Fast for £8k | Six of the Best

From hot hatch to bargain barge, eight grand still buys a lot of performance car…

By PH Staff / Saturday, 28 October 2023 / Loading comments

BMW Z4 3.0si, 2006, 105k, £7,750 

There are plenty of ways to spend £8k on a car in 2023, even with the premium involved in going quickly. But it’s possible that none are quite the salve to the soul that the Z4 could be. Not only is it a proper, long-bonneted, front-engined, rear-drive coupe, it’s also powered by a lusty 3.0-litre straight-six through a manual gearbox. Which means, all being well, you’re buying a first-class return ticket to the used-to-be. Even the styling, as controversial as a snuff film back in the day, has now settled into something like respectability. And, sure, there’s a more famous M-badged version in the offing – but the 0-62mph-in-5.6-seconds 3.0si is plenty quick enough for the Z4’s taut chassis. This example has seen a bit of life with 105k on the clock, but it’s just been serviced and is sold with an advisory-free MOT. Lovely. 

Mazda3 MPS, 2010, 74k, £7,990

The MPS has featured high on the hot hatch bargain hunter’s shortlist since forever. The reasons are simple: the car was not critically acclaimed when new, and had the misfortune to launch when the market was stuffed to the gunnels with superior alternatives. Consequently, with its comparative desirability at a perennial so-so level, the breathed-on Mazda3 has typically looked like good value. Particularly if your overriding requirement was straight-line speed, because the 2.3-litre turbocharged four-pot isn’t short of enthusiasm. True enough, even in Velocity Red the MPS somehow fails to stand out from the crowd (and the interior is chronically dull, too) but you’re still getting a well-equipped, well-built modern family hatch with an oversized engine. Reputation be damned. 

Audi A8 6.0 LWB, 2005, 147k, £4,999

Of course, if oversized engines are what you want (for less), you’d struggle to better the D3 generation Audi A8. Its maker stuffed all manner of many-cylindered motors into its flagship as it sought to cement the A8’s place among Europe’s premier saloon cars – but none were quite so large or as silly as the 6.0-litre W12. Considered redundant almost from day one, the 450hp unit has spent the majority of its life as a prime example of fossil-fulled noughties’ folly. But it’s a terrific talking point, especially when discovered aboard the curiously timeless A8. It’ll be costly to run and potentially ruinous to mend – but for £5k there are plenty of reasons (some of them sentimental) that it appeals to dinosaur hunters. This one has just been serviced after 147k. Fast in the most palatial sense. 

Mini JCW, 2008, 69k, £7,450

With the end of petrol-powered Minis looming large, so interest in the past 20 years of supercharged and turbocharged super Coopers is surely guaranteed to rise (writes the owner of one). There’s plenty in their favour, undoubtedly: both R53 and R56 generations still look smart inside and out despite their age, they handle with addictive agility, and enduring popularity means secondhand buyers now can be really fussy on spec. There will always be one out there that matches what you want to a tee (take it from someone who wasn’t into Minis at all – they really get under your skin). For this budget, it’s possible to get one of the later N18-engined Cooper S R56s (with 184hp instead of 175hp), but this is a fast challenge – and not a reliability one. So 211hp, N14-engined JCW it is. A decade and a half but just 70k old, it’ll be a hoot. As well as being capable of 148mph…

Saab 9-5 Aero Estate, 2008, £6,995

No £8k list would be complete without a fast estate. We’ve ticked the Swedish box here, too, with a Saab 9-5 Aero wagon. A Shed staple, of course, though now becoming more highly prized as the cars get older and numbers dwindle. This one’s an ideal spec, too, with a manual gearbox and the later 260hp version of the 2.3-litre four-pot turbo. Furthermore, while we’re used to these sturdy old buses racking up the miles, this one has accrued just 73,000 miles with two owners in the past 15 years; judging by that, and the condition of this one inside and out, there’s plenty more hauling left in it yet. The advert promises 14 services, which is always good to see, and it’s the right time of year to negotiate a fresh MOT into the deal as well. Plus the Saab is £1,000 under budget… 

Renaultsport Megane 250, 2010, 87k, £6,995

The third generation of Megane can’t stay this cheap for long. It’s already happening with the final 2.0-litre generation of Clio. They were simply too good and too adored, not to be worth something as we move further away from the glory days of hot hatches. The Megane’s appeal was in lusty turbocharged performance, a chassis that got better and better the harder it was pushed, and the kind of involvement some dedicated sports cars would do well to replicate. This one has yellow paint and four matching Michelins in its favour – plus that £6,995 asking price – though the ad is a little light on important details. We all know the cambelt is a big job on these, so it’d be worth knowing when it was last done. Doesn’t look like a Cup spec, either. Still, as worthy a base for a track car build as any other – it’ll be epic fun.

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