ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #2

Previously on ESM, I set out a rather lengthy list of criteria that I wanted the Polo replacement to have. Somewhat predictably, I then went away and spent several hours days searching AutoTrader and other classifieds. When you’ve given yourself a string of demands which make your average terrorist blush, unsurprisingly the options were limited, with few covering all bases. Below are the ones which came closest, with accompanying plus and minuses:

MINI Cooper 1.6 (R56)

No, I realise there are literally thousands of them everywhere, and it’s a little bit girly image-wise. But the Cooper ticks virtually every box.

Plus Points
0-60 in 9.1 seconds, 126mph top speed, real world 35+ mpg, shorter than 4.4 metres and cheap insurance. Also has the benefit of a standard six-speed gearbox and renowned handling ability.

Minus Points
Not all come with air-conditioning or three-spoke steering wheels as standard, due to the myriad option combinations available.

Verdict
A strong opening contender, providing it has the right specification and I could live with the associated image.

Ford Fiesta Zetec S 1.6

With 120bhp and an excellent chassis, the Zetec S is said to be a real driver’s car. Styling wise, to my eye it’s also one of the best looking modern superminis out there.

Plus Points
Hits the performance and economy criteria, along with good standard spec levels. Those looks are a bonus too.

Minus Points
A bit ubiquitous? The fact it’s a Ford?

Verdict
Providing you can see past the badge, the Fiesta hits all the benchmarks. It doesn’t have that x-factor though.

Mazda Mazda2 Sport 1.5

Like the Fiesta, the baby Mazda has a strong reputation for being a real driver’s car. However, it only packs 103bhp into its compact body shell.

Plus Points
Good fuel economy, cheap insurance and the all important 3-spoke steering wheel.

Minus Points
Hits 60mph in over 10 seconds, and tops out at only 117.

Verdict
Possibly just a bit too sensible, no matter what the motoring magazines may tell you. I bought the Panda based on journalist recommendations and look what happened!

Honda Civic Type-R 2.0

The unloved FN2 Civic Type-R proves to be something of a performance bargain. Having been panned by Top Gear for failing to improve on its EP3 predecessor, used versions start from under £8k.

Plus Points
It’s a real hot-hatch, doing the 0-60mph run in only 6.6 seconds and 146 flat-out. The looks have improved with time, and it comes fitted with a pair of excellent bucket seats.

Minus Points
It’s the economy, stupid! Revvy VTEC and a lack of low down torque produces an official mpg of 31. Expect less than this in the real world. Insurance is also high, and I also worry that revving the nuts off the Civic will get a little bit boring after a while. Well perhaps not, but it’s not the easiest car to live with after a long day at work.

Verdict
Despite the criticism it received, it’s still a proper performance car. However, the running costs make it impractical; this is a car for a time before the £1.30+ litre of petrol.

Renaultsport Clio 197

Another real performance hatch that slips into the £8k budget. Fine handling, gutsy motor and a Formula 1 inspired rear diffuser!

Plus Points
It’s quick enough, it’s got that 3-spoke steering wheel and it’ll fit on the drive fine.

Minus Points
Another revvy 2.0 litre engine makes for poor fuel economy, with owners reporting 30mpg or so on average. Insurance isn’t cheap either, but to be expected given the performance on offer.

Verdict
For all its speed and handling prowess, I’d struggle to justify the costs. Plus I’d live in constant fear of it turning to bits on my drive overnight. Red Bull Racing’s problems with their Renault engines does little to change my opinion!

SEAT Ibiza 1.6 TDi

The latest Polo with hairy armpits houses average mechanicals in a rakish body. That’s all I really have to say.

Plus Points
Ermm, 65mpg officially? Very cheap road tax? 184lbs/ft of torque? And a 3-spoke steering wheel of course.

Minus Points
Hitting 0-60mph in over 10 seconds is a bit of a problem. Lacks the 6-speed gearbox, sport mode or anything else desirable to compensate.

Verdict
Snore…snore…sorry, fell asleep there. No, in a word. It’s duller than seminar on soil values in Milton Keynes. On a Tuesday afternoon. When it’s raining. You get the idea.

Realistically, it’s between the MINI and the Fiesta. The others are all too compromised to really consider as a used purchase. Several years ago I might have had the ability to justify running something as costly as the Type-R or Clio 197. But these days it’s all about the balance between performance and economy; something a wailing VTEC cannot manage unfortunately.

3 comments

  1. Mini, looking at the plates it could a left hooker, avoid can be difficult when overtaking.
    Fiesta, needs blacked out windows more of a girls car.
    Renault, always remember your grandad always buys a Clio!
    With having the whippet surely you should be looking at an old Izusu Trooper or a Vauxhall Frontera the dog would love one!

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