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Fun, functional and affordable: 5 cars that do it all for less than $30,000

If you’re someone who needs to let loose a little on your drive — but still make it home in time for a sensible dinner — these cars were made for you. For the person who needs to balance fun with responsibility, check out these five fun, functional rides starting at less than $30,000.

1. 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI: Starting MSRP $25,595

Fun functional cars less than 30k

In 1975, Volkswagen made history with a brand-new type of car: the hot hatch. Many companies have copied this formula, but today the GTI is still the king of affordable, everyday fun.

VW claims the GTI gets 210 horsepower, which is a bit less than some other cars on this list, but the GTI makes up for it with a great chassis and the most refined interior of the segment. The GTI comes with either two or four doors, and can be had with a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic that’s one of the best in any car.

We’d opt for the four-door base GTI S with the throwback tartan seats and the golf ball stick shift. We’d also get the performance pack, which offers an extra 10 horsepower, bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential that eliminates understeer.

Fun functional cars less than 30k

2. 2016 Ford Focus ST hatchback: Starting MSRP $24,425

Fun functional cars less than 30k

If the GTI is the gentleman hot hatch, the Focus ST is the shirtless, body-painted sports fan that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is evident even in the paint colors, with in-your-face choices like Race Red and Tangerine Scream.

The Focus ST has a six-speed manual transmission and 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 252 horsepower and 270 pounds-feet of torque, which is about the practical limit for a front-wheel-drive car. Unsurprisingly, this means Focus ST can give you loads of hooligan fun with torque steer and smoking tires, making the Focus ST somewhat of a hatchback muscle car.

We would buy a Focus ST with the 401A package, which includes partial-leather Recaro seats, dual-zone climate control and satellite radio. 

Fun functional cars less than 30k

3. 2016 Ford Fiesta ST hatchback: Starting MSRP $20,970

Fun functional cars less than 30k

Ford’s other hot hatch, the Fiesta ST, has been described as one of the most fun cars you can buy. Like its older brother the Focus ST, the Fiesta ST is offered in bonkers colors like Molten Orange.

The minuscule 1.6-liter turbo engine pumps out 197 horsepower, which may not be world-shattering, but the Fiesta ST weighs about 500 pounds less than the Focus ST and GTI. This low weight translates to a car that feels incredibly nimble in the corners, which, when coupled with the torque from a turbocharged engine, allows you to rocket out of corners with a smile on your face.

If we were to buy a Fiesta ST, we’d opt for the supportive Recaro heated seats, Molten Orange paint and the racing stripes.

Fun functional cars less than 30k

4. 2016 Subaru WRX: Starting MSRP $26,595

Fun functional cars less than 30k

Want a car that’s fast, can carry four adults and has the peace of mind that all-wheel drive offers? The Subaru WRX is for you. The WRX is built on the shoulders of a famous rally-racing pedigree, and that pedigree definitely shows.

The Subaru WRX has a turbocharged 2.0-liter, flat-four engine that makes 268 horsepower, which can propel it to 60 mph in less than five seconds due to the AWD. But the WRX is not just about straight-line speed. When you take a corner, the car uses torque vectoring to apply the appropriate amount of power to each wheel, eliminating understeer.

The Subaru WRX we’d buy would be the base model in WR Blue Pearl. The WRX is available with either a six-speed manual or a CVT automatic, but like the others, we’d stick with the stick.

Fun functional cars less than 30k

5. Mini Cooper S: Starting MSRP $24,100

Fun functional cars less than 30k

The Mini Cooper S may not be as mini as it used to be, but it’s still a fun car to drive due to its go-cart-like handling. It’s also efficient, with a combined MPG of about 30, and surprisingly practical due to the fold-flat seats in the back.

The Mini Cooper S is powered by a 2.0-liter, twin-turbocharged engine designed by BMW that outputs 189 horsepower. That amount of power is perfect for the small Mini Cooper S, because it weights about as much as the Fiesta ST. Our favorite part of the Mini Cooper S is the set of aircraft-style switches located under the center display and above your head.

Fun functional cars less than 30k

Our Mini Cooper S would have to come in British Racing Green II, with the Cold Weather Package and the Sport Package. You can choose from three transmission options, but we’d opt for the six-speed manual.

About the writer: Will Kinton thinks life is too short to drive boring cars, and enjoys sharing his passion for them. For more, follow him on Twitter: @willkinton247

See also: Consumer Reports top-rated cars, brands 2016: Rating the ratings

Plus: Our favorite new cars and trucks from the 2016 Detroit Auto Show

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