Ask PetrolBlog: Practical performance cars for £5,000

Ton’s brief is both detailed and thorough. He’s clearly a man who knows what he wants from a car, but isn’t afraid of asking his friends across the North Sea for some advice.

In short, Ton wants to spend the equivalent of £5,000, but would stretch to £7,000 if required. It needs to seat four people, although the rear seats will only be used occasionally. Looks are important to Ton, although obscurity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It needs to be a proper drivers’ car, with plenty of power and because of the tax situation in the Netherlands, it should ideally have a petrol engine. Crucially, it needs to be available in the Netherlands. Oh and one last thing, Ton isn’t thinking about selling his Porsche 968. That would be silly.

I must confess to taking a sneak peak at Ton’s Real World Dream Barn before compiling this list of ten cars, so some of the cars may be familiar. But hey, if PetrolBlog can help make Ton’s dreams come true, we must be doing something right. At this rate we’ll be rivalling Disney in the dream-making stakes.

Volkwagen Corrado VR6

VW Corrado VR6

This seems too good an opportunity for Ton not to consider the Corrado. We already know it features on his list of top ten real world cars, so with a bag of euros in his pocket, surely now is the time for Corrado ownership?

Arguably one of the greatest front-wheel drive cars of all time, the Corrado is almost certainly one of the greatest performance car bargains on sale today. Launched in 1988, the VW Corrado was originally available with a choice of 139bhp 16-valve or 160bhp supercharged 8-valve 1.8 litre engines. The latter being known as the G60. In 1991, the 1.8 16-valve was replaced by a 2 litre version, but it was the arrival of the VR6 that transformed the Corrado from a great hatchback coupé into a legendary and iconic performance car.

Volkswagen’s VR6 engine was first made available on the Passat early in 1991, but it wasn’t until later the same year when it found its real home, in the Corrado. The narrow-angle V6 engine is more of a straight-six than a conventional V6, but let’s not get too hung up over this. The VR6 is smooth revving, has a wonderful soundtrack and could power the Corrado to a top speed of 145mph. What’s more, it could propel the Corrado to 60mph in a fraction over six seconds, meaning the little VW could humble a supercar or two back in its day.

Critics may point to the fact that its front-wheel drive nature means it can never be classed as a true drivers’ car. But they’re missing out on one of the most characterful, engaging and well constructed performance cars ever made. Take it from me, I owned a glorious 1993 VR6 a few years back. The handling was exceptional, the ride superb and the performance intoxicating. I could also get 30mpg on a good run. I would have another one in a heartbeat.

Ton’s budget means he can choose from some of the best on the market, but patience is required. There are some rough examples out there and some have been badly modified. Buy on condition rather than mileage because a well cared for VR6 can see 200,000 miles with ease. The biggest thing to check is whether or not the timing chain and tensioner have been done. It’s a big job that may as well be done in conjunction with a clutch change. If it’s been done recently, then that’s a real bonus.

It’s funny, for a car that won such critical acclaim, the Corrado was a complete sales disaster for Volkswagen. Only a little over 100,000 were ever produced, making it a relative rarity. And best of all, a Mulberry coloured Corrado looks great with a set of Dutch number plates…

Honda Integra Type-R

Honda Integra Type-R

For some people, there’s no debating the greatest front-wheel drive car of all time. It’s the Honda Integra Type-R. Period. Case closed. Move on.

It’s certainly one of the most hardcore and driver-focused cars on the road, the likes of which we’re unlikely to see again. I distinctly remember first seeing one in 1996. It looked every inch the car for the Gran Turismo generation, even before Gran Turismo had even hit the shelves.

The stats are rather similar to the Corrado. In fact, a top speed of 145mph and a 0-60mph time of 6.2 seconds are exactly the same as the VW. But whilst the Corrado was powered by a 2.9 litre lump, the Integra had a firecracker of a 1.8 litre VTEC engine. In keeping with other VTEC-powered Hondas, the Integra comes alive near the redline and is best driven at the limit. Always.

