So, you're a college graduate now. You don't have tens of thousands of dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and you cannot give up on your ride's practicality. You are almost deemed to have to make do with some uninspiring economy car that will make the lectures at college feel interesting.
Luckily, there are a few options that you could opt for that will neither break your bank or your social life.
Let's start off with an odd one.
6. Volkswagen Arteon
Before we get into the pros, let's get its cons out of the way because there are plenty.
First of all, it's quite expensive for a college graduate. Because of emission issues, VW has delayed its sales in North America until 2019. As a reference, the base price for Arteon is around £33,000, which is roughly equivalent to $43,000.
The performance, too, is a bit underwhelming. The base Arteon aforementioned only features a 1.5L turbo inline-4 borrowed from Golf, which only makes 147bhp and 184lb⋅ft of torque. And sadly, all of that power is sent to the front wheels. This means a sluggish 8.3s 0-62mph (100km/h) time.
Still with me? Great. Let's now talk about what you can get for that investment.
I mean, just look at it. It was designed to replace the CC, a fastback that took the world with its beauty. The Arteon is no exception. It shares the basic beautiful proportions of the CC, but is now longer, lower, and wider, giving it an even more sporty, aggressive look over the already sexy CC. The sharp lines in the front fascia and along the entire body also gives the Arteon a more chiseled look.
While the interior is typical VW, there's really nothing that you can complain about. Almost all that you can see and touch feels expensive, and the digital display is almost as good as Audi's digital cockpit, the best in the business.
It's also surprisingly practical, especially for a fastback. Matt Watson, who reviewed the Arteon, was blown away by the amount of legroom at the back:
"Look at the amount of legroom I've got in this car! Look at it! It's insane! You can really stretch out, and the footwell is massive as well."
Therefore, the Arteon is not a performer. While you get from A to be very much the same way, it will surely make you feel utterly special on the streets while giving you total comfort. If you are willing to make compromises on the performance side, the Arteon is a stylish and sensible choice.
5. Honda Civic Si
PHOTOS BY ALEX CONLEY, CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2017-honda-civic-si-in-depth-model-review
Ah, the good-old Civic. Hardly surprising, eh? But since we're talking to an audience whose goal is more than simply getting from A to B, a normal Civic won't do. No, you need the Civic Si to bring out a bit of zing - with a catch.
PHOTOS BY ALEX CONLEY, CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2017-Honda-Civic-Si-157.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
This 10th generation Civic Si has ditched the widely loved rev-happy and VTEC-equipped K24 engine for a new 1.5L turbo-4 . Even though it made the same 205 hp, its extra 12lb⋅ft of torque comes way earlier, meaning that the exploitable power is much more accessible. This results in an impressive 6.3s 0-60mph time for an FWD car.
However, it is missing the characterful induction and VTEC noise that many Honda fans die for.
The rest? Phenomenal. The interior, for example, is a massive step up from that of last gen. Aside from the slightly disappointing infotainment system, which can be forgiven since you can use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, almost every piece that you can feel is high quality. The seats, for example, have clearly taken inspirations from those in the Type R and are highly supportive.
PHOTOS BY ALEX CONLEY, CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/2017-Honda-Civic-Si-117.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
One thing that the new Si has stuck to its guns is the driving experience. It's only available with 6-speed manual. The shifter is based on the already awesome unit from the last gen Si, but now has 10% shorter throw. The all-new platform that the Si is based on also pays off in its cornering abilities. In Motor Trend's instrumented tests, it pulled an impressive 0.97G on the skidpad.
Most importantly, at a price starting at $25,000, the Civic Si will surely not make you work half of your life for it. For the sensible graduates, this is the car for you.
4. Subaru WRX STi
PHOTOS BY ALEX CONLEY, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2018-Subaru-WRX-STI-01-placement.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
I have a confession to make: objectively, the STi doesn't deserve a spot here.
PHOTOS BY ALEX CONLEY, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2018-Subaru-WRX-STI-167.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
Starting at well over $36,000, the Subie has a lot to live up to. Even though its 2.5L boxer-4 pumps out a healthy 310hp and 394 N⋅m (291 lb⋅ft) of torque, the once legendary EJ series engine is well beyond obsolete for its noticeable turbo lag in low rev range.
PHOTO BY ASTON PARROT, https://cdn1.evo.co.uk/sites/evo/files/styles/gallery_adv/public/2017/12/alp_7827.jpg?itok=e5Z5NHgF
The handling, too, is no longer the STi's party trick. Despite Subaru's foolproof symmetrical AWD system honed on the rally stage, there's no shying away from the fact that it has hardly moved on since more than a decade ago. In Motor Trend's instrumented test, it pulled an underwhelming 0.93G on the skidpad, way less than Civic Type R's 1.02G and even Si's 0.97G, for that matter.
I tried to find a metaphor for the STi, and I eventually came across Jason Cammisa's comments on BMW M4 GTS that sounds weirdly befitting:
"Driving this BMW [STi here] is like sparring with a 75-year old former pro athlete. They've still got some of the moves and you can see the glimmers of the grace and strength that they've once possessed, but they just can't keep up with the kids anymore."
So what is it that puts STi on this list? Well, the STi marks the end of the 90s Japanese performance car era. I do realize that it is now almost 2019, but truthfully, you can trace the current STi's roots back to the 90s. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has long died, meaning that it makes no financial sense for cars like these to exist. The fact that Subaru has kept it alive till now is remarkable. UK has lost the STi, and God knows who else is losing it next. In other words, the STi offers by a mile the least bang-for-the-buck on the list. Look elsewhere if you're not into this piece of history.
