Car Choice: How to stay hot but not get too thirsty

Ben Garside wants a used car and has sent me a list: Ford Puma, Mark 2 VW Golf GTI, Toyota Celica 1.8 petrol, the 130hp turbo-diesel versions of the previous-model Seat Ibiza, Skoda Fabia, and VW Polo. However, his point is that most of the petrol hot hatches he has considered have poor fuel economy – under 40mpg – which Ben finds hard to accept, having driven a diesel and got 50+ mpg, as well as good performance.

A car for the head

The reality for Ben is that you can't have it all. If he wants the responsiveness of a petrol hot hatch, then he will need to pay for that in reduced fuel consumption. If you want a sexy supercar the price is usually six figures and mpg in single figures. I am surprised, though, that Ben has not considered the new generation of hot diesel hatches. I would have thought the Seat Leon 2.0 TD FR would have been one answer. Here is a car that is clearly better than the Volkswagen Golf on which it is based. The old Leon, built up to 2006, was more spacious, better equipped, and had Volkswagen's excellent 150bhp diesel engine. In an urban environment it will manage 39 mpg, then at a constant 56mph it shoots up to 64.2mpg and overall it is 52.3mpg. In the real world Ben could manage 50mpg consistently. In the hot hatch stakes, the FR model has a top speed of 134mph and it will get to 60mph in just over 8 seconds – so it should tick the majority of Ben's performance boxes. A tidy 2005 example will set him back £6,500.

A car for the heart

If Ben was handy with a spanner he could knuckle down and build his own high-performance, low-consumption vehicle. Lotus design legend Colin Chapman said that he just "added lightness" to his sports cars. Certainly a Lotus Seven is as basic as you can buy – just four wheels, no doors and a small engine, but lots of fun and very decent mpg. So Ben could buy a Lotus Seven style kit and make something very interesting but frugal for a few thousand. I guess, though, Ben needs a boot and a roof. So how about a Smart Roadster-Coupé (pictured)? In many ways, this is a modern update of the old Seven, with a tiny three-cylinder turbocharged engine and a light body. The coupé even has removable roof panels for when the sun shines. It may not be the quickest car, even with the larger 80bhp engine, but it does feel exhilarating, putting the driver so close to the road. At best, it will get to 112mph maximum and get to 60mph in almost 11 seconds, but Ben will be delighted to read that the fuel consumption figures are 55.4mpg overall. A 2003 to 2004 example, with 60,000-plus miles on the clock, will be more than £4,250 – and the value of such a car can only go up in the future.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested, and your budget.