Five of the fastest cars you can get for under $60K

The hot hatch has come a long way since the early days of the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Some have more power than a V8, while others drive all four wheels.

All of which adds up to big smiles – and plenty of pace – in cars packed with the latest connectivity and safety gear.

While the hot hatch market starts at about $40,000, there's a new sweet spot hovering between $50K and $60K where some of the most exciting machines on four wheels are lurking...

Ford Focus RS Limited Edition

It's all fun factor with one of Ford's fastest cars, the Focus RS.

Just unleashed in Limited Edition form – new seats, wheels and stickier Michelin tyres – the RS is one of the most engaging hot hatches going.

One of the best bits is its Drift mode, which sends most of the drive to the rear wheels, turning it into a tyre spinning sideways slider.

There's also loads of muscle courtesy of a 2.3-litre four-cylinder turbo; all up there's 257kW and 440Nm, ensuring stout performance and spirited acceleration.

Brakes are strong and the clever all-wheel drive system does a beaut job of delivering power to the ground.

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It's a shame the interior has loads of cheap plastics, something that lets down the otherwise sporty look. But if you're driving it as it was intended you'll be looking out the windows.

Price: $56,990

Engine/gearbox: 2.3-litre 4-cylinder turbo/6-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Power/torque: 257kW/440Nm

Volkswagen Golf R

The GTI has the name (and the tartan interior) but the Golf R has the speed. That's because it uses an uprated version of the GTI's 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo.

Power swells to 213kW and there's 380Nm to back it up. In this company, those are relatively low numbers.

But combined with a four-wheel drive system and a slick-shifting seven-speed twin-clutch auto transmission it makes for brisk acceleration, enough to top 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

Dial up the rortier exhaust noise and there's a meatier bark from the exhaust; you can also adjust the shock absorbers and steering, among other parameters.

Punt along and it's a hugely accomplished tourer that slots into go-fast mode brilliantly.

Price: $52,990

Engine/gearbox: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo/7-speed auto, four-wheel drive

Power/torque: 213kW/380Nm

We like: All-rounder ability; clever space utilisation

Subaru WRX STI

It's a sedan rather than a hatch, but the WRX has redefined the pocket rocket performance market in the 23 years it's been on sale.

And it's the STI – denoting Subaru Tecnica International – that sits at the top of the go-fast tree.

Cruising on a country road elicits plenty of tyre roar and the suspension is taut, ensuring you feel every bump. Comfort is not its beat.

While rivals use regular four-cylinder engines, the WRX showcases Subaru's horizontally-opposed configuration, ensuring a distinctive growl.

Power peaks at 221kW, which teams with the relatively light body to make for spritely performance.

But beware turbo lag: the STI's engine is lazy below 2500rpm so you need to have it bubbling above that before the turbo rush kicks in.

There's also an adjustable centre differential, which allows you effectively send more drive to the rear; it's more for race tracks or driving on dirt, but is fun to muck around with.

Price: $50,890

Engine/gearbox: 2.5-litre horizontally-opposed 4-cyl turbo, 6-speed manual

Power/torque: 221kW/407Nm

Honda Civic Type R

As with previous Type Rs, wings and trinkets abound. It's like designers kept adding angles, wings and shapes until it could turn heads from outer space.

The 2.0-litre engine builds boost from low revs and comes on sweet above 2000rpm. That it packs in rortiness makes it enjoyable rushing towards its redline.

The six-speed manual shifts beautifully, too, adding to the character of what is a superb driver's machine; there's also rev-matching for downshifts.

There's torque steer through what is the only front-driver driven here, but not enough to detract from what is a fast, fun and frenetic machine.

Play around with the drive modes to dial up slightly softer suspension or a more sensitive throttle; the changes are subtle but work to sharpen and already sharp machine.

And one that's oozing excitement.

Price: $50,990

Engine/gearbox: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo/6-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Power/torque: 228kW/400Nm

BMW M140i/M240i Coupe

At $76,800 the M240i coupe blows our budget.

But you can get the same mechanical package in the five-door M140i – a more practical body style – for $59,990.

Given the M140i is 15kg lighter it arguably makes it the better bet. And, wow, what a machine you get.

At its heart is a superb 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo. As well as 250kW there's a hearty 500Nm, making for a supremely flexible and free-revving engine.

If there's any criticism it's that it sounds bland. No qualms with dynamics; driving the rear wheels makes for superb balance for cornering fluidity and pace.

Another incentive is that the M140i is the end of an era for BMW's smallest hatch; the next generation will switch to a front-drive layout.

Price: $59,990

Engine/gearbox: 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo/8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Power/torque: 250kW/500Nm

Check out the gallery above to see the best hatches under $60K.