MONEY MIGHT BE tight, but with our top ten bargain performance cars you can still have plenty of fun!
Everyone knows about the 205 GTI, it is a legend amongst hot hatches, but it is getting on a bit now and it is getting harder and harder to find unmolested ones. The 306 GTI-6 then, is the perfect substitute. Made when Peugeot still knew how to make great handling cars it inherited many of the 205’s characteristics, most notably the tendency towards hedge-seeking lift-off oversteer (although not as alarmingly as in the 205). Think of it then as a grown-up 205 GTI. Prices start at around £600 but we’d go for the later facelifted models (pictured) that start nearer £1000.
The sight of an Impreza still evokes the memory of Colin McRae flying though a muddy Welsh forest on full opposite lock, exhaust popping and turbo chattering, on his way to becoming Britain’s first World Rally Champion. Thanks to the Impreza Turbo 2000, you can own a piece of this history. By today’s standards 197bhp might not seem much but it is plenty and with the Impreza’s rally-bred four-wheel-drive system it is a match for any supercar on a damp, bumpy British B-road. Not as brash as it’s WRX STI cousins it doesn’t attract the same price premiums and as a result can be on your driveway for £1500. Subarus are notoriously strong but buy carefully as a lot have been either thrashed, modified or both.
Based on the Fiesta, the Ford Puma was meant to be a small stylish coupe. The Mark IV Fiesta though was actually a pretty tidy handler and the Puma utilised this to full effect, with a bigger 1.7 litre engine and a few chassis tweaks it became a surprise hit amongst petrolheads, rally and race drivers and a certain Tiff Needell who famously flung one left right and centre around an airfield on Top Gear. Early cars start at just £500 but even the youngest, lowest mileage cars don’t go any higher than £3000 so there’s plenty to choose from, whatever your budget.
Yes, that’s right, you really can get a Mazda RX-8 for less than £5k. Considerably less. It’s a great looking coupe but it’s reasonably practical too, with the rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors aiding access to the rear seats. It is powered by a 1.3 litre engine but being a wankel rotary engine it produces anything from 190bhp to 250bhp, depending on spec. It makes a great sound too and the front-engined rear-drive layout makes for some sweet handling. An RX-8 can be yours for an almost unblievable £1500. Be careful though because those rotary engines go through oil like it’s going out of fashion and if things go wrong it can be pricey.
Another car that will make you double-take when you see the price. This is a proper sports car, with it’s mid-engined rear-wheel drive layout and it’s simple ragtop providing instant open-air fun and instant access to the sound of that 2.5 litre flat six. So you get premuim performance and a premium interior but there’ll be repair costs to match if things go wrong. However, if you can afford the running costs you can have one of Stuttgart’s finest sitting on your driveway for just £4,000.
Described by many as the finest front-wheel-drive car ever made, it only sold in small numbers in the UK and developed quite a cult following. As a result the majority of cars have been well looked after and are in good, unmodified condition. Don’t expect the usual Honda creature comforts though, the Integra is quite stripped-out and a bit of a ‘racer for the road’. The high-revving 1.8 litre engine should be pretty strong as long as you take care of it. The facelifted double headlight models (pictured) are more plentiful but both models start around £3,000. Beware of dodgy imports though.
The last generation MR2 ditched it’s coupe heritage to become a convertible. This, teamed with it’s mid-engined rear-wheel-drive layout makes it a bit of a baby Boxster, allowing you to have the same kind of thrills but at more licence-friendly speeds. Don’t be mistaken though, the 1.8 VVTI engine may be down on power compared the the Porker but it is eager and can certainly get you into trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. Having a Toyota badge on the nose has become a byword for reliablity but you should still be cautious because things like the fabric hood can be expensive to replace. Prices for early X-reg cars start at around £1300.
Introduced 22 years ago, the humble little MX-5 is fast approaching the 1 million sales mark, making it the most sucessful sports car of all time, and we in Britain can’t get enough of it. Inspired by British classics like the Lotus Elan and MGB the MX-5 uses a simple recipe; low-weight, skinny tyres, front engine and rear-wheel drive to provide driving thrills at all speeds. You can pick up an early mark 1 MX-5 for under £1000 or an early mark 2 for just over £1000 nowadays. At those prices it might be a bit tatty but it should be pretty strong mechanically. And if anyone ever says the word ‘hairdresser’ to you, you have my permission to punch them squarely on the nose.
Yet another “How much?!” car. The Honda S2000 has been with us now for 13 years and only went out of production, relatively unchanged, 3 years ago. It follows the same classic sports car recipe as the MX-5; front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, but it is a significantly bigger car than the little Mazda and has the power increase from its 2.0 litre engine to match. As with the other Japanese cars on this list, reliabilty concerns shouldn’t give you too many headaches but this is a performance car and you should aways check for signs of abuse from exuberant previous owners. Prices start just under £4,000.
1. Renaultsport Clio 182
Renault, or more specifically Reanultsport, make the best hot hatches in the business. This isn’t opinion, this is fact. Everything from the mad R5 Turbo and Clio V6, through the sublime Clio Williams to todays Twingo, Clio and Megane, they’ve never made a bad car. But which one should you buy today? Simple, the Clio 182. Often overlooked by the uninformed who will buy the default choice of Ford or Vauxhall, the Clio is a real gem which rewards enthusiastic driving and has a charm and character most cars can never hope to match. Whether you buy a standard 182 or a 182 Cup, which comes with grey wheels, a slightly sharper chassis and a slightly lowered ride, you’ll be onto a winner. As with all hot hatches, running costs will be a lot cheaper than most of the cars on this list. Prices for both the standard 182 and the 182 cup start at around £2,500. Cars with the Gordini paint scheme (pictured) can cost a little more but just make sure it’s genuine as many have had stripes added afterwards.