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8 Fast Cars for Under $30K

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Cost-conscious car-lovers may find themselves having to compromise on vehicle performance in order to buy cars within their budgets, and for someone who drives a lot or really wants to enjoy getting behind the wheel, that can be a brutal choice.

Recognizing this dilemma, Cars.com organized a “Cheap Speed Challenge” to identify vehicles that cost less than $30,000 and also included features often sought by shoppers who prioritize performance. Experts from Cars.com, MotorWeek and USAToday, along with a real car shopper, spent a few days rigorously testing eight compact coupes, sedans and hatchbacks. The tests included zero-to-60 mph times, quarter-mile times, 60-to-zero mph braking times, a long day on a road course, and a 200-mile mileage test.

Cars That Let You Go Faster for Less

Cars were awarded points in 14 categories, and those scores were weighted as such: The experts’ scores accounted for 50% of the total score; 10% came from the shopper’s scores; 30% was based on track performance; and the remaining 10% was based on fuel economy. (It’s unclear from the scorecard the maximum amount of points a car could receive, but scores ranged from 621 points to 878 points.)

Here’s how the judges ranked the eight cars they tested.

8. 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth
Score: 621 points
Cost of model driven: $25,995

7. 2014 Nissan Juke NISMO RS
684 points

6. 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo
732 points

5. 2014 Scion FR-S
736 points

4. 2014 Kia Forte5 SX
748 points

3. 2014 Ford Fiesta ST
750 points

2. 2015 Subaru WRX
807 points

1. 2015 Volkswagen GTI
878 points

These cars may seem like a bargain compared to other high-performance vehicles, but if you’re looking for your most affordable option, you may have to make concessions in the performance department. Consider older model years of these vehicles (though the performance ratings will likely vary), because sometimes it’s best to go with a used vehicle.

No matter what you decide you want, make sure your car loan payment fits easily into your budget. To see how your credit standing will affect how much your loan costs and whether or not you’ll qualify for financing, check you free credit scores on Credit.com. Regularly monitoring your credit before applying for a loan can give you a good idea of where you stand.

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Image: Sarah Larson

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