- Best cheap fast cars you can purchase in 2018
- Range of hot hatchbacks and zippy city cars
- How much fun can you have for your money?
- Best cheap fast cars you can purchase in 2018
- Range of hot hatchbacks and zippy city cars
- How much fun can you have for your money?
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get your hands on a fast, fun and desirable new car - in our Best Cheap Fast Cars 2017 group test, we discovered the Ford Focus RS can provide a truly thrilling driving experience you’d expect from a much more expensive model.
A year down the line, however, the list of contenders aiming to steal the Ford’s crown has swollen considerably – and barely any of them were on sale at the time of last year’s test. It’s clearly an exciting time to be in the market for fun, affordable cars, and this time around they're more impressive than ever.
Scroll down, watch the video and settle in to find out which is the best cheap fast car for your money for 2018-2019.
The contenders – city cars and superminis
The contenders – hot hatchbacks
- Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance
- Hyundai i30 N Performance
- Honda Civic Type R
- Renault Megane RS
- BMW M140i
The contenders – wildcard and reigning champion
City cars and superminis
The smallest and cheapest car in this year’s test, Volkswagen’s littlest model – the Up – has finally been given the iconic GTI badge, with enthusiasts hoping it would be a modern equivalent of the Lupo GTI from almost 20 years ago.
With a turbocharged 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine producing a mere 115hp, its light weight and GTI add-ons promise a peppy and perky performance, if not the fastest outright. But, it’s not all about speed.
In our test, the Up’s chuckable, darty feel won it points, as did the GTI look and feel and typical VW quality, but it feels more of a fast-ish version of an already surprisingly fun runaround. It’s a proper little city tearaway, but could do with being just a little bit faster out on the open road to be truly engaging and enjoyable.
PCP finance cost: £228 per month (5dr: 36-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
It may be the cheapest to finance, but that’s only because the Up GTI has a low cash price, not because Volkswagen’s PCP finance offer is good value.
High APR charges and an absence of deposit contribution discount mean that the Up GTI is affordable, but the faster and better-equipped Suzuki Swift Sport and Ford Fiesta ST-3 are far better value.
If all you want is a nippy, good-looking city car, with a sprinkling of added fun for a low monthly payment, the Up GTI could fit the bill. However, if you want strong performance, sharp handling and a long list of standard kit, the Swift Sport and Fiesta ST give you much more bang for your buck.
Previous versions of the Suzuki Swift Sport have won universal praise thanks to their low prices, low weight and downright fun drive. With a turbocharged 1.4-litre Boosterjet petrol engine pushing out 140hp, can this latest model continue the tradition?
It’s more grown up than previous cars, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s more civilised on the road, has a good level of standard kit and has suitably aggressive looks, but the drive simply doesn’t engage the driver like the old car could.
While the engine is strong with a surprising turn of pace and plenty of torque, the sound is dull, the steering has a slight elastic feel to it and the driving position is set too high for a fun little car like this.
The good news is that it’s an agile little thing thanks to its low kerbweight, plus the brakes are seriously impressive when you really need to stand on them.
PCP finance cost: £267 per month (37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
The Swift Sport may be pricier than the Up above, however, you get plenty of extra kit and power for not that much more per month – making it feel like the better value option. Helping to reduce the price is a £1,000 discount – from £17,999 to £16,999 – that helps to cut finance costs.
As with the Up, interest charges are steep, inflating monthly payments somewhat. That £1,000 discount means that the Swift is still good value on PCP finance, though. The Fiesta ST is not that much more, however, so if you can afford the extra £44 per month, you’ll have a far more exciting car.
The inclusion of the latest Ford Fiesta ST in this test was an inevitable, with all of the Parkers team reaching for the keys.
With a three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo petrol under the bonnet, 200hp and the promise of a 0-62mph sprint time of 6.5 seconds, the ST is a proper little pocket rocket.
Both on a track and on the road, the Fiesta’s chassis is simply superb. It has a fabulous set-up with huge grip levels and fantastic body control, while the 1.5-litre engine is genuinely quick and combines excellently with the slick six-speed manual gearbox.
It accelerates hard, it sounds brilliant and is – quite simply – excellent fun, no matter the road you’re on.
