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Tuesday 6th December
Top Gear Advice

10 cars for £2.5k we found this week

In this edition, it’s cars you’d buy for the engine – and sometimes nothing else

Range Rover
  • Jaguar X-Type with the 3.0-litre V6

    Jaguar X-Type with the 3.0-litre V6

    Yes, it’s the most-maligned Jaguar of our generation, and for good reasons. So we’re going to move past that to the X-Type’s shining gem: its 240bhp, 3.0-litre V6. 

    Which then brings us to the obvious question – what’s the mark of a truly good engine? In our estimation, is how often it’s reefed out of the car it was intended to power and put somewhere else entirely. And in the case of the Ford-Jaguar 3.0-litre V6, it’s finally starting to earn its due as a lightweight, compact and ear-pleasing way to put 240bhp in places it was never really intended.

    We’d still save up a bit more for an XJ6, but budgets are budgets

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  • Lexus RX350

    Lexus RX350

    There’s nothing particularly wonderful about the RX350, apart from one small thing. Or indeed, one rather large thing: that 3.5-litre V6.

    Doesn’t sound particularly interesting by itself, but it has more power and more torque than even the famed Busso V6 in its most potent trim. A little over 270bhp and 250lb ft is on offer (about 20bhp and 30lb ft over the Busso), with both achieved at the interesting end of the rev range. And honestly, in terms of the sound... it’s a real toss-up between the 2GR-FE (as found in the V6 Exige, mind) and the 147 GTA. So, buy the Lexus now, scrape pennies together for a cheap Elise, recruit a mechanic... you see where we’re going here. 

    One thing to note – in the space between writing this article and uploading it, the £2,500 RX350 actually sold, so you’ll have to act fast if you’re after a cheap 2GR-FE.

  • Range Rover 4.2 Supercharged

    Range Rover 4.2 Supercharged

    Or if you’re not the sort to bother with aftermarket supercharging... may we suggest a factory-fresh supercharger? 

    OK, after however many hundred thousand miles a Range Rover has plugged its way through, it’s hardly going to be factory fresh. Then again, this is the same basic engine as used in any number of fast Jags and the old Aston V8 Vantage, so there’s any number of parts and experts about the place who’ll be able to get the AJ-V8 back in fine fettle before it finds a way into something that’s not the same size as Blenheim Palace. And doesn’t cost as much to maintain. 

    Seriously, don’t even bother with anything beyond the engine

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  • Alfa Romeo 164 (or 156 V6, if you prefer)

    Alfa Romeo 164 (or 156 V6, if you prefer)

    But what if you really want that Busso growl and howl? Well, that’s rather simple: you go and get it. 

    Due to the... somewhat unsteady reputation of Fiat-era Alfa Romeos, prices for most of them are still much lower than you’d expect for what you get. Of course, not all of it’ll work, but the Busso V6 generally will. And then you can swap it into a car that does work.

    The 156’s 2.5-litre V6 is lovely, but the better option, in our mind, is the 3.0-litre V6 from the 164 or 166. With the 3.0-litre, there’s at least two big-bore kits that immediately spring to mind to build a diff-destroying torque monster. And, because you’re not mucking with the stroke, you can retain the Busso’s free-revving nature. You can even supercharge or turbocharge if it takes your fancy, but we’d think long and hard about doing anything that might interfere with that mellifluous engine note...

    Pick the 3.0. Just do it

  • Lexus LS400

    Lexus LS400

    You’ve heard of the LS swap – now, allow us to present the... er, LS swap. 

    Now, before we wax lyrical about the 1UZ-FE, we should probably check that there’s anything we can say about it that hasn’t already gone around the internet as many times as a Rick Roll. And... it appears not. So we can just hit the highlights – lightweight, legendary reliability in just about any application, pretty much instant-on torque (200lb ft from 1,000rpm) and 260bhp when you find the other end of the rev range. And that’s before we get to how happily a 1UZ will make 400bhp without too much beyond ported heads and an aftermarket ECU...

