Here’s the deal, then. To be here, a car has to be in some way new, cost less than £25,000 and be in with a realistic chance of victory in this contest.
The question is ‘how much fun can you sensibly have for less than £25k?’ and, frankly, we’re not going to bother including cars that are obviously going to lose.
That means the field is tight for cars that are newish, funnish and goodish. I’ll start with the obvious candidate, the Mazda MX-5, because we had it here when we posed the same question last year. You could argue it’s back as either a defending champion or in a new Sport Recaro form but, either way, it’s basically the car that won last year. It has a 2.0-litre engine, a limited-slip differential, Bilstein dampers, the pleasing Recaro seats that give it its name and a £24,295 price.
It will not have escaped your notice that Mazda did not develop the MX-5 architecture just for itself, and finally here’s the alternative model in the UK. Fiat’s own variant, the 124 Spider, has a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine that gives out 138bhp, instead of the Mazda’s naturally aspirated 158bhp.
But there are other changes, too. The 124 Spider is longer, bigger of boot and softer; it’s a slightly different proposition for its £23,205. The pair mark the resurgence of the traditional way you’d have fun for less than £25,000: two-seat roadsters that represent up-to-1960s visions of having affordable fun.
And they’re joined by the post-1970s version of how to have fun on a budget: three hot hatchbacks, all front-wheel drive, all entertaining.
All owe something to their companies’ recent past, mind. Let’s start with the DS 3 Performance – a long-awaited reawakening of a performance DS 3 after the Racing of half a decade ago. In its ethos, it’s similar to that: a 15mm lower ride height than other 3s and a 1.6-litre turbo engine making more than 200bhp (205bhp here), but now it has a limited-slip differential and its own chassis tuning.