Inside, the Integra Type-R comes with a pair of brilliant Recaro seats, with a titanium gear knob completing the race car feel. Ton’s occasional rear seat passengers will have to make do with standard Honda seats though.

The Integra Type-R is a car I’ve come close to buying on far too many occasions. And by far too many I’m referring to the chances missed. The closest I’ve come to ownership is a quite brilliant Accord Type-R. If the Integra is anything as good as this, it’s hard to see where Ton could do wrong. All he needs to do is choose between red, white or black. Do it, Ton. Go on.

Volvo C30 T5

Volvo C30 R-Design

Ton mentioned to me the other day that he’s got a thing for the Volvo 480 Turbo. I naturally share that opinion and it’s worth checking out PetrolBlog’s Bangerwatch feature on the 480.

It’s fair to say that Ton will have a huge amount of change from his £5,000 budget if he gets a 480 and he’d receive an honorary knighthood from PetrolBlog to mark the occasion. But there is an alternative.

Even before Ton had mentioned the 480, I’d already selected the C30 as a potential car for Ton. It may not be as driver focused as the Integra or the Corrado, but it looks good, is relatively obscure and in T5 form, it packs a real punch. I absolutely adored the T5 Polestar I spent a week with last year. Check out the review here.

I really didn’t think Ton could achieve C30 T5 ownership within his budget, but with a little haggling I think it would be possible. Prices for the early pre-facelift cars are edging closer to Ton’s upper limit and for that he’d get a brilliant 5-cylinder unit, unique styling, a sublime interior and Volvo build quality. It may not be the sharpest of B-road instruments, but it’s an accomplished and hugely likeable hatchback coupé. And with the arrival of the V40, I’d expect prices of C30s to start falling.

Oh and don’t forget it’s made just across the border from Ton in Belgium.

Jaguar XJR

Jaguar XJR 4.0 supercharged V8

Ton may have chosen an Interceptor as the sole British representative on his list of dream cars, but he did say, if money was no object, he’d prefer an E-Type.

Sadly I can’t squeeze an E-Type into Ton’s budget, but how about a 4.0 litre supercharged V8 Jag?

I’m talking about the sixth generation XJR of course, a car which is available well within Ton’s budget. For less than £5,000, Ton can own a car with a top speed limited to 155mph, 370bhp and a 0-60 time of sub six seconds. And all this within the grace and style of a big cat. What’s not to like?

As with any large barge at the bottom of the depreciation curve, it’s important to do your homework first and get one with a good history. But they’re more reliable than you may think, with the fuel, tyres and servicing likely to be the biggest ticket items. Having said that, a certain degree of bravery is required. So after you, Ton…

MG ZS 180

MG ZS 180

From one Brit to another – here’s something from MG.

Again, I’m cheating here a little as I know from twitter that Ton has been considering the MG ZS 180 as a potential next car. It would get my vote.

I remember being rather impressed with the ZS 180, with its good blend of pace and sharp handling. When new it was let down by its rather dated interior, but that matters less now that the whole car has been given time to age. I’ve always preferred the saloon to the hatchback, even with the oversized rear spoiler perched on the boot.

It’s many years since I drove it, but I seem to remember the ZS 180 being a rather convincing package. It was one of those cars that needed to be pushed in order to get the best from it, but the handling was good with minimal body roll. The ride was a little harsh, but that’s a small price to pay for an accomplished B-road car. The seats were excellent too.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of love for the ZS outside of enthusiasts forums, which is why prices are relatively low. It could be an inspired choice for Ton.

BMW E36 M3

BMW E36 M3

A list of practical performance cars wouldn’t be complete without a BMW, so here’s PetrolBlog’s recommendation.

