Best Sports Cars

Australia's Best Cars 2018

Best Sports Car Under $50,000

With performance and looks wrapped up in an affordable package, the best sports car under $50,000 segment has competition and choice galore.

Winner: Hyundai i30 N


The old adage ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ has just as much resonance today with car companies and consumers as it did in the ’70s and ’80s. Motorsport success can bring credibility and floor traffic into the showroom, and buyers today are faced with a mouth-watering array of affordable hot hatches, coupes and sedans.

Launched here just a few months ago, the Hyundai i30 N has undergone several years of development, much of it in Europe – the spiritual home of performance hatches and where Hyundai’s N performance arm resides. Hyundai Australia also knows that our unique road conditions throw up many challenges in developing the best ride and handling settings for our tastes. Spring and damper calibrations are unique to the Aussie-spec i30 N, providing a more compliant ride than the hard-edged European version, and this decision bears fruit with a best-in-class score for ride.

The same goes for handling, arguably the most critical line, where the combination of a unique rack-mounted electric power-steering unit, multi-adjustable electronically controlled suspension, electronically controlled limited slip differential and low-profile 19-inch tyres work perfectly together. The i30 N remains glued to the road like a barnacle to a boat hull, and it’s just as difficult to dislodge or upset through a series of sweeping corners or tight switchbacks.

At the heart of the i30 N is a 2.0-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder engine pumping out 202kW and 353Nm with an extra 25Nm available with overboost. Maximum torque is available from just 1450rpm, and the way the power is delivered provides a slight point of distinction to some of its peers. Rather than neck-snapping surges of power when the turbo gets on boost, the engine in the i30 N delivers a strong, seamless surge up to almost 5000rpm.

That driver-friendly power delivery underscores the i30 N’s overall user-friendly attributes. Ergonomically, all the major and minor controls intuitively fall to hand and front-seat support is comfortable without the need to resort to a hard race-type seat. Visually, the i30N remains on the understated side, but alter the drive setting to rev-matching mode and it’ll produce just the sort of mechanical cacophony from the exhausts that’s music to the ears for enthusiasts.    

With a starting price of $39,990 there are few in the category that can match the i30 N price-wise and the value-for-money equation is enhanced with a good level of standard features and high build quality. Impressive as it is, you don’t win a sports category with those attributes alone and it’s the i30 N’s on-road scores that really matter and where it excels.

Second place: Ford Focus ST


A winner in 2015 and 2016, the Ford Focus ST is by no means disgraced with a second position this year. Since its release back in 2013, it has always been around the winner’s rostrum, which says a lot about its performance credentials.

Considered something of a blunt instrument, the Focus ST offers a substantial 184kW and 360Nm combined with a sweet-shifting, six-speed manual transmission. However, the way the power is delivered to the ground has always made the ST a bit of a handful through the tighter stuff. Even with some serious upgrades to the front suspension and steering in 2015, those measures failed to completely rid the ST of steering peculiarities.

These characteristics haven’t diminished the ST’s popularity and it remains at the pointy end of the field even as it nears the end of its model cycle. An all-new Focus is due in late 2018  and an ST version is no certainty. Its age is a big factor in slipping back from top place last year.

The i30 N is fresh and has better ergonomics and build quality and finish, and its drivetrain is much more sophisticated and tuneable. Seat comfort is still a strong suit with the ST’s Recaro sports seats holding you tighter than a Nonna’s hug, and Ford’s SYNC 2 infotainment system and 8.0-inch touchscreen still rate highly for useability and ergonomics.

Third place: Ford Fiesta ST


If bang for your buck is the only criteria, then the Fiesta ST would win hands down every time. In many ways it’s like a modern version of the classic Mini Cooper S; in its day the S punched above its weight and delivered performance with an enjoyment factor that was off the scale – and so too does the Fiesta ST.

Underpinning the Fiesta ST is a chassis that’s balanced and has been tuned with direct, sharp steering off centre to maximise cornering ability. Balance is the key with the Fiesta ST and its 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine produces 134kW and 240Nm. It’s punchy without overpowering the chassis, and weighing in at only 1200 kilograms helps. It’s also easy to drive and the six-speed manual is slick-shifting and light in operation with well-matched ratios.

