But if you absolutely had to have hot hatch looks and a drive that'd plaster a grin across your chops, there was one option you could turn to. And if you spent enough time scouring the data tables in the backs of car magazines, you'd happen upon it: the Fiat Cinquecento Sporting.
The hot Cinquecento was a great looking thing, all square-jawed aggro up front and cheeky buns at the back, and yet its Group 3 insurance put it within reach of many a new driver.
This one, mind you, is slightly different. Just six years after it was registered, a former owner decided 54hp wasn't enough for him. Which is rather understandable, really. So he took this particular car to Van Aaken, who slapped a Garrett T15 turbo onto it, a conversion they carried out for more than a few Sporting owners.
The advert doesn't mention any power figures, but a quick browse around suggests the turbo kit was enough to double the power output. There is some question over the quality of the kit, mind you, with some commentators suggesting it didn't make for a particularly reliable conversion. Then again, when was buying a fast, small Italian car ever a reliability choice?
All this can be yours for just... oh, wait, it's six grand. Crikey. You know when people say 'That's a lot of car for the money'? Well, that, but, the opposite. Then again, as young Mr Bird commented, "people have spent considerably more on far worse things". And where are you going to find another that's been done so well?
We'll leave it to you to decide whether it's worth the cash, then. And meanwhile, we'll be off somewhere trying to find a stock Sporting to relive that perfect first car.
SPECIFICATION - FIAT CINQUECENTO SPORTING
Engine: 1,108cc, four cylinder
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 110
Torque (lb ft): N/A
First registered: 1996
Recorded mileage: 70,000 miles
Price new: £6,922 (+ turbo conversion)
Price now: £5,995
See the original advert here