Audi A3 3.2, 2004, 73k, £5,000
Feeling brave? Go have a look on PH for how much a Mk4, three-door Golf R32 might cost. Yes, it really is that much. If you can find one with a five-figure mileage for less than £15k, you’re doing better than us. And yet the Audi equivalent is a third of the price - a third!
No, seriously. Here’s a 3.2-litre Audi A3 from 2004, with a smidge more power than the Golf in fact (250hp against 240hp) in three-door, manual spec; it has 73,000 miles recorded, looks smart enough in subdued silver, and is for sale at £5,000. As a 2004 model it won’t incur the punitive taxes applied to high CO2 cars from a couple of years later (Mk5 Golf R32 among them), though a claimed 26mpg won’t change.
Still, it looks a bargain. It’s weird to discuss the Audi that lacks brand cachet, but there’s no doubting the popularity accrued by R-badged Golfs in the UK over the past 20 years. It’ll even have limited appeal to Audi folk, without an S badge to mark it out, let alone an RS3 one - this is years before that car, even though it eventually arrived in this ‘8P’ era. For those, however, who love a great V6 - of the sort that is never, ever returning to the humble hatchback - 150mph potential and all-wheel drive security in a super subtle package, it’s hard to think of much better.
BMW 130i, 2006, 67k, £6,750
If all-wheel drive security seems a bit safe, though, how about some rear-drive rowdiness courtesy of BMW? Though the best-known models are the later M135i and M140i of the F20 era, BMW had been stuffing big sixes into its smallest correct drive cars for a while before then. There had been the 325ti version of the E46 Compact, and then this: the E81/7 BMW 130i. Rare, fast, quirky and good value, it’s the perfect reminder that interesting old cars are still out there for sensible money.
Powered by the sonorous N52 straight six, the 130i had the sort of performance specs that would keep it competitive today: 265hp and 223lb ft, allied to rear-drive traction, meant 0-62mph in just 6.1 seconds and 155mph. Back in the day, the 1 Series wasn’t the best hot hatch out there (housing that engine meant it was cramped inside) but all these years later a big straight six and RWD ought to be persuasive enough.
And if those two factors aren’t enough, this one has a six-speed manual gearbox as well. If not quite perfect cosmetically, this 1 Series has had some recent mechanical work and a service with its most recent MOT. No better thing to remind you of how BMWs - and the odd hot hatch curio - used to be.
Alfa Romeo 147 GTA, 2006, 45k, £10,995
Something more exotic to finish off with, as there’s no way a list like this would be complete without the Alfa Romeo 147 GTA. (And yes, a Clio V6 would have been great, but £50k is hardly a steal to anyone). The Busso V6 powered all manner of cars over its long and illustrious career, but none was quite so daft - and therefore likeable - as the little 147 hatchback. At the time of the GTA’s launch 20 years ago, the 147 was offered with nothing more potent than a 150hp 2.0-litre; then along came a swashbuckling flagship with another 1.2-litres of capacity and 100hp, taking three seconds from the 0-62mph time and adding almost 25mph to the top speed.
The GTA was as wild as those stats made it sound, taking an ordinary compact hatch and making a monster of it. Even by the standards of the early 2000s the 147 was a little unruly, lacking a limited-slip diff or all-wheel drive to best get the Busso’s considerable power to the ground. A GTA was nothing if not a memorable drive, put it that way.
In the years since, the aftermarket has tamed the GTA a little, making the most of that performance. Those improvements, along with the 147’s stunning looks and iconic powertrain, has seen values rise in the past few years. This one is cheaper than most at £11k as a modified, imported car with the less desirable Selespeed gearbox. Still, if it’s as good as the advert suggests, then a GTA still looks like money well spent.
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