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10 Small Cars of 2015 With Huge Performance

Updated October 9, 2016

In years past, a small car typically meant that it got great gas mileage but lacked a little something in terms of muscle. As automakers progressed through the 1980s and 1990s, they began experimenting more with small cars that delivered performance that is more exhilarating.

Now, as we head into the midway point through the 20-teens, the automotive realm is chock-full with small cars that deliver huge performance numbers. To help celebrate these marvels of automotive engineering, we’ve come up with 10 of our favorite small footprint, big performance cars.

Ford Focus ST

2015FocusST_01_HRI am a bit of an unfair judge of character for the Ford Focus ST because I happen to have on in my garage and I love it to no end.  My apparent favoritism for Ford’s quick hatchback aside, its numbers speak volume. With a 2.0-liter Ecoboost four-cylinder that churns 252 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, the Focus ST is quite the performer. It hits 60 mph in the low-six-second range and handles like it’s on rails.

Volkswagen Golf R

2015_golf_r_4562The Golf R is another hatchback that pushes the boundaries of a small car. Under its hood is a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that produces 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This power heads out to all four wheels, giving it a near-perfect launch every time.

The only downside to the 2015 Golf R is that it is only available with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission. This means traditionalists who love to row their own will have to wait about a year for the manual transmission.

The fast-shifting DCT does have the added benefit of helping deliver outrageous acceleration, as the 2015 Golf R can hit 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds.

Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

Mercedes_BenzCLA_6The CLA-Class was one of the hottest-selling cars when it initially hit the market, but sales have cooled off as buyers realize that this isn’t a “true” Mercedes. Some of the issues include a rough ride, a finicky transmission, and excessive cabin noise. While those issues may take away from its status as a Benz, it is the perfect recipe for a performance model like the CLA45 AMG.

With the AMG badge attached, all of its flaws suddenly become part of its character, thanks to is 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that pounds out 355 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. This power heads through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox on its way to all four wheels to deliver a 4.4-second launch to 60 mph.

Audi S3

news-2015-audi-S3-01Though we don’t get the full-fledge RS 3 here in the U.S. (yet), we do have its angry little brother, the S3. This pint-sized sedan gets its wallop rom a 2.0-liter TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 292 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of twist.

The power routes through a six-speed dual-clutch transmission then out to all four wheels via Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel-drive system. This drivetrain combines to deliver a 0-to-60 sprint of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph.

Alfa Romeo 4C

2015 Alfa Romeo 4CAlfa Romeo came back to the U.S. for the 2015 model year, and it came back with one of the most awesome small cars in many years. I am talking about the 4C. Whether you take yours with or without the top, the 4C is a badass rig.

Thanks to its svelte 2,465-pound curb weigh (coupe), the 4C can make do with just 237 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque from a 1.75-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In fact, it is capable of hitting 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds and top out at 160 mph.

Fiat 500 Abarth

FT015_049FHThe Fiat 500 may be the last car you’d ever think of for this list, but its Abarth version is well deserving of a spot here. Sure, its 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces just 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, but its small body and raucous exhaust makes it feel like you’re in a Group B rally car.

With the manual transmission, the 500 Abarth can hit 60 mph in about seven seconds. That may not sound like much on paper, but in the driver seat, it feels like a damn rocket.

Mini Cooper John Cooper Works

2015 Mini Cooper JCWThe Mini Cooper is another car that doesn’t make you crave a race track in its base format. With that said, the John Cooper Works model gives its driver those feelings in bushels, thanks to a 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder engine that pumps out 228 horses and 236 pound-feet of torque.

The power heads through either a six-speed dual-clutch transmission or a six-cog manual on its way to the front wheels. With the row-your-own option, the Cooper JCW takes 6.1 seconds to hit 60 mph, while the DCT cuts that time by 0.2 ticks.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2015_golf_gti_4216Though the Golf GTI may be the little brother to the Golf R, this small hatchback certainly has an attitude all its own. Driving its front wheels is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 210 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. An optional Performance package drives the 2.0-liter’s output up to 220 ponies. Transmission options include either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch unit.

The drivetrain and small hatchback body team up to get the Golf GTI to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds in its standard setup.

Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

GLA45_AMG__2_While most crossovers typically wouldn’t belong on a “small cars” list, the GLA, which is based on the CLA-Class, is quite the tiny people hauler. The AMG-tuned GLA45 inherits the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine that injects 355 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque from the CLA45 AMG.

Thanks to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive, this jacked-up hatchback can hit 60 mph in just under five seconds.

BMW M235i

BMW M235iThe BMW 2 Series is about as close as a modern Bimmer gets to BMW’s roots, as its compact stance, standard rear-wheel-drive format, low curb weight, and peppy engines all hark back to the BMW icons of the 70s and 80s.

The best of the 2 Series bunch is the M235i, which makes use of a 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbo inline six that produces 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. The power heads to the rear wheels as standard, but xDrive all-wheel drive available as an option. The rear-driven model hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds with the manual transmission and 4.6 seconds with the auto gearbox, while the xDrive model, which only comes with an auto transmission, does the same sprint in 4.4 seconds

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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