Best Performance-Oriented Family Cars Under $35,000

You are approaching your thirties, settling down, and have or are expecting some little ones on the way. Is it time for a minivan or some other boring family-hauler that is typical of many who find themselves in this situation? Perhaps you are considering one of those dreadful crossovers that everyone seems to love nowadays?

Not at all. Here are just a handful of fun-to-drive, affordable daily drivers that were presented at the 2018 Canadian International Autoshow:

 

2018 Golf GTI

The Golf is Volkswagen’s long-running best-seller. The Golf GTI, a performance-oriented variant of the Golf, is the original hot-hatch and the veritable king of its segment. For those who prefer a more “mature” styling in their vehicles while retaining the fun-to-drive aspect, there are few other competitors that can touch the GTI.

As a hatchback, the GTI has all the characteristics of a short-wheelbase car that make it a blast to drive, while being more than practical for family-duty. Where cars like the WRX and Focus ST are (comparatively) less refined and frenetic, the GTI brings a bit more class – sporty a very modern and comfortable interior, and plenty of technology. It may be the slowest car here on paper with a turbo-charged 2.0-litre engine producing “just” 220bhp, but Volkswagen is notorious for underrating their engines. Dyno-testing has revealed that the true power output is closer to 250bhp – far from lethargic! Weighing in at just under 3000 pounds, the GTI is also the lightest car on this list, allowing for better use of its power and making it feel toss-able and nimble around corners.

For those who are enjoy modifying their toys, aftermarket support for the GTI is plentiful and the community is large, making it easy to find parts and get advice from dedicated veterans.

The front-wheel drive Volkswagen Golf GTI starts at CA$30,595 with a 6-speed manual transmission. A dual-clutch DSG transmission is offered at an extra cost.

 

 

2018 Ford Focus ST

Where many other car manufacturers are shying away from performance-oriented cars, Ford is jumping right into the thick of it, providing enthusiasts with something fun to drive no matter the budget – from the humble-yet-exhilarating Fiesta ST, all the way to the Shelby GT350R and Ford GT track monsters. Keeping in line with this philosophy, Ford brings us the Focus ST – the performance-variant of its Focus hatchback.

Perhaps the most rowdy of the four cars on this list, the Focus ST is an absolute blast to drive. Like the WRX, the Focus ST lacks the maturity and refinement of the GTI and Accord, but makes up for it in fun-factor and personality. Its punchy 2.0-litre turbo-charged EcoBoost engine delivers 252bhp and 270lb-ft of torque, sending you from 0-100km in 6 seconds. It’s stiff, performance-tuned suspension keeps it tight driving down windy roads while also allowing the driver to swing its tail out through sharp corners. While torque-steer – found in almost all front-wheel drive cars – is usually not a good thing, many fans of the Focus ST consider it a positive to its already hilariously fun dynamics – and I am inclined to agree.

Make no mistake, this car is definitely geared towards experienced drivers. If your priority lays solely on finding something exciting to drive but absolutely cannot compromise on having a second pair of doors, look no further.

The front-wheel drive Focus ST starts at CA$32,298 and is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission.

 

 

2018 Subaru WRX

This rally-bred sedan is finding itself with fewer and fewer competitors in its class. With a pedigree matched by few others, this is lot of car and a lot of frantic fun.

A spacious cabin and large trunk allows for easy transportation of family members, groceries, and most other things you can think of.  When you have dropped everyone off at home, its 268bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four engine will happily send you flying down a clear straight or through some curvy backroads, while its torque-y low end and compact footprint makes it effective for city-driving. Able to reach 0-100km in 5.5 seconds, this car is no slouch and is the fastest of the bunch on this list. Of course, Subaru’s standard symmetrical AWD system cannot be forgotten, keeping you planted through corners and laughing at snow storms (with a good set of winter tires of course).

While the cabin may leave some wanting more, many others will appreciate the analog and simple feel of the interior. However, I will admit that the infotainment system is absolutely horrendous. Otherwise, the focus is clearly on the driving experience rather than fiddling with a touch-screen to find settings that are buried under 8 sub-menus.

The Subaru WRX starts at CA$29,995 with standard AWD and 6-speed manual transmission. A CVT option is offered at an extra cost, but not recommended.

 

 

2018 Honda Accord Sport 2.0, 6MT

When it comes to fun cars, Honda cannot be left out of the conversation. During the 90s and early 00s, Honda was at the top of their game – producing beloved vehicles such as the Integra Type-R, the EK9 Civic Type-R, the NA1/NA2 NSX, and of course, the S2000.

While the reputation Honda once enjoyed for its focus on car enthusiasts is not nearly as fierce as it once was, they still carry plenty of options for those of us who enjoy anything from spirited street-driving all the way to track days. This is especially true when we see the new manual-only FK8 Civic Type-R (which Honda has finally brought to North America), the revived NSX, and the… Honda Accord?

It may be a mid-size family-hauler with a suspension that probably can’t be described as sporty, but Honda offers a manual transmission option – quite rare these days, especially for a family sedan – as well as a turbo-charged 2.0-litre engine producing a healthy 252bhp and 273lb-ft of torque. Interestingly enough, this is the same 2.0-litre engine found in the FK8 Civic Type-R but de-tuned for the Accord. Armed with this knowledge and the fact that Honda’s aftermarket scene is massive, I see this Accord being very popular with enthusiasts who prefer sleepers and like to squeeze every drop of power out of their engines.

The Accord’s practicality is self-explanatory. The cabin (and trunk) is spacious, comfortable, and packed with technology – typical of almost every Accord ever made – while its mechanical bits are backed by Honda reliability. In this regard, it is almost unrivalled at this price-point.

The front-wheel drive Honda Accord Sport 2.0 starts at CA$34,572.50 with a 6-speed manual transmission. A 10-speed automatic option is offered at an extra cost.

 

 

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