Car Reviews

Thursday 24 July 2014

It's summer and the driving is easy - but it's even better if it's in a little roadster

Published 16/07/2014|00:00

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Audi TT

Aidan Timmons picks four used roadsters for your consideration this week. Aidan visits dealers countrywide each year to produce a monthly guidebook on the values of used cars. He is co-editor of Motor Trade Publishers, who supply a car-valuing service to the motor trade, insurance companies and
 finance houses.

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Mazda MX5 1.8 costing
 circa €8,000

Background: The MX5 is widely regarded as the best roadster around. Mazda have churned out almost 1m and apart from styling, the ethos of every new generation stays true to the original. It's tail and rev happy.

Engines: The best is the 2-litre from the Mark 3 but the 1.8 from any generation is fine and more readily available. The 1.6 lacks power but you still get the magnificent chassis so it will misbehave around wet roundabouts. There is nothing wimpy about a light, front engine, rear-wheel drive sports car. These are precisely what you need to make a traditional roadster.

Cabin: Not much to speak about here. You get a radio, some air vents, a steering wheel and a gear lever. Some imports came with Nardi Torino wooden steering wheels. They look great but aren't the safest in a collision.

Choice: Regardless of budget, there is always an MX5 to suit. The great thing is they changed remarkably little over the years. So a 1999 is about as good as a 2003. There was a model change in 2006; from then it had a folding metal roof.

The only problem with values is that a clean 1999 will make as much as an average 2002. Still, with €5,000 in your pocket you'll have a bountiful selection.

Watch out for: Insurance is more costly for fabric roof models. Japanese imports could be mechanically fine but insurers could either shy away from quoting or heavily load your premium. Check for rust on older models.

Honda S2000

Background: I once owned an S2000. It's an astonishing car, looks great, goes like the proverbial and if you treat it right, will go forever. Unveiled in 1999, Honda regularly made incremental, but sensible, upgrades over the years. If you can only just scrape into a 1999 or 2000 model, you're still in for a treat.

Engines: Nerd Alert: The slightly front-to-mid and side mounted 2-litre naturally aspirated engine produces 240bhp. That means it doesn't have any turbos or superchargers but it is refined and is blindingly quick.

Residual values: S2000s hold their values pretty well, thanks in most part to scarcity. Expect to see values for 1999s and 2000s with virtually no discernible price difference.

Once the car hits €10,000, its depreciation is so insignificant it's hardly worth speaking about.

Cabin: My S2000 was Silverstone grey with red leather seats and it was dreamy. The gearbox tunnel has a triple-purpose feature as it is not only where the gearbox is housed but acts as an arm rest and left leg heater. The interior is a splendid place to sit. The digital rev counter is a homage to Honda's F1 car and is quite something to behold.

Choice: You won't be spoiled for S2000s, unfortunately. But don't panic-buy either. From 2002, the rear screen was made of glass (plastic before that) and it can scratch so perhaps invest in a new hood if the one you are looking at is a little tatty and worn.

Watch out for: There is a lot of debate about which oil to use as it gets through a lot. Some use fully synthetic 5w30 but I bowed to Honda's engineers' knowledge and followed the manual.

Check wheel arches for rust and that the VTEC engages properly at 6,000rpm. Trust me, you'll know if it does.

Audi TT 1.8

Background: The first generation TT looks a little dated and round compared to its predecessor but there is something about the original that, with the right wheels, still makes it look fresh. Let's cover the first two generations.

Engines: The Mark 1 TT launched in 1998 as a coupe; the roadster followed a year later. It has a 1.8 litre turbo (either 180bhp or 225bhp). Ironically, the Quattro 225bho detracts from the car. I think the 180bhp version is a more enjoyable drive. The Mark 2 has three engine options: 1.8 or 2.0 litre petrol turbo variants or a 2.0 TDi. The Mark 2 petrols are surprisingly efficient.

Residual values: The TT's utilitarianism gives it broad appeal. The new retail price of the 2.0 TDi was €3,000 more than the 2.0 petrol but it holds a sizeable portion of this premium. Diesels are rare. Expect depreciation of around €4,000 a year on mid-€20,000 models. Normal for a car like this.

Cabin: The interior is far better than most rivals. The flat bottom steering wheel in the Mark 2 is a lovely touch. The leather seats are hard wearing and boot space isn't overly restrictive.

Choice: This depends on your budget and quality of car. The Mark 2 was launched in 2007. Expect to pay around €16,000 for a clean 2008 2.0 TFSi. For budgets under €8,000 you will have lot of choice of 2005 and 2006 models. There was a front-wheel drive 1.8 turbo 150bhp version from 2003 onwards. It was popular as it cost €10,000 less than 180bhp when new.

Watch out for: Don't overpay for a 150bhp model. The TT is a little heavier than other roadsters so it can wear tyres more frequently. Inspect and test the roof thoroughly. This goes for all roadsters.

Mini Cooper Convertible

Background: The Mini Cooper convertible is nimble and agile, has a punchy engine and retro styling but with the benefit of open-top driving when the weather dictates. It's a little noisier than the hatchback but no cabriolet or convertible is whisper quiet.

Engines: Pre-2007 convertibles mostly came with a 1.6 petrol, although some higher output Cooper S models were sold too. From 2010 onwards, there was an option of a 1.4 petrol along with an even more miserly 1.6 Cooper diesel. However, sales of convertibles during the depths of the recession (or depression) were miniscule.

Residual values: Minis always do well, although they don't quite retain the premium figures they once used to. Expect to pay around €1,500 more than for the 3dr hatch. Values differ greatly between models and trim levels.

Cabin: The interior is heavily infused with plastic. The switchgear isn't that robust but it looks the part. A large odometer with various other readouts sits centrally in the dash. The seats are comfortable and there is a 'feelgood' factor.
Choice: €10,000 will get you a 2006 model with some change. Sales of the newer shape were underwhelming.

Watch out for: Leaking roofs. As most Mini convertibles are knocking on 10 years old at this stage, some will need their roofs replaced.

The supercharged Cooper S models (pre 2007) had some gearbox issues so make sure the one you're buying has regularly seen the inside of a service department.

Happy roadster driving.

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