Currently reading: Half-price heroes | Used Car Buying Guide Special
You can buy some brilliant cars for half of what they would cost when new. Take your pick from open-top luxury sports tourers, family hatches, coupés, big estates, roadsters and compact SUVs

The idea behind half-price heroes is simple. Someone else buys a brand-new car and soaks up the unenviable hit of depreciation.

After a few years, when the new car buyer decides to replace his or her motor and it returns to the dealer’s forecourt, you swoop in to pick up the bargain of a lifetime.

Yes, it is possible to buy a three or four-year-old car at often less than half the original retail price. Choose carefully and you’ll really hit the sweet spot in the car’s life cycle: you’ll get the modern engine, design, safety kit and in-car technology in addition to the performance and all-round ability you’d demand from a brand-new car.

And don’t think for a moment that you’ll only be able to choose from undesirable hatches and family saloons. From rorty cabrios to cavernous estates, some of the best-rated cars on the market can be had for prices that are, quite frankly, heroic. We’ve listed some examples, but there are plenty more out there to unearth. Happy hunting!

Jaguar F-Type Convertible

Pick of the range 3.0 V6 S

Price new £67,500

Price now £37,980

See Jaguar F-Type for sale on PistonHeads

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The best thing about all Jaguars is that they become affordable sooner rather than later. So we haven’t had to wait that long for the gorgeous F-Type to arrive on our local forecourts at almost realistic prices. You would be bonkers to overlook one of these.

Back in 2013, what the world was really waiting for was a proper Jaguar, so a visually stunning rearwheel-drive, big-engined, fabricroofed sports car was just what the loyal customer wanted to order.

It came with a choice of three responsive engines: a cooking 3.0 V6, a supercharged version and, at the top, a supercharged 5.0 V8. They all worked through an eight-speed auto and had super-fast stats. Even the slowest could get to 60mph in just over five seconds and top 160mph. Proper, old-school performance, then, with gadgets and nice touches like the fantastically noisy exhaust.

Buyers got a lot of kit with the standard V6, so your half-price used F-Type will come with keyless ignition, touchscreen infotainment and all the usual driver aids and passenger comforts. It is worth finding an S derivative with that trick exhaust, sports suspension and a limited-slip differential. Lots of buyers reckon the optional 19in alloys are better-looking, plus there is leather inside and a designer console.

There’s a whole range of different packs, too. Some are cosmetic and a bit pointless but others are useful, such as the Visibility Pack, which adds a heated front screen and automatic wipers and lights.

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The V8 F-Type has just about everything, so if money and fun are no object, this is the model that will depreciate the most.

Not only is the F-Type becoming much cheaper to buy, but it is also day-to-day affordable. The 3.0 V6 is supposed to exceed 30mpg, and even the V8 does mid-20s to the gallon if you don’t drive it as Jaguar intended. There is stop/start technology, which is all part of keeping the C02 low for the V6 anyway, because the V8 is always going to sting you in the toppermost tax bracket.

Like most modern-era Jags, they are reliable – and so they should be at just over three years old – but the niggles are minor electricals, condensation in the headlights and not too much else. This is the super-value sports car you always promised yourself. It just might be the best used Jag ever

Watch our for: 

Listen out for gearbox noises. Check the trim’s fit and finish. Watch out for electrical gremlins and premature brake wear. There have been recalls for handling issues and seatbelt pretensioners.

Skoda Superb Estate

Pick of the range 2.0 TDI CR Elegance

Price new £26,170

Price now £12,995

See Skoda Superb for sale on PistonHeads 

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There is a sound business case for buying a brand-new Superb Estate because it trounces the opposition from Ford and Vauxhall for kit, sheer space and, some would say, quality.

But that case gets even stronger with a used one. Not only does the value for money argument still apply, but a used Superb also seems so much more special and covetable. It’s a bargain-basement Audi A6, an alternate-reality Bentley Bentayga or a not-dull Volkswagen Passat.

Those are the obvious snobby motives for buying one, but the practical reasons to consider a Superb are almost overwhelming. Whereas you can compare the Superb’s price with those of small family estates, what you have here is something overwhelmingly gigantic. That is a good thing to have when you want to shift stuff. If you fold the rear seats down, you have a van – and a big one at that. Even with the rear seats in use, there’s a great big 595-litre load space, a low loading lip and bags of leg room for rear passengers too.

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The spaciousness of the Superb means that former owners are often of the private hire variety. That is both good and bad news. It means that if the car has a starship mileage, it should be in decent enough mechanical condition – provided, of course, the service history checks out and any high-wear items have been replaced. Perhaps the biggest concern is whether any damage is just wear and tear or rather more serious.

