Which Car? 'What's cheap and made for life in the fast lane?'

Lesley Thomson, a 27-year-old secretary from London, puts speed before much else but wonders what car to get if she wants plenty of power and performance but still a low insurance grouping and reasonable running costs.

Ms Thomson wants it all, performance and low running costs, but we have to clarify what is meant by performance.

These days, there seems little point in owing a furiously fast car. Speed cameras, congestion and a downer from the authorities and insurance industry means you need a thick skin, a thick wallet and plenty of room for endorsement points on your licence.

That is depressing, but, if you want to go bonkers, there are events called Track Days. For £100 you can go mad on a track, a good way of letting off steam and sharpening your driving skills.

And you do not need a Ferrari for it. Many people use an older sports car, or saloon, bought for a few thousand or less. Ms Thomson ought to consider this. She could buy a Ford Fiesta for commuting and something old and fun, say, a BMW 325i, or Toyota Supra for a few hundred.

She could have a small budget for running costs for both cars and enjoy the best of all motoring worlds.

A car for the head

Ms Thomson does not need a car with a big engine and sensational acceleration for it to be exciting. At the most basic level, an old Mini, cheap to insure and run, would be perfect. It can be driven on the limit almost continuously, delivering a huge amount of driving pleasure, with incredible grip on corners. It never feels less than quick, especially on minor roads.

But Ms Thomson might think the Mini is not special or sporty enough. In that case, she should have a Mazda MX5. No, really. It is not very flash and not very fast, but it is a consummate sports car. The handling is sweet, it is easy to drive and therefore very rewarding. Comfortable on the motorway it really excels itself on country roads.

Best of all, MX5s are inexpensive; you can buy them for £4,000 to £5,000 and the insurance grouping starts at just 11.

Being a Mazda, it will not break down, and servicing is straightforward and cost-effective. The MX5 may have a soft image, but that is great news for those who want a hardcore driving experience.

A car for the heart

There are not many cars which feel special and sporty, however short the journey. Few cars give you the impression you are about to start a race on a circuit even if you are only popping to the shops.

That car is the Caterham 7. Born in the 1950s as the Lotus 7, it was genius designer Colin Chapman's racing car for the road. The car being so light and simple, that meant even modestly sized engines could propel the Seven along in a very rapid fashion.

If Ms Thomson wants acceleration then the Caterham delivers, because even the smallest 1.6 litre engines easily sprint to 60mph in six seconds. Interestingly, Ms Thomson will not be tempted to go too fast because it will be so uncomfortable.

Buffeted by the wind and pummelled by the almost non-existent suspension, it means that even the legal limit will feel sensationally quick. Although difficult to value, about £8,000 would buy a very tidy 10- year-old example.

With limited mileage insurance it would also be cheap to run and service. But, if Ms Thomson really cannot live with it, unlike so many used cars, it will not have depreciated at all.

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