Some say it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. But is that statement really true, or is it made up by people who own slow cars so they can feel better about themselves? Having driven my fair share of slow cars, and probably someone else's share as well, I can honestly say there's some truth to it.
Part of the fun of driving a small engined car fast is that it's rewarding! It's easy to go fast in a fast car, just floor the throttle and the car will take off, while a slow car actually teaches us how to drive properly through the extra work we put in to keep the speed up.
Proper braking technique, rev matching, smooth cornering, getting on the throttle at the right time, trail-braking to keep it stable, heel-and-toe... Everything I know about driving fast was picked up from exploring the limits in underpowered cars... on the track, of course!
Here's the thing, it can't just be any slow car, it needs that je ne sais quoi, the x-factor that makes it fun to drive on the limit rather than being scary. And of course, the definition of what a slow car is will differ. Some might say anything slower than a Porsche 911 is slow, while others might set the limit at hot-hatches.
Anyway, let's take a look at some slow(ish) cars that are fun to drive fast.
25 Mazda Miata
Let's just start with the most obvious one so we can get that out of the way. The Miata has been around for ages, so it's easy enough to find a cheap one to thrash around and have some fun with.
It doesn't matter which engine you choose as none of them are particularly fast in a straight line, it's in the corners the Miata really shines. Even a stock, basic model with the standard wheels is capable of giving you the most exhilarating driving experience you've ever had if you bring it to a nice, curvy road.
Take the top down, rev it up, and be ready to countersteer if you enter the corner too hot.
24 Toyota MR 2
There are three generations of MR2 to choose from, and none are particularly fast - apart from some well-tuned 2nd gen. turbo versions. The first generation is arguably the most fun to drive, but they are also becoming rather rare these days.
Every generation of the MR2 offers a thrilling driving experience but demands a bit more skill to handle in the corners than other cars on this list, due to its mid-engined configuration. A little too much throttle in the corner can result in snap oversteer, which isn't as easily corrected as the progressive oversteer you get in a Miata.
23 Subaru Impreza
We're not counting the turbo versions here since they can actually be phenomenally fast.
The Impreza has been around since the 90s, with non-turbo boxer engines as small as 1.6L. The older versions are excellent to throw around for some dirt road action while pretending to be Colin McRae.
With the new Impreza make sure you go for the manual gearbox and not the CVT if you're after a fun slow car. The manual actually lets you utilize the 2.0L boxer four-cylinder to its fullest, even if it's not particularly powerful, and combined with the all-wheel drive and responsive steering you'll be in for a good time on the right roads.
22 Peugeot 106 Rallye
Those who have never driven a 106 Rallye have been missing out. Big time! Arguably the best-handling front wheel drive car out there, the only competition as far as FWD goes would be the Honda Integra Type-R. I know it's a cliché, but it really is a road-legal go-kart.
With its 1.6L 103 hp engine, it's not built to go fast in a straight line. This car's secret is low weight combined with a super-aggressive suspension setup and a rev-happy engine. The little Peugeot is more than willing to dive into the turns, cling on to the road for dear life, and then shoot out on the other side, leaving much more powerful machinery in its dust.
21 VW Golf
The first Golf saw the light of day back in 1974 but went under the name Rabbit in North America. It was pretty much an average, slow car. But when the GTi came out a couple of years later jaws dropped and the Golf ended up changing how we think about hatchbacks.
With the Golfs of today being either sedate or really fast, the older ones are much more fun to drive. No driver aids, just three pedals and a steering wheel. The GTIs were fast back in the day, but considering they only had 112 hp, or 139 in the 16 valve engine, it's nothing a decent driver can't handle.
20 BMW E46
Yes, we all know the E46 M3 was probably the best M3 BMW has ever made, but the other 3-series cars weren't bad either. The 318 and 320 were maybe a bit underpowered, but that's also what makes them fun to drive hard.
Less power sometimes equals more fun. Driving cars like the 325, 328, 330, etc, means you'll be going really fast when exploring its limits, but in the smaller displacement cars, the speed will be lower while the handling is pretty much the same. And what's the point of having power if you can't use it? Go for the 320 for the maximum amount of enjoyment.
19 VW Beetle
The original Beetle was slow, very very slow, but it was still a blast to drive with its rear-mounted air-cooled boxer engine. Since it takes around 20 seconds from 0 to 60 there's never any danger of losing control when accelerating. However, come into a corner too fast and you'll soon learn the meaning of oversteer.
When going fast through turns in the old Bug you can almost feel the car flexing. In fact, if you ever see an old Beetle convertible drive on a bumpy road, you can see the entire car flex and twist. No wonder it's so much fun to drive it "fast."
