List: Involvement Index Giant Killers For Under $30,000

By Brandon Turkus

May 01, 2012


10: Mazdaspeed3: Involvement Score 74, Starting Price $24,000. One of our favorite hooligans, the Mazdaspeed3 is a pummeling, torque-steering monster that endears itself to us every time we get behind the wheel. Its Involvement Index score of 74 isn’t the greatest, but it’s enough to match the supercharged Jaguar XF and Hemi-powered Dodge Charger SRT8.


9: Honda CR-Z: Involvement Score 74, Starting Price $19,695. We still hold a soft spot for the CR-Z, one of the first truly fun-to-drive hybrids. With a sweet Honda six-speed manual, a small footprint, and a reasonable curb weight, the CR-Z is as much fun as cars boasting twice as many cylinders and over three times the horsepower, like the Ford Mustang GT.


8: Volvo C30 Polestar: Involvement Score 75, Starting Price $28,745. Volvos aren’t generally known for being involving, despite the brand’s strong racing heritage. The Polestar-tuned C30 surprised us when we first tested it a few months back, netting an Involvement Index score of 75, which is good enough to tie it with the Volkswagen Golf R, Infiniti IPL G Coupe, and Mercedes-Benz SLK350. This is one we’re excited to get back in to.


7: Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan: Involvement Score 76, Starting Price $25,595. The mid 70s are a popular point on our Index. The WRX shares its score with the Cooper S Hatchback and Civic Si, as well as a serious list of more expensive competition. The WRX is the second most powerful car on this list, behind the rear-drive Genesis Coupe, and is the only one to offer all-wheel drive. Oh yeah, it costs just under $26,000.


6: Mini Cooper S Hatchback: Involvement Score 76, Starting Price $23,800: The bread-and-butter hot Mini has got to be the Cooper S Hatch. Great driving dynamics that don’t lag too far behind the Coupe, and a $1500 discount over the two-seat Mini make the Cooper S Hatchback stand out. The fact that it’s as involving as cars like the Roush Stage 2 Mustang, and the aforementioned BMW Z4 certainly don’t hurt either.


5: Honda Civic Si: Involvement Score 76, Starting Price $22,355. It may have lost a step in the new generation, but the Honda Civic Si is always a popular choice for affordable involvement. With a score of 76, it ties with the turbocharged, four-cylinder BMW Z4, the 426-horsepower Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible, and the old, 550-horsepower Ford Mustang GT500. Did we mention it’s got VTEC, too?


4: Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec: Involvement Score 77, Starting Price $26,500. The turbocharged Genesis Coupe is more affordable and according to our Index, as involving to drive as the V-6-powered Genesis Coupe. It’s also on par with a pair of great BMW’s, and a particularly fun Fiat.


3: Fiat 500 Abarth: Involvement Score 77, Starting Price $22,000. Fresh off the boat from Italy is the Fiat 500 Abarth. Its Involvement score of 77 is impressive, especially considering that the 400-horsepower BMW 650i and new BMW 328i sit at the same spot on the Index.


2: Mini Cooper S Coupe: Involvement Score 78, Starting Price $25,300. So good we ended up booking a year-long loan in one. The Cooper S Coupe is the ultimate sub-$30,000 performer for the Mini brand, and goes toe-to-toe on our Index with Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG and V-6-powered Porsche Panamera. It’s go-kart-like driving dynamics and zippy turbo make this two-seater an affordable Involvement alternative.


1: Mazda MX-5 Miata: Involvement Score 81, Starting Price $23,470. It really shouldn’t be a huge surprise to find the MX-5 at the top of the list. With an Index score of 81, it’s level on points with the track-oriented Audi TTRS and hot hatches like the Subaru Impreza WRX STI Sedan and Mini John Cooper Works Coupe. It’s also tied with the $132,000 Jaguar XKR-S. Not bad company for a small Japanese roadster.

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Sadly, we can’t spend all of our money on a set of wheels. Other responsibilities (wife, kids, house, student loans, etc.) often demand a larger chunk of our income than our inner gearhead would prefer.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we still can’t snag a fun-to-drive car for a reasonable price. Since we launched the Involvement Index, we’ve tested and rated over 200 cars, all in an effort to determine which ones were the most involving. Invariably, the top spots on our index are held by some very expensive machines (the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and Ferrari 458 Italia come to mind), but there’s no shortage of reasonably priced cars that rank highly.
In particular, the middle of our index is populated with some extremely affordable performance machinery, which can be every bit as involving as cars that cost double or even triple the price. We've listed each vehicle's score on the Involvement Index, along with its starting price and a few of the cars it matches up with on the Index.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this list is how it’s set to grown in the coming months. With cars like the Scion FR-S/Subaru BR-Z, Ford Focus ST, and Hyundai Veloster Turbo all set to arrive before the end of 2012, there should be no shortage of affordable involvement options.