A few years ago (circa 1997) the Indian automotive scene was a car enthusiast’s pandemonium and almost nothing existed for someone who enjoyed a fast car, except for someone who was well-healed enough to buy a high end Mercedes-Benz. The old Maruti Zen brought some respite to the humble common man, but only just. What changed the game in India was the first VTEC Honda City, Mitsubishi Lancer and Ford Ikon. Today the Indian automobile market has come alive and become one of the fastest growing ones in the World.

In this much bettered automotive scenario of modern India, what are the options that the petrol-heads have? We have made a list of cars that we feel qualify as genuine performance oriented cars. These cars are affordable for the normal Indian, but deliver a driving experience such that, any enthusiast will have the time of his life even when doing his or her mundane office run.

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1) Ford Fiesta – This mid-size sedan is based on the Ford Fiesta hatchback from international markets, which is famed for being among the most fun to drive small cars abroad. The sedan retains these credentials in India too despite adding a bit of flab at the rear. Its predecessor in India, the earlier Fiesta, or the Classic as it is now known, was a legend in itself as the best performance car under Rs. 10 lakh. And the latest version too keeps the legend alive.

The handling and suspension set up of the Fiesta is what makes it so special. The vehicle handles like a dream from corner to corner and brings a smile every time. The chassis and suspension set up is very well sorted and inspires confidence be it high speed driving or hard cornering. The steering is an electric power steering unit, unlike the earlier hydraulic one, but still retains the delicacy of feel and weight. The steering is very well calibrated and provides good feedback thus making driving on twisted roads rather a poetic affair.

The petrol engine, called the Duratec Ti-VCT, is a 1.5-litre unit producing 108 BHP and 140 Nm of Torque. Though this engine is not as rev-happy and eager as the older 1.6-litre Duratec unit from the older-gen Fiesta, it has good drivability and decent fun when pushed hard. The oil-burner, 1.5-litre Duratorq TDCi, is the best combination of performance and fuel economy. It produces 90 BHP of power and 204 Nm of torque and has excellent drivability and adequate performance for enthusiastic driving while keeping your eyes off the fuel gauge needle. But more powerful engines would have definitely upped the fun quotient of this amazing car.

Fiat Linea T-Jet Review

2) Fiat Linea T-Jet – The Italian answer to the call of the Indian enthusiast. With classic good looks and an aura of elegance, this Italian beauty never had problems grabbing eyeballs, but now with the T-Jet, Fiat has added a dollop of excitement into this sedan. The 1.4-litre turbo-charged engine transforms this classy sedan into a real enthusiasts dream. The engine produces 114 BHP of power and an astonishing 207 Nm of torque, which gives it a lot of grunt to have fun with. There is a slight turbo lag though, but the engine has good drivability and is free-revving as well.

Apart from the engine, the fabulous chassis and suspension set-up makes it a true performance car capable of handling all the hard driving the driver can throw at it. The car offers superior ability to devour corners and immense stability, at the same time keeping the occupants very comfortable with excellent ride quality. The hydraulic steering in the Linea T-Jet is an enthusiast’s delight and though it’s a little heavy at parking speeds, the feel and weight at high speeds and cornering makes up for it.

This is an amazing car with beauty and performance to win the petrol-head’s heart. But the lower fuel economy and Fiat’s average service network are a couple of negative points.

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3) Skoda Laura vRS – This is a big executive sedan that has performance to blow your mind. The original legend, which preceded this car, was the Skoda Octavia vRS, which set the Indian petrol-head arena on fire and is still sought after in the used market. This latest entrant takes the story ahead with better performance as well as more luxurious features and comfort. The Laura vRS has a 1.8-litre turbo-charged direct-injection petrol engine which produces an amazing 160 BHP of power and 250 Nm of torque.

The Laura vRS has the same power as the normal petrol Laura with a brilliant chassis to handle all the grunt. The suspension is stiffer and sportier than the normal Laura along with bigger alloys and tyres too. The car also comes with the traditional yellow colour which first became a hit with the Octavia vRS. This big executive sedan handles corners with great poise and the power never fails to excite. Though this car is not as hard core as the Octavia vRS, it sure is no slouch. It might not be a true vRS like its international counterpart, but its a whole lot of fun.

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4) Maruti Suzuki Swift – Coming to the affordable, common-man’s performance car, we give you the car that started it all. The Maruti Suzuki Swift. This little hatchback has been the best selling B-segment hatchback and with good reason. The Swift is very sporty to drive and has engines that compliment the car very well. The petrol power plant is a 1.2-litre K-series engine with 86 BHP of power and 114 Nm of torque. This little petrol engine is a very peppy performer and is extremely fun to drive. Despite its small size, it delivers good power may it be on the highway or enthusiastic twisty roads.

The Fiat Multijet 1.3-litre diesel engine produces 74 BHP of power and 190 Nm of torque and has a performance which is no less fun than the petrol version. In spite of having a bit of turbo-lag, the mid range performance is very exciting and leaves the driver smiling. The brilliance of this small car continues with the excellent short–throw and precise gearbox, very well calibrated steering and capable chassis-suspension setup. The Swift is very rewarding to drive on twisty roads and handles very well, with a steering that weighs up well at speeds and has decent feel too. This vehicle gives the perfect combination of sportiness and fuel economy with top notch reliability and service back-up.

Fiat Punto Sports Performance

5) Fiat Grande Punto Sport 90HP – This little gem of a car is one of the best small enthusiast’s car available in the Indian market today. The Fiat Grande Punto Sport 90HP has beautiful Italian looks, a powerful engine and handling and poise that almost no hatchback in India has. The 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine produces 90 BHP of power and 209 Nm of torque, which is the most powerful diesel engine in any hatchback. This car does have a bit of turbo lag, but has good driveability and most importantly a much punchier mid-range.

The Punto Sport 90HP looks the part too with decals on the body which make it look very sporty indeed. But the best bit of being a Fiat is the sharp handling and ability to gracefully attack corners at any speed. The chassis and suspension do their bit amazingly along with excellent ride comfort as well. The hydraulic steering unit provides amazing feedback and has excellent weight at speeds and during cornering. Plus the Multijet diesel unit keeps fuel bills in check too helping the owner enjoy longer drives.