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Building a ‘dream garage’ – part two

By Daniel DeGasperi, 19 Feb 2019 Features

Building a dream garage part two feature

The options are narrowed and the focus honed, but still there are questions…

In the previous instalment of this real life buying exercise – a circa-$65K maximum budget for an enthusiast ‘dream garage’ – I explained that the idea was to purchase a third car to place alongside a 1989 205 GTI and 2010 Commodore SS. No expensive dreaming, here…

Daily is the word, and tough has been the choice. I (half) ruled out upgrading the VE to a VFII Redline or Motorsport Edition, because a daily can’t use 20+L/100km around town and be hard to park. Selling the Commodore and rolling into a big loan for a used BMW M2 Pure would only half-solve that, too; and it isn’t the best financial option all told.

So the not-so-shortlist to place alongside the two Lion-badged cars total 11. Needless to say, that number needs to become one.

At the most affordable end, a five-year-old Opel Corsa OPC and Peugeot 208 GTi are ruled out even though they’re both heavily depreciated sub-$10K options. The former has a 141kW/260Nm 1.6L turbo and 7.2sec 0-100km/h, plus a six-speed manual and Recaros; the latter a 147kW/275Nm 1.6L turbo and 6.8sec 0-100km/h, and all for four figures. Stellar.

Yet I’d always feel like I bought second (or third) best. For around $11K, a 134kW/240Nm 1.6L turbo Ford Fiesta ST is the clear benchmark and worth every extra cent. Has there been a better hot hatch since the mid-2000s Renault Sport Clio 182? Very obviously, no.

The affordable brilliance of the Fez hurts other contenders too. A Honda CR-Z was overpriced new, but it’s about the same coin now, offsetting its slow hybrid drivetrain with lithe, agile dynamics, a lovely shifter and coupe driving position … but the Ford’s better.

The 208 GTi became brilliant with the 30th Anniversary special which picked up the LSD and 153kW/300Nm, delivering the oversteer the 205 GTI dishes with impunity. But even with Peugeot depreciation, the best I’ve seen is $18K and that’s MY16 Polo GTI  money.

MOTOR feature: 205 GTi v 208 GTi 30th Anniversary

That’s also a nice segue because, while you must forget the unreliable twincharger/DSG combination, the facelift 1.8L turbo nabbed 320Nm and a manual, a 6.7sec 0-100km/h, five doors, adaptive suspension (from MY16) and CarPlay. Is there better value for sub-$20K?

Well, possibly in the form of an almost new Suzuki Swift Sport, the model and grade of which have graduated from warm hatch to hot hatch with this latest gen. Petite on the scales, dainty to park, this 970kg five door wipes about 200kg off the above VW to feel the most like a 205 GTI of any new car. And you can get one with about 4000km for $20K.

Nothing comes close for a feeling of lightness… oh, except a Mazda ND MX-5. I’m in the camp of 2.0L is better than 1.5L, simply because the chassis deserves more grunt and that’s the preference over revs. Doors subtract, the roof goes back, and so too does the direction of drive, yet you still get all the efficiency and parking goodness of Swift’s tiny dimensions.

A three-year-old ND 2.0L manual goes for about $25K, but then you’re almost on the way to a recently spotted, near-new Toyota 86 GT Performance Pack at about $27K. Can you see my dilemma here? The price has suddenly crept from an $11K Fez ST to near $30K, and I’m left to wonder at which point delivers the best fun-versus-outlay ratio.

For me the GT Performance Pack, with 17s, Brembos and Sachs dampers, is the best-driving 86 by far and the only one that really shows up the MX-5 as more fun and frisky than seriously sporty and focused. So it, ultimately, edges the Mazda out.

So far the top two have to be the Ford and Toyota. What do you think? Actually, though…

From there there’s a gulf to the Golf GTI Original, a superb three-door hot hatch free of frippery and near-new for $35K driveaway. I’d be tempted by the extra class and traction of a rare Audi S3 sedan manual at about $43K driveaway, however, and from there a new Renault Megane RS275 Cup and Honda Civic Type-R enter the fray. Of those two, I love the former’s looks and engine the most, but the latter really is the supercar of hot hatches.

MOTOR feature: Megane RS265 v RS275 Trophy-R

Ultimately, talking ultimate garages, the Honda would make the most sense. The 205 GTI is ‘organic’ and old, pure and delightful, the Commodore’s a big tourer that has heaps of burly V8 bass and it loves to be throttle-steered around – which leaves room for a Type-R scalpel.

So, we have a conclusion. Sort of. Is it worth four-and-a-half times the Ford? I genuinely don’t know. And is it as fun as an 86 even if it is so dramatically faster? How does the final paragraph here still end in more questions? Maybe, just maybe, it’s the thrill of the chase.