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BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Hot Hatch

Seven options to consider instead of the new Golf GTI

Come on... who gets a kick out of being sensible?

  • If you’ve been keeping a keen eye on things around Top Gear, you’ll know that our advice for the one-and-done car is always the same: the Golf GTI. It manages to be understated, classic, spacious, reliable, fast, fun and roughly every other adjective we could ask from a car. But it’s also so bleeding obvious.

    And then there’s the price – we presume the new GTI will cost just over £30K, which is rather a large chunk of money to play with. If you can set aside banalities like warranty and reliability and personal safety. Really, once prices start getting up around the UK’s national average wage, it’s more a case of what ­can’t you buy, rather than what you can. As we shall now demonstrate...

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  • Option one: supercars. Duh

    Yep, for around 30 grand, the world really is your oyster. Especially if you prefer your oysters – the slimy, salty lumps of unimaginable awfulness that they are – served to other people, so you can go and spend your good money on what good money should go to: supercars.

    Armed with £30,000 (note: this is not as good a defensive weapon as you might think), you can take home an R35 Nissan GT-R, replete with entirely too much power and grip, and all the silliness of your average Coronavirus update. For a little more, you can get one with a sprinkling of Litchfield lunacy. You really, really should... check how many points are on your licence before committing to buying one.

    At the other end of the spectrum is the Aston Martin Vantage, which you really can get for the price of a Golf GTI. It’s truly a wonder why people even try to sell new cars. Sure, it’s about as quick as a Scorcese movie, but, as anyone who’s seen Taxi Driver can attest, sometimes it’s better to take your time.

    But a car can’t really be properly super until the engine is behind the driver. And so that’s what we’ve unearthed, again, for less than £30,000. Well, unearthed is perhaps the wrong word here – Audi R8 V8 manuals and Mezger-engined Porsche 996 Turbos abound for this sort of money. If they unearthed bodies at this rate, someone would have found Jimmy Hoffa by now. And that’s two Scorcese references in two paragraphs!

  • Option two: Best of British

    Fact: we are British. Other fact: so are these cars. So let’s put the ‘fun’ back into ‘fundamentally jingoistic’ and talk up these British cars as if they’re eminently better than the ones you can get from overseas!

    For your 30,000 pounds sterling, you can be more British than a Brexiteer not cleaning up after their bulldog on Hampstead Heath. There’s a cornucopia of TVRs (Tuscan, Tamora and T350), Morgans that may or may not be from 1948 and Lotus Esprit Turbos that can only come from the 1990s. We saw a Marcos GT V6 at this money, as well as a few Noble M12s and a brace of Jensen Interceptors. Someone cue the Elgar, and hand us the keys to the T350. Because nothing says British like bellowing thunderous noise while being out of control.

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  • Option three: Comfortable cruisers

    Yes, the Golf GTI has been a byword for the successful melding of comfort and sportiness, but let us ask you this – what good is sportiness, really? The speed limits are just as low as they were in the 1970s, yet the performance capabilities of cars has increased as-near-as-dammit exponentially.

    So why not let the performance wars take a back seat in your purchasing decisions, and consider cars where sitting in the back seat is half the fun. Yes, we worked hard on that one, thanks for asking.

    Consider this: for 30 grand, you can have a modern Rolls. Sure, it’s a Seraph, the LaToya Jackson of Rolls-Royces, and it’s basically a Bentley with a BMW V12, but since when has a BMW V12-powered luxury saloon with Connolly leather and walnut veneer been a bad thing?

    Speaking of, you can have a bevy of recent Bentleys for your money – Conti GTs, of course, and the four-door Flying Spur (presumably named after aerial footballers), but we’d opt for the full bordello-meets-Blenheim-Palace of the Bentley Arnage, one of a handful of cars where the engine’s measured in fractions. It’s only a 6.75-litre V8 to Philistines – embrace the genteel feel and say six-and-three-quarter. Mmm. That’s the stuff.