The Fiesta ST also does well in standard features for a light car, with rain-sensing wipers, daytime running lights and auto headlamps. Ownerships costs are low and the Fiesta ST won’t cost you a packet in servicing costs, making it one of the most affordable hot hatches around. However, Fiesta ST production has ended, so you’ll need to be quick to find the last examples at Ford dealerships.

Best Sports Car Under $50,000

Best Sports Car Under $50,000

WEIGHTING

Hyundai i30 N

Ford Focus ST

Ford Fiesta ST

Details

Scores are weighted – critical, high, medium or low – according to their importance to buyers of cars in this class. The overall average totals reflect these weightings.

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 8.0L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd manual
Ind. drive-away: $44,100
ANCAP: N/A

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type:
95 RON
Fuel economy: 
7.3L/100km
Engine size: 
2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission:
6-spd manual
Ind. drive-away:
 $43,028
ANCAP:
5 stars

Type: 3-door hatch
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 6.2L/100km
Engine size: 1.6L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd manual
Ind. drive-away: $31,010
ANCAP: 5 stars

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

Medium

5

5

9

Cost of depreciation ($)

Low

5

5

8

Running and repair costs

Medium

7

4

5

Fuel consumption

Low

2

4

6

Warranty and dealer access

Medium

8

8

8

Insurance

Low

6

6

9

Standard features

Medium

5

6

3

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

8

7

7

Environment

Critical

6

6

7

Seating comfort/support

High

7

8

7

Ergonomics

High

8

7

5

Build and finish quality

High

7

6

4

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Critical

9

9

7

Ride

Medium

8

6

6

Handling

Critical

8

6

7

Braking

Critical

7

7

6

Smoothness and quietness

Low

6

5

6

OVERALL AVERAGE

726

674

650

Best Sports Car $50,000-$100,000

Performance, handling, character and a certain wow factor come together in this collection of big-dollar performance cars.

Winner: Mercedes-AMG A 45


The Mercedes-AMG A 45 is once again back on the winner’s podium in the premium sports car class. But it wasn’t a win that came easily, having to withstand concerted challenges from Honda’s affordable and stonking new Civic Type R, and the BMW M240i – an old adversary and very worthy past winner in this class. In the end, the points tally across 17 assessment criteria gave the Merc a skinny six-point winning margin to the Honda in second spot.

Owning and running the hot-shot A-Class will punish the bank balance more than the similarly priced BMW and fiscally friendly Honda. For a small hatchback, it’s not that cheap and you can expect depreciation to bite harder, while running and repair costs are among the worst in class. The Merc is reasonably fuel efficient by class standards, but its beverage of choice is the dearer 98 RON fuel.

On the upside, its standard features list is more generous than the Honda or its German rival. The lengthy equipment list includes heated power front seats, LED headlamps, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, keyless start, infotainment system with 8.0-inch colour screen and navigation, Harman Kardon sound system, plus a host of AMG-specific enhancements. These include the instrument cluster, performance seats, steering wheel, 19-inch alloys, high-performance brake system, performance exhaust system, spoiler, and a selective ride-control adaptive sports suspension system.

Buyers expect strong safety credentials in a car such as this, and there are no disappointments – the A 45 and Kia Stinger GT are the only two cars in the class to score a perfect 10 for safety.

First impressions count, and the Merc’s body and interior styling shout the performance car message. But it’s what it can do, not what it advertises, that really counts. It’s hard to imagine any driving enthusiast who wouldn’t be impressed by its on-road talents.

There’s a ballistic 2.0-litre turbo engine that pumps out a mighty 275kW and 475Nm, making it one of the most powerful production engines of its displacement you’ll find. Mated to a seven-speed DCT gearbox, performance is nothing short of exhilarating, and there’s that lovely exhaust ‘snap, crackle and pop’. The 0-100km/h sprint is dispatched in just 4.2 seconds.

The AMG Dynamic Select system allows driver control over engine and transmission response, plus steering and suspension settings to best suit driving conditions and style. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system efficiently puts power down to the tarmac, allowing it to carve through and slingshot out of corners. With limpet-like grip, it’s more a point-and-shoot weapon than the agile and lively rear-drive BMW, with which it shares class-leading handling scores. The AMG braking system does a great job of restraining the vehicle when called on.

The A 45’s more overtly styled interior has switchgear that’s too fussy for the judges’ liking, however, like the Type R, the Merc’s body-hugging AMG sports seats provide great comfort and support, even during hard cornering.

