By Stirling Matheson
It's a conundrum that most of us face: we want a hardcore sports car with razor sharp handling, the engine mounted between the seats and the rear axle, and the seats just mere inches from the pavement. Then the reality of the situation sets in: we also need to carry more than one other person around, make trips to the hardware store and Ikea, and possibly even fit in a car seat. You can't put a car seat in a McLaren P1.
Under $25k: Ford Fiesta ST
These days, there are a lot of livable and genuinely fun cars available at a sane price point, like the Scion FR-S or a base spec Mustang, but you might need more cargo space or rear doors, and that's why the Ford Fiesta ST is so brilliant. It's quick, has an accurate and fun manual transmission, a happy little turbocharged engine, neutral dynamics, and instant steering response. It feels like a toy, but it's packaged to hold four people, or five uncomfortably, and the hatchback body-style adds tons of versatility.
$25k - $45k: Subaru WRX STI
Okay, so from a practicality point of view, the 'Rex is starting to fall behind with fuel economy that makes the new Corvette look like a Prius and the fact that it's sedan-only for this generation, but it still deserves this spot. Why? Because it's one of the only road cars that I have ever driven that genuinely reminded me of race cars that I've driven. That's an honor that's shared with one other car: the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series. The STI is surprisingly fast, incredibly sharp, and versatile enough to perform brilliantly on basically any surface. Pure brilliance.
$45k - $80K: BMW M3
The M3 is the perennial favorite for the wealthy man who needs to be respectable (something a STI with a HUGE WING can't do) and who wants to be fast. It's a Bimmer, so it will fit right in at the management parking lot at the office, but it has all the toys from M Sport that help it fit right in at the track on Saturday as well. A very, very nice combination.
$80K - $125K: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
The Mercedes E-Class wagon is a special animal. Did you know that extremely wealthy people love the E-Wagon so much that the average yearly income of an E63 owner is well over $500,000? That's higher than even the SLS AMG owner's average income. Stranger still, E-Wagon buyers tend to keep their cars for 20 or more years. The next time you see an old Benz wagon, know that you might be looking at a billionaire.
There's a reason for this: the E63 is an awesome, hardcore sports car that can carry a sofa at 174 mph, cruise comfortably at 55, or blend in just about anywhere. It's awesome, but the non-gearhead won't give it a second glance. Honestly, there's a more expensive car on this list, but this is probably the all-round best.
$125K and up: Ferrari FF'
We all knew that Ferrari was going to replace the very capable but uninspiring 612 Scaglietti, but nobody thought it was going to be with a long-hooded, $295,000, AWD hot hatch with a V12. Hell, nobody thought anybody was ever going to make that car. Some people hate the FF, but if you take the weirdness and potential sacrilege out of the phrase "Ferrari hatchback," and just focus on the aforementioned list of unlikely descriptors, you'll realize that the FF is a wonderful unicorn in a world of predictable cars. If you have the money, go for it.