Per Schroeder
Per Schroeder SuperDork
4/8/09 9:40 a.m.

Nearly 25 years ago, the sport compact wars came to American soil. Since then, the souped-up versions of tamer four-cylinder vehicles have ceaselessly been pitted against each other. At first it was the Rabbit GTI against the Omni GLH. Then it was the Civic Si and Integra Type R vs. the world. More recently, the Evo has taken on the STI.

Right now there’s a slight quiet on the battlefield as we await the latest combatants from Mitsubishi and Subaru. This lull gives three new contenders a chance to shine: the MINI Cooper S, the Mazdaspeed3 and the super-brand-new Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V. Perhaps one of these three will steal the spotlight before the next generation of rally-bred supercars is unleashed.

Each of these hot compacts has strengths and weaknesses, but they are all clearly aimed at our market. Fun to drive? Check. Inexpensive? Check. A blank canvas for future modifications? Check.

In truth, these three cars might just be the hot picks for one of GRM’s Challenge events 20 or 30 years from now. By then we’ll have figured out how to reverse-engineer the airbag and traction control systems, recurve the ignition timing, tweak the fuel and put the sportiness back into their sports suspensions. These are tomorrow’s performance bargains. How do we know? Because they’re all cheap and fun right now.

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