Alfa Romeo 156 GTA

The best sports saloons for under £10k

The best sports saloons for under £10k

If for some reason a small two-seater sportscar simply doesn’t fit into your lifestyle, there are other ways of quenching your thirst for exciting driving.

There’s a long list of larger, more practical, but no less exciting sports saloons that are capable of putting a dirty great smile on your face. Here are eight of the best.

W211 Mercedes-Benz E55

The W211 Mercedes E55 comes from a time when AMGs were as much about cosseting as they were about tyre-shredding performance. That said, there’s plenty of the latter. Power comes from a supercharged 5.4-litre V8 that hammers out 476PS (350kW) and a mighty 706Nm (521lb ft) of torque to the rear wheels via a conventional slushbox – factors that make its 4.7-second 0-62mph time all the more impressive.

Standard air suspension ensures it’s very comfortable, giving the E55 a high-speed ride not a million miles away from an S-Class of the period. It’s the ideal mile-crusher. Yet it’s also relatively agile, with neat body control and feelsome hydraulic steering. Having said that, a little more traction in the wet wouldn’t go amiss. Inside, the E55 is starting to show its age but still feels relatively plush. You get comfy armchair-like seats up front – complete with active bolsters that clamp your body in corners – and a back seat with acres of legroom.

The boot is also generously proportioned and there’s an estate version if you need more room. Sadly, you’ll need every one of our £10,000 to get your hands on one.

GD Subaru Impreza WRX

The Subaru Impreza rumbling flat-four could stake an Oasis-like claim to being a sound of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, it’s that recognisable. A delivery of more than 200PS delivered 0-62mph in under six seconds and a top speed of more than 140mph. Permanent four-wheel drive was the secret to the former and it helped the Impreza deal with the UK’s patchy climate.

Sadly, the introduction of cars like the Volkswagen Golf R – with its fancy DSG gearbox and viscous coupling on-demand four-wheel drive – sounded the Impreza’s death knell. But while a WRX wouldn’t see which way a Golf R went on a country road, the Subaru has character a VW can only dream of.

This brings us to this particular GD version of the Impreza. So long as you avoid early ‘bugeye’ versions, it’s a handsome vintage, with a chunky body that earlier models missed out on but without the ugly hatchback rear-end of later offerings. Our £10,000 buys you an exceptionally nice WRX but you could also take a gamble on a leggier (and significantly spicier) STi variant.

X350 Jaguar XJR

While this version of the Jaguar XJR lacks the svelte lines of the models that preceded it, it’s still the one we’d recommend. The X350 XJR is notable for its aluminium body that – larger than the car it replaced – meant the big Jag was capable of surprising fuel economy. Around 30mpg is within reach – not to be sniffed at in a 400PS (294kW) super saloon. That said, it’s the XJR’s performance that’s most notable.

Its supercharged 4.2-litre V8 offers effortless overtaking grunt – even compared to the competition of the time – and a buttery smooth ride makes this a great machine for tackling long distances.

Inside, the XJR misses some of the older model’s character but it’s a lot more spacious, with a usable back seat and a huge boot. Wood and leather are not in short supply, either. The best part about this unloved Jag is the price, with mint examples on offer for well under £10,000.

Saab 95 Aero

In lieu of a Volvo T5 saloon (sorry, fast Volvos need to be estates in our book), it’s the Saab 95 Aero that flies the flag for Sweden on this list. Unlike its countryman, the 95 wears its saloon car body well with a chiselled front end and handsome lines that bring to mind the aeronautical theme Saab loved to play on.

Performance isn’t jet-like but it’s not far off. Turbocharger torque and 250PS (184kW) mean the Saab delivers in-gear performance to humble far more exotic machinery and it is also an exceptionally comfortable cruiser. Unfortunately, it’s no B-road blaster. Traction is limited and the Vauxhall Vectra-derived chassis – although heavily modified by Saab – can feel all at sea if you stray above eight-tenths. But, with your family abroad, you’re unlikely to do that.