3. Alfa Romeo Giulia
In case you're wondering, we're not talking about the monstrous Ferrari-engined (sort of) Quadrifoglio variant here. We're just talking about the non-steroid variants that won't burn a hole on your wallet or the rear tires.
Right off the bat, the Giulia offers by far the freshest looks of its class. The stylish exterior isn't let down by the interior either. Inside Giulia's cabin, you'll find expensive materials everywhere. You should especially opt for the column-mounted alumin(i)um paddles, which take styling cues straight from Ferrari. They feel natural, luxurious, and expensive. The only slight issue is its sub-par infotainment system, which may or may not be a big issue depending on who you are.
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL SIMARI, CHRIS AMOS, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2018-Alfa-Romeo-Giulia-152.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
The drivetrain doesn't disappoint either: its 2.0L turbo inline-4 churns out a healthy 280hp, propelling the Giulia to 100km/h (62mph) in 5.7s. Unlike all the other cars on this list, the Giulia is available with RWD, which means that you can have quite a bit of fun with this widely praised chassis that could put 3 - series to shame.
The transmission is awesome too. Even though you don't get the 6 - speed manual in certain markets, the standard 8 - speed ZF automatic is the best auto box in the business.
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL SIMARI, CHRIS AMOS, https://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/2018-alfa-romeo-giulia-in-depth-model-review
The only slight concern lies in its reliability. Alfa Romeo never had an track record (no pun intended) of being reliable, and multiple journalists have reported the issues that they've had while hooning the Giulia on the track. This bummer puts the Giulia in a still respectable 3rd place. However, if you can overlook its reliability issues, the Giulia is beyond sensational.
2. Volkswagen Golf GTI/R
No list like this is complete without an entry of Golf. Affordable, sensible, practical, reliable, economical, and everything that you could ever hope for in a family hatchback. So, what happens when you spice an almost perfect daily driver up?
Fan-bleeding-tastic. And there are two types of hot sauce of your choice.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2018-Volkswagen-Golf-GTI-129.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
First, you can opt for the mildly hot sriracha - sauced GTI, which is fitted with VAG's bulletproof turbo 2-liter inline-4 that produces 220hp (230hp with performance pack), all of which go to the front wheels. It can sprint to 100 km/h (62mph) in under 6s and on to a top speed of 250 km/h (mph). To make it cope with corners better, VW has fitted a front differential so effective that Clarkson once commented,
"You can feel the whole car being dragged in, pulled towards the apex. I've never felt anything like it."
PHOTOS BY CHRIS AMOS, CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/2018-Volkswagen-Golf-R-152.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
To kick things up a notch, you can have the ghost peppered Golf R. Having the same basic engine fitted in the GTI, VW has modified the internals and fitted larger turbos, giving it 300hp. However, because VW has given the R 4Motion AWD, it can sprint to 100km/h in around 4.5 seconds if you opt for the 7-speed DSG gearbox.
The interior follows VW's tradition. Everything you look and touch feels high quality. Every button, knob, and control is also exactly where you expect it to be. Yet this is exactly where the problem lies.
No matter you choose, you always get the sense that the driving pleasure doesn't match up with the machine's capabilities. Yes, 0 - 100 km/h in 4.5s is hugely impressive, but where's the drama? The mechanical nature of Haldex AWD system dictates that only up to 50% of the power is sent to the rear. In other words, at the limits, the R will always understeer. In some way, understeer is more predictable and thus safer, but really, do you want hideous tire squeal coming from the overstressed front wheels?
1. Ford Focus RS
PHOTOS BY CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-Ford-Focus-RS-113.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
With a base price of $42,000, the Focus RS has a lot to live up to. And in lots of ways, it's everything you could wish for in a hot hatch.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-Ford-Focus-RS-181.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
Under the hood, the RS is pure muscle: the Mustang - sourced 2.3L Eco-Boost inline - 4 spits out 350 furious hp and 350 lb-ft of mind - bending torque. When coupled with its monstrous AWD traction, this engine catapults the little hatch to 100 km/h (62mph) 4.6s despite having a 6 - speed manual.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-Ford-Focus-RS-173.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
The handling is epic too. On Motor Trend's instrumented test, the RS pulled an impressive 1.01G, beating the Golf R by a considerable margin because it's much less prone to understeer.
PHOTOS BY TOP GEAR STAFF, https://www.topgear.com/sites/default/files/styles/fit_1960x1102/public/images/news-article/carousel/2017/11/106e44dc674de9c39e0a96760e4c39ef/ford-performance-drift-stick-3.jpg?itok=jdcnJFn6
But what if you want to misbehave? The "drift" mode is there for you to deploy, and you'll setting your tires on smoke and fire in no time. Want even more drama than that? You can tick the rally handbrake option.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-Ford-Focus-RS-156.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
The only downside is its interior. The overall design is just somewhat fuzzy, as if it's a collection of random shapes. There are also nasty - feeling parts here and there, constantly reminding you of its sole focus *wink* in performance.
But what really sets the RS apart is its duality in performance. When you want to be a total hoonigan to impress some freshman girls, the RS is always up for the challenge. Yet when you want to have a clean launch and quick lap, the RS knows how to glue its tires firmly into the tarmac.
When you drive the RS, you notice that how this car performs is totally up to you; it is an expression of yourself. The 6 - speed manual is a clue that you, the smiling piece of meat behind the wheel, is the slowest part of the car. Your skills are proportional to how well the car performs.
PHOTOS BY CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVE, MICHAEL SIMARI, https://hips.hearstapps.com/amv-prod-cad-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-Ford-Focus-RS-117.jpg?crop=1xw:1xh;center,center&resize=884:*
Fancy getting one? You better be quick to check your local inventory because Ford pulled the plug of RS production back in April.
It was fun while it lasted.