5 performance cars for less than R250 000 - which one would you pick?

<i>Image: NetCarShow</i>
<i>Image: NetCarShow</i>

Johannesburg - Times are tough, and those of us that seek far more than a simple A - B commuter from our cars are often left in a pickle. This is due to the relationship that performance cars have with the release of dopamine in the brain when driven by an enthusiast. 

I for one am heavily addicted to this happy juice and well, it has placed me in a conundrum -  live with my mother, have a single pair of shoes and clothes at the expense of your car or just get the typical eco-box that I can afford. 

Now there's nothing wrong with the eco-box but in the pursuit of the cathartic driving experience it would prove as good at realising the elusive happy drug as a punch in the face, but why can’t petrolheads have their cake and eat it?

Surely for the price of a demo VW Polo TSI, you can get something truly interesting? Just how much performance can R250 000 get you? Now obviously, they’ll use far more fuel or cause bankruptcy to some, but the smile on your face will far out weigh the sadness from 2-minute noodles for dinner.  

1 Renault Megane RS265 

Image: Newspress

The French automaker has become very good at making hot hatches, and the flagship Megane R is an amazing machine. The chassis is incredibly well balanced and with the combination of beautiful driver focused and weighted controls, mated to stonkingly-powerful 2.0-litre endgine driving 195kW and 360Nm through the front wheels, it's brilliant.

Prices can start from R230 000 for the very early 2012 R265 variant with less than 80 000km on the clock if you're lucky, and climb right to the top of your budget for the more special Red Bull and CUP Editions only a year or two newer though with less mileage.

Pure Performance: A properly quick car in a straight-line and in the twisties.                                           
Fun factor:  Not so much fun but really serious and very fast.
Real word feasibility: Less than a decade old, relatively low mileage and better yet a high initial price so hopefully no barnacles in the owners history.

Ford Fiesta ST 180 

Image: Newspress

If you looking for cheap thrills and endless fun on a budget the Fiesta ST might be for you. This is one of the most characterful hatches on the market. The entertainment value is nearly uncontested in it's segnment. With 132kW and 240Nm from its 1.6-litre turbo, makes it rather rapid though nowwhere near as as quick as its larger 2.0-litre rivals.

What can’t be translated into numbers is the smile on your face, as the way the driving experience comes together is nothing short of fun.

With prices starting as low as R150 000 for 2014 variants. They might require a little love due to being driven very hard. Models with less accident-prone owners or low mileage can be obtained from 200-225k. Two-year old models with 50 000km or less on the clock and within their service plans can be sourced but expect to pay about R240 000 - 250 000.

Pure Performance: Not that fast in the robot-to-robot sprint but really quick through a mountain pass. 
Fun factor: It's in the name - Fiesta!  
Real word feasibility: Maybe the easiest car on the list to get your hands on and live with. 

3 Opel Astra OPC 

Image: NetCarShow

One of the most forgotten serious hot hatches on the market. Every time I get my hands on one of these, it feels far more dynamic than any of its rivals. It has a sense of old-school mechanical controls and it's built for the track.

You feel the grip build as the diff works, the power surge as the massive turbo spools and pushes you into the massive buckets with 206kW/400Nm of what sounds to be a monstrous wolf huffing and puffing away under the bonnet... an absolute riot on the road! 

The OPC was (and still is) a rather expensive car but a few 'clean' models with a touch under 100 000km on the clock can be obtained for R250 000. 

Pure Performance: Lets put it this way, you'll love troubling the Clubsport guys in their ‘brand new’ cars.
Fun factor: Bit more of a serious, hard-core brawler than a toy for smiles but it’s entertaining nevertheless. 
Real word feasibility: Rather costly and somewhat rare with all the hardcore the bills that will be  associated with a driving it hard. 


Image: NetCarShow

This is the more high-stakes end of the selection with the choices being rather safe thus far but offering quick levels of performance rather than the properly ridiculous stuff that the RS4 can unleash on our roads.

A Thunderous V8 pushing 309kW/430Nm to all four wheels via Quattro AWD, this sedan is truly incredible and the last of its kind as Audi churns out RS4-badged station wagons. Its tremendous noise, the 8200rpm rev-limit and the entertaining drive offers a completely different level of seriousness to this performance car market. A sub 5-second 0-100km sprint and a 250km/h limited top speed, it’s the most rapid on the list and will leave other more expensive rivals in its dust. The downside is you'll be hard pressed not to find a model with less than 200 000km on the clock, though if you do, they can retail for R250 000 or less.  

Pure Performance: The numbers mean it's a fiesty rocket on the road
Fun factor: Even with AWD the drivetrain provides for plenty fun and when provoked will even wag its tail though not by much
Real word feasibility: Sheesh… V8 fuel consumption and a used super saloon are by-words for 'do you want to able to affor to eat or drive'. 

 5 E46 BMW M3

Image: NetCarShow

Simply put this is arguably one of the best chassis BMW has ever made. Even the humble 3 Series models had this character to the drive that no other car in it class could rival. The M-car however is totally different animal as the S54 engine and M wizardry transformed the 3 Series into a giant killer.

The car that M-car afficiandos still lust and drool over, and understandably so, offers unrivalled levels of RWD driver engagement and purist BMW M car games along our roads. It's 3.2-litres of high-revving, 252kW/365Nm, straight-6 nirvana, in the age when BMW’s M-cars were a lot less scary and far more forgiving to the novice trying to learn to drive fast. For about R200 000 you can get your hands on the early SMG-equipped varinats but this is not the one you - you want (or rather need) the thoroughbred manual, LED spec LCI with 19" wheels. For R250 000 you’ll find a few with less than 160 000km on the clock. It's instantly lovable and you'll be grinning due to the sensations its evokes on the road.

Pure Performance: 5.1 seconds to 100km/h and an electronically limited 250km/h, make it still seriously fast
Fun factor: The E46 M3 is hand-bitingly good fun even running around town you feel great as the raspy exhaust noise drives you into the sunset. The chassis is amazing and is great for tail-out risks with the traction control turned off or the precision-driving demanded from a spirited drive on track.   
Real word feasibility:  Vanos is key to the high-revs and the 8000rpm capable engine but sadly it needs to be serviced often and the rear subframe issues will make you rather acquainted with you BMW tech. 

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