Audi A2 front exterior

Audi A2 | Cars that were ahead of their time

Audi A2 | Cars that were ahead of their time

When the Audi A2 went on sale in the late 1990s, the world wasn’t ready for a posh small hatchback with the high price of a much larger car, and it went out of production in 2005, never to be replaced.

When Audi began designing its new small car, it had a clear mission statement: “Create a small Audi, not a cheap Audi.” As a result, the A2 had the same deep paint finish and tight panel gaps that saw buyers flocking to its A4 and A6 saloons.

But the A2 was also cleverer than its larger siblings. Under its smart finish lurked a lightweight aluminium space frame chassis. This meant the A2 – safe, well-built, and with genuine space for four adults – weighed about the same as the Peugeot 106 without any of those attributes.

The benefits of being small and light were twofold. The A2 was one of the sweetest-handling cars in Audi’s line-up at the time, but it was also very efficient. Petrol models could top 45mpg, and the innovative diesel – with three cylinders and a turbo – nipped the heels of 70mpg.

Continental buyers got an even better option, a 1.2-litre diesel called the 3L because it could travel 100 miles on three litres of diesel, equating to a mammoth 94mpg and a 700-mile range from its thimble-like 21 litre fuel tank. Audi threw the kitchen sink at the 3L, giving it new seats, an alloy engine block and magnesium wheels to save weight, while also improving the car’s aero and adding an automated manual gearbox for efficiency.

Sadly, buyers couldn’t leap the hurdle that was the A2’s price, which meant the tiddly city car cost more than a Ford Mondeo.

We understand that every vehicle is unique, which is why our Agreed Valuation policies take the true value of your classic car into account.

Fast forward 20 years, and things couldn’t be more different. High-spec small cars are all the rage, and performance has taken a back seat to efficiency. Even the A2’s tall body is in vogue in the form of the sea of crossovers currently on sale.

If it had been sold now, the A2’s story could have been very different, as it is, it remains one of the hidden gems of Audi’s back catalogue and one well worth exploring if you want a cheap run around with some great engineering behind it.

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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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Audi R8

Audi R8 | Alternative Classics

Audi R8 | Alternative Classics

In the early 2000s, Audi had a well-won reputation for building fast family cars (the RS2 and RS6, to name but two), but the company had yet to offer a genuine sports car alternative to the Porsche 911.

That would change in 2003 with the reveal of the Le Mans concept, which would ultimately spawn the Type 42 R8 three years later.

The R8’s mainstream badge (and matching price tag) meant it competed with cars like the E92 BMW M3 and 997 Porsche 911 but also genuine supercar royalty like the Lamborghini Gallardo and Ferrari F430. Any worries it would feel out of its depth in such an esteemed company quickly dissolved when people saw (and drove) it.

Short and squat – and with contrasting side blade body panels – the R8 looked the part, and it had the specs to back up its appearance. Not only was it mid-engined, but said engine was an eight-cylinder tractable masterpiece with rumbling low-down torque, precluding the earthy howl it produced at high engine speeds.

That the R8 would have Quattro four-wheel drive was another worry for motoring journos raised on a diet of understeering performance Audis, but the R8 offered an altogether different flavour of four-wheel traction. It felt rear-wheel drive right up until the point when you needed the front wheels to pull you out of impending catastrophe, which they duly did with unerring controllability.

Factor in Audi’s gated manual gearbox, and here – finally – was a car that could face and beat the Porsche 911 at its own game of being a sorted sportscar that is also easy to live with.

Unsurprisingly, the supercar-buying public loved the R8, and a V10 version soon followed in 2009 – giving the R8 the firepower it needed to compete with high-ranking competitors. By 2010, the Spyder model came on stream with a roof that dropped electrically at speeds of up to 31mph, while 2011 brought the more powerful R8 V10 GT and limited-run GTR.

The following year’s facelift included numerous revisions – most notably the DSG automatic that replaced the terrible automated manual – and by 2013, the Plus brought more power and a stiffer setup.

Signalling the end of the Type 42’s production was the laser-light-equipped LMX, which was revealed at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2014. Production finished in August the following year after just under 29,000 R8s had been built.

Audi R8: why buy one?

There are many good reasons to buy an Audi R8 – it’s a generation-defining supercar, for one – but perhaps its strongest selling point is its incredible value. Prices start from £30,000 compared to the nearly £60,000 you’ll need for a (mechanically very similar) Lamborghini Gallardo.

