22,000 - 30,000 part 1

* What Car?'s 'fun 50' * From a Fiat 500 to a Ferrari 458... * ...we've got all budgets covered...

28 July 2011
22,000 - 30,000 part 1

10 Jeep Wrangler
2.8 CRD Sport
Price 22,995
Target Price21,893
Used from 12,750

If spending time with an American legend is your idea of fun, the new Jeep Wrangler could be right up your street.

We say new, but this is in fact the latest incarnation of a model that traces its lineage back to World War II. The latest round of improvements brings an improved 2.8-litre diesel motor, better interior quality and, believe it or not, an engine stop-start system.

Despite the updates, the Wrangler still feels as if its from a bygone era and thats what makes it such a laugh. Marketing types like to talk about active lifestyles, but the Wrangler pretty much wrote the book on the subject. Itll get you to places few other vehicles would, thanks to phenomenal off-road ability.

That explains why the name Jeep has become a by-word for 4x4s. On the road and in the cabin the Wrangler still feels rough and ready, but get it off the Tarmac and youll be grinning from ear to ear.

Jeep Wrangler review
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9 Ford S-Max
2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec
Price 23,205
Target Price21,519
Used from 9455

The S-Max proves that big, practical MPVs neednt be dreary. Perhaps its not that surprising. The Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo have also earned places in our top 50 it would appear that Ford has a knack for turning the mundane into the magical.

The S-Maxs sharp looks get it off to a good start, and the driving experience is more than a match. Theres the kind of tight body control and plentiful grip that youd expect of something much lighter and sportier, and the steering provides lots of feedback. This is a car that truly flows down a country road. Although the ride is firm, its forgiving enough to keep each of the cars occupants from complaining on a trip.

Our favourite engine is the 138bhp 2.0 TDCi, which is smooth and gives lots of low-down muscle to call on when its playtime. To top it all, the S-Max is a brilliant family car, with a classy, versatile cabin and space for up to seven.

Ford S-Max review
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8 BMW 120d Coup
Price 23,840
Target Price22,340
Used from 11,950

In a world of front-wheel-drive small cars, the BMW 120d stands as a beacon for fans of rear-wheel drive. Yes, front-drive is more compact and efficient, but rear-drive is usually far sportier.

The 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine does a fair job of moving the car along at
a decent lick while taking care not to gorge itself on diesel, and the chassis keeps everything going in exactly the direction you intended it to. The steering also gives you a reasonable idea of whats happening down below.

Everythings stuck together with the care youd expect in a car costing more than 22,000, too. That, though, is the problem with the BMW: its nearly 24k. Thats a lot for a small coup, especially one with tight rear quarters that force you to indulge in a spot of human origami just to get to them.

Best to grab the keys and enjoy driving it instead.

BMW 1 Series coupe review
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7 Audi A3 Cabriolet
1.8 TFSI Sport
Price 25,715
Target Price23,825
Used from 15,980

Convertibles with folding metal roofs tend to be heavy and, inevitably, you feel this in the way they drive. Fortunately, the A3 Cabriolet avoids such a problem with its fabric hood, which doesnt weigh nearly as much.

The A3 blends lively performance with taut handling and a reasonably supple ride. Whats more, whether the hood is up or down, it handles in the same way, whereas many metal-roofed rivals suffer whenever you drop their tops.

Meanwhile, interior quality is as good as anything in the class and theres space for four. The hood also folds quickly and can be operated on the move. Given our changeable weather, thats essential to keep the fun coming.

Audi A3 Cabriolet review
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6 Peugeot RCZ
1.6 THP 156 GT
Price 23,605
Target Price22,993
Used from 19,000

There's plenty of fun to be had by having people stop and stare, mouths agape, at your beauty. Thats what owners of the Peugeot RCZ get on every journey. From the sleek nose through the Gloucestershire-made aluminium roof arches to the double-bubble rear screen, its a stunner.

The RCZ isnt all about look at me style, though. When theres an empty road ahead and the only things around to look at you are sheep, the RCZ will make you feel genuinely good about driving.

The 154bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine has plenty of zip, and the chassis has the talent to let you make the most of it.

The RCZ is beautiful on the inside, too: there are circular chrome highlights and high-class materials throughout. Its so good that you may even forget that its a bit noisy and cramped in there at times.

Peugeot RCZ review
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