It wasn't long ago that R300 000 bought you a decent hot hatchback, but years of inflation on the back of rand weakness and other factors mean that even a Fiesta ST surpasses that mark these days, at R318 900.

Certainly, you could attack the used car listings and find some really exciting machinery on a budget, but what if you're just not willing to spend the next few years wondering how many times your new prized possession was pushed to the limit by its previous owner?

Is it still possible to find a new car that's even mildly exciting for less than R300K?

We put together a list of the 10 fastest cars available at or below that budget level, based on manufacturer-claimed 0-100km/h acceleration times. Unlike fuel consumption numbers, these figures have proven to be fairly accurate over the years, although normally-aspirated models will of course pay a penalty at altitude.

Ford Focus 1.5 Trend sedan

0-100km/h: 8.7 seconds

Price: R301 900

Technically this one falls on the wrong side of the R300K barrier, but we made an exception due to how close it comes.

Sprinting to 100 in 8.7 seconds, the Focus ties for first place in this list despite being the biggest and heaviest, thanks to it being by far the most powerful. Moving it along is a 1.5-litre EcoBoost turbopetrol engine rated at 132kW and 240Nm.

Yet while most cars on this list have a glut of sporty styling elements inside and out to make them feel that notch or two above average, the Focus really just looks and feels like your average bread-and-butter Corolla-segment sedan. But if stealth mode is your thing, you really can't beat its combination of space and speed.

Suzuki Swift 1.6 Sport

0-100km/h: 8.7 seconds

Price: R264 900

This one comes with a big disclaimer: it's normally aspirated and if you live at altitude then it's not going to come close to matching its claimed performance figures.

Down at the coast you'll enjoy its old-school semi-high-revving charms though, with its 1.6-litre engine producing 100kW at 6800rpm and 160Nm at 4400rpm.

The engine is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox with a short throw and a sports suspension system lowers the car and sharpens the handling. 16-inch alloy wheels and a body kit complete with side skirts round off the racy vibe.

Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI Highline

0-100km/h: 9.3 seconds

Price: R269 400

If you're applying here you've probably looked at the Polo GTI but can't stomach the R350 900 price tag. The next-quickest Polo comes in at just under R270 000 and though it's 2.6 seconds slower to 100, it's still an effortless performer in its own right.

This model is available in six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG guise, powered by an 81kW/175Nm version of VW's 1.2-litre TSI turbopetrol engine. The Highline is distinguished from lesser Polos by 16-inch 'Portago' alloy wheels, but it is otherwise a fly-beneath-the-radar kind of offering.

Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend

0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds

Price: R235 900

If we're talking outright bang-for-the-buck, you can't beat Ford's duty-dodging 1-litre EcoBoost Fiesta range, starting at R221 900 for the Ambiente model. The three-cylinder turbo engine defies all previous conceptions about size and displacement, offering a meaty 92kW and 170Nm.

Given the base model's rental-spec hubcaps and other low-rent trimmings, you’ll want to spend a little extra on the Trend model, which adds a bit more glamour for R14 000 extra. You also get to choose between five-speed manual and six-speed dual-clutch Powershift transmissions.

Renault Clio 88kW Turbo Expression auto

0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds

Price: R259 900

Launched a year ago, the 1.2-litre turbo Expression partially bridges that vast gap between Renault's 0.9-litre turbo Clio and the hard-core RS version. Pushing 88kW and 190Nm, it gets from 0-100km/h in a not-too-pedestrian 9.4 seconds and the car costs R132 000 less than its 147kW hot hatch sibling.

As with the RS, you can't have the 1.2T with manual transmission, the only option being Renault's six-speed EDC dual-clutch automated gearbox.

Chevrolet Sonic 1.4T RS

0-100km/h: 9.5 seconds

Price: R284 100

Although not pretending to brush shoulders with the GTIs and STs of this world, Chevrolet's Sonic RS does at least make some attempt to present itself as a junior hot hatch, with all the appropriate badging and even seat embroidery, while it also has unique bumpers and a nice set of 'gunmetal' 17-inch alloys.

It's a strong performer in its own right, powered by a 103kW/200Nm version of GM's 1.4-litre turbopetrol engine, which is mated to a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox. Chevrolet also stiffened the suspension to lure enthusiastic drivers, while sweetening the deal for your inner geek with a MyLink touch-screen infotainment system.

Opel Corsa 1.4T Sport

0-100km/h: 9.6 seconds

Price: R276 200

In theory many of the vibes from above apply to this other cousin in the GM stable, although the two are built on different platforms and hail from different ends of the globe. The German hatch does have a similar 1.4-litre turbo engine though, tuned to 110kW and 220Nm in this case. As with the Chev, we feel that GM is being a bit conservative with the claimed 0-100km/h time of 9.6 seconds.

The Corsa Sport is also fitted with a short-throw six-speed gearbox and set apart by some attention-seeking design bits and bobs both inside and out, including Dark Titanium 17-inch rims and a touch-screen infotainment system is part of the deal too.

Peugeot 208 1.2T GT Line

0-100km/h: 9.6 seconds

Price: 284 900

Peugeot's 208 offering is perhaps a bit more about style and luxury than outright bang for the buck, but it is powered by a reasonably lively turbocharged version of Peugeot's 1.2-litre three-cylinder PureTech petrol engine, good for 81kW and 205Nm and matched with either a five-speed manual or six-speed autobox.

The GT Line is marked out by gloss-black exterior trim, 17-inch Caesium alloys, bespoke GT Line sports seats with contrast stitching, aluminium interior garnishes and dual-zone climate control.

Mini One 3-door Hatch

0-100km/h: 9.9 seconds

Price: R279 000

Unlike its anaemic normally aspirated predecessor, the new Mini One is actually quite fun to drive, thanks to a new turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine that gets it to 100km/h in a shade under 10 seconds.

All those hallmark Mini plusses, like a low-slung seating position and agile handling have all made the transition to the latest generation and it also comes in for well under R300 000. It's not very well equipped though and you can quickly go over budget on that equator-long options list.

Opel Adam 1.0T Jam

0-100km/h: 9.9 seconds

Price: R230 700

Adam is Opel's take on the trendy 'boutique' hatch market and comes in well under our budget at R230 700 for the cheapest turbo model. Like the lower end of the Corsa range, Adam gets his motivation from a 1-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol rated at 85kW and 170Nm.

You can create the Adam of your dreams through numerous personalisation options and the Jam is available with an OPC-Line Exterior pack. You can also add more 'Glam' by opting for the next model up, at R254 000, and sporting a 'starry night sky' headliner or panoramic sunroof.

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