Boredom relief shortlist - Burnout2
My 2000 2.0 Accord is a pleasant car - refined and reliable, with a well-judged ride/handling balance and positive controls. It was bought second-hand as a cheap commuting car that would be able to handle regular long journeys. As tool for getting from A-B comfortably and safely, it does the job utterly without pretension.

Unfortunately, this doesn't compensate for the torque-light pinking engine, ponderous acceleration, unpardonable seat fabrics and a steering wheel that looks like it was nicked from a Korean supermini - a feel-good machine this ain't. In fact, the only prestige-car vibes come from the eye-watering service bills.

SO...I'm looking to replace it, for somewhere between £15-£20k. The ideal candidate will be new, slightly smaller than the Accord, but still reasonable practical - no smaller than Golf/Focus. It must be decently refined and torquey, which rules out something as uncompromised as a Civic Type-R. It must respond eagerly to my right foot in any gear, and have the braking and cornering to match; performance is more important than luxury spec. Image is not a major concern.

At the moment, I'm finding it hard to look beyond the basic new-shape Impreza WRX from one of the supermarkets for about £17k, which can later be upgraded via the £1600 Prodrive Performance Pack to near-STI levels of performance without the tacky stickers, wing spoilers and air-scoops. Yes, it's still not exactly an automotive Nicole Kidman, and the fascia looks like the front-panel of an Alba mini-system, but at least you get a nice Momo wheel to hold, and good seats.

In terms of price/performance ratio, this option might well be unbeatable, but can anyone think of any obvious alternatives to try?
Boredom relief shortlist - DavidHM
A Seat Leon Cupra R, maybe, or if you want something more prestigious an Audi A4 with the 1.8 turbo would be at the top of your budget. If you want to ratchet down the price to £14k, a Skoda Octavia vRS - no prestige in the badge but quality feel and reasonable servicing. Or if you want most of the performance of the Impreza, with a lot more refinement and space and a fair bit of quality feel (and bigger than the Accord) a 3.0 Mondeo ST220 would be within budget with a bit of not too taxing haggling.

Of course, if price/performance really does count, the Impreza is fairly unbeatable.
Boredom relief shortlist - Burnout2
Ta for the suggestions. The ST220 is a very interesting idea, albeit one I wouldn't buy new. The first-year depreciation must be vertical on a £20K+ Mondeo, but it could be cracking value used, and I like the refinement of a six.

I don't think the Skoda or A4 1.8T are quite enough of a step up in performance, but the Seat is definitely one to look at if it can be obtained at a tidy discount. Thanks again.

Boredom relief shortlist - peterb
2.0 or 2.5 litre Alfa 156?

2.3 litre Mazda6?
Boredom relief shortlist - DavidHM
I've never driven one but don't rule the Skoda on the basis of performance. It has the 180bhp version of the turbo engine and can easily be chipped to 220 for minimal investment; even chipped it's well under £15k discounted, with three years' interest free credit.

As for depreciation on the Mondeo - there aren't enough of them around for it to be much of a problem. The similarly priced Ghia X (at list) loses loads but is also available with a bigger discount new. The only one I've ever seen used in person was £20k at a Ford franchise, the same as you can get them new, again with three years' interest free.
Boredom relief shortlist - Woody
Re the Honda Accord 2.0. I am just changing one after 3 years from new for an Audi A4 1.8T, but I must say the Accord has been 100% reliable and has grown on me.

A few observations:

1. Run an Accord on Super Unleaded. The performance is notably improved over 95 grade.

2. VTEC engines improve dramatically after 10K miles and mine is still getting stronger after 35K

3. I am sure Honda suffer from the above phenomina. A 145 BHP car with a 10 second+ 0-60 ? I reckon mine is now around 9.0

4. There is a flat spot on earlier V-tec engines between 3,500 and 4,250 wher I presume 8 valves become 16.

5. My wife has just started driving a new CRV with an i-vtec engine ("intelligent") which displays no such characteristic, which suggests Honda are aware and have solved the problem.

6. In 3 years and 35K it has been literally 100% reliable.

I would say as a sensible second hand private purchase at 2-3 years old,the Accord is pretty well unbeatable.
Boredom relief shortlist - Burnout2
Despite lengthy trials, I barely noticed any improvement on 97 or 98 (Optimax) RON petrols; the very top end was fractionally better, but low / medium rev torque and flexibility was unchanged. Nor did higher octane petrols stop the pinking, which seems to be a not uncommon problem with these engines. I'm sure Super is worthwhile for the performance Type-R variants, but shouldn't be necessary for the mainstream models.

The power output, as you say, is fairly healthy for a 2.0 but the performance is blunted by the gearing (too tall in 2nd and 3rd), the lack of low-down torque and the weight of the car. The quoted 10 secs 0-60 can feel optimistic below 3000rpm with the air-con on!

The performance characteristics of my car have remained exactly the same between 12 and 37k. The V-TEC doesn't kick-in until 5500rpm, and that's the only noticeable "step" in performance.

A sensible second hand private purchase? In many ways, yes. But servicing costs over the last 18K miles have totalled £600 and a prospective bill for £1200 to fit a new steering rack assembly strikes me as excessively expensive motoring for a mainstream 3 year old car!

Boredom relief shortlist - Woody

I hear what you are saying but it does seem that you have had the misfortune to have landed a "Friday afternoon" specimen.

I have plenty of low down pull (I drive in South London a lot) and above 4,500 mine is very revvy and rapid upto 7,000 rpm.

My employer runs a fleet of 1,500+ cars, until recently very mainstream, 5 door hatch/saloon (they now buy German/Swedish to enjoy the residuals) and the fact is that the Honda Accords, Nissan Primeras, Toyota Avensis and Mazda 626s prove totally reliable, the Mondeos and Vectras relatively reliable and the Renault Lagunas, Peugot 406s and Citroen Xantia/C5s troublesome.

Value my car