Okay, so the E36 M3 is arguably the weakest M3 of the lot, but that’s rather like saying The Bourne Supremacy is the weakest of the Bourne films. What’s more, Ton’s budget means he can take his pick of the best cars available. Face it, the E36 was always going to struggle trying to replace the iconic E30, with subsequent M3s making it even tougher for the E36. Maybe it’s the PetrolBlog spirit, but I have a soft spot for the E36. For sure, there are far too many ‘chavved-up’ examples in this country, but I doubt the Netherlands has the same problem. Besides, a tidy E36 M3 in the right colour (Estoril Blue or Daytona Violet) looks the business.

A straight-six, rear-wheel drive proper M car for around £5k. Surely that’s hard to resist?

Volkswagen Golf R32

VW Golf R32 MK4

Can it really be ten years since Volkswagen released the Golf R32? At the time, it was the most powerful Golf ever produced and I remember thinking at the time that the £22k price tag represented something of a bargain. The fact that Ton will require just about every penny from his upper budget shows that prices have held up well and VW could have asked a few more grand for the R32 when new.

I see it as a more discreet alternative to the Audi S3 or Subaru Impreza, especially in silver or black. It manages to look purposeful and dramatic without shouting about its credentials. It’s a car for those in the know and it looks as good today as it did in 2002.

Its 237bhp from a 3.2 litre V6 engine may seem tame by today’s standards, but it’s the way the R32 goes about its business that counts. There’s a huge amount of torque throughout the rev range and a wonderful soundtrack coming through the twin stainless steel exhausts. Plus the R32’s 4WD system provides an immense amount of grip and pace off the line.

Perhaps a little too grown up for Ton? But the R32 is a real wolf in sheep’s clothing that’s far more interesting than most modern Volkswagens.

Other options

Mazda RX-8

Mazda RX-8 - practical performance car for less than £5000

Another one from Ton’s Real World Dream Barn. Admittedly I can’t quite stretch to Ton’s preferred R3 model, but the RX-8 is well within Ton’s reach. The best bits are the car’s lightness, 50:50 weight distribution, rear-wheel drive, rotary engine and suicide doors. Could be an interesting choice for Ton.

Volkswagen Passat W8

VW Passat W8 Estate - practical performance for less than £5000

Yes, it comes straight out of Ton’s barn again, but hey, why not? I share Ton’s love of the Passat W8, but as yet haven’t had the courage to buy one. Over to you, Ton.

Peugeot 306 GTi-6

Peugeot 306 GTi-6 - practical performance car for less than £5000

I know that Ton has grown up with Peugeots, so I’m hoping he’ll appreciate this choice. Not the usual 205 GTi recommendation, but instead the quite brilliant 306 GTi-6. Often regarded as one of the best hot hatches of the ’90s, the 306 GTi-6 can be purchased for little more than a few peanuts and a packet of crisps.

Some folk may say that it’s built like a packet of crisps, but they’d be missing out on a true drivers’ car. The ‘6’ of course stands for six-speed gearbox, which is mated to a 16-valve 2.0 litre engine. Power is ‘just’ 167bhp, but it’s the handling rather that the power that makes the Pug great.

The 205 GTi may have been the last brilliant hot Peugeot, but the 306 GTi-6 was a very, very good effort.

Renaultsport Clio 182 Cup

RenaultSport Clio 182 Cup

I would have recommended the Trophy edition, but that wasn’t available in the Netherlands. So instead I’m opting for the 182 Cup, which would be perfect for the smooth back roads around Rotterdam. I’m sure Ton can live with the poverty spec upholstery and cheap stereo in exchange for one of the most involving and lively hot hatches ever built? And besides the 182 Cup wasn’t quite as stripped back as the 172 Cup, meaning Ton will have the pleasure of air conditioning.

It won’t be long until Ton is tearing around the lanes with a rear wheel in the air. Lovely.

MINI Cooper S

MINI Cooper

Image is important to Ton and we already know that he runs a MINI Clubman as a company car. With that on the way out, surely it makes sense to stick to what he knows and get himself an early Cooper S?

So there’s PetrolBlog’s dirty dozen. A list of 12 cars for Ton to consider.

