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Fun, affordability in a 2d car

You'd like to buy an affordable second vehicle. And because you already have a family bus, it needn't be a cavernous crossover or a sedate sedan.

2015 Camaro LS Coupe, with standard 3.6L V-6.
2015 Camaro LS Coupe, with standard 3.6L V-6.Read moreChevrolet

You'd like to buy an affordable second vehicle. And because you already have a family bus, it needn't be a cavernous crossover or a sedate sedan.

It could be simply fun.

As chairman of the Cheap Thrills Committee, I challenged myself to come up with some suggestions. I found five truly enjoyable 2015 frolicmobiles for under $24,000. These athletic devils include a roadster, sporty coupes, and a subcompact hatchback on steroids. Let's take a look:

Ford Fiesta ST (base price, $21,435). This little guy is essentially a Fiesta five-door hatch that's tested positive for an automotive pharmacy full of performance-enhancing hardware.

For openers, the regular Fiesta's 120-horsepower engine is replaced with a turbocharged, direct-injected four that breeds 197 horses, which is quite ample power in a car that weighs only 2,700 pounds. A six-speed manual transmission is the only gear game in town. The car has been lowered and fitted with quicker steering, better brakes, a more athletic suspension, and sporty styling cues inside and out.

The net result is excellent handling and 0 to 60 in a follicle over six seconds.

Honda Civic Si ($22,890). For 30 years, the Si has been the sporty version of the mainstream Civic compact, a light, inexpensive, high-rev funster.

Unlike some of its competitors, the Si is not turbocharged. It uses a normally aspirated, 2.4-liter engine that develops 205 horsepower and gets to 60 almost as quickly as the lighter Fiesta.

The Si, available as a coupe or sedan, is fitted with wide, 18-inch tires that take a good bite in the corners. Getting top performance from its high-revving, relatively low-torque engine means keeping the revs up.

Ford Mustang Fastback V-6 ($23,600). Redesigned for 2015, this new ponycar isn't just a particularly handsome evocation of the Mustang's traditional proportions and presence. By virtue of its refinement, technology, and driving dynamics, it is the best Mustang yet.

The most notable developments on this reimagined Mustang are the new, fully independent suspension and a freshly minted, high-performance, four-cylinder engine, which joins a V-8 and a V-6. The latter is a 3.7-liter, 300-horse affair, which, in league with the base six-speed manual, moves the car along quite smartly. The new suspension furnishes good cornering qualities with a civil ride.

Better quality materials grace the interior of the new car.

Chevrolet Camaro LS Coupe ($23,705). The counterpart to Ford's Mustang, the handsome Camaro is a force to be reckoned with, even in this base form. The engine is GM's sophisticated 3.6-liter V-6, which debuted in the Cadillac CTS. This 323-horse six spurs the Camaro from 0 to 60 in less than six seconds while earning EPAs of 17 city and 28 highway with the six-speed manual gearbox.

The base Camaro's suspension affords good handling while not beating you up on a rough road. The steering is responsive, and the big disc brakes shut things down promptly.

Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport ($23,970). The original 1990 Miata was patterned after the Lotus Elan (right down to the placement of the gas cap), and it has stayed true to its roots. The two-seat roadster remains a small, light sports car with a big fun quotient.

By virtue of its light weight and near-perfect fore-to-aft weight distribution, the Miata is an eminently tossable playmate that's just a joy on a winding road. Adequate oomph is obtained from a 2-liter, 167-horsepower engine, which is buttoned to a five-speed manual in this base model.

The Miata will arrive here in redesigned form for the 2016 model year.