The simple fact is, whichever of the three cars that made our final cut you choose, you won’t be disappointed. They all offer that wow factor and you’ll get a superb drive. Yet, by the numbers in 2018, the A 45 is the more complete premium sports car package.

Second place: Honda Civic Type R


The eagerly awaited new Civic Type R really put a cat among the pigeons in this year’s premium sports car shootout. One of only four cars in the class with an estimated drive-away price below $56,000, it looks like a battle of David and Goliath proportions, going up against far more expensive options from BMW and Mercedes-AMG.

But Honda’s hot hatch is so good that it was only beaten into second place by a slender hair’s breadth. Its list-price advantage, lower depreciation costs, lower running and repair costs, and a better warranty and dealer access score than the German duo all have it well ahead in the value-for-money stakes.

The 228kW 2.0-litre VTEC turbo engine is a gem, happily revving to its redline, and delivering strong, flexible performance. The six-speed manual gearbox has slick short shifts, and there’s a clever rev-matching function when down-shifting. Equipped with Brembo brakes and large drilled front discs, stopping power proved excellent.

The front-drive Type R has excellent steering and finely honed dynamics. There’s a choice of drive modes from the track-focused ‘+R’ mode, through to a ‘comfort’ setting that makes this hot hatch a very liveable daily drive. And, whether they were large or lean, all our judges loved the support that the deeply bolstered front seats provided.

Third place: BMW M240i Coupe


In 2016, the M240i triumphed over the past two-time winner, the Mercedes-AMG A 45, by a very slim eight-point margin. But the entry of the relatively affordable and brilliant new Civic Type R, combined with a small loss of the BMW’s value-for-money advantages relative to the Merc, and the Bavarian slips into third spot, only 10 points astern of our winner.

Updates to the M240i in 2017 brought adaptive LED headlamps and the latest iDrive 6 infotainment system as standard, along with minor cosmetic changes and enhanced interior trims. But the list price has risen and is now virtually on par with the better-equipped Mercedes. Owners of the M240i will also feel the financial pinch when it comes to insuring their conveyance.

In all other ways the BMW delighted judges with its on-road performance, braking prowess and dynamics. The 250kW 3.0-litre TwinPower turbo inline six-cylinder engine delivers muscular performance through the rev range and sounds great too. The eight-speed auto is slick and smooth with its perfectly timed shifts.

Judges complimented the BMW’s ride quality and handling finesse. It blends the purity of BMW’s classic rear-drive agility and sportiness with everyday liveability and the refinement of a prestige car. High-quality finish, excellent seating and a user-friendly cabin round out a great package.

Best Sports Car $50,000-$100,000

Best Sports Car $50,000-$100,000

WEIGHTING

Mercedes-AMG A 45

Honda Civic Type-R

BMW 2-Series M240i Coupe

Details

Scores are weighted – critical, high, medium or low – according to their importance to buyers of cars in this class. The overall average totals reflect these weightings.

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 98 RON
Fuel economy: 7.3L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 7-spd DCT
Ind. drive-away: $85,254
ANCAP: 5 stars

Type: 5-door hatch
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 8.8L/100km
Engine size: 2.0L, 4cyl
Transmission: 6-spd manual
Ind. drive-away: $55,494
ANCAP: N/A

Type: 2-door coupe
Fuel type: 95 RON
Fuel economy: 7.1L/100km
Engine size: 3.0L, 6cyl
Transmission: 8-spd auto
Ind. drive-away: $85,009
ANCAP: N/A

VALUE FOR MONEY
Pricing

Medium

3

7

3

Cost of depreciation ($)

Low

3

8

4

Running and repair costs

Low

1

6

3

Fuel consumption

Low

3

1

4

Warranty and dealer access

Medium

2

7

2

Insurance

Low

6

6

2

Standard features

Medium

10

7

7

DESIGN AND FUNCTION
Safety

Critical

10

9

9

Environment

Critical

6

6

6

Seating comfort/support

High

8

8

7

Ergonomics

High

7

7

8

Build and finish quality

Critical

7

6

8

ON THE ROAD
Performance

Critical

10

9

10

Ride

Medium

6

7

8

Handling

Critical

9

8

9

Braking

Critical

9

8

8

Smoothness and quietness

Low

6

6

8

OVERALL AVERAGE

752

746

742

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