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

Fifth Place – 2014 Ford Focus ST


The Ford Focus ST remains something of an enigma to me. On the one hand, I love its European styling, high quality interior, supple ride quality and powerful engine (highest torque output of the bunch at 270 lb-ft). But on the other, the seating position is high and cramped, the handling can be a bit quirky thanks to the torque vectoring going on across both axles, and the power delivery falls off sharply after a lap or two (presumably from heat soak or the computer pulling timing and/or reducing boost pressure when it starts to see temperatures or some other data points that scare it).

SEE ALSO: Ford Focus ST Handling Secrets Revealed

As a result, I’d describe the Focus ST as a bit of a one-lap wonder. It’s really fast on that first lap when the engine is cool and making full power, 2014-Ford-Focus-ST-.jpgand the torque vectoring and e-diff work best when the brakes are cool, too. But after that, lap times fall off and so does the fun factor.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Ford Focus ST vs 2013 Mazdaspeed3

Still, with the second quickest lap time of the bunch and a big grin on my face during that one magical lap, it is a very engaging car to drive. It rotates like very few front-wheel drive cars before it, even if that rotation is being achieved “artificially” via its brake-based torque vectoring system, and it jumps out of the corners with real purpose thanks to that mountain of turbocharged torque.

Fast Facts

Lap time: 1:26.884 (2nd) Top Speed: 95.6 MPH (5th) Max Cornering G-Force: 1.17 (2nd) Max Braking G-Force: 0.79 (4th) Fun To Drive On The Track (out of 25): 20 (4th) Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 252 HP, 270 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, eTVC differential Fuel Economy Ratings: 23 MPG City, 32 MPG Highway Fuel Economy Observed: 34.6 MPG Price: $29,000 after destination charges

GALLERY: 2014 Ford Focus ST


Fourth Place – 2015 Volkswagen GTI


I really thought the new Volkswagen GTI was in with a chance at fastest lap time and the overall win. On paper it’s got the right stuff to be a contender, and yet somehow it underwhelmed me with its performance around our test track.

It has almost as much torque as the Focus ST, yet weighs 200-lbs less. Plus the 2013 GTI I tested last summer was surprisingly willing to rotate in the corners, so I was expecting this 7th generation 2015 GTI to be even better.


And it wasn’t all-bad, posting the 3rd quickest lap time, 2nd highest top speed, and 2nd highest braking g-forces. Where it failed to keep up was in the corners, 2015-Volkswagen-GTI-interior.jpgwhere the GTI was only 6th best in lateral g-force rankings and simply didn’t show the same willingness to rotate as either of the Fords or the rear-wheel drive cars.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Volkswagen GTI Review

It’s ironic that the manual 6-speed gearbox, something I would normally argue as essential in a fun-to-drive car, may have actually detracted from the GTI’s performance compared to the DSG (dual-clutch automatic) version I tested last year. Plus, the lack of side bolstering makes it a struggle to stay in place on those tartan-covered seats, and there just isn’t enough communication via the steering wheel or the chassis to stimulate my senses the way the top three cars do.

Fast Facts

Lap time: 1:27.425 (3rd) Top Speed: 98.7 MPH (2nd) Max Cornering G-Force: 1.08 (6th) Max Braking G-Force: 0.81 (2nd) Fun To Drive On The Track (out of 25): 19 (5th) Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 210 HP, 258 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, XDS brake-activated electronic-differential Fuel Economy Ratings: 25 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway Fuel Economy Observed: 31.4 MPG Price: $25,815 after destination charges

GALLERY: 2015 Volkswagen GTI



Click here for Part 3 where we announce the winner of the Under $30,000 Performance Car Shootout

  • Soyntgo4it

    Umm The Si has helical LSD (Limited Slip Differential)

  • Rickers

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

  • 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”

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • ColumWood

    You’re right. That’s been corrected.

  • Rusty

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

  • 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…….

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • ColumWood

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

  • 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.