David Hughes wrote a simple email, which read: Daihatsu Copen, Smart Roadster or Ford Streetka? Further prodding revealed that he owns a Mazda MX5, but now wants better fuel economy, reliability, build integrity and the obvious fun factor. He is considering models over five years old for £5,000 or so.

A car for the head

It seems odd that David is giving up the Mazda, which is probably the best practical roadster that anyone can buy, with a superb reputation for reliability and reasonable running costs. I don’t know whether he has a 1.6 or 1.8 MX5 but the larger engine will return 32mpg. One model that David has not thought about is the Toyota MR2 which offers a slightly better mpg return at 38.2. Being a Toyota it also offers MX5 levels of reliability and build quality. Even better, it is just as much fun to drive. One downside could be that this small car lacks practicality. With the engine where the boot should be, luggage is spread between the space under the bonnet and the storage area behind the seats. There is also a cubby on top of the dashboard, but when you choose a small open top you must make compromises. A 2002 example with a hard top could be bought within the £5,000 budget.

A car for the heart

Again, the MX5 is a car you can really love, so it is difficult to think of alternatives. Certainly the MG TF is within budget and the 1.6 returns 39.8mpg and has a lot of character. It still looks stylish, is comfortable and is cheap to run too. However, the Smart Roadster is probably the perfect answer. No longer built because of disappointing sales, it would seem to be the perfect roadster for these frugal times. The mpg stats would seem to add up as the 80 model returns and impressive 55.4mpg. The build quality is not up to the Mazda standard and inside David could tell the difference with lower grade fixtures and plastics. However, the mechanicals in the Smart have proved to be pretty reliable. The Smart is not that quick although it feels fast because of its lightness and closeness to the ground. For £5,000 you can get an 80 Roadster with 8,000 miles from a dealer.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.

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