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5 high-performance cars for under $30,000

Ford

As auto sales have revved up, high-performance cars have surged to the head of the pack. Performance cars -- those built for speed with excellent handling and braking -- are up in U.S. sales by 70 percent since the recession year of 2009, according to industrywide statistics kept by Ford.

When you hear performance cars, you may think of Ford's almost race-ready Shelby GT350R Mustang (pictured above), expected to start around $65,000. But if your need for speed is bigger than your wallet, you can find performance versions of more affordable cars.

Whether you want to slalom through a local autocross competition or just want plenty of power and great handling, here are five performance cars you can buy for under $30,000.

​Honda Civic Si

David Folks/Wieck/Honda

The standard Civic is an economical commuter car. But the Civic Si is aimed squarely at driving enthusiasts.

Its 205-horsepower, four-cylinder engine comes only with a six-speed manual transmission. That pairing plus special suspension and tires should take you whizzing through curving back roads. The Civic Si goes from 0 to 60 MPH in 6.5 seconds and has a top speed of 135 MPH, according to tests by Car and Driver.

On a more everyday level, the Si has EPA gas mileage ratings of 23 MPG in city driving and 31 on the highway. The Si comes as both a sedan and a coupe (pictured above). List prices range from $23,710 to $25,410. For the 2016 model year, the Civic -- including the Si -- will have a stylish new design.

​Subaru WRX

Subaru

Long a favorite of rally racers and ordinary car guys, the WRX has a special feature: Like all Subarus, it has all-wheel drive. Those four wheels are driven by a 260 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

For the 2016 model, the suspension has been stiffened, which leads to great cornering but at times can make for a bit of a bumpy ride. Reviewers praise the WRX as fun to drive, especially with the six-speed manual transmission. The WRX now also does come with a continuously variable automatic transmission.

In Car and Driver tests, the 2015 model (also still on sale) went from zero to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and had a top speed of 144 MPH. Its gas mileage estimates are 21MPG in city driving, 28 on the highway.

The 2016 WRX list price starts well below our $30,000 cutoff at $26, 595, but does range on up to $39,995 for a loaded version.

​Ford Focus ST

Ford

The Focus ST has a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that produces 252 horsepower -- or 92 more than a standard Focus. It comes with a six-speed manual transmission. That combination produced a zero to 60 time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 148 MPH in the Car and Driver test.

In addition to being fast and fun to drive, the ST has a practical side. Its four-door hatchback design allows reasonable space for passengers and cargo. The mileage estimates for the ST are 23 MPG in the city, 32 on the highway. The list price on the Focus ST is $25,195.

Next year, Ford is bringing the European performance version of the Focus to the U.S. Labeled as the RS, it will have a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that Ford says will produce "well in excess of 315 horsepower." The RS also was introduced this year at the New York Auto Show.

​Volkswagen Golf GTI

Volkswagen

The GTI was the first in the so-called hot hatchback category, and it is still well-ranked by reviewers. With a 210-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it went from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds with a top speed of 124 MPH.

Its gas mileage estimates are for 25 MPG in city driving, 34 on the highway. That is better than much of the competition, so the GTI would work for commuting as well as having fun.

List prices range from $26,505 to $33,460.

​Mini Cooper S

Mini

Cute and fast is an unusual combination. But this Mini pulls it off. The sporty S version has a 2.0-liter, 189 horsepower engine that comes with either manual or automatic transmission.

In Car and Driver clockings, it went from zero to 60 MPH in 6.1 seconds with a top speed of 142 MPH. In addition to the two-door version, a four-door version with a rear cargo door makes it feasible for a small family. And with EPA ratings of 26 MPG in the city and 35 on the highway, the Cooper S also can work as a cute commuter car.

The Mini Cooper S starts at $24,950. A new performance model called the John Cooper Works version (pictured above) will go on sale in the U.S. later this year.

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