BMW 3 Series Coupé - Built 1999–2006 Price range £650- £23,995 We’d pay £1200
For some (that’s me), this is the last time that the 3 Series looked proper. The big-engined petrols are the place to be, although the opportunity to buy an bangernomics- friendly M3 – one that has suffered a big hit of depreciation – has long gone. A 330Ci from the early 2000s is going to be cheap to run. Even better, a Sport version with a full history is CS from an alternative reality. A facelift in 2004 means a subtle price blip for later cars. Look for an example with a credible service history and few previous owners.
Honda HR-V - Built 1998-2006 Price range £400– £2999 We’d pay £999
Looking a bit like a funky lunar rover, this is an out-of-this-world family hatch. Dubbed the ‘Joy Machine’ by the Honda marketing department, it certainly brings a smile to your face. Honda installed the brilliant VTEC engine but, in 103bhp form, it is a trifle underwhelming. Find a 2000 model and you get a more respectable 122bhp, but the HR-V is still refined and responsive.
Ford Galaxy - Built 2000-2006 Price range £600- £7000 We’d pay £1895
The Galaxy is big but it does not feel like a people carrier when you’re on the move. This is as easy to drive as a Mondeo, with a responsive power steering system and light gearchange. The seven-seat option makes sense and the rear five seats can be removed. The 2.3 engine is a good combination of performance and economy, although most people choose the 1.9 diesel.
Volvo S80 - Built 1998–2005 Price range £400-£3200 We’d pay £1000
For those who want lots of equipment and a comfortable way to cover long distances, this is the perfect vehicle. The diesel and petrol engines have plenty of power, while the suspension is soft enough to soak up all the imperfections when travelling at speed on the motorway and A-roads. The S80 is very well put together with excellent fit and finish, plus a generally good reliability record. But it does need looking after, otherwise steering and electrical issues can become serious.
Audi A6 Avant - Built 1998–2004 Price range £600- £4000 We’d pay £2000
Still a looker and built to the highest possible standards. Equally important is that there is plenty of room inside and refinement levels are impressive. They are reliable, solid and still look the part in the premium executive segment. The estate version remains one of the best of its type. Suspension and axle wear has been an issue as the miles build up and fixing Audis is always expensive. Look for ones with a lot of history.
Alfa Romeo GT - Built 2004–2010 Price range £950-£15,500 We’d pay £1795
It is hard to believe that a car this good can be bought so cheaply. That is partly explained by the fact that this is a highly depreciating Alfa Romeo. But it looks just as good on the inside. There are some decent engine options, such as the 2.0 and 3.2 petrols, but the 1.9 diesel is around in the greatest numbers. It should deliver up to 45mpg, which is pretty good going for a sexy sports car. It’s an Alfa, though, so be wary of reliability issues.
Fiat Panda - Built 2004–2011 Price range £500-£3000 We’d pay £1000
Fiat invented the city car and it does, of course, have the chic 500, but sometimes you really do need four doors and folding seats to get people, boxes and goodness knows what else inside. Here is a little van that will swallow whatever you can throw at it. Running costs are pretty marginal, the 1.1 petrol will return around 50mpg and road tax starts at just £20. The Panda has been pretty reliable.
Saab 9-3 Convertible - Built 2003–2011 Price range £999–£11,975 We’d pay £1995
It’s easy to understand why so many people fell for this convertible, being pretty, well screwed together and supremely comfortable. But they didn’t buy it for the driver appeal, which wasn’t its strong point. This second-generation model in 2003 was an improvement over the earlier one but, really, you bought a 9-3 because it was great value. Another strength is the finely designed seats that make every journey a pleasure, not a back pain waiting to happen. Avoid scruffy examples with electrical issues.
Suzuki Grand Vitara - Built 1998–2005 Price range £895- £3995 We’d pay £1500
Here is one of the most capable, rugged and riotous four-wheel drives you can buy used. Off road, this is no plaything – it’s a proper mud plugger that can do all the dirty stuff, unlike many soft-roaders. The largest 2.7 V6 engine is very smooth, comes with an automatic gearbox as standard. An even more powerful version is offered with the seven-seat XL-7. For most people, the 2.0 will be fine.
Toyota Corolla - Built 2002-2006 Price range £400- £5,995 We’d pay £1000
This family hatch is a reliable domestic appliance, if all you want to do is go about your daily business as economically and efficiently as possible. Excellent standard equipment and a car built to impressively high standards. Inside, the Corolla provides a decent amount of room for everyone. It may be a pretty dull sight, but there are some quite perky versions, including the T-Sport Compressor, the frugal 1.4 diesel and the sensible 1.6.
Bangernomics is a word that is open to interpretation, but it is all about the sheer good sense of buying and running a used car as opposed to the financially draining and depreciating madness of getting an ill-advised newbie.
Click through the gallery above to see what currently features in our imperfect, constantly changing line-up of pre-owned options.
Top 100 used car 2017 special features