In these gloomy times, welcome to our roundup of fun motors (plus a project car for self-isolators) at prices to suit most pockets. It kicks off with this, the Vauxhall Astra VXR. A Ford Focus ST is the better car but a touch discreet whereas the VXR screams hooligan.
Well, maybe not so much in the grown-up blue of our example. It’s a nice car, this: a 2010-reg with 72,000 miles, a full service history and just two former keepers. It hasn’t been tweaked and has just had new brakes (discs and pads) all round.
Being a 2010-reg, it’s the facelifted version but still with 237bhp from its 2.0-litre motor, force fed by a BorgWarner K04 turbo. It’s worth checking for blue smoke on start-up and when idling, a condition caused by worn valve stems. A worn turbo will also smoke.
The VXR’s six-speed Getrag is nicknamed the chocolate box. The problem is weak first and sixth bearings that cause it to pop out of gear. A sloppy gearshift is another indication of trouble ahead.
We’ll gloss over the VXR’s beam axle at the rear but at least the suspension was fettled by Lotus. The drop-links are weak on all Astras of this generation and tend to go at around 80,000 miles, so one of our first jobs would be to change the standard plastic items for polyurethane ones.
The VXR is a well-equipped car – half-leather Recaros, climate control, 18in alloy wheels, Bluetooth… We’d check seat bolsters for wear, though.
As it’s a VXR, scrutinise the body for fresh paint and filler. Also ensure all the chassis numbers around the car match, as well as the engine number.
BMW M5, £10,750: This M5 should provide thrills by the bucketload. It’s a 2007-reg with 90,000 miles and a full service history. It has just had a new clutch and flywheel. We’d check the driving modes, iDrive controller and that the next major service isn’t imminent.