But don’t let its value make you question whether the R8 is real. Under its sleek lines, you’ll find an aluminium space frame chassis with aluminium double wishbone suspension front and rear. As a result, a manual V8 tipped the scales at 1,560kg.

It launched with a 4.2-litre V8 engine – the same unit fitted to the B7 RS4 Avant – which produced 420PS (309kW) at 7,800rpm, getting the R8 from 0-62mph in four seconds and onto a top speed of 187mph.

By comparison, a base level 997 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 had 325PS (239kW), got from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and was all out of puff at 177mph. Perhaps as important, the R8’s rumbling V8 produced a hard-edged roar that was every bit as intoxicating as the flat-six howl of a Porsche.

The V8’s charisma makes it the purist’s choice next to the later 1,620kg V10, but the ten-cylinder model isn’t going to leave you disappointed – it has 525PS (386kW), gets from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and has a 196mph top speed. You’ll be lucky to get 20mpg fuel economy from the V8 or the V10.

We understand that every vehicle is unique, which is why our Agreed Valuation policies take the true value of your classic car into account.

Handling is an R8 speciality, though. Its Quattro four-wheel drive split power 30:70 between the front and back wheels, meaning it almost always felt rear-wheel drive. But, if your slide angle got too wide for comfort, stamping on the throttle brought the front wheels into play to drag you out of danger.

The R8 was incredibly benign on the limit, and its hydraulic power steering had much to do with that. It offered broadband communication next to the dial-up you get from the current R8’s electric setup, giving you the confidence to explore – and exceed – the R8’s limits.

Braking was arguably the R8’s weakest point. Both the V8 and the V10 came as standard with ventilated disc brakes – 365mm at the front, 356mm at the rear – but it’s worth considering the optional carbon ceramics (standard on the V10 Plus) that shaved 3kg per corner.

The R8 reveals another side to its character when you are not in the mood to have fun. Despite its low ride and rubber band tyres, the R8 rides surprisingly well, so much so that the Magnetic Ride Control (optional on the V8, standard fit with the V10) with its Normal and firmer Sport settings isn’t needed. Factor in a quiet cabin and excellent visibility, and this exotic is as happy trundling to the shops as it is setting laps times.

Much of this is down to the R8’s cabin; it gets a solid construction and expensive plastics that expose the chocolate-box fragility you’ll find in a Ferrari’s cabin. Huge adjustments for the steering wheel and front seats make it easy to get comfortable in the driver’s seat, and while you don’t get a 911’s back seats, you get a ledge that can handle overspill from the 100-litre boot under the bonnet. 

Audi R8: problems to look out for?

You can expect the Audi R8 to be tough for a car of its ilk, but there are a few problems to look out for.

V8 models can suffer from bottom-end-bearing failures – dodgy noises from deep within the internals are a sign of trouble – but even a healthy person can swallow oil at the rate of one litre every 1,000 miles. That’s worth watching, given that the R8 can stretch up to 20,000 miles between services.

Another known problem is the Magnetic Control Ride. It works by passing an electric charge through a metalised fluid; clever, but it’s expensive to fix, which means you may be better off going for the standard setup.

Finally, look for clutch wear on R Tronic models – they can chew through a clutch in less than 25,000 miles. The clutch on manual models should last nearly double that, and the dual-clutch DSG is incredibly robust.

A major service will likely cost you around £1,000, with a minor service coming in at £500. Good quality tyres, meanwhile, start from around £200 up front or £400 at the rear.

Audi R8: How much to pay?

Entry to R8 life starts from as little as £25,000; your money buys you an early 100,000-mile V8 with the R Tronic gearbox that’s clunky shifts suck a lot of fun out of the R8 driving experience.

Spend another £5,000, and you could have a far more desirable V8 manual, although it will likely have had many owners and over 70,000 miles on the clock. It’s worth having any R8 professionally inspected, but particularly important in a well-used car.

Sensible R8s start from about £35,000. That’ll buy you an early car with around 30,000 miles showing on its odometer. A V10 in similar condition will cost closer to £50,000.

The best cars command £80,000 price tags. A healthy budget like this means you can pick from models like a 2013 550PS (405kW) V10 Plus or a 2011 V10 GT R – both with less than 20,000 miles under their wheels. As one of just 35 cars brought to the UK, the GT R could prove a particularly wise buy.  

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