Currently reading: They're not fit to wear the badge - used car buying guide
When new, these compromised cars were regarded as letdowns. But they’re now cheap enough to be worth a look
3 mins read
18 April 2015

When launched, these cars were applauded as valuable additions to the manufacturer's portfolio. Soon after, however, they were consigned to the history books as failures. For those on the lookout for a bargain, however, these compromised cars could be worth looking at.

1 - Aston Martin Cygnet (2011-2013)

Eyebrows were raised when Aston Martin revealed plans to dip a toe into the supermini water. That it chose the 97bhp Toyota iQ as a basis raised them still further.About 150 examples were built, but sales of the £32,000 Cygnet were slow.

In essence, the Cygnet isn’t a bad car. It may be a little short on performance, but it drives well enough and has a handsomely appointed interior and a quality of Aston-applied paintwork that needs to be seen to be appreciated.

Exclusivity ensures that the opulent baby Aston remains an expensive toy. Expect to pay £20k to get one, but if you hold on to it, those prices could well go up.

2 - Ford Ka (2008-2015)

The original Ford Ka was cheap to buy, a hoot to drive and seemingly styled to resemble a garden snail.

The replacement was and, in fact, remains a dog. Sharing a talentless platform with the Fiat 500, the current Ka entirely lacks the original car’s charm and brio. It’s nasty to be in, flat to drive and a criminally poor way to reprise the Ka name.

It’s not like buyers haven’t noticed, either. The original car was a perennial segment best-seller. The current one isn’t even close. Instead, search out a non-rusty original Ka for £1000 and you won’t regret it. 

3 - Saab 9-3 (1998-2012)

Saab had a well-earned reputation for building high-quality, thoughtful cars with a definite Swedish quirk and it enjoyed a loyal following as a result. Once the brand was assimilated into General Motors, though, the cost savings were fairly quick to emerge.

The original 9-3 was an improved version of the 900 that preceded it and sported Saab engines mounted on its requisitioned Vauxhall Cavalier chassis. However, from 1998 onward, the 9-3 was little more than a Vectra in Swedish national costume.

The 9-3 looked great and some were properly fast, but it lacked the Scandinavian charisma beloved by those loyal customers, who drifted off to buy premium German cars.

4 - Alfa Romeo Arna (1984-1986)

On paper, it made perfect sense. Match up the pragmatic build of a Nissan with a soulful Alfa flat four and you’d get a well-made, charismatic hatch. It didn’t turn out that way, though. The Arna looked like a Nissan Cherry with a Alfa Romeo grille, because that is what it was. Nearly 62,000 were made, but you’ll have to look hard to find one - and if you do, you’ll wonder why you bothered. 

5 - Triumph Acclaim (1981-1984)

The arrival of the Honda Ballade with Triumph badging resulted in the fewest warranty claims of any BL car and lots of comfort. But brand evangelists just couldn’t accept that it was a Triumph. With no ties to its Triumph heritage other than decals and the fact that it was assembled in Britain, it was a sad way to sign off this evocative old brand. Rarity ensures that prices are on the up, but £500 will still get you behind the wheel.  


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Aston Martin Cygnet

The Aston Martin Cygnet is perfect for inner-city fans of the brand. For the rest, it's an expensive and quirky distraction

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6 - Jaguar X-Type (2001-2009)

Jaguar needed a compact executive car, but Jag fans never took to the X-Type. One reason is that it shared much of its underpinnings with the Ford Mondeo, so it wasn’t seen as a ‘proper’ Jaguar, and conquest sales from German rivals never arrived because it had a choice of thirsty V6 petrol engines when the market wanted four-cylinder diesels.

Sales never got close to targets, even when the diesels arrived in 2003. Even with a handsome-looking estate variant, plush interiors and a diesel automatic option, the line-up was canned in 2009.

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18 April 2015
So why is it that the late model Ford Ka is regarded as a dog, whereas the sister Fiat 500 is seen as cute, adorable and a generally excellent small car? Are they both pretty poor, but everyone excuses the Fiat because of its cute looks. Or are they both fine cars, but the Ka gets dismissed simply isn't in the same class as the Fiesta? I can't help feeling that today's cars are all basically good, but that test verdicts are heavily influenced by styling, brand image and perhaps just by blind prejudice.

