Want a performance car? But
don’t want horrendous fuel bills? Take a look at our secondhand suggestions.
Porsche Boxster 2.5
It’s easy to forget that the Boxster was launched
with a 2.5 litre engine. In Australia the first model appeared in January 1997,
selling for $109,000. The 5-speed automatic transmission model cost
substantially more at $116,000. Both cars used the 2.5-litre flat six developing
A then all-new design, the dry-sumped engine uses
a forged crankshaft, variable intake manifold and water cooling. Compression
ratio is 11:1 and 98 octane fuel is the recommended minimum. Peak power arrives
at 6000 rpm while 245Nm of torque is available at 4500 rpm – however the engine
develops 200Nm at just 1750 rpm.
And it’s that superbly progressive torque
development that allows the Boxster to be driven quite economically – if you
want, you can lug up hills in third gear at 1200 rpm. But at the other end of
the rev scale, you can run to 6500 rpm and get to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds.
Steering, ride and handling are all
Porsche-excellent. The car is also unexpectedly practical for two, with a
relatively roomy cabin and boots front and back. However, the engine is just
behind you so it’s a bit noisier than you’d expect given the cost of the
In manual trans form the car weighs only 1325kg –
light indeed for a convertible of this size.
Fuel economy, you ask? Porsche list it as 8.9
litres/100km in ‘mixed usage’, and as low as 6.3 litres/100 at a constant 90
km/h. In full urban use, this rises to 12.2 litres/100km. The Tiptronic 5-speed
auto considerably worsens these figures.
Current Australian prices are around
Summary: Convertible with great looks,
excellent handling, and a very good performance/economy mix.
Kei Class Japanese Imports
Except for the short-lived Daihatsu Copen, none of
the high performance Japanese Kei class vehicles have been sold in Australia.
This class of car is characterised by being very small and being powered by
660cc engines, that in the performance versions, are turbocharged or
The cars might not have been officially imported,
but grey market secondhand cars exist. But not, it must be mentioned, in great
From 1988 all Kei class vehicles have a Japanese
market legal maximum power output of 47kW. In standard form these cars are not
quick – even with their very light mass (typically 750kg). One hundred klicks
comes up in about 9-10 seconds. However, being (most often) turbocharged and
having been built to conform to a legal limit, it’s not at all hard to
significantly increase power. Even simple and cheap mods like an exhaust,
revised intake and a bit of boost makes these cars faster than almost anything
of the same size on the road.
Suspension is generally not all that
sophisticated, the cars usually having slightly uprated components over the
commuters they’re based on. Brakes in hard-driven cars are also pretty marginal.
But because of their tiny size, direct and light steering and sheer
‘chuckablility’, on a tight and winding road they’re ultra fast point to point.
The 1988 L200 Daihatsu Mira Turbo with the
EF-JL 659cc three-cylinder with a SOHC, 12-valve head, EFI and a small top-mount
air-to-air intercooler. The Mira was available in both 2 and 4-door hatchback
forms and came with optional all-wheel drive and four wheel steering.
The 1989 Suzuki Alto Works RS/R using a F5B
547cc, DOHC, EFI, air-to-air intercooled engine developing 47kW at 7500 and 77Nm
at 4000 rpm. This model was all-wheel drive.
The 1989 MMC Minica Dangan ZZ4 with a 3B83,
DOHC, 15-valve, three-cylinder with an intercooled turbo and all-wheel drive.
These cars are now two decades old so look for
problems with rust, tired turbos and suspension. More recent turbo’d Kei class
cars also exist, but as they’ve put on weight and the power limit has remained
the same, performance has declined.
Fuel economy? As you’d guess, it depends very much
on how the cars are driven. However, normal fuel economy is in the Sixes (in
litres/100km) and the more aerodynamically slippery cars can drop into the Fives
on a trip. Even modified and driven hard, it’s near impossible to exceed 9
Prices start at about AUD$4,000 for a car that’s
locally complied and in decent condition. Much lower prices are around for cars
that need work.
Summary: Great starting point for someone
who wants to get their hands dirty working on a unique and rewarding machine
that in modified form can deliver both excellent performance and economy.
Peugeot 206 GTi
The Peugeot 206 GTi took the time-honoured
approach of putting a relatively large engine (the 2 litre from the 406) into a
small body, one that in this case weighs only 1050kg. This gives good
performance, excellent throttle response – and decent fuel economy. The engine
develops 102kW at 6000 rpm and 190 Nm at 4100 rpm. (Compare these figures with
the non-GTi 206 that has only 67kW and 137Nm!)
