There’s no need to sacrifice driver fun on the altar of family responsibility, especially given the prices of these five

Buying a family car doesn't mean opting for the mundane. As these options show, functional can also be fast...

1 - Skoda Octavia vRS (2004-2013)

Under the skin of the Skoda Octavia vRS lurks some of the running gear of the Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI, such as a 197bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.

That enables the vRS to reach 149mph and dispatch 0-62mph in 7.3sec. Like the Golf, it is eager to please in the corners, too, with precise handling and a compliant ride.

Inside, the comfortable and subtly sporting interior equalled the Golf’s for quality and bettered it for practicality, with plenty of room for the family in saloon or estate guise.Problems are few, although an unmodified car is generally a safer bet.

Watch out for accident damage and check that cambelts have been changed on schedule.

2 - Subaru Legacy 3.0 R Spec B (2004-2009)

The 241bhp 3.0-litre engine of this unassuming-looking Legacy has more than just power on its side: its flat six configuration is perfectly balanced and enables a low centre of gravity.

It has full-time four-wheel drive, too, and Bilstein dampers, so the Spec B can be hustled along surprisingly quickly. Top speed in the manual version is 151mph and it can hit 62mph from rest in 6.6sec.

This is no brash rally car, though; rather, it’s a suave and able ground-coverer. The exterior is understated and the roomy interior is comfortable, well equipped and lavishly leathered.

It’s beautifully built, too, so there’s not a lot to worry about, apart from pricey parts and large fuel bills.

3 - Mazda 6 2.3 MPS (2005-2007)

The original Mazda 6 is a conventional family hatch or saloon that offers space, reliability, competence and good road manners. To that sensible cocktail, the MPS adds a heady 256bhp turbocharged 2.3-litre engine that enables it to knock off the 0-62mph dash in just 6.6sec and hit a top speed of 150mph.

The MPS is also stiffer in the body and firmer riding than the standard car, which, together with an intelligent four-wheel drive system, gives the MPS failsafe and even entertaining handling.

You can pick up a good one for £3k and, such is Mazda’s excellent build quality, there’s little to surprise the unwary. Buy one with a documented history and without accident damage.

4 - Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk5 (2005-2010)

The Mk5 Golf GTI really is it: the car that delivers everything in just one package. It’s quick, fun, frugal, flickable, classy, agile, practical, reliable, refined, unflappable and unparalleled. You’ll be as happy driving it to Waitrose as you would around the Nordschleife.

The 197bhp 2.0-litre four, shared with the Skoda Octavia vRS (see opposite), propels the Golf GTI to 150mph and the 0-62mph sprint can be dismissed in 6.5sec. The GTI also offers responsive steering and spirited handling. Some also have the excellent DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox.  

Reported problems are few, but insist on a full history. Find a good one and, for £5k, it’s the bargain of the century.

5 - Lexus IS300 (2001-2005)

Underrated and overlooked, the IS300 has all the good bits of the IS200 — it’s handsome, classy and extremely well put together — and adds the 211bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine from the larger GS.

Power is fed through a Tiptronic-style five-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels. The IS300 is good for 144mph and is more responsive and nicer to drive than its sibling. 

Inside, it has a more compact version of the kind of luxurious interiors found in the firm’s more expensive models. It is well equipped, beautifully designed and fully trimmed in leather. There’s even a curious-looking estate version, the Sport Cross, which adds a little practicality.   

Prices are now below the £5k mark and finding a good one is easy, thanks to Lexus’s legendary build quality. 

Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

Our Verdict

Amid a broader vRS refresh, Skoda has built its most powerful Octavia yet to take on the established order

Join the debate


25 May 2015
Surely there must be a fast one?,no E39 530i?

Peter Cavellini.

25 May 2015
Are you sure? DSG, anyone?

25 May 2015
What about a Mondeo ST220, good for 150mph, decent reliability well built and not expensive

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford Mustang
    First Drive
    24 March 2018
    Sixth-generation Mustang gets a leaner face, revised suspension, improved safety equipment and a more power V8. We see how it fares on southern French roads
  • First Drive
    23 March 2018
    Fully-loaded, big-hitting diesel CLS shows the potential perils of ticking too many options boxes on your order form. A good car with a bad suspension combination.
  • BMW M5
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    Super saloon deploys four-wheel drive to improve every facet of its driving experience. Faster and more capable than any, and more exciting than most, of its celebrated predecessors
  • Range Rover Sport SVR
    First Drive
    22 March 2018
    More power and an intoxicating soundtrack have breathed new life into our love affair with the biggest, baddest Range Rover Sport variant
  • First Drive
    21 March 2018
    The new Vantage has been developed as a Porsche 911 beater, and our first taste on UK roads suggests it can live up to that bold claim