It’s also more civilised than the previous Fiesta ST in everyday driving, and the overall look and feel is sporty enough without being too shouty about it.
It’s just a shame that the Performance Pack (which adds a Quaife limited-slip differential, launch control and performance shift lights) doesn’t come as standard, as this helps the Fiesta to make the most of its power with barely any of it going to waste through wheelspin.
PCP finance cost: £311 per month (ST-3 with ST Performance Pack: 37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
Yes the Fiesta costs more than the Up and Swift Sport above, but you get a hugely faster, more exciting and more desirable car for the money. The monthly payment above also includes the £850 ST Performance Pack, so you get the traction-boosting limited-slip differential, too.
Thanks to a £500 deposit contribution discount and APR charges that are less than half those of the VW and Suzuki, the Ford is excellent value. Yes it’s not cheap, but if you want to cut the price you can step down to the still well-equipped ST-2 and skip the Performance Pack.
Do that and monthly payments should drop below those of the Swift Sport – making that version fantastically good value. Bear in mind that these Ford finance costs include a £500 online discount. Haggle with the dealer and they should match them.
The VW Golf GTI enjoys iconic status as a true great of the hot hatchback class, but with such a wide and varied mix of rivals, is it now outclassed?
In this company, it’s quite clear it’s the sensible one, with the most restrained styling and grown-up feel, but in Performance Pack spec, it still pushes out a punchy 245hp from its 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine, completing the 0-62mph sprint in 6.2 seconds.
That puts it just behind the more powerful Hyundai i30 N (0.1 seconds behind) but it is 30hp down on its Korean rival. On the move, the power delivery is smooth yet strong, with a well-sorted ride, composed chassis and a very complete, competent all-round feel.
And that sums up the Golf really rather well. It’s not as exciting visually and dynamically as some of the cars here, but it’s likely to be the one you’d want to drive home after a long day. It’s the most capable all-rounder and offers a very refined, high-quality package that can also double as an involving back-road blaster at the weekend. If you could only have one car, the Golf GTI is one of the best options on sale.
With a classic name badge and the ability to keep up with more outlandish, newer competition, the Golf GTI could just do with a little more excitement.
PCP finance cost: £495 per month (3dr with Dynamic Chassis Control: 36-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
You could say this Golf is reassuringly expensive on PCP finance. Despite coming in three-door, 245hp manual form, it’s notably pricier than the three-door, 340hp, automatic BMW M140i and the five-door, 280hp Renault Megane RS. Meanwhile, the 275hp, five-door i30 is practically the same monthly cost.
With quite high interest charges and a relatively low deposit contribution discount, you’d have to love the Golf to choose it over those appealing alternatives. All three are more powerful and faster on the road, but also offer a more exciting driving experience. The BMW is more luxurious inside, too.
Substantial PCP finance discounts should be available from VW dealers, however. A 10% saving or more on the list price should be possible, which in turn reduces monthly payments. If you want a Golf, therefore, push hard for a cash discount before arranging the finance details and you should be able to get a good deal.
A newbie to the hot hatch scene, Hyundai’s i30 N isn’t a half-hearted attempt at taking on the serious competition.
Developed both in Korea and at Germany’s Nurburgring race track under the watchful eye of ex-BMW M man Albert Biermann, the i30 N certainly looks promising. With a 275hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, 6.1-second 0-62mph time, launch control, several drive modes, rev matching and a frankly rude exhaust note that makes it the noisiest here, we’re off to a good start with all the right ingredients.
Once you’ve figured out all the different drive modes (head straight to the N Custom setting to pick your own), you’ll find the i30 to offer strong performance from its punchy engine, incredible grip levels when you’re really on it and outstanding dynamics on a twisty road.
Working against the i30 are its slightly bland image, a chunky BMW-esque steering wheel that some will find too chunky, and an almost-unbearably firm ride in full-bore N mode.
It’s not the most desirable nor the best value, but a very capable, surprising and deserving entrant that easily worries the competition. Well worth a look.
PCP finance cost: £472 per month (37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year allowance)*
You’d normally expect a Hyundai to cost less than a VW equivalent, but in the case of i30 they’re very closely matched (if you get a VW without the optional Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive suspension – which is standard on the Hyundai).