    Maybe stick it in a canal boat, or whatever passes for water craft in the UK

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.0

    Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.0

    If you can get past the whole ‘Wait... 190bhp? From how many litres? And how many cylinders?’ part of the process, the Jeep 4.0-litre straight six is an engine worth your time. And, if you’re out in the sticks, possibly worth its weight in gold. 

    Yep, we’re talking about something that feels like almost a foreign concept to articles like these: reliability. The Jeep 4.0 will just keep on keeping on – through conditions (and in a condition) that’d be career-ending for any number of engines.

    Is this the part where we mention American Motors, or what?

  • Ford Falcon (the Australian one)

    Ford Falcon (the Australian one)

    But if we’re going to talk about legendary 4.0-litre straight sixes, it’s only a matter of time before we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. It’s called the Barra: an abbreviation, in the grand Australian tradition, of Barramundi – a large, powerful fish.

    The Barra’s good for at least 240bhp and 280lb ft on el cheapo 91 octane petrol – that’s 87 octane, for our American cousins – and the numbers rise from there, especially when you start turbocharging. Which Ford Australia did. So, if you consider the Barra a bigger version of the famed 2JZ, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. 

    And the best bit? You can still trip over Barra engines in Australia. It’s not recommended, for any number of podiatrical reasons, but you can if you so choose. 

    Seriously, try to avoid tripping over cars in general

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  • Saab 9-5 2.3T

    Saab 9-5 2.3T

    If you were to think of manufacturers you most associated with great engines, how long would it take you to get to Saab? Yeah, us too. But to discount the sadly departed Swedish company would be missing out on one of the great unsung engines.

    What started as a British Leyland slant-four – really – became a proper Saab effort after numerous redesigns, eventually culminating in Saab's 2.3-litre B234 and B235 engines, which showed what Saab could achieve on its own merit. In the case of the later 9-5s, that was 255bhp and 270lb ft from a turbocharged 2.3-litre four... that had its roots in a Triumph Dolomite. Not a bad effort, that. 

    Now you can argue with Volvo nerds about which Swedish manufacturer made a better B engine!

  • Ford S-Max 2.5T

    Ford S-Max 2.5T

    We’ve talked about the S-Max before, but then we’ve rather talked about most cars before. Call it an occupational hazard. So we can usher most of the S-Max’s selling points through with little more than a handwave – better handling than you’d ever require from a people mover, more practicality than you can poke a dozen SUVs at, more space than a Carl Sagan documentary and so on. 

    And you can buy an S-Max for those things, then happily share the road with a vast throng of boxes, driven by those who never thought outside one. But our plan is a little different; we’re thinking about the 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder, its immediate removal from the S-Max and the car that’d be most entertaining to put it in. 

    If this one isn’t one dented panel away from ‘spares and repair’, we’ll eat our boots

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  • Subaru Outback 3.0R

    Subaru Outback 3.0R

    If you want a flat-six engine, you’re pretty limited on where you can find them. Even one of the most avant-garde cars of all time, the original Citroen DS, which was supposed to get a flat-six... well, never got one. 

    And yet a high-riding family wagon did. Not the shabbiest of flat sixes either, it must be said. Subaru’s EZ30 had four valves per cylinder – something Porsche only added to the regular roadgoing 911 with the 996 generation. On that note – Porsche’s 3.4-litre effort from the 996 makes 295bhp, while Subaru’s 3.0-litre makes 245bhp. That means the Porsche sports car makes just shy of 87bhp per litre, while the Subaru family chariot makes nearly 82bhp per litre. Not exactly poles apart, is it? 

    Add in the fact that Subaru Outbacks are cheaper – and don’t have IMS bearing failure looming over them like the sword of Damocles – and you have a flat six that might just be worth swapping into a DS.

    Yeah, because that’s what you want: a Subaru-powered DS

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