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15 Automotive Giant Killers Sold in the United States

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/23/2015 Stefan Ogbac

Small doesn't mean weak, especially in the automotive world. Throughout the 20th century many giant killers—small cars with extraordinary levels of performance—emerged through the efforts of companies such as Fiat-Abarth, Mazda, Volkswagen, Mini, Honda, and Toyota. Today, a select few giant killers from around the world continue to offer exceptional performance in small packages. Here are 15 modern-day giant killers that you can get your hands on now or sometime before the end of 2015.

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Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Its spec sheets won't wow you, but the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata makes the most of its 155-hp, 2.0-liter I-4 and lightweight rear-drive chassis. Precision, agility, and balance are crucial to the car's success, and for that reason it's able to beat larger or more powerful vehicles on the racetrack or a winding mountain road.

Volkswagen Golf R

2015 Volkswagen Golf R Front Three Quarter In Motion 05© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Volkswagen Golf R Front Three Quarter In Motion 05 The Golf R's conservative looks hide a monster in the form a 292-hp turbo-four that's paired to a six-speed manual or twin-clutch automatic transmission. Additionally, its standard all-wheel-drive system and more aggressive suspension setup enable the Golf R to stick to the road and rocket to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds during our track testing.

Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop

2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop And Parking Sign© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop And Parking Sign Hiding underneath that adorable exterior sheetmetal is a suspension tuned for maximum performance and a new turbo-four that turns the newest JCW-badged Mini into the most powerful car the brand has ever produced. A sub-3,000-pound curb weight combined with a 228-hp turbo-four and a sophisticated chassis made for maximum go-kart feel turns the F56 Mini John Cooper Works Hardtop into a legit giant killer.

Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S

2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru BRZ Series Blue Following the same formula that made the Toyota AE86 an icon, the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S come into their own when the road begins to twist and turn. Despite having only 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, both cars are able to hold their own against more powerful vehicles thanks to their low center of gravity and balance.

Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG

When Mercedes-AMG got its hands on the CLA-Class, it essentially turned it into a monster by tuning its turbo-four up to 355 hp and 332 lb-ft, making its chassis more aggressive, and giving it all-wheel drive standard. In the end you have a car with one of the most powerful four-cylinders in the world and mind-blowing acceleration that can embarrass more powerful performance machines.

Ford Fiesta ST

2015 Ford Fiesta ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Fiesta ST Currently one of the best hot hatches on sale, the Ford Fiesta ST makes a name for itself thanks to its engaging driving dynamics. Powered by a 197-hp, 1.6-liter EcoBoost I-4, the Fiesta ST proves that driving fun doesn't have to mean going broke because it offers plenty of value for the money, especially for the level of performance and fun you get.

Mazda3 S

Mazda3 s Grand Touring hatchback© Provided by MotorTrend Mazda3 s Grand Touring hatchback Those looking for a car that expertly blends performance, handling, fuel economy, value, and class-up features should consider the up-level Mazda 3 S. Even though its 2.5-liter I-4 only makes 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, the Mazda3 S' lightweight body, expertly tuned suspension and steering, superb fuel economy, and well-built cabin make it a fun all-around vehicle that excels as a commuter and keeps up with the big guys on a winding mountain road.

BMW 2 Series

2015 BMW 228i Convertible© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 BMW 228i Convertible Powered by a 240-hp turbo-four or a 320-hp turbo-six, the BMW 2 Series is a return to form for the brand. Both the 228i and M235i provide excellent driving dynamics and strong acceleration that might make you rethink buying the heavier, more expensive M3 or M4 sitting right next to it on the lot.

Subaru WRX/WRX STI

2015 Subaru WRX STI© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Subaru WRX STI Rally born and bred, the Subaru WRX and WRX STI are regarded as some of the best all-weather performance cars thanks to Subaru's tried and true Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. Powered by either a 268-hp, 2.0-liter or 305-hp, 2.5-liter flat-four, the WRX and WRX STI continue to live up to their reputations as giant killers that have been with them since their inception.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI The original hot hatch has grown up, but that doesn't mean it can no longer run with the big guys. In fact, the Golf GTI continues to prove that it can thanks to a powerful combination of turbocharged power, a sophisticated chassis that impeccably balances agility and ride comfort, advanced gearboxes, and less weight.

Fiat 500 Abarth

2012 Fiat 500 Abarth© Provided by MotorTrend 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth When someone mentions Fiat 500, the first words that come to mind are cute and adorable; however, with the 500 Abarth, wicked and loud should be part of the equation. Although it has only 157 or 160 hp from its turbo, 1.4-liter I-4, the 500 Abarth weighs only 2,512 pounds, which means it can conquer winding mountain roads with ease.

Alfa Romeo 4C and 4C Spider

The 237 hp in the 4C and 4C Spider might not sound like much, but in these Alfa Romeos it's plenty. The car's hand-built carbon-fiber monocoque and lightweight construction give it a curb weight of around 2,400 pounds, making it a supercar in its own right. These Alfas prove power is nothing without finesse, agility, and control.

Honda Civic Si

2015 Honda Civic Si Coupe On Street© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Honda Civic Si Coupe On Street One of the pioneering sport compacts, the Honda Civic Si continues to be a solid choice, offering a slick-shifting manual gearbox and a great chassis wrapped in a rev-happy package. Although it's most likely going to have a turbocharged engine in its next iteration, the Honda Civic Si proves that naturally aspirated engines can still hang with the best. Its 2.4-liter I-4's sweet mechanical symphony provides plenty of driver satisfaction.

Ford Focus ST

2015 Ford Focus ST© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Ford Focus ST The larger member of Ford's ST range of hot hatches is proof that America can produce cars that handle well. Until the seventh-generation Golf GTI arrived, the Focus ST ruled the hot hatch segment, and even though it has lost the crown, it continues to offer excellent performance at an affordable price.

Audi S3

2015 Audi S3 Front Three Quarter View In Motion 4© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Audi S3 Front Three Quarter View In Motion 4 Essentially a sports sedan in a tuxedo, the 292-hp Audi S3 is proof that an engaging drive doesn't have to come at the cost of sophistication. Thanks to its slick all-wheel-drive system, turbo power, a more aggressive suspension, and available go-fast features such as Audi Magnetic Ride, the S3 proves potent performance can come in a small, sophisticated package.

15 Automotive Giant Killers© Provided by MotorTrend 15 Automotive Giant Killers
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