The weather is grim, but the nights are drawing out and Spring is on the way. It’s the ideal time to treat yourself to a cut-price roadster before prices, and the weather start to heat up. Here are our favourites.
1 - MG TF (2002-2006)
Mid-engined motoring does not come much cheaper than the MG TF (unless you go for the even cheaper MGF which preceded it). Given that the price difference between the two isn't that great however, we’d definitely opt for the later car. The TF has conventional steel springs rather than the hydraulic set up of the earlier cars, which helps make the MG TF a sharper, if harsher, drive than the car it replaced. It also has a four-star Euro NCAP crash rating, which is impressive for an open-top car that’s into its second decade.
The TF was the best selling two seater sports car for years, and as a result, supply is good and prices are low. There are very scruffy examples around for hundreds of pounds, but shabby ones should be ignored as good cars aren’t much more expensive and well sorted cars are available for our budget. All the manual gearbox models drive well, but the most fun is to be had from the 1.8-litre 160bhp version which gives the TF a reasonable turn of pace. The TF is surprisingly civilised too, with a spacious cabin and usable (if oddly shaped) boot.
On the downside, the driving position is distinctly non-sporty and head gasket headaches, while not quite as prevalent as folklore suggest, are pricey to fix properly. Finally, avoid the Stepspeed autos. Shift buttons on the steering wheel aren’t nearly as much fun as they sound.
For Great value, usable and fun. Loads to pick from.
Against Needs a bit of looking after
2 - Ford StreetKa (2003-2006)
The convertible variant of Ford’s littlest, cheapest car has an oddly premium air that is very much at odds with the prices you’ll pay. All models come with alloys, remote central locking and CD players but they were built away from the main Ford production lines and feel considerably more solid than a standard Ka.
These well-proportioned tiny two-seaters surprisingly sharp to drive. The 1.6-litre engine is a bit wheezy and has a bit of a thirst for such a modest motor, but it’s tough and easy to look after. At this price, you get a genuine choice of cars available, so be picky. If you can find a Winter version, it comes with a hard top and heated seats making it a good year-round prospect too.
For Plenty about, pretty and cheap
Against Engines are a bit lacklustre
3 - Mazda MX-5 MK2 (1998-2005)
The MX-5 is a byword for cheap, fun open-top motoring and perhaps nothing does a better job of blending affordability with a genuinely engaging drive. Certainly at the pocket money level we are operating at here.
The MK2 version of the little Mazda added a welcome bit of extra comfort and plush over the first generation model, without significantly dulling the driving experience, and that it is why we favour it here. There are loads to choose from although spend a bit of time looking for one that has not been savaged by rust. Also avoid crudely modified cars, of which there are many, too because mucking about with the suspension quickly ruins the well sorted standard ride and handling.
For Great to drive
Against Lacks the charisma of Mk1
4 - MR2 Mk2 (2000-2007)
Prices for the dinky, sharp-edged first-generation MR2 are now firmly out of budget, but later MR2 models are in scope. The Mk2 model is fine, but more targa than roadster, but the handsome Mk3 fits the bill. Designed to take on the MX-5, the Mk3 looks great, handles nicely and is as reliable as you’d expect any Toyota to be.