Currently reading: Ten £1500 winter wonders
Looking for an interesting car that can deal with snow and ice with ease? We round up some affordable options

Driving your pride and joy through the winter months can be a testing experience.

Besides the chance that you might inadvertently sling it into the icy scenery, there's the ever present possibility that someone else will beat you to the punch and decide to use you as a crash barrier.

Then there's the toll that the winter weather and road conditions themselves can take on your car – particularly when it comes to the rate at which road salt can exacerbate corrosion of your car's undercarriage.

So the idea of a winter car is always a tempting one. Something that you don't mind being driven into, putting on its roof or suffering a bit of cosmetic and structural wear and tear.

Because it's semi-disposable, it needs to be comparatively cheap, too. Four-wheel drive is preferable as well; on standard tyres you'll stand more of a chance of making progress, and it'll be more relaxing and enjoyable as a result. Then, when the budget arises, you can sling on a set of winter tyres and be fully set for whatever lies ahead.

Here are our recommendations, then, for alternative and interesting winter cars for around £1500.

1. Volkswagen Golf VR6 4Motion

Admittedly the Mk4 Golf was hardly the most exciting car in standard form, but throw in a 204bhp 2.8-litre VR6, a six-speed manual gearbox and a Haldex-based four-wheel drive system and you've got something a little more intriguing. They're also tough, comfortable and easy to get parts for, which adds to the appeal. Add a set of aftermarket anti-roll bars and some different springs and dampers at a later date and it'll sharpen up the whole thing quite nicely.

Sure, it might not be an R32 but it doesn't command the premium of one either. We found a 2002 example, with 86,000 miles on the clock, on sale for £1490. It needed a little cosmetic attention but was immaculate inside and otherwise good to go. Ideal if you want a bit of business-class luxury and pace without extravagant physical dimensions. Alternatively, have a gander at the likes of early Audi A3 1.8T quattro Sport.

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2. Jeep Cherokee

The XJ generation of Jeep Cherokee is a stalwart of features like this, and not without just cause. They're well equipped, immensely capable in poor conditions and almost impossible to break. Get a good one and they're also remarkably good fun to drive, with a decent turn of speed off the line, sound on-road manners and the ability to clamber through or over whatever you put in front of them.

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You're ideally looking for the squarer pre-facelift 1996 model with the 4.0-litre straight six engine. Excellent examples of these will set you back well under £1500. Avoid the diesels and the four-cylinder petrols, though, and drive a few so you can get familiar with what a decent one should feel like.

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3. Mitsubishi GTO

It's got pop-up headlights (in Mk1 form) and is therefore worth the £1500 admission fee on that basis alone. More importantly, though, the GTO is four-wheel drive. Consequently it's an entirely appropriate choice for winter motoring. Perhaps. Well, it's unlikely you'll have to deal with several feet of snow, so why not enjoy a sporting coupé in the interim?

We'd recommend avoiding any tired turbocharged GTOs, as tempting as they may be, and instead go for a clean, naturally aspirated example in manual or automatic form. You might even find an official UK model, badged 3000GT, for that money. Either way, just remember to check the cambelt has been done at some point.

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4. Suzuki Jimny

Light, small, rugged, remarkably talented off-road and cheap to run. What's not to like about the diminutive Suzuki Jimny? Sure, it's a bit archaic – even Suzuki has probably forgotten when they started making it – but that lends the Jimny a curious charm, and it's hard to fault its rough-road credentials.

You won't struggle to find one, either. A cursory search of the web immediately turned up a very smart 2000-plated example with 70,000 miles on the clock for £1300. It had only had two previous owners and came with a new MOT. If you like the idea of a Jimny but not the Jimny itself, however, you could look at the Mitsubishi Pajero Mini – which is sometimes called the Junior – or the Daihatsu Terios.

Search the PistonHeads Suzuki Jimny classifieds

5. BMW E34 5-series 525iX

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The E34 generation of 5-series was unquestionably a great one. The cars were beautifully built, gratifying to own and drive, and offered in a wide range of configurations that allowed most buyers to find something they liked. Estate? Yup. Diesel? Yup. Screaming naturally aspirated straight six derived from a racing engine? Yup.

You could even get them with four-wheel drive, badged as 'iX', which was ideal if you were trotting back and forth to your flat in Chamonix. You don't see them that often, and they've often got high mileages, but you can still find a serviceable one for £1500. Great for confusing other stuck motorists as you sail past in the snow without a care in the world.

