Today's toy cars can look just like mum's or dad's. We asked kids to test-drive them to find out which are the best buys for Christmas. Sean O'Grady reports

From banks to newspapers to car companies, there is an obsession with youth. No consumer is more valuable than a child, because once you've got them hooked on your brand, they are unlikely to stray away.

No surprise then, that car-makers have noticed the marketing potential of the pedal car. In your local dealer or toy shop you can find miniaturised, infantilised versions of mainstream cars, with cheap-to-make plastic bodies.

Are they worth the bother? To find out, we invited children to try them out. We also included a more traditional "no logo" tin-plate pedal car and a couple of electric vehicles.

The most depressing thing was that so many of the children didn't fit into the pedal cars, despite their being marketed typically as suitable for three- to seven-year-olds.

The other strange thing was that, despite most having very similar mechanical parts and being made by the same firm, the individual makes did actually have differences.

The BMW Z4, for example, stood out as the only one with proper tyres, rather than just solid discs of plastic. It also came with its own handbook and boasted adjustable seating. The Renault Modus (our race winner) was the only car that had buttons on the steering wheel (they made starting/ screeching/hooting noises) and a plastic "starter key".

The easy winner in popularity, though, was the electric facsimile Land-Rover. It has nothing to do with the famous parent company, is hand-built and sells for £3,000.

Renault Modus (£110) - Winner

Sam Thornton, three, beat more fabled marques and experienced drivers in his two-cylinder, non-turbo Modus. After his victory and celebrating with a packet of Monster Munch, he was matter-of-fact: 'It was a pedal car, but it had buttons as well.'

Real Life Toys - Toylander (£3,000)

JoJo Thornton, six, was impressed: 'I was sort of fast, but I worked out that when I lifted my foot off the pedal, the car slowed down.' Co-drivers Maria Christofides, Margot Calutas and Caroline Morris agreed.

Comet (£199)

Based on a classic 1950s pedal car, the Murray Comet. Heavy and traditional. Sadly, a pedal fell off. Louis Walker, one, at the wheel.

Real Life Toys - Mayfair (£2,500)

Ashleigh Shepherd, six, loved this generic, vintage-look car, but then her grandfather owns the company. Available as a kit or fully built. Wood and aluminium construction.

Porsche Boxster (£145)

Georgia Pienaar, five, suffered a mechanical failure when her steering wheel came loose. 'I can fix it,' she declared but still wound up in the pits.

(Classic) Mercedes-Benz 300SL (£165)

Keanu Taylor, five, was unhappy with what, to adult eyes, is a gorgeous little machine: 'It's like an old man's car.' Is the Mercedes image that bad?

BMW Z4 (£119)

Aspirational roadster, driven with determination by Annabella Walker, four: 'I like it. It's blue.'

Peugeot 307 (£94)

Anna Christofides, three, needed a chocolate biscuit after her experience in the Pug. It may have those bling-bling 'alloys' and bold styling, but she had absolutely nothing to say about the 307.

Real Life Toys,, 01767 319080; Hot Rod Comet,, 0870 1126006; other marques available from your local car dealer or toy store.

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