As is normal for an Ask PetrolBlog feature, you can almost guarantee that Ton will get something completely different and be totally happy with his choice! But whatever, we hope he shares his choice with us. Good luck, Ton.

In the meantime, if you’d like to Ask PetrolBlog, drop us a line at the usual address.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

35 comments

  1. August 1, 2012
    Dr Octane

    Oooh I love a good debate. However, as a huge MINI fan (but not a fan of those huge MINIs) you really ought to have included the JCW kitted version for that money. 200bhp per tonne in a psuedo-Brit pocket rocket is a hoot.

    Reply
    • August 1, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good call. And one I think Ton would approve of. Looks like £6k-£7k gets you a very good JCW…

      Reply
      • August 1, 2012
        Ton D. (@Tonsty)

        Excellent suggestion, of course! Would have to be a really early one with high mileage though, given Dutch prices.

        Reply
    • August 2, 2012
      Simon Hingston

      Try a huge Mini, it must be a Cooper SD on 17’s not 18’s and with the sport button pushed. You just might be pleasantly surprised 😉

      Reply
  2. August 1, 2012
    Joseph

    Nothing wrong with any of the cars featured, all fantastic choices.

    Would five grand get you into a Porsche 928? I’m sure that an ok example could be obtained for that much.

    Maybe even a BMW 6 series? Even a lowly 628i would be nice for 5k.

    Five grand would probably get a very nice ZS 180, whilst some money could be saved by buying a 4-door E36 M3. The M3 is a bit more risky than some, though – with crash damage and written off examples being rife.

    Oh, and before I shut up, I have to put in a personal favourite – what about trumping the C30, by going for an S60R? 300HP, same engine as the C30. And, as with the E36, buying the saloon version may make things cheaper.

    Reply
    • August 1, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      There were no Porsches included as I felt that Ton’s 968 does the job very well indeed! 😉

      But totally agree about the S60. Should definitely have been included!

      Reply
      • August 1, 2012
        Ton D. (@Tonsty)

        Good call. Sure I’d like dual-Porsche-ownership, but I don’t think I’m ready for that quite yet 🙂 Perhaps a 924, though!

        Will look into the S60. Like the thought!

        Reply
    • August 1, 2012
      Ton D. (@Tonsty)

      Could for sure get a 928, but I’ve heard too many horror stories about running those, that I don’t think I dare to. Similarly with the XJR, though I’ve been hearing good things about the quality, fuel consumption will be brutal. I will be traveling a lot of short distances, too, unfortunately.

      Reply
  3. August 1, 2012
    Ton D. (@Tonsty)

    Excellent read and likewise suggestions, Gav! Thanks a bunch. Some cars that were surely already on my shortlist (the ZS, the 306, the Corrado, the Clio and the Cooper S, even the XJR crossed my mind..) but I get more and more worried about fuel consumption the more I think about it. Perhaps I should stop thinking.

    Will look into the Integra (though I suspect rare as hens’ teeth here), C30, RX8 and M3. I do share the love for the e36 generation, by the way.

    But I fear the Integra and C30 might not be viable options with Dutch prices. Worth a look, though.

    I must confess, the PetrolBlog knighthood sounds tempting, as well! The XJR, btw, should be disqualified for packing more punch than the 968. I would then have to turbocharge that, making me officially the most broke man on earth.

    Reply
    • August 1, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Some patience with the Integra would be required, but it would be worth it! Although the Corrado would be easier to find.

      As for your XJR concern. I see nothing in your comment to make me change my recommendation! 😉

      Reply
  4. August 1, 2012
    #Project924

    Good call on the Integra, great car. Can’t see past it from Gav’s selection. I do like the GTi-6 suggestion, although think the Rallye would be the more discerning choice.

    If you are looking for something fun that packs less punch than the 968, with occasional seats, how about a Ford? Thinking something that will be in budget and possibly hold its value too. So, how about a bit of Racing Puma action?

