5 Ford Mondeo Estate
2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec
Target Price 20,352
Used from 9500
The Mondeo is a very rare beast. That might seem a strange thing to say about a car thats such a common sight on our roads, but its a car that can raise a smile in pretty much any driving situation.
The slick ride and first-class refinement mean that a 100-mile schlep up the motorway is a joy rather than a drag, while the punchy engine, snappy gearshift and light steering also help make city driving a fuss-free affair.
The steering gets meatier when you press on, too, and its packed with feel, so theres real fun to be had along your favourite backroad. The tight body control and strong grip also help to make this the sweetest-handling family estate there is.
Itll take all those family duties in its stride, too, because the cabin has an amazing amount of space and the boot is enormous. Plus, theres all sorts of luxury kit to help keep your brood comfortable and entertained.
4 VW Scirocco
1.4 TSI 160
Target Price 20,021
Used from 15,600
A 1.4-litre engine doesnt sound like much, especially when youre talking about a sporty coup that costs more than 21,000. However, the Sciroccos powerplant benefits from supercharging and turbocharging, so it has more than enough go to put a smile on your face.
Throw in agile handling and tenacious grip, and its easy to see why the Scirocco is a car that makes you want to get up early and go driving while the roads are still empty. To maximise interaction, Volkswagen even lets you change the stiffness of the suspension, the weighting of the steering and the speed of the throttle responses.
The Sciroccos aggressive, wedge-like styling only adds to its appeal, and theres space for four adults. The interior borrows heavily from more mainstream Volkswagens, but design flourishes such as triangular door pulls and a flat-bottomed steering wheel help the Scirocco feel every inch the upmarket coupe.
3 Mini Cooper S
Target Price 17,414
Used from 8400
Some hot hatches will have you smiling before youve even turned the key, and some, such as the Mini Cooper S, bring on the grins the moment you clamp eyes on them.
Its retro design remains fresh, which is remarkable when you consider that its hardly changed since 2001. Chances are, itll still look fresh in another 10 years.
The style doesnt stop when you get inside, either. While the cabin isnt big, its a nice place to be. The driving position is spot-on, and the dash makes up for its haphazard control layout by being a visual delight.
Hit the road and things get even better. The Cooper S is as agile as a housefly, aided by its low weight, while the incisive steering fills you with confidence.
Sure, there are quicker hot hatches, but when the road starts to twist and turn the Mini will leave most of them trailing.
2 Ford Focus
1.6 Ecoboost 150 Titanium
Target Price 18,213
Used from 16,980
Top 50 Fun Cars: Ford Focus. Ford Focus: Top 50 Fun Cars. The two dont seem natural bedfellows, do they? Ah, but disregard the Focus out of hand and you do it a great disservice and deprive yourself of a truly great driving experience.
The Focus can do the shopping trolley bit perfectly well: it has light, quick steering, it copes nicely with the moonscapes that constitute our urban roads and its a doddle to park.
So far, so humdrum. Get it onto a quiet, windy road, though, and its a revelation. The steering that was so light in town now comes alive, letting your palms know exactly whats happening at the front end. At the same time the suspension, which felt ever so slightly firm in town, mops up everything the UK scenery can throw at it. The body stays flat and true, and the whole car changes direction far more quickly and faithfully than youd expect a small family hatch to.
The road will be unfurling ahead pretty briskly, too, because the 1.6-litre turbo engine has good torque at low revs and plenty of punch when you let it head for the redline.
Awkward gearboxes can ruin a fun car because they make you think more about changing gear and less about enjoying what youre driving. Not so in the Focus, because its box is utterly unobtrusive: you just swap cogs and carry on.
Then its time to return to traffic-choked roads, put some shopping in the boot and perhaps a child seat in the back. The Focus is comfortable, capable and quiet and you get the feeling that those qualities will still be there many thousands of miles later.
1 Mazda MX-5
1.8 SE (AC)
Target Price 16,499
Used from 12,395
You can't beat the simple things in life, and thats the philosophy Mazda has stuck to with its simply brilliant MX-5 roadster.
Thanks to its low centre of gravity and front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout, the MX-5 has near-perfect weight distribution and the balance of an Olympic gymnast.
The chassis could handle a lot more than the 125bhp of our favourite models 1.8-litre engine but, even so, its performance is exciting enough. Besides, in an MX-5 you neednt travel at licence-threatening speeds to have fun.
The MX-5 is most at home on twisty backroads, where it handles beautifully and the steering informs you of every nuance of the road surface. The suspension copes with the worst bumps, too.
Even so, it offers so much more. On the outside, a mid-life face-lift has brought new lights and a more angular front-end. Then theres the simple but appealing cabin. The supportive low-slung seats, stubby short-low gearlever and chunky three-spoke sports steering wheel are a joy.
Refinement is also reasonable for a car that has a fabric hood and, if you drop the top, a small wind deflector keeps draughts and buffeting to a minimum.
True, equipment is a bit sparse the roof folds manually instead of at the touch of a button but you do get electric windows, air-conditioning, an iPod socket and enough luggage space for a long weekend away.
The MX-5 even makes financial sense. Given its catalogue of strengths, the list price looks ridiculously low, while the excellent fuel economy, reasonable insurance rates and strong resale values will also make you smile.