Sporty cars offer good mileage, fun driving


Prices at the pump are high. That means that fun cars are out of fashion -- right? Maybe not. Fun and miles-per-gallon can go together.

"You could take this car out to the track, drive it like you stole it, have a blast on the weekend, and then commute to work during the week and get 34 miles to the gallon," said Fiat spokesman Tim Kuniskis.

Fiat's compact 500 has gotten an injection of performance with the Abarth edition: 60 percent more power. But it still has mileage ratings of 28 to 34 mpg. It also has another mission in Fiat showrooms: The regular car, and especially the Gucci edition, isn't exactly attracting guys who want something cool.

"They never called it fast, wicked, mean, nasty, but we're going to change all that with this car," said Kuniskis.

The Abarth puts the 500 into another realm, with performance, handling and coolness.

If you want something a little bigger, there's the new hot version of Volkswagen's Golf, the R model: a chart-topping 256 horsepower out of a 2-liter four-cylinder engine. There's also all-wheel-drive, a performance suspension and upgraded brakes. Mileage isn't spectacular, but it's good considering the level of performance the car offers.

And no conversation about fun compacts would be complete without mentioning Mini's hopped-up versions. Even with more than 200 horsepower in the various John Cooper Works models, fuel economy is still very good at 25 to 33 miles per gallon.

It is important to remember that when you start using the performance of these cars, those gas-mileage numbers will go way down. On the other hand, they're kind of like having two cars in one: performance and fun when you want it, fuel economy when you need it.

There are sporty compact hybrids now too. The Lexus CT gets racy looks and handling, though it's not a powerhouse in acceleration.

Honda's CR-Z is a two-seater hybrid that even offers a manual transmission. But it's no rocket ship either, in terms of zero to 60, but it's fun around the corners nonetheless.

Sure, gas may be expensive these days. But if you do want to combine your daily commute with driving fun, high fuel prices don't have to spoil the party.

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