Now that Christmas has come and gone there's only one thing on everyone's mind - bargains. With the VAT rise looming large on the horizon the sales season is crazier than ever, and the car market is no exception.
There are plenty of deals to made on the dealership forecourts of course, but if you really overspent over the festive period you might not want to dig that deep to find something special. It's in that spirit that we've assembled a list of the top ten performance bargains for the New Year. Happy hunting.
Click below to see the list.
£1000 – Toyota MR2 (Mk1)
Some would argue that this list should be started with Mazda's elfin MX-5, but given the current weather conditions we'd take Toyota's origami inspired MR2. The original car has the kind of Eighties kerbweight which every manufacturer now yearns to replicate. Combined with a spiky 128bhp 1.6-litre twin-cam engine and responsive rear-wheel drive handling the MR2 was, and is, a great drivers' car. But be warned though – the little Toyota rusts like seaside pier.
£2000 – Peugeot 306 GTI-6
The 306 GTI-6 might live in the shadow of Peugeot's staggeringly good 205 GTI, but the car has more than enough talent to appeal to the enthusiastic bargain basement shopper. Handsome and fast, the 306 was the first hot hatch to receive a six-speed manual gearbox, but the real pleasure was in the handling which managed to be balanced, compliant and rewarding all at the same time. Lift-off oversteer can still be provoked if you're not concerned about the prospect of dumping your £2k into a ditch.
£3000 – Renaultsport Clio 182
Whisper it quietly, but the 182 Cup might actually be the best hot Clio Renault ever built. Realising they were on to something with the 172, the manufacturer tweaked the suspension to make the diminutive hatchback even more sure-footed and teased an extra 10bhp from that superb 2.0-litre engine. There were also much needed improvements made to the interior, making the car more bearable to live with. Refinement is still an issue, but you'll struggle to go quicker for less.
£4000 – Honda Integra Type R
Thanks to two generations of the Civic Type R, everyone raves about the advantages of Honda's VTEC engines, but the 2.0-litre lump found in the hatchback is a pussycat compared to the heavily modified 1.8-litre twin-cam unit the manufacturer slipped into the Integra. Thanks to the lack of sound deadening necessitated by the Type R's lightweight ethos every journey is a high-revving sonic experience of the highest order. Oh and its mated to one of the best front-wheel drive chassis ever built. Not for the faint hearted.
£5000 – Seat Leon Cupra R
If the Honda is an enthusiasts only car, the Leon Cupra R is a performance option which can be enjoyed by everyone. We've always had a soft spot for Seat's five-door interpretation of the VW Golf, and with this generation of Cupra they had a car which combined practicality with 221bhp pace. It wasn't difficult to live with either. Decent refinement and a reasonable ride makes the car a more than respectable choice for young families. If you've got your sensible hat on after Christmas, this could be the car you're looking for.
£6000 – Alfa Romeo 147 GTA
If you can't locate your sensible hat after the New Year festivities, this could well be the car for you. We'll freely admit the 147 is not the best handling car here – epic torque steer puts paid to that – but the 3.2-litre V6 engine beneath the bonnet is so good just recalling its sonorous presence is enough to reduce us to tears. Its massively fast in a straight line too, but it drinks and handles like cruise ship in high seas. If you primarily buy a car to look at and listen to, this is the one for you.
£7000 – Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VII
If, however, you buy a car to go round corners then look no further than the four-wheel drive grunt of Mitsubishi's seemingly endless line of Evolutions. We've highlighted the seventh version here, but in truth you'll get the same insane roller coaster ride from any of Mitsubishi's souped up Lancers. The formula doesn't change much – a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, budget interior and the kind of handling you'd normally associate with a WRC car. The Lancer is so capable it's probably one of the cheapest and quickest ways of losing your license.
£8000 – Lotus Elise (Mk1)
With Lotus pushing Colin Chapman's lightweight ethos to the side as it blunders into a new decade with its corporate chest thrust out, it's easy to forget that just 15 years ago they launched one of the finest sports cars ever made. The mid-engined Elise was a revelation – a tantalising mix of handling prowess, technical innovation and naked speed, the car cornered like a race car, but rode with the comfort of a GT. Snap one up while you can – we're unlikely to see its like again.
£9000 – Ford Focus RS (Mk1)
Ford's mega hatch has finally slipped below £10k. Rejoice. The naysayers will tell you the 2.5-litre ST is actually a better buy, but if you're a true fan of fast Ford's the pull of the RS badge is likely to prove too much to resist. And with good reason too. The manufacturer might not have perfected its Quaife limited slip differential at first go, but the original Focus RS still offers the kind of grip previously unheard of in a front-wheel drive car. It's also very good looking and surprisingly rare.
£10,000 – BMW M3 (E46)
There are more plenty of options around if you've got our biggest budget to play with, but you'll struggle to do much better than BMW's last straight-six M3. An almost seamless blend of supple comfort and hardcore edge, the superheated 3-Series succeeded in revitalising the brand and reminding people that no one else built sports coupes like BMW. In terms of finish and refinement it easily tops this list, and its undeniable talent is likely to make the hardiest scrooge greet the New Year with a grin.