Despite not being a classic car show, it is quite possible that Top Gear episode 7 left viewers pining for more. Oh how we all wish we were able to blow the best part of a million pounds on the heavenly Eagle Low Drag GT, the car that left Jeremy Clarkson in awe when he compared it with a Jaguar F-type R Coupé.
And how many of us would like to pick up from where Richard Hammond left off? That is slip into the low slung driver’s seat of the new Mazda MX-5 and feel the wind in our hair and the grin widen on our face as the little two-seat roadster wriggled its way up a mountain pass?
Even James May’s baptism of fire, racing a monstrous Volkswagen Polo – yes, such a thing really does exist, if only in the sport of rallycross – against professionals seemed appealing. The thought of driving a Polo that can leap off the start line faster than a Formula One car and spit flames from its exhaust whenever the driver doesn’t have their foot firmly floored on the throttle is delightfully wicked.
But as is so often the case with Top Gear, viewing requires the suspension of disbelief. The Eagle Low Drag GT is a Jaguar E-type costing more than £800,000 while the rallycross Polo is unavailable to mere mortals. The Jaguar F-type R is £86,800 and even the new Mazda MX-5 is likely to cost more than £20,000.
So in the spirit of helping others before helping myself, here are a couple of ways aspiring sports car drivers can get the look of Top Gear episode 7 for less.
Top Gear episode 7: Jaguar XKR instead of a Jaguar F-type R
As Clarkson said, the F-type R Coupé never learns when to give it a rest, straining at the leash with the tedium of a dog that’s never been trained. Jaguar’s XK-R is a much more rounded, mature sports car – and one that’s a third of the price. Jaguar’s approved used car programme lists plenty of 2010 and 2011 XK-Rs for around £30,000.
What do you get? First and foremost, a seriously fast car. With over 500bhp, the supercharged V8 engine is an absolute belter – 0-60mph takes just 4.5seconds – but it’s the flexible nature that really marks it out. The peak torque of 461Ib ft is available from 2500rpm to 5500rpm, which gives assured performance regardless of the driving conditions. And then there’s the suspension, which provides the comfort of a Jaguar with the handling responses of a serious sports car.
And unlike the F-type Coupé, this is a vaguely practical car, with a couple of back seats that will take small kids or, more likely, handbags and briefcases. ‘But what about reliability?’ you’re probably thinking. Well, all approved used Jaguars come with a two-year warranty, removing the risk of buying a used high performance car like this.
Top Gear episode 7 review: Mazda MX-5 MkII instead of a MkIV
A new Mazda MX-5 will arrive in Mazda showrooms in September. But you’re going to need to spend around £20,000 to throw back its roof and enjoy driving a car that, in the words of Richard Hammond, feels as though ‘it’s made of fun’.
So fire up autotrader.co.uk, stick in the details for ‘Mazda’ and ‘MX-5’ and then add one more crucial search term: ‘£2000’. Yes folks, for less than the price of plenty of bicycles you too could be driving the world’s most popular roadster.
At this end of the used car market, the first choice a buyer must make is whether to go for the original MkI MX-5, which is easily distinguished by its pop-up headlamps, or the MkII version, which had the usual, boring old recessed headlamps. Personally, if I could find a tidy MkI, it would get my vote every time, just for the peculiar thrill of watching those headlights rise up majestically and illuminate the road ahead. However, the later generation car is actually slightly better to drive.
What makes the MX-5 so fun? It’s the simplicity: the driver can unlatch a couple of clasps and within a few seconds the roof is down, the sun’s rays are on your face and the heater does a remarkably good job of toasting toes. The car’s diminutive proportions mean it can thread down even the narrowest country lane without a worry, and the engine, gearbox and chassis all have a snappy, responsive feeling that the later, third-generation MX-5 never came close to capturing. Just make sure you follow our used car buying tips.
For our review of Top Gear episode 6, click here.