Instead, it’s better to marvel at the restrained good looks of the spacious cabin – complete with its Night Panel that reduces distractions by dimming all but the speedo at night. Our £10K budget means you can pick from the best examples.

Audi S4

The Audi S4 takes its place on this list based on its engine alone – a 344PS (253kW) 4.2-litre V8 that produced more thunder than a tropical storm supercharged by global warming (ironically, its replacement would be a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 with little of the older unit’s charm). The V8 started with a characteristic rumble that manifested into an old-school bark before you grabbed another gear in the six-speed manual box, revelling in the throaty splutter as the revs dropped. It’s pure theatre.

Which is just as well, because the S4 was not all ‘that’ in corners. With a large portion of its V8 sitting ahead of the front axle, it tended to understeer, which was exacerbated by the standard quattro four-wheel drive.

That said, there’s still a lot to love. The S4 looks as smart today as it did when it went on sale in 2005 and inside you’ll find an example of peak Audi interior – one that’s beautifully built, easy to use and has plenty of room for a family. Prices start from a mere £7,000.

BMW 335i

The days of the £10,000 M car might be far behind us but that doesn’t mean you’re all out of options. The 335i BMW 3 Series is a sparkling example of the hidden gems lurking below the M-car halo. Its lusty turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six has the power to worry hot hatches (and a soundtrack they’d kill for), with over 300PS (221kW), 0-62mph takes well under six seconds and you get a 155mph top speed. The rear-wheel drive chassis is a joy to behold and – unlike newer versions – you can also have a (rubbery) manual gearbox.

Adjustable dampers are another option worth looking out for, giving a handling balance that ranges from surprisingly comfortable to deliciously taut. The 335i gets all the sensible stuff right too. It looks ‘right’, the cabin design is blissfully intuitive and you can tickle 40mpg with a light right foot. All in all, the 335i could be one of the best cars – of any type – available for £10,000.

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA

We couldn’t write this list and not include an Italian stallion with room for four. But while the Ferrari-engined Maserati Quattroporte seems like an obvious choice, the DuoSelect automatic is your only option at this price and it is plagued with slow shifts and dismal reliability. The Alfa Romeo 156 GTA has no such problems.

Its six-speed manual will never age the car (we’d avoid the Selespeed auto), while the Alfa’s magnificent-looking Busso 3.2-litre V6 is arguably more characterful even than the Maser’s unit. Delivering a rich growl you’ll not find in anything modern. Sadly, the driving experience isn’t quite such a delight with torque steer and understeer aplenty. But, hey, at least it’s a challenge.

The standard 156, with its hidden rear doors and offset number plate, looks great and the GTA’s extensive body kit only adds to the sense of occasion. Considering their rarity (around 150 are left), £10,000 for a well-used example of this practical saloon seems like money well spent.

Vauxhall Insignia VXR

While the Vectra VXR was a tyre-smoking, understeering mess of a fast saloon, the Insignia VXR was rather good. It was, like the old car, a performance bargain giving you a 325PS (239kW) 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 (0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a 155mph top speed) for the price of a bog-standard BMW 3 Series. But, unlike the car it replaced, it could also handle. Sure, it doesn’t have the rear-biassed feel of a fast BMW but standard four-wheel drive means it grips hard and is never flustered.

It’s also very comfortable if you’re looking for something to while away the miles in. The Insignia doesn’t have the wide-boy image of VXRs of old, either. Its clean shape and tight shut lines are more Audi than fast Ford – only the lovely ten-spoke alloy wheels hint that this is the performance model.

Inside, it’s more stereotypically ‘Vauxhall’. A sea of black plastic meets your eyes and the scatter of buttons doesn’t look tidy, but it is roomy. With prices starting from £7,000 for a car that is not much more than ten years old, it arguably offers the best value of all the cars here.

