Car Choice: A flashy little number that's big on reliability

Freda Grant has a Ford Cougar 2.5 V6 which is expensive to run and insure. What she really wants in her own words is something flashy but economical. At the moment she is thinking along the lines of an MG convertible, but is very open to alternative suggestions.

The first thing that comes to mind is a hot hatch. They can look a bit serious with bigger wheels and body kits, but their family hatchback roots help to keep the running costs down with lower insurance and cheaper parts. There are, of course, loads to choose from and probably the most high-profile example is the Mini Cooper. That could be part of the problem: although it is possible to personalise a Cooper with decals and extras they are a little on the common side now.

The Golf GTI is back with a vengeance and great fun to own and drive, but it could be a bit too subtle for Freda. However, I still think that she should look at models such as the Honda Civic Type R and Renaultsport Clio 182, although insurance can sometimes be on the high side.

Freda wants to be noticed and has realised that an MG convertible would be one way of achieving that, but I don't think the MGF or MGTF would be special enough. Certainly they are good value especially second hand, but this model has been around for a long time and it looks dated. Also MGs are intrinsically "not flash", so Freda needs a real head turner.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The default choice for a sporty little roadster remains the Mazda MX-5 and quite right, too. If Freda enjoys driving then she will find it deeply satisfying.

The MX-5 has always been fun to drive and the revised '98 car is even better. It grips enthusiastically on corners and, best of all, there is precious little flexing of the bodywork. The power assisted steering is perfectly balanced and that allows the car to be precisely positioned on the road.

The great thing about the MX-5 is that it is not a compromise convertible, so driver and passenger do not have to suffer for going topless. Good quality trim, comfortable seats and larger than average boot make the car very practical indeed. The ride and refinement levels are good, plus the easy to erect hood all mean that owning an MX-5 is a doddle. Insurance for the 1.6 model is group 11 and it will return almost 37 mpg.

If Freda thinks that the MX-5 looks a tad dated now, there is always the Smart Roadster. Not quite as fun as the Mazda to drive but still great. There are some tempting deals on these cars and although it will do over 55 mpg and is just group 10 insurance, servicing costs can be on the high side for such a small car.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I don't want to be sexist, but there are certain cars that only girls can get away with driving and the Daihatsu Copen is one of them. It is an Audi TT Roadster that has been shrunk in the wash, yes it is that cute.

The engine is tiny by modern standards at just 659cc but it is enthusiastic and makes a great racket. Provided Freda is not a speed freak, the Copen is slower than many ordinary hatches, there is plenty to recommend this brilliant little car.

First, it is very well built. Daihatsus have great reputations for reliability and the interior is nicely put together. The equipment levels are very generous, everything is electric, plus there is ABS brake, air conditioning and nice little retro radio in the middle of the dashboard. Also after the pretty marginal miles per gallon of the Cougar V6, Freda will be pleased to hear that the Copen will do 44.1 combined. Just as encouraging is the insurance group which comes in at number nine.

Now for the attention-grabbing bit: the Copen has a folding metal roof just like a Mercedes SLK. Release two catches and then electric motors do the rest. It was one of the neatest systems, although it takes up most of the boot space.

CAR CHOICE

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

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