Nought to 100 km/h comes up in 8.6 – 9.1 seconds
and yet the official fuel economy figures are 8 litres/100km (city) and a
miserly 5.6 litres/100km (country). When we tested the car, it achieved 8
litres/100 in a week that included plenty of hard driving.
Handling is excellent but the ergonomics have some
Peugeot failings of the sort that have become more pronounced in their recent
models. Interior space and practicality are good.
The car was released in 1999 – now expect to pay
Summary: Practical, easy to drive fast,
still looks great and able to deliver excellent fuel economy.
If you think that the definition of a performance
car must include scintillating straightline performance, read no further!
However, the Toyota Prius is also unexpectedly spritely off-the-line, and in
fact can wheelspin right across intersections if caned away from a standstill.
(Well it would but the traction control system stops that happening.) Even the
0-100 km/h performance isn’t as slow as many suggest – it takes about 10
But handling and steering are not wonderful.
So why list it here? Simply because as a starting
point, it makes for such a good case. The suspension is entirely conventional
FWD – MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam rear axle – so spring
and damper upgrades are straightforward. Braking, while assisted by electrical
regen, is also largely conventional and so can be easily upgraded with pad and
discs changes. The electric steering can be modified for greater steering
Fuel economy in city conditions is simply
unbeatable in a car of this carrying capacity and internal space. On the open
road the economy is still excellent, though much closer to that achievable by
some diesel competitors.
Three models are available in Australia – grey
import NHW10, locally sold NHW11 (not many around) and the current NHW20 that
was released in 2003. The NHW20 is by far the best pick – steer clear of the
grey import NHW10 models as they’re now widely experiencing high voltage battery
failures and they’re not supported by Toyota in Australia.
Fuel economy varies from a best of around 4
litres/100km to a worst of about 6 litres/100km.
Prices start from around AUD$23,000, with the better
equipped i-Tech a few thousand dollars more.
Summary: Unbeatable urban fuel economy in a
roomy four seater; with suspension, steering and brake tweaks, could be quick
point to point.
Suzuki Ignis Sport
The Suzuki Ignis Sport is a car that no-one has
ever heard of. Sold in limited numbers from September 2003 until the Ignis was
discontinued in 2005, the Sport uses a 1.5 litre, 83kW, variable valve timing,
four cylinder. Peak torque is 143Nm at 4100 rpm and peak power is at 6400 rpm.
Gearing is short and the car’s build quality and
interior NVH reflect its original low pricing. In fact, on paper, the Ignis
isn’t very impressive, its non-independent 5-link beam rear suspension another
But on the road the car is brilliant, with superb
chassis balance and plenty of throttle steering available. Brakes are four wheel
discs with ABS but the steering is a bit slow around centre. The gearbox ratios
are stacked close together and the throttle response is instant.
Performance includes a 0-100 km/h time in the
Fuel economy in the combined city/highway
government test is 6.9 litres/100km and on a very hard-driven test, we saw 7.8
Prices now start from about AUD$8000.
Summary: Practicality of a 2-door
wagon-shaped hatch, raw-edged driving excitement and excellent fuel economy in
all driving conditions.
Volkswagen Golf Tdi
The turbo diesel Golf is the most conservative of
the vehicles listed here. With its high waistline, staid dash and discreet
badging, no one will know that you’re driving a super economical car that can
also perform well.
The current shape model was released in 2004 with
two diesel engines available – a 1.9 and a 2.0 litre.
Despite the modest difference in capacity, the
2-litre (103kW and 320Nm) has a lot more grunt than the 1.9 (77kW and 250Nm).
Assessed in 6-speed manual mode, the 2-litre has an official combined fuel
economy of 5.7 litres/100km. Nought to 100 km/h is listed as 9.3 seconds – and
to that good figure needs to be added the low-down response that diesels (and
hybrids) are known for.
The Golf mixes tied-down suspension with a
solid-on-road presence. It’s well built and – depending on the form – can be
well specified. Interior space is greater than the exterior suggests.
Prices now start from about AUD$25,000.
Summary: Doesn’t make a statement but gets
the job done with excellent fuel economy and surprisingly speedy
From $4,000 to $40,000; sports cars, family cars
and commuters; from raw to refined; petrol, diesel or hybrid – there’s plenty of
choice in used cars that provide driving fun but don’t cost much in fuel.