That extra $15,000 will cost you almost $300/month over the life of a 60-month payment book. A $40K Subaru or Volkswagen is cheap in terms of enjoying the additional performance, but if your goal is only to get places in a fast hatch or sedan, you can keep your outlay far closer to the base price. Just mind the options.
VW GTI: In the increasingly popular hot hatch segment, the GTI was arguably the first. Based on the revolutionary (for the mid-'70s) Golf hatchback, the GTI offered upgraded power, improved handling and just enough cosmetic enhancements to let others know you were driving something special. Consumer response was immediate, and imitators came out of the woodwork.
Now in its seventh iteration (as of the 2015 model year), the GTI has consistently evolved. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four makes 210 horsepower and — more important in day-to-day driving — 258 pound-feet of torque. Its footprint remains comfortably small, with easy access to front and rear seats and, if you need to carry something large, it has an expansive hatch and fold-down rear seat. Like most of the VW/Audi family, its interior design and appointment bat well above the $25,000 price point.
Whether selecting the six-speed manual transmission or six-speed DSG automatic, know that a responsive, agile hatchback is just a throttle tip-in away. It's perfect for the in-town commute, weekend getaway or cross-country romp. And it appeals to a wide demographic, so resale value will remain high.
Subaru WRX: This once was a performance derivative not shared with American consumers. But with its success globally, Subaru brought the WRX to the States, with the high-performance STI variant not long after.
Having been offered in the U.S. as a sedan, wagon and hatchback, today's WRX is available only as a four-door sedan.
As on every Subaru available in the U.S. (except the BRZ), all-wheel drive is standard. Power is supplied by a turbocharged flat four displacing 2.0 liters but upping the horsepower to 268, while available torque is numerically identical to the GTI's at 258 pound-feet. With the edge in horsepower you could expect worse fuel economy, and you'd be right: 20 city/27 highway, to the GTI's estimated 24/34. With premium fuel at under $3 a gallon, but the Volkswagen wins with efficiency some 20 percent better.
A great many Subaru fans continue to wish for the WRX hatch. Today's four-door sedan isn't unattractive, but the versatility implicit in a hatchback is missing. With that, we're sure the body is more rigid than its hatchback predecessor. And that rigidity, in combination with almost 270 horsepower, makes for one very immersive driving experience. This is horsepower closer to Volkswagen's Golf R (292) than the GTI. And while it falls short of the WRX STi's 305, the entry-level WRX is also significantly less expensive.
Beyond the lack of a hatch, the other disappointment — at least when coming from the VW showroom — is the Subaru's interior spec. Everything in this price category is plastic, but Subaru's take on plastic is decidedly downmarket; the product execs put their money into the all-wheel drive. So, don't slide in expecting to be delighted by the visual, but do expect to be excited by the visceral.
With an investment of under $30K, both cars offer practical alternatives to a sport coupe. Even with a child seat, or on a run to Home Depot, either can bridge the gap between a larger family hauler and a Miata.