A few months ago I acquired a Mk2 Mazda MX-5, my first ever rear-wheel drive car, and I have to say I’ve loved every moment. Any motoring enthusiast will be able to tell you that rear-wheel drive gives a better driving sensation and it means it’s easier to get sideways – with responsibility of course. Front-wheel drive is the more popular choice though as it’s a cheaper option, but are you able to get rear-wheel drive on a budget?
As the MX-5 sparked this article to begin with, it seems like a good place to start. When I was looking for an MX-5 I read in places that it’s possible to get a decent Mk2 for around £1,000. But let me tell you now, that’s virtually baloney. Well, it was in my experience anyway. In fact I had to up my original budget of £1,500 to £2,000 as the ones I was looking at were a bit rough around the edges. I’m sure you can get decent examples for a grand, but I fear it could prove too much work.
The MX-5 is a very popular car, in fact it’s the best-selling roadster ever made. Its light weight, slick gearbox and communicative handling really make this a driver’s car. Yes, people will tell you it’s a “hairdresser’s car”, but just ignore them – what do they know? If you’re looking at a Mk1, Mk2 or a Mk2.5 be sure to check for rust as that is the MX-5’s achilles heel, but this was remedied with the Mk3.
BMW 3 Series
German carmaker BMW simply doesn’t know what front-wheel drive is, so it seems natural to include an “ultimate driving machine” on the list. The most popular on the market will be the 3 Series, with 2,419 currently available for £5,000 or less on Auto Trader. The 3 Series has become a desirable option, thanks to its premium status, image and strong badge. There are plenty of different variants to choose from though, so this is likely to be a bit of a minefield.
The budget will allow a car as new as 2011, but you will be looking at a high mileage model, which may not be a disaster if the car has been well maintained, but is bound to put people off. On the other end of the spectrum, a quick trawl of AT found examples as low as 25,000 miles. As you can imagine, the budget will not allow for an M3, but you could be able to get a 330Ci Clubsport, which was made in small numbers and will deliver 60mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of around 155mph.
Sticking with the German theme, you can also get a Porsche Boxster for £5,000 and you could even get change. You’ll be looking at examples from the late 90s/early noughties, but you should be able to find one with less than 100,000 miles on the clock. The majority of models will be the 2.5 or 2.7 litre 986 model, but look harder and you could find a 3.2 litre 986 S model.
This offers an improved 252bhp, meaning you’ll hit 60mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 162mph. This makes it the fastest car on the list so far, so if you’re looking for ultimate performance, this could be a sure thing. Like the MX-5, the roof comes down as well, so what could be better?
So, you fancy a Jaaaaag. Well you’ll be able to pick up a late 90s XK8 fitted with a 4.0 litre V8 engine mated to an automatic gearbox. Ok, so the inside will feature a big dollop of wood and it makes it look like an old man’s social club. Nothing’s old about the performance though – 60mph will come in 6.4 seconds and the top speed is 155mph.
Now, you probably won’t get the same build quality as you would from ze Germans, nor are you likely to get the same level of reliability. However, the XK8 is a better looking car and I think it’s aged really well if you ask me. Get one in British Racing Green and you’ve got a British grand tourer that looks simply on point. Be sure to check for things such as rust, paint blisters and so forth though.
Lexus IS 200
The IS 200 was quite a popular sight in the noughties, famed for its rear light design, which started the popular phases of fitting ‘Lexus lights’ to cars. Like the XK8, I think the IS 200 has aged well and I still enjoy its subtle, well-balanced looks. You can of course get a diesel if desired, but I’m going to focus on the petrol variant here. You’ll be able to find plenty of each engine variant in budget so you are likely to be spoilt for choice.
The most popular trim will be the SE, which offers a sunroof, heated and electric seats, leather upholstery, electric windows, air con and remote central locking. The Sport model will add more edge, although these will be harder to come by. Admittedly it has the same 2.0 litre engine which offers 153bhp, but the outside styling is more aggressive thanks to a bodykit and big alloys. Those expecting performance are likely to be disappointed as 60mph comes in a yawn-inducing 9.5 seconds and the top speed is just 134mph.
Still though, it will be comfortable and reliable as a day is long and like Alan Partridge once said, it’s the “Japanese Mercedes”. Just think of the IS 200 as the comfortable, refined option.
So what’s it going to be? Well I put my money where my mouth is and bought the MX-5. Let me tell you, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!