That might make you think the Hyundai is expensive. However, you’re getting 30hp extra plus two more doors than the Golf. While the VW has a higher cash price, this is offset by a £1,500 finance discount. Throw in very similar interest charges and both cars cost practically the same.
While the VW offers a more upmarket interior, the Hyundai offers a much sharper drive. Which offers better value is down to your priorities. Bear in mind that the 340hp BMW M140i and 280hp Renault Megane RS are both notably less, though, and the Hyundai does seem worse value.*
If you want to shout about the fact you love hot hatchbacks and you’re a bit lairy, you’ll immediately be drawn to Honda’s loutish Civic Type R – no manner of dark colours can hide the sheer amount of wings, spoilers, grilles and gills on this car.
Once you get past the looks (or even if you can’t), you cannot ignore the ferocious capability of the Type R as a seriously fast, seriously effective hot hatchback. Performance from the 320hp 2.0-litre engine is astonishing, with relentless pace and a fantastic gearbox to go with it.
The chassis is incredibly well sorted offering epic grip levels, excellent cornering agility all while offering a surprisingly refined ride, especially when you consider how stiffly-sprung the previous car was.
Inside, quality is lacking and the infotainment system is very dated, but the Type R’s sports seats offer excellent support and comfort, plus you can hide from the styling.
PCP finance cost: £486 per month (£521 for the GT model. 37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
The Civic is pricey enough in basic form – which does without sat-nav – and even more expensive in GT trim.
Yes, it’s fast and handles very well around corners, but it’s still far slower and pricier than the BMW M140i. To blame for that is a trio of high cash price, high interest charges and no deposit contribution discount.*
Matching the Civic Type R’s 5.8-second 0-62mph time, the latest Renault Megane RS is down on both power and torque compared with the Honda – 280hp versus 320hp and 390Nm versus 400Nm.
Still, ignore the figures and the Megane really punches above its weight when it comes to performance from its 1.8-litre turbocharged engine, with a truly excellent chassis that makes it fantastic fun to drive.
It’s one of the most exciting cars on track in this test, thanks to a combination of acres of grip and rear-wheel steering that make it nimble, quick to respond and very effective at covering ground quickly.
The excellent-but-optional Cup Chassis Pack really brings out the Megane’s racing pedigree. It’s just a shame that to get the most out of the Renault’s ability, you have to spend quite a bit more money over the car’s standard cash price.
However, if you’re purchasing on finance it’s actually pretty good value. If you can live with the woolly gearbox (the car’s biggest let down) and fidgety ride on the road (it loves getting thrown off course by cambers in the road), the Megane RS should be near the top of your list.
PCP finance cost: £417 per month (£362 without Cup Chassis and Brembo brake upgrades. 37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
Of the more serious hot hatchbacks in our line-up, this is the most affordable, though the more powerful, more upmarket BMW costs barely any more. Skip the Cup Chassis and Brembo brake upgrades and it’s not much more per month than the smaller and less powerful Fiesta ST.
Reasonably low interest charges, a deposit contribution discount and a surprisingly low cash price make this a fantastic car for the money. If the Fiesta ST is too small but you like its agility and fun handling, this is the best substitute per pound.
The BMW M140i drifts into this test in a unique position – it’s the only one boasting a six-cylinder engine under the bonnet and an automatic gearbox, combined with a fabulous rear-wheel drive set-up.
Performance is strong from the potent, rich-sounding engine that combines effectively with a luxurious, premium feel. However, the ride is too firm and the body control a little too wallowy to be truly engaging like the Megane or Civic.
We couldn’t compare it directly with others on track, but there’s no denying the excellent value on PCP finance this car represents.
PCP finance cost: £422 per month (3dr: 37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
With the biggest engine, fastest on-paper acceleration and low PCP finance costs – this 340hp BMW is notably less per month than the 245hp Golf, 275hp i30 N and the Civic – the M140i is staggeringly good value.
Thank a whopping deposit contribution discount and middling interest charges. Considering the fact it has the most power and most upmarket cabin, this must be the best value hot hatchback available now.
Wildcard and reigning champion
In a thoroughly modern twist of fate, an electric car has found its way into the 2018 test to see if EVs are capable of producing the same kind of thrills a traditional hot hatch can.
