For most parents, the arrival of their first child brings with it the dawning realisation that it’s time for mum and dad to become practical and organised. And that means choosing a sensible family car.
However, for Nicola Wilson, a nurse and mother of one-year-old Harry, the arrival of the family’s sensible car, a second-hand Nissan Qashqai, left her concerned that on top of sleepless nights, nappies and baby food, she’d also spend a lot of time driving something she wouldn’t enjoy.
So Nicola persuaded husband Tom that it would be a good idea to sell his VW Golf hatchback and replace it with something sportier. She set the budget at £3,000 and contacted Direct Line Magazine for advice on the best sports cars for zipping about the rolling South Downs when baby Harry isn’t on board.
Here are our three recommendations:
1. The most fun roadster for £3000: Mazda MX-5
You want fun in a flash? No car is quicker to lower its roof than a Mazda MX-5. Simply release two catches then push it back over your head and that’s it: the sun’s on your face and the open road lies ahead.
As it’s a manually operated roof, there are no costly electric motors to go wrong, and the cars have a reputation for being very cheap to run, so long as they’re serviced according to Mazda’s schedule.
Just as significant is the feeling the MX-5 gives its driver. You sit low to the ground, so it feels every inch a sports car, and there’s an agility and lack of weight that gives it the grace of a ballerina.
The second generation MX-5 is the best bet for £3000, as it comes with airbags for added safety. You’ll find lots of cars aged between 2003 and 2005, so pick one that’s clearly been more cherished than others, and make sure it’s the 1.8-litre engine, as it’s much peppier than the 1.6.
2. The practical poser’s convertible for £3000: Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet
This is a more practical choice for Nicola, just in case she has second thoughts about buying a two-seater like the Mazda. The Beetle Cabriolet will seat four in relative comfort, and has a boot that’s just about large enough to squeeze in the weekly shop, or better still, boutique bags from a high street splurge.
However, let’s not pretend it’s so thrilling to drive that it will stand anyone’s hair on end. Although it looks as stylish as a pair of high heels, it plods along like a pair of sensible flats. So the appeal of the Beetle is that distinctive shape and dropping the roof to feel the wind in your hair and knowing you’re driving something out of the ordinary. And yes, in case anyone was wondering, there really is a plastic vase fitted to the dashboard, a nod to the Beetle’s flower power roots.
This budget may just stretch to a 2005 model, if you’re lucky. Lower mileage cars will probably get snapped up fairly quickly, so keep your eyes peeled and as ever, insist on a full service history.
3. The cheeky-chic cabriolet for £3000: Mini One Convertible
You only have to set eyes on a Mini Convertible for it to put a smile on your face. They are impossibly cute to look at and feel hilariously cheeky to drive, darting through corners with enthusiasm.
The most affordable, fuel-efficient and insurance-friendly version of the Mini Convertible is the One model, which uses a 1.6-litre, 90bhp engine. It’s in pretty good supply, so it’ll pay to take your time and see as many as possible before making your mind up. And finding a colour and trim combination that you love is all part of the fun with a Mini.
Many drivers will dismiss the Mini for being as compact as a clutch bag and about as functional. Yet actually it’s surprisingly practical; the two back seats have Isofix mounts for child seats and the boot is big enough – just – to fit in one of the smallest lightweight folding pushchairs.
Most of the used cars will be 2004 or 2005 models. Pick the best condition car with the best service history, and it’s essential to check that the electric folding fabric roof works correctly.