I don't know about you, but 10 minutes spent reading Naughty Nic's write-up of his drive in Honda's Civic Type R got me very much in the mood to buy one. Not that I hadn't been already, mind you; the Civic and its early-2000s ilk are starting to look like very smart buys now that earlier hot hatches are booming in value.
This was a classic era for hot hatches. Okay, it might not have felt it at the time, but looking back through modern eyes so used to homogenised, everything-has-a-four-pot-turbo powertrains, what's immediately obvious is what variety there was back then, with different manufacturers following their own individual paths to big power.
What's more, lots of these models are now available as cheaply as they'll ever be. Take the Civic, for example. This one caught my eye at just £2,995; granted, it's done more miles than some will be happy with, but there's a full service history and, with careful maintenance, it should easily be capable of another 100,000, if not more. In terms of screaming VTEC fun on a budget, there are few better choices. Or this 88k example won't set you back much more. The potential for these to shoot up in value while you weren't looking is huge, so get in there while you still can.
But as Nic said in his piece, the EP3 isn't for everyone. So what else is out there if you don't fancy it? Well, as American car enthusiasts are fond of saying, there ain't no substitute for cubic inches. So switch screaming VTEC trickery for a thumping engine in the form of a Volkswagen Golf R32. These have a reputation for lumpen handling in common with other 'hot' Mk4s, but in fact they're the exception to the rule, shuffling power between the two axles in order to minimise understeer and deliver plenty of grip and traction - so much to exploit a six-pot engine that manages both an appetite for top-end revs and slugging low-down torque.
They can still be had for relatively reasonable sums too, the £10,000 being asked for this 45k, historied example looking very decent next to some higher-mile cars going for in excess of £5,000 more. And now that they look so much cleaner and more elegant than the fussy Mk5 R32s, I can see those values creeping up further still; after all, short of a Clio, which is far costlier, where else are you going to find a V6-powered hot hatch for the same sort of cash?
Ah. Erm, it seems the answer to that question is 'here': this 49,000 mile MG ZS 180, on for the princely sum of £1,800. Which rather makes the R32 seem overpriced, doesn't it? OK, so the MG is rather rough-and-ready in handling terms by contrast, and the interior is a paper napkin to the Golf's leather apron, but the MG's still sharper and much more involving than you'd think. This one's been cherished, the mileage is low, and it's one of the newer, facelifted cars (though whether that's a good thing or not, given the quality dropped off as Rover's existence grew increasingly precarious, is your call). And while I'd question whether it'll go up in value any time soon, it certainly ain't getting any cheaper.
Of course, big-banger six-pots weren't the only alternative to the Honda's screaming four. Strapping a turbo on was a route oft-favoured by manufacturers, too - most famously with the Mk1 Focus RS. Of course, the days when you could pick up a tatty modified example for six grand have gone, but prices have been holding pretty steady for the past couple of years and, as is the way with all performance Fords, are due for another hike before too long.
All the more reason to get in quick; something like this clean-looking 2003 example would be just the ticket. The mileage is reasonable, the history's there and, with the exception of some inoffensive tinted rear windows, it looks to be standard. So much the better to enjoy that tearaway chassis and rorty, whistling engine. I've long said that any good quick Ford should be a little lairy, and the Mk1 RS certainly is that.
But maybe you don't fancy paying the fast Ford tax. I wouldn't blame you. So how about this Renaultsport Megane 225 F1 Team? The similarities with the Focus are uncanny: 2.0-litre turbo engine, 220-ish horsepower, front-drive chassis, aggro looks, low mileage, full history. The difference, of course, is that the Megane will cost you a third of the price. And as this is the F1 Team version, there isn't even the downside of the slightly blunted driving dynamics of the stock 225; the Cup chassis and special rear dampers see to that, and make it more than a match for the Focus RS.
What's more, I reckon there's headroom in the Megane's prices; not a huge amount, but Renaultsports Clios are bound to become the Peugeot 205 GTis of their day, pulling Megane prices up in just the same way as 309 GTis' have risen too. Don't come looking for a quick return on your investment, but if you want to have a whole heap of fun while you're waiting, there are few better ways to do it.