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Motoring Contributions

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

The £4k to £8k Conundrum

Having watched an episode of Top Gear where the only feature was an (another) American road trip and the cheapest metal weighed in at £75,000; I couldn't help but wonder if they've lost touch with the man in the street... Feelings about the self-indulgent nature of Clarkson et al aside, I'm currently musing over the pitfalls of a budget one tenth the size of that needed for a seat at the Top Gear top table.

The current combined value of the JT Fleet stands at something around the £4k mark, meaning if I ever follow through on any of the Monday morning whims to sell up and consolidate - I'd be looking at replacing them with something in the £4-8k price bracket (depending on how much extra pocket money I put in). A quick classifieds search deepened the Monday morning gloom when I was almost unilaterally uninspired by what a not inconsiderable budget buys you at the moment.

I've spent the last couple of years being pleasantly surprised at what £1k or thereabouts can secure these days - even shelling out twice on a Mk3 Golf GTI 16v and my current Puma. I've got a list approaching 20 cars that not everybody will agree with but at the very least provoke a reaction;

VW Corrado 16v
Peugeot 106 GTI
Vauxhall Calibra V6
Alfa Romeo GTV 2.0TS

to name but a few. Even venturing out of shed territory, there's quite a bit to tickle my personal fancy for a few grand - newer VAG metal with 1.8T engines, G60/VR6 versions of the aforementioned Corrado and the ubiquitous '90s Japanese performance Bang for your Buck such as my MR2 Turbo.

On the other side of the fence, £8-12k can buy some impressive, if potentially risky, levels of performance. BMW's M Coupe, a Lotus Elise (S1 or sneaky S2) or the frankly ridiculous 180mph+ capability of a TVR Cerbera.

I should hope that at least one of the cars mentioned so far has floated your boat to some degree (if it's the Calibra V6 then good luck to you) but as I mentioned, I was underwhelmed by what lies in the middle ground. I was hopeful that a budget of this size (more than I have ever spent on a car before) would be enough to secure something fairly serious in both the performance and petrol head excitement stakes.

Any replacement would be charged with the not inconsiderable task of replacing my MR2 Turbo - a car I have loved since the day I bought it. The MR2 is fast, rear wheel drive and, on some level at least, interesting - criteria that must also be applied to the search for a successor.

Unfortunately there appears to be a trough in the excitement vs. price curve between £4k and £8k, into which has fallen an alarming number of Nissan 350Zs, Mazda RX8s and faceless 00's BMWs - none of which get my motor running.

My search was narrowed by only considering rear wheel drive and naturally aspirated engines, thus ruling out most hot hatches, anything turbocharged and baseball-cap wearer's choices messieurs Impreza and Evo. Granted, these subjective criteria differ to those in my sub-£4k searches, but just as the paying match.com singleton may expect a higher class of date than the plentyoffish bargain-bucket, for this sort of money I was hopeful of a little less in the way of hot versions of otherwise compromised metal and more in the way of a thoroughbred.

The only chinks of light came in the form of some BMW M saloons, a couple of early 5.7 Monaros and debatably a handful of Porsche Boxsters - and I can't escape from the fact that most of these are slower than my humble MR2.

One issue I identified was that, aside from the aforementioned 350Zs (not a fan of the styling or image), RX8s (it's got 4 doors...and every owner I've known has been made miserable by it) and plethora of warm BMW coupes, at this price you're either looking at the bottom end of vehicles that really belong in a higher bracket (never buy the cheapest one in the classifieds...) or paying over-the-odds for something available cheaper. The E34 M5 being a case in point - even if it's a minter and you pay £7k for it, it's still a 20 year old car and you're not getting an awful lot for your money by more modern standards.

Maybe my pickiness and prejudice is my undoing, but as it stands the first decision to be made seems to be whether to throw some serious money at the situation or keep things real buzzing around in the sub-£4k bracket.

Regular Features
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28th June

MR2 Turbo in France

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31st March

Further money "invested"

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27th January

Lack of options in the snow

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6th January 2013

'90s reigns as I introduce the current JT Fleet