18 Honda Civic
The older Civics might be known as 'ricers,' which basically means an overstyled car that's all show and no go. However, the Civic does handle well and offers a lot of fun. Previous generations of the Civic offered rev-happy engines, but with practically no torque they were constantly driven so hard it was bouncing off the rev-limiter - VTEC kicked in, yo!
The new Civic is available with a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine pushing out 174 horsepower. That might be a lot less than the Type R, but the hatchback's excellent chassis balance in combination with the manual transmission that's available you're in for some good times behind the wheel.
17 Nissan 240SX
The Nissan 240SX has been the go-to car for drifting for years already. It's slow enough for the newbies to learn in, but when properly set up it can be an unbeatable race car. The stock chassis is actually capable of handling a lot more power than the car was delivered with, making it one of the most modded cars out there.
In addition to a solid chassis, the 240SX, both in S13 and S14 form, is more than 300 pounds lighter than a Ford Focus. The 240SX is perfect both for drifting and autocross if you're looking for some sideways action without going overly fast - and as you get better at it, just start upgrading the car.
16 Volvo 240
The Volvo 240 was built like a tank, and unlike the Nissan 240, the Volvo weighs a ton... and then some. The Volvo 240 was never intended to go fast, even if Volvo did make some turbo versions, but leave it to some crazy Scandinavians to turn their brick-like cars into fire-breathing sideways-monsters.
Considering the Volvo was made in Sweden, you'd think they'd build a car that would be able to deal with winter driving?! But no, the Volvo 240 will throw its rear-end sideways as soon as the weatherman announces there might be some snow falling in a couple of days. And that's exactly why it's on this list; full-on drift action... while doing walking pace.
15 BMW 2002
The BMW '02 was the predecessor to the BMW 3-Series. Available in a number of engine configurations, the only ones with decent power were the 2002tii and turbo models. The 2002 Turbo was famous for its so-called "ketchup-effect." Floor the throttle, nothing happens, wait for it, wait a little more, then the turbo kicked in and fired the little car down the road with the driver screaming from fear, holding on to the steering wheel for dear life.
The naturally aspirated 2002 however, only produced 108 hp from its inline-four engine and makes for a really fun, slow car to drive fast. Especially when not having to worry about a turbo kicking in mid-corner, kicking out the rear-end and flying off a cliff.
14 Dodge Neon
The first-generation Neon might look all cute and giddy from the front, but it was actually a very capable car in SCCA Autocross, road racing, and rally competitions. Now, just because a car is good at racing that doesn't mean it's automatically any good, or fun, to drive on the road.
While the 2.0L engines weren't exactly powerful, they weren't weak either. Available with either 132 or 150 horsepower, it's enough power to have some fun without the scenery flying past at a scary-fast pace. Seeing as these cars can be picked up for pocket change these days, there really is no excuse not to go out and get one.
13 Fiat 500
The current version of the Fiat 500 first appeared in 2007 and, apart from a minor facelift in 2015, it has soldiered on virtually unchanged ever since. While the Abarth version is fairly nippy, the base-versions can offer just as much fun at a slower pace.
Of course, the 1.2L engine is not gonna be very exciting on the highways, so twisty roads are a must in order to get some enjoyment out of it. The standard 500 is not exactly a sporty car but the skinny tires actually make the car much more fun to drive as you can reach its limits without going excessively quick, in fact, you can reach its limits while still doing the speed limit.
12 Honda CRX
The CR-X Si had a whopping 108 horsepower, but it's really lightweight, which is one of the key features of most slow cars that are fun to drive. They may have tiny, underpowered engines, but it's their size, or lack thereof, that makes them so much fun to drive at the limit.
Finding a CRX that hasn't been modified in some way today might prove a difficult task. However, if the person who modified it knew what they were doing, the little CRX could actually be improved, making it even more fun to thrash around on a tight circuit.
11 BMW E30 318is
The E30 M3 usually steals all the attention when it comes to the E30 3-Series. Here's the thing though, pretty much all the E30s offers great driving experiences. There is, however, one model that sticks out, the E30 318is. Delivering 140 horsepower, it was actually more powerful than the 320i, yet it doesn't have a big, heavy six-cylinder lump under the hood.
With less weight overall, and especially so at the front end, the 318is is one of the best real driver's cars in the E30 range. It's much easier to toss and throw around the corners and delivers just the right amount of power-to-weight ratio to have boatloads of fun while still being relatively safe to drive.
10 Toyota Yaris
The Toyota Yaris was built to be an economy car, but that's not going to stop us from having some fun with it. The Yaris features only 106 hp and 103 lb-ft of torque, but when a car handles as well as this one, you really don't need bucket loads of power in order to have a good time.
It might be the least expensive car Toyota currently makes, but it's quite possibly also the most fun to drive. After a ride in the Yaris, you can't help but fall in love with it, even if that front end is seriously ugly.
