By James Wong

Selling a car has always been difficult.

There’s the emotional attachment, part of which stems from the experience of time spent with the car. The other part, which is a lot more painful and starkly clear, is the money spent: a car is a money pit no matter how you try to justify it. So with all of that investment, naturally, you would look for returns. Selling a car at what you may deem as fair value would probably appear ridiculous to any prospective buyer. But that is how it works. One party has to give, and poof – suddenly thousands of dollars disappear into thin air.

I have two cars in my ownership now – both Volkswagens. I won’t deny that I am tired of at least one of them. I have worked the German front-wheel drive formula for a long time. Actually, it’s only been 2 years. But in a young man’s life, that is rather lengthy.

One, a 1990 Mk2 GTI 8v, was bought in haste and then repaired in haste as well. Young man mistakes aside, it has been a faithful car, but alas, it has also been rather anodyne. Predictable handling, unbeatable practicality and ease of driving are great traits, but I am made hungry for thrills because of all of this dependability. Unfortunately, I might live to regret it sooner than I think, but then the young ‘uns shouldn’t be afraid to live, right?

The other, a 2006 MkV GTI, has the tricked-out go-faster bits. The ECU chip, the exhaust, the brakes, the anti-roll bar. Yes, all good things. It’s been a better experience than the Mk2, I think, not least because it is at least more reliable. There’s also a shed load more power and torque, plus that gearbox is still a novelty in 2012 in a hatchback. I like this car. In fact, anything I change to after this would probably be a step back in terms of an all-round package. Well, I’ll just see who will pay my price. If nobody steps forward, I am quite happy sticking with it as well (turbo engine and DSG gearbox, please do not live up to expectations and fail prematurely).

So let’s focus on the Mk2 GTI. It’s a UK car, so I am looking for a UK replacement. God knows how much I have toiled with the dastardly insurers in looking for a new car. Car insurance in the UK is shockingly expensive, pure extortion, unpredictable, surprising and ridiculous. I guess it’s also some reflection on how the country is. Just look at the Hammersmith flyover issue that’s been hot in the news now. But I guess that’s for another story.

After all of that hunting high and low in the last couple of months, exploring cars as diverse as a air-cooled Porsche 911 to a BMW M5, I have come up with a list of the following (coincidentally, this has also been sent to my dad as a proposal).

1) Mazda RX-7 FD3S

2) Toyota MR2 W20

3) Renaultsport Clio 200 Cup

4) Peugeot 306 Rallye

Peel below the choices above and my reasons start to appear quite quickly. The RX-7 needs no introduction as an utterly bonkers car, yet also something that you would never own, with all of the talk of its unreliability and problems killing any thoughts of practical ownership. Yet, it remains a truly special automobile and surely one of the most beautiful ever to come out of Japan. It also has such a special motor, the rotary, twin-turbo’ed officially in this model to produce mind-boggling power in that era. All that power, of course, has come to haunt the engine, which can barely keep its own even in a naturally aspirated guise. Still, its small displacement makes it attainable for me in terms of insurance, which is quite a surprise given the car’s reputation. I am sure you can see the reason why it makes my list.

The MR2 is up there because I first fell in love with how it looks. Having owned a NA Miata before, I am a sucker for pop-up headlights. The car is also mid-engined, something rather special in its price bracket and it’s not a bad engine either, the 3S-GE which is good for 178bhp in its final production spec. I like the gearshift action too, plus the practical and sensible interior. What isn’t so great is its 2-seater restriction, which means no big road trips with the lads. However, it ticks all of the right boxes – although – because of insurance I am denied the turbo model, which I think is the more focused driver’s car of the MR2 range. No denying that the NA model is a special one too, definitely a driver’s car and a candidate for the perfect steer.

The newest car of the lot is the Clio. A stick shift, good looks and a great engine plus supreme handling makes this the most sensible car of the lot (of course, you pay for it in the purchase price, which is at least double anything else here). But I’ve always loved those Recaros, plus French front-drivers always had a different handling temperament when compared to the German hatches. That’s something I have wanted to try ever since I got recommended by a friend to the world of French hot hatches…

Which brings me to the 306 Rallye. Probably the most sensible old Pug to own and with killer lift-off oversteer I am raring to go try. Dirt cheap too as these cars have reached nearly the bottom of their depreciation curve. The only way is up as less and less of these stay on the market. I’ll settle for a GTi6 too.

So, clearly, all cars I would be so happy to drive and noticeably, nothing German for now (either too much of the same formula or too frickin’ expensive to insure and upkeep). What are your thoughts on these cars? Write to me if you have any other suggestions which I should be looking at (although I am pretty sure I have considered nearly every car in the market today). Sickeningly, I had to resort to search up 318is models as well as diesel Fiestas in my desperation for cheaper insurance quotes. If I ever do that again, do remind me why I am writing for Lenspeed and then go direct me to a driver’s car, okay?