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Ford Fiesta ST

The best hot hatches for under £10k

The best hot hatches for under £10k

Need a heady mix of practicality and performance on a budget of £10,000? You should buy a hot hatch.

Since the MK1 Volkswagen Golf GTI set the genre in the ’70s, the formula has been clear – take a roomy hatchback body, fit a powerful engine, uprate the suspension and brakes, add a muscular body kit, sprinkle the interior with go-faster touches to finish and, et voila, you have a hot hatch.

Brought before you today, you’ll find everything from classics to 100 horsepower heroes, giant-killing Clios, track kings and family wagons – there’s something for everyone. So keep reading Goodwood Road & Race’s guide to the best hot hatches on a £10,000 budget. 

VW Golf GTI Mk5

Volkswagen hit the nail on the head with the MK5 Golf GTI representing a return to form after the disappointment of the car that preceded it. The MK5, by contrast, was a checklist of everything you want from your hot hatch. Powerful 2.0-litre turbocharged engine? Check. Burbly exhaust? Check. Agile handling and that’ll cock a wheel under hard cornering? You bet.

The MK5’s USP was its ability to combine all these qualities with everything you would expect of a Volkswagen: superb cabin quality, a practical well-thought-out interior and affordable everyday running costs. Factor in retro nods to the MK1 GTI like tartan seat upholstery and a golf-ball gear knob and there’s not much not to like about the MK5 GTI, even if it does occupy the more conservative end of the hot hatch market. But who’s caring when our £10,000 budget is enough to get you an exceptional example of the breed?

Renaultsport Megane RS250 Cup

To say the Renaultsport Megane RS250 could be mentioned in the same breath as Porsche GT products of the period sounds ludicrous, but it’s true. Fine, so the Megane doesn’t have the exotic mechanicals of a 997 GT3 but the sum of its parts combine to deliver comparable levels of driving pleasure – it’s one of the most compelling hot hatches ever built. You get a punchy 250PS turbocharged engine and a front-wheel drive chassis that is so keen to oversteer, you’d swear it was a rear-wheel-drive trapped in the wrong configuration.

Cup models go one step further by adding a track-ready suspension setup, limited-slip differential and Recaro seats that hold your body with a vice-like grip. Downsides? Well, the Cup’s hard ride and noisy cabin mean this track refugee isn’t the easiest car to live with every day but, for less than £10,0000, such irrelevancies can be pushed to one side.

BMW M135i

The M135i stands in stark contrast to a modern BMW hatchback in that it was good-looking, had rear-wheel drive and came exclusively with six cylinders. It was also something of a bargain at the time. The turbocharged straight-six gives the BMW a creamy soundtrack and performance that will match even its fastest modern rivals.

The rear-wheel-drive setup, meanwhile, meant you could adjust the car mid-corner on the throttle. Sure, the BMW doesn’t feel as nimble as other hot hatches here (we’d call it the long-legged GT of the hot hatch world) and the back seat is cramped, but for less than £10,000 it still looks like a steal.

Peugeot 106 Rallye S2

As modern hot hatches chase ever-increasing power figures, the Peugeot 106 Rallye S2 is hot hatching how it used to be done, with a lightweight body pulled along by a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that loves to be abused. The Peugeot’s unassisted steering and nimble chassis only reinforce the fact that the 106 Rallye represents back-to-basics motoring, with a level of driver involvement not replicated by (the stunningly fast but somewhat detached feel) of the current crop of hot hatches.

The 106 Rallye costs buttons to run, is easy to maintain and feels the part from behind the steering wheel thanks to its Rallye sport upholstery and classic three-spoke steering wheel. This £10K hot hatch even holds investment potential, but what it doesn’t offer is modern creature comforts like motorway refinement and, well, any form of safety. But, as a tribute to the hot hatches of yesteryear, it’s impossible to fault.

