This £18K example combines understated black paintwork with – joy! – the de-badge option. Apart from the dual exhausts and bigger brakes, nobody would pick it out from a 116d. Brilliant! As far as I can tell it also has the passive dampers, which are preferable to the underwhelming adaptive ones. On the inside, however, it's got some really rather lairy red leather seats to compensate for the understated external looks. I should probably look at a five-door really, being a family man. But the three-door is, to my eyes, a handsome car in a quirky sort of way. There's a hint of Z3 M Coupe 'breadvan' in its proportions, though it remains a Marmite car styling wise. I happen to like Marmite, for what it's worth.
True enough, this is a car all about the engine. And the stock dampers, steering and brakes are nothing special. The fundamentals are there though and experienced tuners like Birds offer sensibly priced upgrades based around Bilstein damper sets and Quaife limited-slip differentials that really realise the potential. While keeping the stealth looks. Sure, a Golf R would probably be faster. But what's rebellious about a fast Golf? BMW's ugly duckling, rear-driven and with an absolute gem of an engine, is a true sleeper and the kind of car that saves its best for the driver. As a sensible daily with a sting in the tail, it's got a definite place on my fantasy fleet. Debadged in sober paint is just the icing on an already tasty cake.