18 April 2015
The Fiat 500 really isn't anything special to drive at all, but it's a nice thing to be in and look at. The Ka is unpleasant inside and dog ugly, and lacks options.

The X type always strikes me as a great used buy. The diesel estate is a decent car, but a 4WD V6 is like an Impreza for real eccentrics.

18 April 2015
scrap wrote:

The Fiat 500 really isn't anything special to drive at all, but it's a nice thing to be in and look at. The Ka is unpleasant inside and dog ugly, and lacks options.

The X type always strikes me as a great used buy. The diesel estate is a decent car, but a 4WD V6 is like an Impreza for real eccentrics.

Strangely, in Eastern Europe, which at least in Sofia appears to be a graveyard of Mark 3 Golfs and Renault 19s, these Jag Xtypes are becoming quite popular.I bet there are more in Sofia than outside of it. The Bulgarians seem to have a soft spot for the 'British' look to their cars. They are not brand snobs, but want something comfortable, that looks good, is fairly reliable but not too complicated under teh bonnet and the 4x4 is a must have for half the year when it is under snow.

18 April 2015

Specifically the Mitsubishi I-Miev and it's Peugeot Ion and Citroen C-Zero rebrands.

£27k new, Available second hand for under £10k after just a few thousand miles and a couple of years. For example there's a 2011 car with 2,767 miles on it for £8995 on the mitsubishi site.

Well worth a look for everyone after an electric car.

18 April 2015
I took a walk around my local Motorpoint today. Tons of dirt cheap nearly new Corsa's, and among them a Astra GTC. 63 plate, low mileage and just under £10k without speaking to anyone. Another 12 months and it'll be a bargain.

29 June 2015
A few more I can think of, the last ford granada, peugeot 407,307, honda civic, rover sd1.

25 August 2015
Bit harsh on the Saab 9-3, every large multi-brand car manufacturing group shares platforms - you've missed out the Audi A4 which is a Passat, the A3 which is an Octavia, the A1 which is a Fabia etc. The new Discovery Sport is based on the Mondeo, Volvo S40 original was Mitsubishi based, mk2 was Focus based. Your favourite manufacturer - Jag - based their X-type on a Mondeo, which was more controversial than the 9-3 ever was. And how is it any different than the 900/mk 9-3 being based on the Cavalier?

29 August 2015
The problem with the X-Type wasnt the fact it was based on a Mondeo, it was the fact that motoring journalist didnt let anyone forget it was based on one, the current Evoque, the Freelander 2 and the new Discovery Sport are based on the Mondeo, and until very recently even had Ford Peugeot diesel engines, and in some markets Volvo Si6 engines, in didnt harm their sales success. The X-Type was hindered by looking old fashioned and having thirsty V6 petrols and AWD, the fleet buyers wanted diesel, and were not bothered by which wheels drove it, the Jaguar geeks wanted rear wheel drive, and the general public wanted something that looked a bit more modern preferably with a decent diesel engine, good reliability and low running costs. Mondeo parts didn't make the X-Type a poor car, JLR management, poor customer research, and German car loving journalist did. The Mondeo was the best car in its class, there is no reason the X-Type couldn't have been.

14 September 2015
My elder daughter bought a well-used but low mileage Mk1 Ka to learn to drive in, a few years back. It was very basic, fragile and rusted through in 12 months requiring 2 new sills. Go-kart like handling made up for the numerous shortfalls but a serious lack of metal made me glad that daughter never had a crash in it. Last year (2014) I bought a new Ka on finance; at £70 per month on Ford Credit, you can hardly go wrong. It's a gown up version of the Mk 1, much better made, more solid, slightly more roomy and higher tech. It may not offer what motoring journalist want, but if you'd had to cope with an original Ka, the new one is very definitely a step up. 35mpg around town, over 52 mpg average according to the trip computer, It's a much more mature car that the original and puts a smile on my face every time that I drive it (although that may be partly down the the number plate that starts "KA" - I wonder why more owners don't buy such an inexpensive "extra")

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