    Don’t forget, however, that Americans did quite the trade in large, luxurious leviathans. And, in our estimation, none were finer than the 1960s Lincoln Continentals – suicide doors, straighter edges than a hardcore punk festival and a full 7.6 litres of V8 engine. Which is lavish, if nothing else.

    But what if you don’t want a heaving colossus that’s as much a testament to conspicuous consumption as it is a form of transport? Facile, mon ami – it can only be the Citroen DS, the spaceship from the 1950s that still managed to be the most modern-looking and forward-thinking car for the next two decades.

  • Option four: Future legends

    The problem with classic cars (as we’ve said so often by now that it’s actually hard to remember when we’ve broached another topic) is that the numbers attached to them having started making less sense than a David Lynch film. But, unlike a Lynch film, we’re not enjoying any part of this confusing mess. We don’t know who had to do what to be able to pony up £500,000 for a car, but it’s not an opportunity we’ve ever encountered. So what’s an impecunious car lover to do? Look to future classics, of course.

    While some, like the E46 M3 CSL, have well and truly arrived, you can still pick up a CSL for the cost of a new Golf GTI with a few options. And, barring some kind of complete global economic meltdown, it’s unlikely prices will ever go down. And we’ve never heard of anything like that happening before. Yay, capitalism!

    Other Beemers, like the 1 Series M and Z3 M Coupe, are rapidly gaining traction in the market. Which is ironic, when you consider that their metier is the heroic absence of traction from the rear tyres. We think that the 1 Series M is one of the most entertaining M cars ever. Our boss says someone called Christopher Harris has similar opinions, it seems. Whoever he is.

    Now, did you really think you’d get through one of these ‘more for your money’ articles without the mention of the Mercedes C63 estate? Du bist so lustig, darling. To some in the TG office, the 6.2-litre C63 estate is as much a default answer to ‘What car should I get?’ as even the Golf GTI.

    And we’ve a very special one for your 30,000 pictures of the Queen’s head: the UK-only DR520. Imagine a C63 with every tasty motoring morsel imaginable – mechanically locking diff, forged pistons, better conrods and crankshaft and a Teutonic tower of power. Or 513bhp, to translate out of worthy car-tester prose and into English.

  • Option five: Modern(ish) love

    If you’re a) a human being and b) have ever spent time on the internet, you’ll know about the Toyota Supra. And you’ll also know that one particular generation of Supra has been lionised to the extent that no one even bothers talking about how it drives. The answer, in case you were curious, is quite well, in a Nineties GT kind of way. But, more than anything, the tuning potential of its engine has overshadowed everything else, to the point where finding a stock A80 Supra is now up there with holy grails, Jimmy Hoffa’s body (ding) and the city of El Dorado. Well, we have. No, not the city of gold – a stock Supra, for 30 grand. No, we won’t say where. It’s all ours. Ours!

    But don’t fret – there’s still quite a list of modern-ish driver’s dreams for Golf GTI money, like the Lotus Carlton, perhaps the epitome of ‘I made my money in a less-than-legal way’, but so achingly cool along with it. And did we mention ballistically fast?

    And if you are a fan of fast Vauxhalls (and that has to be the smallest niche in history), let’s take a second to remember that, before Holden went belly up downunder, they bestowed upon the world a car with a glee-per-pound ratio that’s still unrivalled: the VXR8. Also, if they went belly-up downunder, which way does that mean their belly would be pointing? Discuss.

    Or, if you’re of a gentler disposition, how about a Porsche 928? Yes indeedy, Porsche’s original grand tourer, with its supremely wondrous styling and peerless propensity to absolutely lunch itself with no provocation, is on the table for the same money as the most obvious of hot hatches. Come on. Risk everything.

    If you’re entirely doolally, both generations of Clio V6 are on offer for this money. If you do a couple of mental salchows, they’re still hatchbacks... just ones with an engine where the groceries and child seats are supposed to go. But who really wants groceries anyway? Or children?