    PS. Ton, nice to hear the good words about the 924 😉

    Reply
    • August 2, 2012
      Ton D. (@Tonsty)

      I do like the idea of a Racing Puma, but none for sale over here!? Don’t know if it ever was, as the Puma was completely below my radar until I recently discovered how much it’s loved by you UK folks!

      The 924 was my first Porsche, heck, my first car. Could only enjoy it for a couple of weeks (driver error), but all the basics for fun are there 🙂 And, like the Volvo 480, it’s Dutch designed 🙂

      Reply
      • August 2, 2012
        Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

        No, sadly the Racing Puma wasn’t available in NL.

        Shame, as it’s a cracking car and one I’d have no problem recommending to Ton.

        Reply
  5. August 2, 2012
    simonpownall

    Subaru SVX. Only joking!
    How about a Mercedes W124 320CE Pillarless Coupé? Not exactly a sports car but 220PS and soooooo stylish. Plus it’s nearly a classic so you might even get your money back when you come to sell it. Not that you’d ever want to……
    yours,
    W124 fanboy.

    Reply
    • August 2, 2012
      Ton D. (@Tonsty)

      That, sir, is a combination of letters that means nothing to me. Ignorance, nothing else. I will look into it. Thanks for the suggestion!

      Reply
  6. August 2, 2012
    jorgeperedo

    Some good cars here! Such a pity that half of them haven’t ever been available (at least legally) in my country, and those who have are not exactly affordable…

    Reply
    • August 2, 2012
      Ton D. (@Tonsty)

      Don’t know what your country is, but I suffer mostly the same problem. Regarding prices, that is. Most options aren’t viable, I’m sad to conclude. RX8 out of price range, C30 (way) out of price range, Integra out of range, R32 out of range…. 🙁

      Reply
  7. August 2, 2012
    Olly (@Captain_Peanut)

    The Integra would be my first choice although I have to agree with the great shout on a Racing Puma, £5k seems around the right money for a well looked after model.

    As for the ZS180, current prices should mean you could get a fleet of them! £5k should be more than enough for a low mileage mk2 with a decent history, it pays to ask around in the owners forums as these tend to be well looked after and I know of a couple of dutch owners that could help with advice.

    Reply
  8. August 2, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Some lovely choices there but I’d go for the big engine, lazy torque of the Jaaaag. Ok not the best fuel consumption but lovely things to be in and fairly simple and unstressed. Nice, really nice, drive though.
    Should you find yourself in charge of a team of stylists this ‘Vette might suit:

    http://www.pistonheads.com/sales/4096255.htm

    Only joking. Most othe muscle I can think of is either completely unavailable or far too doggy for your money 🙁

    Reply
  9. August 4, 2012
    Matthew L (@365daytonafan)

    What about a Mercedes R129 SL? It won’t be the best example in the £5-7K bracket but it is still a great car and possibly the last Mercedes built to a specification and not a price?

    Reply
  10. August 7, 2012
    kingcarreviews

    I completely agree with the Corrado VR6, thats top of my dream car list that has a chance of reality, but one car that could appear on the list is the Sierra Cosworth? It would stretch the budge slightly for a good condition Cosworth, but for driving pleasure its up there.

    One last suggestion, if you want the added pleasure in driving where you play the lottery of breaking down every journey, then the Alfa Romeo GT 3.2 V6 has surely got to be on the list, just coming into the price bracket.

    Reply
    • August 7, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Good call on the Sierra Cosworth. Wonder what Ton thinks of that one!?

      Reply
  11. August 9, 2012
    Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

    Corrado VR6 with a timing belt?! I hope not else you will run up a big bill!

    Browsing (as usual) for a second car now I’ve got a garage and the Corrado VR6 is an obscure temptation…

    Reply
    • August 9, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Go for the Corrado VR6, you know it makes sense.

      What else is on the shortlist!?

      Reply
      • August 9, 2012
        Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

        It’s a wild and incoherent list! I’ve considered Mk1/2 XR2s, Mk2 Golf GTIs, R5 GTTs, Fiat Coupe Turbos… as a product of the 80s my desire to own a classic hot/warm hatch is strong so they are the most heavily considered.

