Second Place – 2015 Volkswagen GTI
Many credit the Volkswagen GTI with starting the hot hatchback movement nearly forty years ago, so it’s placement near the top of this shootout shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Yet it did to us. If we were trying to find the best overall car, chances are the GTI would walk away with the whole contest. But, when it comes to the “fun-to-drive” category, the GTI scored near the back of the pack.
So how did it wind up second overall? Simply put, the GTI is the most complete car here. The few “fun” points it gave up to cars like the WRX, Focus ST and Scion FR-S it gained back in price, comfort, practicality and fuel efficiency.
Best All-Around Car
Under hood is a familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 210 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Like GTIs of the past, we are confident this engine is once again underrated. It doesn’t quite have the pull of the Focus ST or WRX, but feels much closer in power than the 42-58 HP deficit it’s facing. The one area it does beat all cars in this test is engine noise, thanks to a hearty rumble being fed into the cabin via an intake sound tube.
That, combined with the feel of the turbo, had our editors pouring on the throttle at low rpm, waiting for the turbo to spool and then letting off in repeated bursts of acceleration and noise.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Volkswagen GTI Review
Handling is still a strong point for the GTI, as it dispatches corners with surprising precision for how comfortable and refined the car is. Like the Focus ST though, the GTI goes about its business almost too well and the raw engaging feel found in cars like the MX-5, FR-S and Fiesta ST is lacking.
The Volkswagen GTI continues to be a slick compact hatchback. The little bit it lacks in pure driving joy in makes up in spades with everyday livability.
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
First Place – 2014 Ford Fiesta ST
When Ford announced the company was bringing over an ST version of the Fiesta, we figured one of two things would happen. Either the Fiesta ST would be a mild upgrade comprised mostly of body add-ons and stickers, or Ford would finally bring to North America a true, red-blooded subcompact hot hatch.
Thankfully the latter happened. Ford has thrown everything it knows about sporty front-wheel drive cars at the Fiesta and created the rawest, most rambunctious car we have seen in some time. Everything the car does involves a driver’s inputs from torque steering acceleration runs to darting around under heavy braking. Don’t think this car is unruly to drive, because it’s not; it’s just a wholly engaging, grin-inducing back road rocket.
A True Pocket Rocket
Under hood is a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 197 HP and 202 lb-ft of torque. Although that is less power than the 1.6-liter under the hood of the Juke NISMO RS, the Fiesta is lighter and faster in a straight line during our acceleration testing. In fact, only the Focus ST, GTI and WRX beat it in quarter mile runs and unlike the NISMO RS, the Fiesta’s engine sounds great under hard acceleration.
SEE ALSO: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST vs. Subaru BRZ
The little ST corners flat and is surprisingly balanced for a front-wheel driver with economy car roots. Powering out of corners with ample torque, the ST begs to be ripped hard up to the next turn. The downside to this cornering prowess is ride comfort. The Fiesta ST is arguably the stiffest sprung car in this shootout and rougher roads can become quite unpleasant.
All the fun the Fiesta ST provides can be had for the small sum of $24,220 after destination charges or skip the supportive Recaro seats and the price drops further. Add-in best in test observed fuel economy and the Fiesta ST delivers more thrills for the dollar than any other car in this shootout, securing it first place in the street driving portion.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 197 HP, 202 lb-ft Transmission: Six-speed manual Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive, eTVC differential Fuel Economy Ratings: 26 MPG City, 35 MPG Highway Fuel Economy Observed: 36.8 MPG Price: $24,220 after destination charges