Fiat Panda 100hp

With cheap running costs and prices starting from around £3,000 for a mint example, the Fiat Panda 100hp is an ideal choice if you’re taking your first tentative step onto the hot hatch ladder. It gets everything right, kicking off with neat handling and a raspy 1.4-litre 16-valve engine that fills the cabin with glorious induction noise as you work your way through the tightly-stacked six-speed gearbox.

Sure, the Fiat doesn’t offer the last word in handling finesse and some will find its suspension a little too firm, but the Panda counters by offering five-door practicality and a surprising amount of space inside its lofty body. The perfect starter hot hatch? It’s definitely in with a shout.

Ford Fiesta ST

The Ford Fiesta ST achieved cult-car status almost the minute it went on sale following its reveal at the 2012 LA motor show. The ST had everything. Its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine felt way quicker than its raw figures suggested, while the uncompromising suspension and fast steering meant it could bound into corners with an enthusiasm few of its contemporary rivals could match.

But the Fiesta’s strength was that it coupled the charisma of an old-school hot hatch with modern safety standards and generous equipment levels, giving you creature comforts like sat-nav and heated seats. Prices start from as little as £5,000 although it’s worth spending closer to £8,000 for a fresher example.

Honda Civic Type R FN2

It’s fair to say the Honda Civic Type R FN2 was not universally loved when it went on sale in 2007 and for good reason – it replaced the legendary EP3 but was no quicker and lost the old model’s sophisticated independent rear suspension. Times change, though, and now there’s a lot to be said for the FN2’s combination of spaceship styling, high-revving naturally aspirated engine and uncompromising body control.

There’s also something to be said for Honda’s excellent reliability record when you’re procuring a hot hatch that went off sale in 2011. What isn’t so good is the bumpy ride and engine roar that’ll quickly prove tiresome on long motorway runs. Still, when £4,000 is enough for a clean example, what’s not to like? 

Skoda Octavia vRS

Combining practicality with performance is the name of the hot hatch game, but the Skoda Octavia vRS Estate (a hatchback is also available) brings practicality to an all-new level thanks to its generous rear legroom and huge boot. It’s a hot hatch that can swallow whatever you and your family throw at it.

The driving experience is more grown-up than your regular hot hatch; the Octavia isn’t rabidly quick nor hugely involving, but if you want to get from A to B quickly and safely, it’s a solid choice. Its 2.0-litre petrol engine (shared with the Golf GTI) delivers its power evenly across the rev range and it can be paired with a twin-clutch DSG gearbox that’ll be ideal if you live in town, and all for less than £10,000.

Renault Clio 182 Trophy

Getting your hands on a genuine piece of hot hatch exotica for under £10,000 might sound like a pipe dream, but the Renault Clio 182 Trophy – which was revealed at the 2005 Monaco GP by none other than Fernando Alonso – makes the impossible a reality. The Trophy is based on the (already excellent) standard 182, adding lightweight wheels, Recaro sports seats and a fetching Capsicum Red paint job.

The highlight of the show, however, is found under the skin, where the Clio got motorsport-grade Sach dampers with remote reservoirs. The result? Body control the likes of which the hot hatch world had never seen before or since. It remains one of the best ever built, although it’s not one of the most practical. With future-classic status all but guaranteed – the Trophy should put you on a safe financial footing.

Peugeot 309 GTi

The times when you could pick up a clean Peugeot 205 GTi for £10,000 have long since passed, but the rarer 309 GTi can still be had on budget if you keep your eyes peeled to the classifieds. The 309 gives you 99% of the 205 experience while making you a significant cost saving. Unlike the 205, the 309 only came with Peugeot’s gutsy 130PS 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine, which gave the 950kg hatchback more than enough performance, plus the 309’s stretched wheelbase meant it handled more predictably than its pirouetting sibling.

Dare we say, period road testers preferred the 309’s driving experience. Factor in the option of five doors and the 309’s big boot and this is one purchase you can justify to yourself as being almost sensible, even if the 205 is the car you really want.

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