£10,000 - Audi TT (1999-2006) and Nissan Murano (2005-2008)
Few cars have made an impact like the Audi TT did when it was launched, and fewer still deserve to be called ‘iconic’. Inside and out, the TT’s styling remains a triumph. It drives well, with tidy handling and lots of grip. Moreover, most models get the surefootedness of four-wheel drive.
We’ve paired it with a Nissan Murano, which in its own right is a unique and well-styled car. There’s plenty of space in this practical SUV and it’s good to drive, surprisingly agile and full of kit. The 3.5-litre petrol V6 gives excellent performance.
For our £10k, we found a 2002 1.8-litre TT quattro and a 2006 Murano, each showing fewer than 70,000 miles on their odometers.
£15,000 - Mazda MX-5 (2005-2015) and BMW 5 Series (2003-2011)
The Mazda MX-5 is a byword for cheap, fun, open-top motoring. Rivals have come and gone yet the MX-5’s reign has continued unabated, often seeing off far more expensive sports cars. The two-seat, rear-wheel-drive legend is agile and it has precise steering and good levels of grip. It’s an all-round hoot.
Accompanying the Mazda is another category-dominating car, the BMW 5 Series. This four-door saloon is great to drive yet has a composed and comfortable ride, although it’s quite firm in M Sport trim. It carries five people in comfort and there’s a big boot. Build quality is excellent on both cars, with few major issues reported.
Our £15k budget gets a 2007 525d M Sport with 71,000 miles and a 2008 MX-5 2.0 Sport with 37,000 miles on the clock.
£20,000 - Volkswagen Scirocco (2008-present) and Ford S-Max (2006-2015)
Volkswagen waited 16 years before replacing the two-door Scirocco, and that time was well spent thinking up the new car. Distinctive and fresh styling allied to a dynamic chassis resulted in a great-driving, handsome-looking, comfortable and practical coupé. So far, the Scirocco is proving very reliable, with few problems reported.
If the Scirocco broke the mould, then the Ford S-Max obliterated it. It showed the world that a practical seven-seat MPV could also be good looking and fun to drive.
We found an S-Max and a Scirocco for £10,000 apiece, both registered in 2010. The Scirocco was a 1.4 TSI model that had covered 29,000 miles and the S-Max was a 2.0 TDCi Zetec with 55,000 miles on the clock.
£30,000 - BMW Z4 (2009-present) and Jaguar XF (2007-2015)
A combined power output of 475bhp is as good a place to start as any. BMW’s two-seat roadster cuts a sharp-edged dash and has a stylish, well-made interior. To drive, it doesn’t disappoint. It handles keenly, has lots of grip and, in order to compete against the Mercedes-Benz SLK, rides with enough pliancy to be comfortable.
The Jaguar, meanwhile, is a quick saloon with brilliant handling and an accomplished ride. It also gives you a luxurious cabin with innovative features, such as the rising gear selector and rotating air vents when you start the engine.
Both cars so far have been pretty reliable, with no major issues reported. We found a 2010 Z4 23i M Sport with 21,000 miles for half of our £30,000 budget, with the other half going on a 2009 XF 3.0D S Portfolio, which had covered 63,000 miles.