Take these three pocket-sized performers. For a company car driver wanting a vehicle that is cheap on tax while rich in enjoyment, the new Citroen C2 VTR, the nearly-new Ford SportKa, and the not-new-at-all MINI One are worth a look.
All three cost less than £11,000, have peppy 1.6-litre engines and go-kart-like handling to match. But that is no consolation for the fleet manager looking at the cost of running such cars.
All three are relatively good on costs though. For a 22% tax-paying driver, the Citroen and the MINI both have very cheap benefit-in-kind tax bills.
The C2 is marginally the best, by £2 a year from the MINI at £382. With emissions of 151g/km, the C2 will be in the 16% tax band for 2004/2005, while the MINI, at 158g/km, is in the 17% band.
The SportKa has the lowest P11d value, at £9,825, but the highest emissions by a distance at 182g/km, which means a tax bill of £475 a year.
It might not break the bank, but it could make the difference in a tight contest.
For the fleet manager, there is one area that really sorts out the men from the boys in this group – in depreciation terms, the MINI's performance is heroic.
According to CAP Monitor, after three years/60,000 miles, this bottom-of-the-range model will retain a staggering 47% of its value, a figure that nothing in this sector, or pretty much any other sector barring the odd Porsche or sports utility vehicle, can get anywhere near.
Put into context, the C2 is predicted to be worth 29% and the SportKa 27%.
This means pence per mile figures of 8.96ppm for the MINI, 11.46ppm for the Ford and 11.96ppm for the Citroen and that means after three years, the MINI should sell for about £1,200 more than the other two cars.
In service, maintenance and repair costs, there is very little in it, with the C2 predicted to cost 2.16ppm, the Sportka 1.91ppm and the MINI 1.87ppm.
There is also very little between the C2 and the MINI on fuel costs. The C2 has the best combined economy figure at 44.8mpg, which translates to 8.52ppm, while the MINI records figures of 42.8mpg and 8.77ppm.
The SportKa is some way off this, because its combined figure is 37.2mpg. With a pence-per-mile rate of 10.26, it would cost nearly £6,200 in fuel, which is £1,000 more than the C2.
Seeing that the Ford was the most expensive for tax and the worst in depreciation, it is fortunate that these cars are not chosen on costs alone, so a spectacular performance on the road could bring it back into contention.
Unsurprisingly, given its dominance in the area of residual values, the MINI One has the cheapest running costs at 19.60ppm.
The C2 is the next best, some distance behind at 22.64ppm, while the SportKa follows that at 23.63ppm.
It will take a lot to dislodge the MINI from the number one spot.
Citroen C2 VTR
New kid on the block tries to shrug off the sensible image of the C3 and capture customers of the old Saxo VTR and VTS, which were strong sellers in the UK.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £10,845
CO2 emissions (g/km): 151
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 16%
Graduated VED rate: £125
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 44.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £3,150/29% Depreciation (11.96 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,176
Maintenance (2.16 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,296
Fuel (8.52 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,112
Wholelife cost (22.64 pence per mile x 60,000): £13,584
Typical contract hire rate: £239 per month
SPORTY version of the long-serving Ford Ka, the Sportka is strong on driver appeal and a body kit ensures it has the looks to match its sparkling performance.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £9,825
CO2 emissions (g/km): 182
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £145
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 37.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £2,650/27%
Depreciation (11.46 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,876
Maintenance (1.91 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,146
Fuel (10.26 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,156
Wholelife cost (23.63 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,178
Typical contract hire rate: £242 per month
A CLASS benchmark for image, fun and resale value, the MINI One will be a tough nut to crack for its appeal to style-conscious, young user- choosers.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £10,255
CO2 emissions (g/km): 158
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 17%
Graduated VED rate: £125
Insurance group: 5
Combined mpg: 43.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,775/47%
Depreciation (8.96 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,376
Maintenance (1.87 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,122
Fuel (8.77 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,262
Wholelife cost (19.60 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,760
Typical contract hire rate: £242 per month
THE C2 has a large pair of shoes to fill, attempting to follow in the wheeltracks of the Saxo and its much admired VTR and VTS models.