        Since selling my Clio 182 I’ve really missed the fun of driving – the company Peugeot 308 really doesn’t inspire me…

        Reply
        • August 9, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          Nice list. How about adding a 205 GTi?

          Reply
      • August 9, 2012
        Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

        Hugely tempting. No doubt people will tell me to buy the 1.6 because it’s a ‘sweeter’ drive, but let’s face it; the 1.9 was simply quicker and thus better… including being better at causing lift-off oversteer induced terror.

        Reply
        • August 9, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          I realised after offering the 205 GTi that I committed one of the worst crimes on the ‘net. Someone makes a short list and then is greeted with “Have you tried x?” or “What about y?”. 😉

          But given your longing for your old Clio and your list of cars, it would make a lot of sense. Mr FailCar is certainly enjoying his (1.6).

          The Fiat Coupé has always tempted me too. If nothing else, for the glorious colour-coded interior! 😉

          Hard to ignore the lure of the ‘rado though, isn’t it?!

          Reply
      • August 9, 2012
        Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

        That sounds like the inside of my head! I clearly need more money / lock ups.

        You make a good point. I got rid of the Clio for probably the wrong reason; depreciation. It was just sitting there, very occasionally used and losing money day after day. It had to go. The replacement has to be an appreciating classic / right on the bottom value rung in it’s life but also fun, usable and interesting. The 205 hits the spot.

        There’s few experiences like sitting in a tuned Fiat Coupe Turbo hurtling up to silly speed in silly quick time, heightened by the uncertainty of how long it will be before something blows up / falls off. I’ve lost count of how many turbos a friend has been through on his. Still has it though which speaks volumes.

        You can’t ignore a cult classic like the ‘rado – I crave a VR6 roar.

        Reply
        • August 9, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          The ‘rado would certainly be a more sensible purchase over the Fiat, but no less interesting or indeed fun.

          And even if the novelty of the VR6 roar wore off, you can still revel in the brilliance of the electric rear spoiler.

          Pointless fact – the Corrado VR6 is the only car that made my children cry when I sold it. They still miss it now – nearly three years after I sold it.

          Reply
      • August 9, 2012
        Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

        From what I’ve read, the ‘rado’s can be just as unreliable in some instances as the Fiat (well… maybe not quite that bad). Still, more likely due to forum gossip or neglected examples rearing their ugly heads.

        It’s strange how reliability to me is still a factor in a second car. Perhaps on those 2 or 3 occasions a month you want to go for a drive it’s important that the thing starts.

        The Corrado has the power to make children cry? Add that to the list behind the Ford Scorpio… although for different reasons.

        Reply
        • August 9, 2012
          Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

          Guess it’s the same with anything. Look after a car and it will look after you. Matt at Volkscraft said that most of the Corrados he worked on were in a terrible state mechanically, so you could be right about the unreliability factor.

          It’s important, even if it is a second car. You don’t want to be spending too much cash on a car that only gets used twice a month.

          Reply
  12. August 27, 2012
    Ton D. (@Tonsty)

    A close friend of mine has been having nothing but trouble with his C VR6. The other friend, with the Coupé Fiat (as its official name is, rather than the other way around) hasn’t had a problem yet other than having the exhaust fall off (something my friend with the Barchetta had, too, I start seeing a trend). It has to be said though, the Rado is (as they are all) a very high mileage car and seemed to have been neglected a bit before he purchased it.

    But yes, the pre-coil-pack models with high miles on them are best to be avoided if you are seeking for trouble free motoring, I’d say!

    Reply
  13. September 13, 2012
    Matt W

    Civic type R? Not on this list? Whaaaat? Whyyyyyyy? :-0 easy choice over the Clio

    Reply
    • September 13, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Another good option, especially if it’s hard finding a good ITR for the budget.

      Love the Civic Type-R. A great price when new, even better value for now. Ideally with no modifications. 😉

      Reply

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