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Write What You Drive

A showcase of independent motoring journalism and automotive travails

Am I Ready to Barge Again?

Since I sold my 3rd Gen Vauxhall Astra in 2008, rear doors (and indeed often rear seats) have been of little concern to me when considering the purchase of a vehicle. I don't have any children and my car usually transports just me and sometimes my girlfriend. I have to admit that having a hatchback (Golf/Puma) capable of carrying more than one passenger or, possibly more importantly, a bike has been handy on occasion but not often enough that I couldn't find a way around it if I had to.

That said, I have always maintained that there is enjoyment to be had from a needlessly fast saloon car - preferably with an unnecessarily large engine that belies its otherwise sensible base.

Although motorcyclists will argue that if you really want to go fast on the road, a superbike is the only way; I've always thought that the achievement is diminished somewhat by the fact that you are sitting on, essentially, an engine with two wheels. Going fast in a car is more notable as usually you'll have a ton or so of metal, some seats and a stereo doing it with you. In a big car, the accomplishment is all the more remarkable as the performance can be achieved with 3 passengers, all seated in leather-clad, air conditioned luxury.

My interest in fast saloons has peaked and troughed over the years; from the ridiculous notion of running a Merc 190E Cosworth as a second car at university (probably a good thing that didn't come to fruition) to a viewing/ride in an E28 M535i before plumping for an MR2 Turbo.

I've always seen myself as a sports car type and enjoy the unadulterated, compromise free impression a purpose built performance car gives. As I have attempted to articulate previously, garnishing a platform designed for more modest purposes with uprated components rarely results in a true sports car feeling.

One of the things I like most about the MR2 is the low, snug driving position; sandwiched between the door and the centre tunnel. I know it's a cliché but you really feel as though you are sitting in the car rather than on it.

Saloons and hatches, almost by definition, are designed to feel as roomy inside as the exterior packaging allows; meaning that as little space as possible is surrendered to the driving controls. For example, the dash-mounted gear lever on the 2000 Honda Civic was heralded as a stroke of genius in terms of interior packaging and practicality as a family car; but in the Type-R version it feels too high up and means everything else, including the driver, has to sit higher as a result. I'm yet to drive anything with controls that feel as satisfying and fall as easily to hand as the stubby gearstick in my MR2 - although I have to admit that the GT86 came pretty close.

So there are both sides of the argument, and the scale of my dilemma. Could I truly replace a mid-engined, sub 6 to 60 sports car with a hot barge? Allow me to examine the leading candidates...

Those who read the Japfest 2013 Review will know that I developed a fondness for the Mazda6 MPS. It's pretty fast, subtly handsome and has 4WD for winter but whilst around £4k for one with decent mileage represents good value, this isn't a car I could realistically afford to own alongside my MR2 at the moment, meaning she would have to go.

One point that most reviewers are keen to state is that, due to bracing around the rear seats to improve rigidity, they don't split/fold so is it any more likely to carry a bike than the MR2 it would replace? I also stated earlier that fast saloons should have a "needlessly large engine" - and whilst the direct-injection 2.3L unit is an interesting proposition, you couldn't really call it large, and the note is somewhat stifled and characterless due to the use of a turbo. Most of which criticisms lead nicely to the next option; the Ford Mondeo ST200.

As a 13 year old boy, I perched on a fence at Oulton Park and watched Alain Menu win the BTCC sprint race in his V6 Mondeo, so imagine my delight when Ford released a road-going version. Fast forward a decade and that boyish delight was reignited when I found that you can pick up a half decent one for under £1500.

In my opinion, the ST200 still looks purposeful today and with a 2.5L V6, its engine should certainly have a better soundtrack and more linear pull (if less ultimate power) than the MPS. The interior looks like a fairly nice place to be, with full leather Recaros, Ford Racing blue dials and every box on the options list ticked. It's not really that fast by modern standards (7.7s to 60mph) and also loses some points for being front wheel drive but it does have in its favour the fact that at such a bargain price, I could add it to my fleet rather than substitute it - which surely gives the best of both worlds?

And finally, completing a list of fast barges without a German in sight, it seems rude not to mention the Jaguar S-Type 3.0L V6 that I wrote about in my last article. It has a larger, more powerful version of the Mondeo's V6, rear wheel drive and a sweet chassis that actually feels most un-barge like. I won't reiterate the reasons you might not want to buy one but even in this company it does fill me with the dread of big car bills much more than the other two candidates.

With only a 10 mile commute, I'm not particularly bothered about the sub-30mpg that I could expect from these cars; more whether they'd deliver drama and entertainment to match a sports car. Some of the appeal of a hot saloon is actually more subtle than outright speed and thrill, Q-cars inherently offering some understated cool and class.

Regular Features
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20th January

Just when you think everything is going well...

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7th October

Puma passes MOT despite struggle

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28th June

MR2 Turbo in France

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31st March

Further money "invested"

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6th January 2013

'90s reigns as the current JT Fleet is introduced