Developed alongside the five-door C3, the three-door C2 was always meant to offer a different driving experience. Where the C3 is tall and wallowy, the C2 is sharp and taut. From the driver's perspective, much in the C2 is similar to the C3, but the whole package feels more youthful. However, there are two aspects of the driving experience that let the C2 down.
The steering is too light and offers virtually no feedback on the activities of the front wheels. Where the SportKa and the MINI One are so good at communicating, the Citroen's unwillingness to play is all the more obvious.
The other disappointment is SensoDrive – an automated manual gearbox. It is the only transmission offered in the VTR and while it has an auto shift facility, there are a few foibles that spoil the driving experience.
The gearchange is not as smooth as a proper automatic and it takes some time to get used to anticipating shifts and easing off the throttle to even out the slight jerk on changes. It's the same when you change manually and although the electronic upchange is quicker than a driver could do it in a conventional manual, it isn't as satisfying.
The C2 comfortably has the most power and torque here but thanks to its steering and transmission, it never feels like it. Citroen has just launched a limited edition C2 called the GT and it comes with a conventional five-speed manual. I'm sure it will sell like hot cakes.
IT first hit the roads eight years ago, but it took Ford until the middle of 2003 to launch a sporty version of the Ka.
Produced using many of the same components as the StreetKa, the SportKa offers 94bhp from its eight-valve 1.6-litre engine which feels much livelier than it looks on paper.
It's the only car here weighing in at less than a tonne and it shows in the SportKa's performance.
The benchmark 0-62mph time takes 9.7 seconds, a second faster than the MINI and C2, while its short gearing combined with a slick gearchange (with a machined aluminium gearknob no less) ensure brisk acceleration is always on hand.
It feels keener than the MINI One to tackle twisty roads, but is compromised by a less comfortable driving position. Apparently the steering wheel adjusts, but the release lever seemed firmly wedged in and it only adjusts for rake, while the C2 also adjusts for reach.
Outside there is a chunky styling kit and a few nice details such as the circular reversing light mounted in the centre of the rear bumper below the registration plate.
But some of the interior fittings felt more akin to a £6,000 car than a £10,000 one, the glove compartment cover (a bread-bin style sliding affair) in particular was minus a few parts after I first tried to open it. The dimly lit instrument binnacle shows its age compared to the C2's hi-tech digital readout.
The Ford's raucous engine note encourages bad behaviour, but it can become wearing after a time. However, it comes up trumps for interior space, offering more room for four adults than the other two, as well as decent boot space.
BEFORE I drove a new MINI for the first time a couple of years ago, I was almost dismissive of it as a cynical attempt to cash in on the appeal of the original car.
Its self-conscious styling seemed as if BMW was trying too hard to attract drivers who were fans of the old Mini. And it looks so much bigger.
Any doubts about the motives are dispelled after a closer inspection. The fit and finish is the best in the sector, while the dashboard design with its oversize central speedometer echoes the original model and feels more charming than cynical.
With 90bhp on offer from its 1.6-litre engine, the MINI is in danger of being out-horsepowered against the two rivals here, but its sharp handling could make up for any obvious lack of straight-line speed.
Point the MINI and it responds instantaneously. No other car at this price feels as intuitive to control, while the wheel-at-each-corner design and firm suspension virtually eliminate body roll.
While the driver feels at one with the car when hustling it along country lanes, it isn't as much fun for the front seat passenger, who feels like he or she is being thrown around.
However, its behaviour becomes respectable around town and on the motorway, and it almost feels like a different car. Despite its compact interior – space in the back is exceptionally tight – there is plenty of room for driver and front seat passenger.
People who drive MINIs have a vast array of options to choose from. The trouble is, it means the basic One comes without alloy wheels and a CD player (standard in the other two) and you even have to pay £155 for RDS on the radio. SH
IT might not be as quick as the SportKa, but the MINI One scores a comfortable victory over its two rivals. It offers a happier compromise in the fun stakes over the Ford and is more enjoyable to drive than the Citroen. It also holds its value like a true premium car. The C2 is let down by its sloppy steering, but has plenty of equipment to keep drivers happy and its fuel costs are significantly lower than the Sportka. The Ford is good fun and roomy, but just misses out on second place on cost.