Q. With a two-year-old child, I can no longer get away with a Porsche 911 as our only car. I want to be let down gently. I’m considering a sporty estate such as the Audi S4 Avant. What else mixes fun with practicality for no more than £20,000?
JW, Bromley, London
A. I couldn’t find an S4 Avant on the Audi-approved used car website for less than £22,850 — a 2011, 59,000-mile model. It’s possible you could negotiate the price down to £20,000, but make sure it comes with an Audi warranty and full service history, as the bills for any problems with a complex, sporty car such as this can be costly. The 3-litre supercharged V6 engine kicks out 324bhp, and with a quattro four-wheel-drive system, this is a quick car. It will accelerate 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds and can return 29.4mpg. If there is a downside, it’s that it isn’t as much fun as some competitors or, indeed, your Porsche 911. Still, with a 490-litre boot and Isofix child seat mountings, it’s much more practical than a sports car.
Now set aside all prejudices: it’s time to talk Skoda. The Octavia is a supremely practical estate car with a 610-litre boot, but better still it comes in a sporty vRS trim. Its 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 217bhp, which powers the car 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds. Yes, it will feel slightly slower than the Audi, but think of the fuel consumption — an impressive 45.6mpg. You can bag the latest-generation 2014 model with fewer than 6,000 miles on the clock for your budget. It will feel as good as new, whereas the Audi will feel like a slightly tired car that’s been given a thorough valet.
Here’s an outsider: the Mini Clubman John Cooper Works is a pint-size package with a punchy engine and go-kart-like handling. It zips around bends with far more enthusiasm than the Audi or Skoda, and the 208bhp 1.6-litre turbo engine has bags of character and can power it to 62mph in 6.8 seconds. The downsides are the boot, which is only 260 litres, and the strange single rear door, which, because the car was designed for the left-hand-drive market, opens into the traffic. Nevertheless, test drive it if only to eliminate it. A 2013 model with fewer than 14,000 miles is yours for the same cost as the Skoda.
Skoda Octavia vRS estate
For Great blend of performance and frugality; value for money; biggest boot and longest warranty
Against Trading a Porsche for a Skoda
Browse the used Skoda Octavias on sale at driving.co.uk
Audi S4 Avant
For Four-wheel-drive roadholding; smart cabin is the nicest here
Against Terribly grown-up to drive and not as fun as it could be
Browse the used Audi A4s on sale at driving.co.uk
Mini Clubman John Cooper Works
For Serious bundle of fun to drive; terrific handling
Against Much smaller than the Audi or Skoda
Browse the used Minis for sale at driving.co.uk