    Last, but definitely not least, is the original Audi Quattro. Roughly everything about this car has already been written, so let us try to hit the same points: rally bred, WRC, turbocharged in-line five-cylinder engine, quattro-all-wheel-drive, progenitor, Walter Rohrl, five valves per cylinder, fire up the Quattro. And yeah, consider buying one.

    Or, in the same vein, the Delta Integrale. Oh... er, last Lancia in UK, six-time WRC winner, Martini livery, Markku Alén, Juha Kankkunen, most successful brand in WRC history...

  • Option six: Classic ’Murican muscle

    Modern European cars are so precise and accurate, aren’t they? But what accuracy absolutely does not include in its remit is soul. Yep, we’re doing that ‘cars with soul’ schtick again, neatly excusing the build quality of a five-year-old’s sandcastle, the fuel economy of an oil rig fire and the handling prowess of a donkey on an ice rink.

    But who needs anything like build quality, economy or handling when you have the brutal shock and awe of an American road-going behemoth? If you think about buying cars by the cubic inch – or the linear foot, come to think of it – these are about as much car as you’ll ever get for your 30 grand.

    How about a Ford Galaxie 500? There might only be two doors, but there’s room for about 10 people in its almost comically long flanks. Not convinced? Well, it does have a 7.0-litre V8, and a race-spec version did look supremely cool flinging around Goodwood at the Revival.

    Hm, we can see that you’re a more discerning kind of muscle-car buyer, so land yachts like the Buick GS455 are out. Fastback Mustangs are a little hard to come by at this money, but you can get a ’67 Mustang GTA, and that’s a pretty rare breed. Or how about a ’71 Roadrunner, complete with ‘Meep-meep’ horn and, we assume, many other fine qualities?

    Ah, that’s it – the 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS 350. We found one with a new engine and Muncie gearbox and front disc brakes, set up for historic racing. Come on, tell us you want to do normal track days in a GTI when this is on offer.

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  • Option seven: Think different

    But you didn’t come here for almost-sensible alternatives, or not-entirely-sensible alternatives you’ve already thought of, did you? Yeah, let’s push the boat out far enough to leave it halfway across the Channel.

    Did you know, dear (or indeed, reasonably priced) reader, that you can get a Ferrari 456 for the price of a new Golf GTI? Are you now overcome by the possibilities and promises of a 30-grand Ferrari, with a gated six-speed manual? Are you dissuaded by its extra pair of seats and comically small wheels? Are you a fan of this rhetorical question format?

    Due to the limitations of the written rhetorical format, we’re just going to assume you have answered these questions, so we can move on to a nice, sensible hatchback. With all of the sensibility taken out again. Yes, it’s the left-hand-drive only, all-wheel-drive, 256bhp pocket rocket that is the A1 Quattro.

    Yes, you’re right. We’re still being too obvious. Hm... let’s just throw £30k cars at you to see what sticks. BMW Z1? A mint Suffix-A Range Rover? Lotus Elise race car? Rally-prepped Talbot Sunbeam? Something called a De Tomaso Deauville?

    WAIT. We’ve got it – the Tommy Kaira ZZ GT (above). Introduced to us via the smorgasbord of virtual oddballs that is Gran Turismo, our Western teenage brains basically slotted it into a file marked ‘Japanese Lotus Elise’, which wasn’t as far off as our teenage brains usually were. Seriously, ponytail, sweary T-shirts, baggy jeans AND Ugg boots? Yeesh.

    Moving on. The Tommy Kaira ZZ used Nissan’s famed SR20, good in this case for about 180bhp at 7,000rpm, or absolutely enough to motivate 700kg of aluminium-tubbed awesomeness around the Autumn Ring as fast as our thumbs could handle. Although we did spot a race-prepped one with 270bhp for £35,000, which set off a wave of Gran Turismo-spec fantasies in our heads. Golf? That’s a game for old men, isn’t it?

    Image: Zero 935

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