10 used cars for less than £5k we’ve found this week
This week, it’s an ode to supercharging: the best bit of force-feeding since Mr Creosote
Mini Cooper S R53
Our first pick is likely our most obvious. Yes, it’s the first-gen Mini Cooper S, and probably the car responsible for more first-hand introductions to supercharging than any other.
Helpfully enough, it’s also a complete riot to drive, with the light weight, wheels-at-each-corner layout and sports-car-rivalling suspension being exactly as good as they sound.
OK, so comfort is just something that other cars have, but tell us that it’s even remotely relevant when you wind the supercharger up to full whine.Advertisement - Page continues below
Fun fact: the Guinness Book of Records actually got its start with the purveyors of thick, creamy stout, when the MD of Guinness wanted a book that could settle the kinds of arguments one could have. Possibly at the pub, but he was actually on a hunting trip at the time.
Less fun fact: the ‘Kompressor’ part of Mercedes SLK230 Kompressor is Deutsche for – you guessed it – compressor. Which, being German and therefore literal beyond belief (looking at you, Fotoapparat, Handschuhe and Staubsauger), describes exactly how the little 2.3-litre four is fed.
We did see an SLK 32 AMG with the much-overlooked supercharged 3.2-litre V6, but it was another £2,500 out of our budget, so we’ll have to settle for the four-cylinder. Even so, there’s nearly 200bhp on offer, in the smallest (worthwhile) car Mercedes was building at the time.
With £5,000 at your disposal, you’re so, so achingly close to the entry-level money for the magnificent, 500bhp XFR V8... which will almost require the same again to get it to a condition where you trust it beyond your own postcode.
But it’s not like the Welsh-built V8 was Jag’s first foray into forced induction – superchargers have adorned the 4.2-litre V8 in the... uniquely styled S-Type, the sublime 4.0-litre XJR, and, of course, the golfist’s special: the XKR.
But as suited as the XK seems to the ‘round of Tom Collins at the 19th hole’ set, the XKR still boasted a 370bhp, supercharged V8, more opulence than a Romanov could hurdle over and styling that couldn’t be any more 1995 if it came with a VHS of Baywatch.Advertisement - Page continues below
Volkswagen Golf GT twin-charged
OK, so it’s hardly the last word in excitement. Or the first. Fine, it’s probably nowhere in the paragraph.
But when you think about the number of factory-built cars that could claim the dual honours of turbo and supercharging, it’s not exactly a long list.
And it’s a list that gets shorter still when you put a ceiling of £5,000 on it. So, goodbye Lancia Delta S4, any of the newer T6 and T8 Volvos, and the Danish mad-hatter that is the Zenvo ST1.
So, what’s left? Well, possibly a rare gem of JDM goodness – the Nissan March Super Turbo – and the Volkswagen Group.
But don’t despair; the Golf GT is still a MkV Golf, which is no real burden to carry. Sure, it’s not the superlative GTI or hilarious R32, but you do get to one-up GTI drivers on the engineering side. And have a car that cranks out more torque than the R32...
Range Rover supercharged 4.2
Is it a good idea to buy an ancient Range Rover, fitted from the factory with a hooligan-baiting 4.2-litre V8? Erm... well, you see, there could be an argument that... no. Not in a million lifetimes is it a good idea. From any kind of practical position, from any wallet/environment/anguish-saving standpoint, it is an appallingly bad idea.
But as the old saying goes, bad decisions make for great stories. And besides, it’s a 20-year-old Rangie. You won’t be harming the environment if you can never drive more than 30 miles through it at a time.
Holden Statesman 3.8S
Here’s something of a curio from our antipodean cousins, as seems to be their metier. Really, platypus? A mammal that lays eggs? And looks like an otter with a set of water fins on... that somehow got its face stuck in a Sorel snowboot? Venomous too, eh? OK, now you’re just taking the Mickey Bliss.
The old Holden Statesman, on the other hand, starts from a much more straightforward position. It’s a full-size, up-spec family saloon, powered by the same 3.8-litre V6 that went into any number of Buicks, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets. But then, as befits a higher-grade offering like the Statesman (pretty much the top of the tree, before you got to the Caprice), it was... supercharged?
