...a brand new Skoda. Or a BMW 7-series, a Jaguar XJS or a Porsche 944, second-hand. No contest, says James Ruppert (below), while (right) we test drive the Skoda Felicia
Not everyone wants to be a Skoda owner. It may be cheap, but if you are after company car-park kudos, or want to overtake the Joneses, then the Skoda may not be for you. And the pounds 6,000 price tag of a new Skoda could buy a used car with far more street cred.

The Felicia is a practical five-door hatch - a description that applies to dozens of models on offer from other manufacturers. The nation's forecourts are awash with possible hatchback options. Perhaps the most obvious candidate is Britain's best-selling used car, the Ford Escort. Given the choice, nine out of 10 buyers would choose one: servicing costs are low, parts are cheap and there is a dealer on practically every street corner. High initial depreciation makes used Ford Escort prices friendly and there will usually be a queue of buyers when you decide to sell on.

For your pounds 6,000, a good bet would be one of the revamped 1992 models with the oval "smiley" grille. They come with a host of safety features, including side-impact door beams and improved build quality. The budget will also be enough for a 30,000 mile, 1993 registered and nicely equipped 1.4i LX.

An Escort may be the sensible choice, but it is a trifle dull. A more exciting state-of-the-art hatch would be the Citroen ZX. A stylish car with bags of room and character, and an excellent ride. It would pay to seek out one at a Citroen dealer who could offer a comprehensive Hallmark warranty. A well equipped 1992 1.4i Avantage model is very affordable, while those who want a little more power could try a higher (55,000) mileage 1.6.

If the thought of a Ford or Citroen is just a little too common, there are more prestigious possibilities. Rover's 200 series has been a runaway success because it is the ultimate combination of Japanese reliability and British detailing: a comfortable, quality hatchback which has proved popular with company fleets. Do not buy a shabby one or pay too much. A 1992 214 SLi would be perfect.

Although less comfy and with the minimum amount of extras, a Volkswagen Golf is the most durable hatchback you can buy. If you can find one, a new-shape 1.4 with 50,000 miles might be ideal, but you could also consider a 1991 1.6 CL model. It should be just about run in, cost well under pounds 6,000 and will outlive a newer Rover.

If these hatches cramp your style and you need a bit more elbow room, try some middle-management specials for size. Bought by companies, these large, over-equipped cars soon depreciate with a vengeance. Make sure you are the next owner and take advantage of the no-expense-spared maintenance. Most of them tend to be Ford Granadas - and a 2.0 Scorpio is the prime choice. But shop around. I found a top-of-the-range 1991 2.9 with every conceivable extra, including leather seats and air-conditioning, for a paltry pounds 6,250. New, it would cost pounds 21,000.

An underrated alternative is Vauxhall's Carlton. A 1992 2.0i GLI is easily within a pounds 6,000 reach. Perhaps the best model of all is the estate, which provides cavernous accommodation and decent performance for far less than a seriously overrated Volvo. An early Nineties 2.0 CD model will put you off Swedes for life and dwarf any nearby Skoda.

Those with boardroom pretentions might like to consider a move upmarket. In common with Granadas and Carltons, even the big boys' toys such as the BMW 7 series suffer the ravages of depreciation which, combined with a small market for over-indulgent and over-engineered cars, pushes values right down. Provided you do not mind delving back into the late Eighties, say 1987 and 1988, there are plenty of these big cars to choose from. A Special Equipment 735i offers the most amusement in terms of electric extras and engine power. However, a 730i has enough performance for most tastes, is marginally cheaper and also costs a couple of pounds less to run.

If you do not feel like being mistaken for a fat-cat industrialist, how about joining the town and country set with a Range Rover. At pounds 6,000 it would have to be a circa 1986 Vogue model. It may be tired but it should still be tidy and will allow you to lord it over other road users.

Finally, why keep up the pretence of wanting four- or five-door practicality when you could throw caution and pounds 6,000 in the direction of a sports car. When Jaguars reach the used market, they become absolute giveaways. An XJS with a magnificent, if gas-guzzling, V12 engine is well within our Skoda budget. I can hardly believe the advertisement I have just read for a one-owner, full-service-history example registered in 1988, with an asking price of just pounds 5,995. Not only that, but this XJS is on sale at a dealer, so goodness knows how little was actually paid for it.

If Jags are just a bit too big and soft for your tastes, how about a proper sports car. A Porsche 944 handles superbly and is quick and well built. That prestigious badge, racing pedigree and all-important possibility make a 1986 example for pounds 6,000 hard to beat if you just want to have fun.

Coming up with surrogate Skodas is not difficult. However, coming up with the cash when a BMW 7 series needs a service, or a Range Rover needs a tank of petrol, is not so easy. All it takes is for the XJS or 944 to play up and you could be faced with a bill that is not unadjacent to pounds 6,000. About the same as a brand new Skoda Felicia, in fact.

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