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Car hunter: Small hot hatchbacks

Our reader has £14,000 to spend on a small hot hatchback

Dear Chris,I’ve got a Fiat Panda 100hp, which I love. I fancy a change, but want something equally small and fun. What should I spend my £14,000 budget on?Emma Catchpole, E-mail 

If you'd like help choosing your next car, contact chris_ebbs@dennis.co.uk.

The best buys:

The stylish choice: Abarth 500

Abarth 500 front

For: Great looks, performance, residualsAgainst: Not the most involving, price

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Your Fiat Panda 100hp was a surprise package when it was launched in 2006, and you can replicate the fun it delivers by sticking with Fiat.

The Abarth version of the Fiat 500 city car certainly raises the game in terms of glamour over the Panda, and that’s reflected in the £14,467 price. Plus, it holds on to its value better than almost any other car on sale today. The first 2009 examples are still fetching £10,000 second-hand.

The 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine makes for peppy performance, too, with 135bhp for a brisk 7.9-second 0-62mph time. And it’s economical, returning 43mpg.

The suspension is stiff, but you’ll be used to that with your Panda 100hp. For all its interior and exterior appeal, however, the Abarth lacks the final 10 per cent of on-the-road fun that the Renaultsport Twingo delivers.

The most fun: Renaultsport Twingo

Renaultsport Twingo front

For: Sheer driver involvementAgainst: Residuals, hard ride, looks

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The car that comes closest to the Panda’s tearaway nature is the Renaultsport version of the Twingo city car.

It’s recently been revised, and while it doesn’t look as good as the Fiat 500, the Twingo sets a sporty tone with its 17-inch alloys and heavily bolstered sports seats.

The price is more reasonable, at £13,565, but the car depreciates faster than the Abarth. This is reflected in used values, with 2009 examples starting at less than £7,000.

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Like the Panda, the Twingo doesn’t have a turbo; its 131bhp 1.6-litre engine thrives on revs instead, and takes the car from 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds. It returns 43mpg, while 150g/km emissions mean £135-a-year road tax.

The Twingo’s star turn is driving fun. There’s a fluidity to the steering and chassis that always puts a smile on your face. But as with the Abarth, the suspension is stiff.

The practical buy: Suzuki Swift Sport

Suzuki Swift Sport front

For: Space, supple ride, performanceAgainst: Steering less precise, residuals

The Suzuki Swift Sport rekindles the spirit of hot hatch legends like the Peugeot 205 GTi, and the new model – launched this year – is a strong contender, at £13,499.

It’s nearly 300mm longer than the Twingo, at 3.9 metres long, so is more supermini than city car. But it closely matches the Renault’s performance – again, the 1.6-litre petrol engine does without a turbocharger, although it delivers 134bhp to take the Swift from 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds. Fuel economy is similar, too, at 44mpg.

As with the other models here, it’s a three-door, but has more space and a grown-up feel on the road, with a supple ride. It still loves to attack corners, even if the steering could use a bit more feedback and precision.

Bargain hunters can even track down the previous Swift Sport, with decent 2006-7 cars starting at around £4,500.

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