900-lbs (over 100-lbs lighter than the Civic Si) and you’ve actually got all the right ingredients for a fun-machine.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS Review

The high seating position and sensation of body roll does take some of the fun out of it around the track, though, as does the understeer that creeps in as you turn up the aggression in the corners. In fact, it posted the lowest peak cornering g-forces of any car in this competition, but thanks to the aggressively bolstered seats, Alcantara wrapped steering wheel and torquey power delivery, it does feel more engaging to drive than the Civic.

Fast Facts

Lap time: 1:30.805 (7th) Top Speed: 95.1 MPH (6th) Max Cornering G-Force: 1.01 (8th) Max Braking G-Force: 0.74 (7th) Fun To Drive On The Track (out of 25): 17 (7th) Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 215 HP, 210 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, helical (gear-type) LSD Fuel Economy Ratings: 25 MPG City, 35 MPG highway Fuel Economy Observed: 34.6 MPG Price: $26,930 after destination charges

GALLERY: 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS


Sixth Place – 2014 Mazda MX-5 Club PRHT


There’s really no disputing the fact that the Mazda MX-5 is a hoot to drive on the street or around a race track. But in this company, it does feel under-sprung, under-damped and under-powered. For such a compact and lightweight roadster, the MX-5, even in Club trim, simply has too much body roll to feel completely at home on the race track.

Still, the MX-5 does enjoy the inherent goodness of rear-wheel drive, so even though you have to wait for the body motion to settle during the first phase of each corner, 2014-Mazda-MX5-steering-wheel.jpgyou can use the throttle to adjust the car’s attitude once you’re past the apex. There is some turn-in understeer to combat, though, and because the Mazda only makes 167 hp, it’s not always as simple as mashing the gas to get the chassis to rotate.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Mazda MX-5 Review

With a bit more power and better body motion control, the MX-5 would be a lot faster and more engaging around the race track. But thanks to its low mass, outstanding steering feel and response, and tossability (it just encourages you to chuck it into the corners as aggressively as you dare), it scored second highest in the Fun To Drive category here.

Fast Facts

Lap time: 1:29.462 (6th) Top Speed: 93.9 MPH (7th) Max Cornering G-Force: 1.10 (5th) Max Braking G-Force: 0.80 (3rd) Fun To Drive On The Track (out of 25): 22 (2nd) Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 167 HP, 140 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, torque-sensing (gear-type) LSD Fuel Economy Ratings: 21 MPG City, 28 MPG highway Fuel Economy Observed: 31.4 MPG Price: $29,460 after destination charges

GALLERY: 2015 Mazda MX-5


  • Soyntgo4it

    Umm The Si has helical LSD (Limited Slip Differential)

  • ColumWood

    You’re right. That’s been corrected.

  • Rickers

    WTH! You eliminated the GTI? I thought FOR SURE it would be in the Top 3.

  • shaun walsh

    Beat by the st. In surprised they eliminated the st though. Best Score there and I don’t see the FRS or the fiesta beating it. I do admit it needs better brake fluid and pads though

  • Sarah H

    The Veloster Turbo should be here…. just reminding you. It would definitely be faster than that Nissan Joke.

  • Teckler

    Sure, let’s bring it along as well as the Kia Forte Koup and Scion TC. We’ll call it the “meh cars under $30,000”

  • Shiratori90

    Let it go. The veloster is not a serious player in the sub-30k performance segment. Ultimately, it’s not about them testing the car for the sake of prospective buyers, it’s about them testing the car in order to satisfy your ego…….

  • Mark

    To be fair to the GTI, it is the “base” model, the performance pack gives it some more hp, bigger brakes and some handling tech. This adds though the $.

  • Felix James

    Looks pretty damn nice for a base model to me.

  • Mark

    For sure, not even sure the performance pack has any visual changes other than the brakes. From what I have read though, handling especially at speed is changed, it might have helped with the understeer.

    It is worth pointing out that a rare event occurred with the GTI vs the WRX in Car & Driver and MT, the GTI won in both cases! Again though C&D had the GTI with performance pack when they took it down to the Dragon in Ohio.

  • ColumWood

    Looks like we won’t be able to get our hands on a GTI with the performance pack until the Spring… but when we do we’ll definitely look to put together a rematch with the WRX.

  • Nick

    Given the fact that Pratte is so heavily biased towards the FR-S (it sounds like he owns more than one personally), how can this be an objective and fair review? In the video you can see him steering the viewer towards the FR-S no matter what car he is driving, and it is no chance luck he was the one doing the driving review of the FR-S. By nature anybody who reviews their own car is going to put it higher and skew the results. So much for journalistic integrity I guess… pretty sure I know what the top performance car will be already given Pratte’s history.

  • ColumWood

    If you read Dave’s stuff regularly you’ll know he’s a huge FR-S lover. Likewise, Mike is a BIG Miata fan. Having both guys favor these cars is kind of the a schtick in the video. You’ll have to hold on to find out who wins today then. You may be surprised.

  • Nick

    You were right, I guess I should have more faith, haha. Shame about the Civic Si, even though it is at a disadvantage I’ve always felt they were a great track car. On a side note, I was very interested in this review because I just finished my own version of them while looking for a cheap track car that is also fun to drive… I test drove nearly all of these, and I ended up with the Fiesta ST. Never thought I would go FWD, but it is really that good.

  • Mark

    I think David Pratte was fair and you could tell he really liked the Fiesta ST. The issue of the gear shifter being set too low was about the only real driver knock and he is not the first to say that. I hope that the Nismo IDx becomes a reality, because a sub 3000lb RWD 1.6l turbo will really give the FR-S a run for its money… Fiesta ST but RWD.

    Looking forward to seeing what the Miata ND will be like next week. I have tested the FR-S and the Miata and will admit I found the FR-S more fun to drive. The Miata was fun and very easy to drive, but just not as tight in the corners. I found that the driving position was a compromise as well since the NC Miata lack telescoping steering. The Club trim though is cool looking and if the FR-S did not exist, the go to for 3500lbs….physics is physics.

  • ColumWood

    We’re all excited for the IDx. Nissan really knows how to make great performance cars. Even that Juke was a hoot to drive… despite being a silly crossover.
    And I agree about the MX-5 Club model, it’s much more masculine looking.

  • ColumWood

    Nick you should also check out Dave’s review of a not-broken Civic Si from earlier this year.

  • Rusty

    The Miata should have won. The results are now irrelevant.

  • Eric

    What a JOKE! Anybody who driving these cars knows the Mazda MX-5 Miata is easily the most fun and rewarding to drive car of that bunch. Also, these people can’t drive with a sh#t.

  • aamaster

    Well, aside from your opinion(s), one thing is pretty evident. The reviewers are correct in that the Miata has a LOT of body roll compared to the other cars (pause it at about 4:00 in). You can definitely tune the car after you buy it and get a much better Miata (which is what most people do anyways), but this a comparison of different cars in stock form.

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