9 Mazda 2
The Mazda2 can be taken all the way to the redline in every gear, and you'll barely break the speed limit. The best part of this car is the chassis which makes the car a lot of fun when going through the corners.
The SKYACTIV engine needs revs in order to perform, and its slick five-speed manual gives you instant feedback and response very similar to that of the Miata. Mazda has made a commitment to making lightweight cars, and as a result, the Mazda 2 weighs in at a ton - with the agility and willingness to change directions going hand in hand with the perky engine. No wonder the Mazda 2 was used as a base for Spec B racing.
8 Honda Fit
Honda’s little Fit has been a phenomenal little car ever since it was launched. It has always been lacking power, but it could brawl with the best of them, as well as being spacious and relatively comfortable.
In the latest edition, the Fit has a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 130 wild horses. While it's not powerful, it is a great little power plant that rewards you when pushing the pedal all the way to the floor.
The Fit is one of the most fun cars Honda makes these days, seeing as they've made a move towards making more comfortable and economic cars, the Fit resembles the fun cars they used to make back in the day.
7 Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost
Nevermind the Fiesta ST, the 1.0 Ecoboost engine is where it's at. The little three-cylinder might have a capacity smaller than a carton of milk but connected to the manual transmission it is a recipe for a great time.
The main reason the Fiesta is so much fun, no matter which engine you go with, is because the chassis is really taut and agile, making it perfect for some running around tight backroads. This car has the potential to make anyone feel like Ken Block when driven the right way, just rev it up to build some boost and let it rip.
6 Subaru BRZ
None of the cars on this list are perfect, but that's what makes them so much fun in the first place, this goes for the FRS/BRZ as well. Since it's lacking in the torque department, the 205 hp flat-four engine requires a lot of work to go fast.
This car won't help you make up lost time if you mess up at a corner, you need to stay on top of your game, but if you do you'll be rewarded with one of the most satisfying driving experiences known to man.
Once you get it to its sweet spot between 5,000-6,000 rpm, you have to keep it there and that's what's ultimately going to make you a better driver. Heel-and-toeing and left foot braking here we come!
5 Mini Cooper
The old, classic Mini managed to win rallies without being a particularly fast car. And it is an absolute riot to drive fast on narrow, twisty roads or tracks. The bigger, heavier, more luxurious, and way more powerful new Mini Cooper somehow manages to keep the fun-factor of the original and is definitely worth considering if you want a slow, but fun, car - other than the Cooper S, which is indeed very capable of going fast.
The thing about the newer Minis is that they are in many ways better at being fun cars than their bigger BMW siblings. Don't believe me? Try driving the new three-cylinder turbo Cooper with a straight face.
4 Audi A4 TDI S-Line
Noooo, it's a diesel! The devil's fuel! Yes, it is, but there's a reason why the diesel version was the car that made it onto this list. While it's not exactly fast, the 2.0L diesel does actually deliver a decent amount of torque which combined with the Quattro four-wheel drive, the 6-speed manual transmission, and the sporty S-line seats make it a ton of fun when accelerating through the bends.
And what's even better is... you can perform all kinds of hooliganism during winter as well. Just prepare yourself for some understeer since Audi likes to fit the engine as far towards the front of the car as possible.
3 Mitsubishi Mirage
Admittedly, it will take a special kind of driver to get any fun out of the Mirage. You do need to have a couple of screws loose, as well as enjoy darting through narrow city streets. If that sounds like you, the Mirage could be the cheap fun you've been looking for. Just be aware that it's horrible for anything else but spirited city driving.
With an asthmatic three-cylinder engine and a CVT, it's not gonna be crazy fast. In fact, it won't even be remotely fast, which is what makes it perfect for driving at the limit in a city. While you'll be able to scare the bejeezus out of your fellow passengers, people on the curb won't even notice you crawling by.
2 Nissan Micra
How much fun is the Nissan Micra to drive fast? It is actually so much fun that Nissan created a whole racing series around it. How about that?
Imagine telling someone you drive the most basic Micra that doesn't even have electric powered windows or mirrors... Because race car!
Even with the Micra being very light it easily runs out of puff uphill, so take your time going up a mountain road and enjoy the scenery. Once you reach the top, put the pedal to the metal and laugh hysterically as you trail-brake through the downhill corners. Automotive fun really doesn't come much cheaper than this.
1 Suzuki Swift
The Swift has been around for ages, both as a basic run-around and as a hotter supermini in the form of the GTI and Sport versions. Driving the Suzuki Swift is nothing but fun - unless you drive one of the base-models from the mid-2000s which seats will give you back problems if you didn't already have it.
With the newest version being smaller and considerably lighter than the one it replaces, it's gonna be able to turn any frown upside down. It's eager to perform direction changes and even the 1.0L churns out a decent 109 hp, not too bad considering the car weighs less than a ton.
Sources: Top Gear, Edmunds, Road & Track