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6. Subaru Impreza

While we're on the subject of four-wheel-drive saloons, it's time to cast our eye over the Impreza. You'll see myriad options on offer at around the £1500 mark, ranging from Turbo 2000s to later 'Bugeye' versions.

It's these later models that are more tempting at this price point; for £1500 you'll get a very smart naturally aspirated example which shouldn't need anything more spending on it. You'll be able to drive it hard and enjoy it as a result, rather than worrying about mechanical maladies. Alternatively, you could opt for the bigger Legacy if you need something roomier. Or a leggy SVX, if you're tired of having money in the bank.

Search the PistonHeads Subaru Impreza classifieds

7. Audi A8

Those seeking luxurious winter transport may do well to consider the first generation of Audi A8. It has, after all, a lot to offer: a corrosion-free aluminium monocoque, stout build quality, vast amounts of kit, a range of engines and the option of Audi's quattro four-wheel drive system.

For a mere £1500 you'll easily find presentable A8 quattros with sensible mileages and the desirable 4.2-litre V8. The automatic transmissions do have a habit of packing up unexpectedly, particularly at higher mileages, but you can at least take some consolation in the fact that the car's probably worth what you paid for it in parts alone. 

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Search the PistonHeads Audi A8 classifieds

8. Land Rover Freelander

Quick, someone pass me a head gasket! In all seriousness, the first generation of Freelander isn't actually a bad shout if you want a capable 4x4 and don't want to spend a lot. There's always the diesel option as well, should the thought of dealing with the K-series engine give you The Fear.

We found, for example, a 2000-plated model with the 1.8-litre K-series engine for £1491. It'd done 100,000 miles, was in excellent condition throughout and – importantly – had recently benefitted from a new cam belt, head gasket, water pump and all-terrain tyres. Great for messing around off-road, or using for trips to the tip once winter has.

Search the Pistonheads Land Rover Freelander classifieds

9. Ford Sierra XR4x4

If you're in the market for something with a little classic appeal then cast your eye over the XR4x4. It's got a brawny V6, a manual gearbox, four-wheel drive and a plush cabin; there are a lot of upgrades available, too, so it's a good starting point if you want to hop something up over the course of your ownership.

You'll find presentable examples on sale for around the £1500 mark, although obviously you'll have to inspect the underside to make sure there's still metal there. Make sure the cabin is dry, because there's nothing worse than dealing with a damp interior over winter. And be prepared to start trawling eBay for old Turbo Technics conversion kits.

Search the PistonHeads Ford Sierra classifieds

10. Fiat Panda 4x4

The four-wheel-drive Panda is a surprisingly capable car when the going gets tough, and it's cheap to run and easy to maintain. Its compact size means that it won't become a chore in urban environments either, unlike the larger options.

We tracked down a 2005 example with decent history for £1360. Admittedly it'd done 135,000 miles but it was reputed to drive well and it looked to be in excellent order – and no doubt you could easily find one with a lower mileage if so inclined. Alternatively, those seeking something with some retro charm could always opt for the original Steyr-Puch 4x4-equipped model.

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Search the Pistonheads Fiat Panda classifieds

Got any recommendations for cheap, enjoyable winter motoring? Let us know in the comments section below.

Read more: Fun cars for £1000

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5wheels 25 December 2014


No one in his or her ot their right mind would by that load of bollocks and may I remind you at Autocar - you also gave it the correct assessment on testing - it really is a load of ..........
Merry Christmas one and all from the frozen North (actually snowing today) St Petersburg Russia
Lewis Kingston 27 December 2014

RE: Jeep

Hello 5wheels. I don't have the issue to hand but I think we were actually quite complimentary in our first road test of that generation of Jeep. Of course, later generations – including the most recent WK2 – have not done so well. I've owned three of the XJ generation, which is the one discussed here, and they're good bits of kit. A belated Merry Christmas to you too!

Beastie_Boy 25 December 2014

What a great selection of cars...

You've covered all bases there. We've toyed with getting a winter hack to rest our MX5 but Nottingham doesn't really suffer from artic weather too badly.

When looking in the past I always thought a standard Fiat Panda would do what with its skinny tyres and light weight. I thought it would perform like my old 2CV, which was unstoppable whatever the weather. 4x4 Panda would be awesome, I just didn't realise you could get one so cheaply.

An estate Impreza would also be on my list but running costs would be high.

Happy Christmas to you all.