Look, no arguments here – especially not with the extraordinarily gentle stock tune of 220bhp and 280lb ft, or the cast-iron-pan-rivalling longevity. Nor even the fact that it always seemed to get short shrift next to the optional 5.0-litre V8 – or the LS1 it went up against in later cars – because of course it would. But believe us when we say there’s something special about combining the howl of a V6 with the whine of a supercharger. For more information, consult your nearest Lotus Exige.
Chevy Cobalt SS
OK, so Americans are to front-wheel-drive what Australians are to temperance, but there’s no denying the Cobalt SS was actually a proper sleeper – optional wing notwithstanding.
There’s proper gearhead thinking going on here – it was only available as a coupe, and only with a manual gearbox. There was an integrated intercooler, forged crankshaft, 16v head, sodium-filled exhaust valves and a dedicated oil cooler, while the suspension got its own old-school tune: stiffer springs, thicker anti-roll bars and lightweight control arms. The options list, by the way, included Recaro seats and a limited-slip diff. And that’s a shopping list we’re happy to run through.
Best of all, the 2.0-litre’s 200bhp and 200lb ft only had to motivate a hair over 1,300kg, so the Cobalt SS was capable of nought to 60 runs in the low sixes and top speeds nudging 140mph. Theoretically, of course.
And when you think that the car that replaced the Cobalt was the Cruze... honestly, we’d be happy enough to just stop the calendar right there in 2006 and never take another step onwards. Yes, even if that meant living in the Black Eyed Peas era forever. We’re that serious.Advertisement - Page continues below
Impala SS supercharged
And if you think the Cobalt SS is unloved, just wait until you get a load of its bigger brother.
When the brilliantly menacing, rear-drive, V8-powered Impala SS gave way to a front-wheel-drive, non-V8, non-American-built one... well, you can probably guess the results.
The engine was sideways across the engine bay, the power went to the wrong end, the styling could only be more conservative if Jerry Falwell had designed it and it was made by a bunch of Canadians. Now, Americans tend to like Canadians, as we all do, but this was the kind of thing that could lead to properly frosty relations. We’ll see ourselves out.
But before we go, what of the Impala SS? Well, remember when we said the Holden’s 3.8-litre engine was used in any number of Buicks, Chevrolets and so on? Well, so was the supercharged version. Which meant the new SS had an easy 240bhp and 280lb ft from stock, and bettered the old V8 Impala in drag races and cornering, if not outright top speed. And did it all in the least attention-getting way possible.
Even MORE Volkswagen Group twin-charged goodness
You didn’t think Volkswagen would come up with a turbo and supercharged engine and then plonk it under the bonnet of just one car, did you?
Well of course you didn’t – it’s VW, after all, and the only thing better than doing something once is to do it 10 times with slightly different execution.
So you can find the twin-charged engine in the Skoda Fabia vRS, Ibiza Cupra or Polo GTI. And that’s marvellous, if a little budget-stretching. You can also find it in the likes of the VW Touran, Tiguan and Jetta, which we would only advise getting if they’re a) free, and b) not stolen.
Our pick is predictably one that comes at the problem sideways, but we’ll explain why. The most recent Scirocco was a brilliant thing, fulfilling all the basic Scirocco functions by being a better-looking Golf with fewer doors.
The Scirocco 1.4 is an easy enough find for less than £5,000, arriving with perfectly respectable outputs of about 160bhp and 175lb ft. Which you can then eclipse completely with a few simple bolt-ons and a remap, for 240bhp and about the same in torque. Bears thinking about, no?Advertisement - Page continues below
Nissan March Super Turbo
By the looks of things, we’re ending as we began, with a tiny little hatchback. But we’re not, really. The March (or Micra, if that helps) Super Turbo is the antithesis of the Cooper S; it’s broadly unknown, sold by the handful instead of the truckload, and has all the badge cachet of a security guard’s.
It’s also not particularly powerful, despite being the beneficiary of both turbo and supercharging. That’s mostly down to the 930cc engine, and likely the 15-year gap between the late-Eighties Nissan and early-Noughties Mini. Even so, with more than 100bhp and a kerb weight of less than 750kg, it was still capable of nought to 60 runs in the high sevens. But when you have a car that light, equipped with both a five-speed manual and proper limited-slip diff – and with peak power only available past 6,000rpm – are you really going to spend your time drag racing?