The BMW i3 might not seem like a natural fit, but the i3 S is a punchier version producing the equivalent of 184hp from its electric motor, making for a very surprising turn of pace.
Being an electric car, full torque is available instantly, making it one of the quickest from a standstill in this test which, considering it produces no noise, is incredibly satisfying, surprising and enjoyable. It peters off as you build speed, but being able to whizz along in silence doesn’t get old.
The case for the i3 S unravels slightly when you meet a corner. Its tall, narrow body and skinny tyres make it feel very topsy-turvy and a little like you’re out of control, but its premium, futuristic vibe will appeal to city dwellers wanting something a little more special than your usual electric cars.
PCP finance cost: £564 per month (i3 S Range Extender: 37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
Yes, this BMW is electric – with a small backup petrol generator to keep the motor running if you run out of charge – but it’s very pricey when you consider how much cheaper per month the M140i is.
The reason for this is a very high cash price – even after the government’s £4,500 Plug-in Car Grant – and a lack of deposit contribution discount. Even the relatively low interest charges can’t offset that list price.
And so we come to the reigning champion – the Ford Focus RS – sitting here in Mountune Red Edition guise as a run-out model. Is it still capable of holding the crown high?
The Focus was by far and away the fastest from 0-62mph in our drag race boasting a time of just 4.7 seconds thanks to its Mountune-tweaked 375hp 2.3-litre Ecoboost engine and all-wheel drive system providing excellent traction from the get go.
Let’s get the bad bits out of the way – not everyone will love the look of it, and the high-set driving position and dated interior really highlight the Focus’s age. Like the Megane, this particular RS had a tendency to tug all over the road, which is more than a little frustrating when you’re just going about your business.
Issues aside, the Focus RS is still up there with the best. It’s the fastest in a drag race, has epic cornering ability thanks to vast reserves of grip, while the fabulous engine adds to the appeal.
But with the Civic Type R and Megane RS here, the Focus RS is no longer the sharpest-handling hot hatch. Sealing its fate is the sky-high PCP finance cost, forcing the RS to surrender its crown to the new talent.
PCP finance cost: £620 per month (£599 without Mountune pack. 37-month contract, £2,500 deposit, 10,000-mile-per-year limit)*
Exciting the Focus RS may be, but this version in Mountune Red Edition form is extraordinarily expensive. Yes, it’s fast, but the BMW offers similar performance for round £160 per month less, plus it as a far more enticing interior.
As with the i3 S you can put the high costs down to a sky high cash price, high interest charges and lack of a deposit contribution discount.*
Best cheap fast car 2018 – The Parkers Verdict
Picking a winner here is one of the toughest jobs we’ve had this year – all cars are thoroughly impressive in their own right and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you put down a deposit on any of them.
The variety of cars shows that you can have fun no matter your budget, with even the cheapest Up GTI capable of putting a smile on your face in the right circumstances. It’s incredibly pleasing to see that you don’t have to spend a fortune on something to really revel in the joy of driving.
But which is truly the best cheap fast car for 2018-2019?
It didn’t take long for the Parkers team to narrow it down to the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Megane RS and Honda Civic Type R as the top three. The Renault and Honda are so close in the way they perform and drive, but the Renault clinches it with more appealing looks and far better value PCP finance offers than the shouty, expensive Honda.
But is the Renault better than the Fiesta ST? While very different machines – the Renault much more powerful and more expensive – both offer a thrilling drive, excellent chassis and the ability to put a smile on your face.
However it’s the Fiesta that manages to do this on pretty much every single road you drive on. It’s excellent fun thanks to a brilliant engine, chassis and steering set-up, made even better by the fact it’s one of the cheapest here meaning it appeals to the masses.
A truly deserving winner of Best Cheap Fast Car 2018. Oh, and it’s the Parkers Car of the Year 2019, too.
- Hot hatchback group test: i30 N vs Golf GTI vs 308 GTi
- Twin-test: Honda Civic Type R vs Ford Focus RS
- Deal watch: the best cash, PCP and leasing deals
- Parkers New Car Awards 2019
*Deals are correct at time of publication. Everyone’s financial circumstances are different and credit is not always available – Parkers cannot recommend a deal for you specifically.