Here’s the thing about fun cars: They don’t always have to be fast.
Sure, a good turn of speed is always appreciated, but driving enjoyment doesn’t hinge on it. Luckily, there are plenty of affordable options on the market that can provide some entertainment this side of the speed limit. There are obvious choices, like the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen GTI, but we’re talking about rides even more rudimentary than that, where even the base model can provide a daily does of amusement. And so without further ado, here are, in no particular order, five cars that may not slay with speed, but do offer a surprising bit of fun behind the wheel.
The new Impreza easily makes this list for its suddenly smile-inducing ways. Despite its shared bloodlines with the fun-defining WRX and STI models the Impreza has long been anything but exciting, doing little to impress when the turns tighten. That all changes in its fifth generation, with a stiff new chassis and revised suspension setup making a world of difference. Add in the available brake-based torque vectoring system and the Impreza is as lively as it is law-abiding, driving every bit like an underpowered WRX. It’s not, however, perfect, and still offers Subaru’s antiquated five-speed as its manual option.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Subaru Impreza Review
Still, considering how far it has come from one generation to the next is truly astonishing. Add in its reasonable price — the torque-vectoring-equipped Sport version is priced at $21,995 for a sedan and $22,495 for a hatch ($24,395 and $25,295, respectively, in Canada) — and the Impreza is frugal and fun.
Of all the midsize sedans on the market, Mazda’s offering may be the most engaging of the bunch. Sure, its four-cylinder engine can feel a bit underpowered at times, with only 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque to work with, but the Mazda6 has plenty else going for it. A rigid chassis and sporty suspension more than make up for what it lacks in pure power, leading to plenty of thrills on winding roads. As an added bonus, it can still be fitted with a manual gearbox, and remains one of the only midsize sedans on the market available with three pedals. The car’s pricing provides another perk, with the manual-equipped Mazda6 starting at just $21,945 ($26,525 in Canada).
As far as subcompact cars go, it doesn’t get much more practical than the Fit. A roomy cabin and clever configurability are just two of the many reasons the wee wagon outshines the competition. And while the Fit isn’t fast, it’s definitely fun. Get up to speed by squeezing all 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque out of its 1.5-liter engine and the Fit feels firm and unfurrowed, responding to inputs from the driver with a surprising amount of spirit. It’s also easily the most inexpensive car on this list, starting at a paltry $16,090 ($14,950 in Canada) for a version fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox.
“Smiles for miles” is a great way to describe what the Beetle brings to the table. That it rides on a platform that once underpinned the GTI certainly helps make a case for this retro-inspired ride’s fun factor. A taut chassis and wheels pushed close to all four corners allow the quintessential compact to be tossed into a corner and live to tell the tell, while responsive handling give it a go kart–like responsiveness. With its turbocharged 1.8-liter engine putting out 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, the Beetle feels pretty peppy, too. It’s also not a pricey proposition, with the Beetle hardtop starting at just $19,995 ($19,990 in Canada). American consumers aren’t provided with a manual option any longer, though the car’s automatic gearbox is a good one, while Canadian Beetle buyers can still row their own gears using a dated five-speed.
Honda Accord Hybrid
The electrified Accord makes the list not just as an obligatory hybrid, but because it is actually capable of some semblance of fun in its second generation, and not just in the gauge cluster trying to set new hypermiling personal bests. The new Accord Hybrid benefits from the chassis improvements rolled out on the refreshed gas-powered Accord to provide a more engaging ride this time around, with increased torsional rigidity and adaptive dampers.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Review
Total system output from the gas engine and electric motor is a lackadaisical 212 horsepower, and acceleration is certainly sluggish, but the car’s newly added Sport mode helps liven the drive to an unexpected degree.