Buyers need to choose their engines and spec carefully. Like many Volkswagen Group products, there is a large choice of diesels and petrols. With an eye to an uncertain diesel future, you can even buy a small petrol 1.4 TSI unit that is perky enough, although the 1.6 is better. Mostly, though, you will be looking at diesel models and the 2.0 TDI 170 is our sort of enthusiastic engine. You should get around 50mpg and that helps to keep running costs reasonable. The Greenline II model is the full-on economy purchase.

There are loads of trim levels, too. S is standard Superb spec, but you get just about everything anyway. Elegance is probably the one that gives you the best mix of goodies.

The Superb is a luxury load-hauler for not much money at all and almost the perfect used motor.

Watch out for:

The Superb is reliable, with very recent recalls, just for electrical engine cut-outs. Keyless entry can be temperamental. Check for corroded alloy wheels. ABS sensors can fail but the fix is straightforward. DSG automatic gearbox can deliver jerky changes.

Toyota RAV4

Pick of the range 2.0 D-4D Icon 2WD

Price new £24,295

Price now £12,449

See Toyota RAV4 for sale on PistonHeads

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A brilliantly original idea in the 1990s, the RAV4 is still a clever concept today, not least because it predicted our SUV future. Four generations later, it has continued to grow from the sort of hot hatch Land Cruiser mash-up it once was to looking like everything else boxy and 4x4 today. That’s despite a lowered roofline and a nosey front end.

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There are just three engine options: 2.0 and 2.2 diesels and a 2.0 petrol. In fact, you can effectively get a RAV2 with the 2.0 diesel engine and two-wheel drive. It makes sense because the combination will save fuel and, when combined with the stop/start system, that means more than 55mpg is possible. That’s pretty good for an SUV and helps keep costs down. What helps the most, though, is that this is a Toyota, so reliability isn’t an issue.

The five-year, 100,000-mile warranty is transferable, so there shouldn’t be any worries when buying a nearly new example. In the past, it was just minor electricals such as airbag sensors and window motors that played up. Recalls recently have been corporate issues relating to rear suspension arms, airbags and seatbelt issues. If a car boasts a full service history, check every recall box has been ticked.

Prices are always on the firm side and there are three trim levels: Active, Icon and Invincible. The Icon is probably the one to go for because it has the Toyota Touch multimedia system and a powered tailgate. These are the things that buyers will like when you come to resell. There are lots of options and style packs that beef up the looks a bit and may make a car more saleable, but won’t add anything to its value.

The RAV4 remains a lifestyle offroader worth considering. Provided that it isn’t pushed too hard and fast off tarmac, it’s a stylish estate for those who don’t want to look silly in a giant 4x4 in the supermarket car park or outside the school gates.

With four-wheel drive, this is an honest off-roader, allowing the owner to occasionally get slightly muddy, but mostly they will be spending quality time on the tarmac. Then again, the two-wheel-drive option is all you will ever really need, so let’s all go and buy one of those.

Watch out for:

Very few things to worry about. If there is a full service history, then chances are it will be fine. However, a tow bar suggests it has been worked hard, so check the suspension. Otherwise, look out for wheel and underside damage.

Volkswagen Scirocco

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Pick of the range 1.4 TSI GT

Price new £22,585

Price now £14,800

See Volkswagen Scirocco for sale on PistonHeads

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The coupé with the windy name came back from the dead in 2008 and was a whole lot more than a lame retro retread. Here was a proper sporty little number that may have been a frocked-up Volkswagen Golf, but it was all the better for it.

The Scirocco still strikes a nice compromise between a hard-charging sportster and a smooth motorway cruiser. It is marginally less practical than a cooking hatchback but that only adds to its credibility.

Driving a Scirocco is fun. It really does feel decently fast, with bags of grip, hardly any body roll at all and precise responses. Go for the GT models, which have uprated suspension with variable settings, if you want a more performanceorientated package.

Living with one is easy enough, but that’s when you realise it isn’t a Golf. In the back there is enough room for luggage and two passengers, but not a lot else. Running costs are higher than the Golf’s when it comes to insurance, although servicing costs can be spread out with two-year, 20,000-mile intervals.

The car was refreshed in 2014 and from late that year is the point where there will be a price hike to take into account the fresh engines and natty restyle, which made it look more purposeful. The specs are simple enough – just standard and GT – but when it is a used buy, you may as well aim for the GT. Leather trim, panoramic roof and sat-nav are all going to help when you sell it on later.

One of the baffling decisions you have to make when buying a Scirocco is choosing an engine. There have been several updates over the years and we could bore you to death about them, but stick to post-2009 models for the better buys. All of them pull the coupé along at a fair rate and most are pretty frugal as well. There is a lot to be said for the TSI petrol engines and we really like the smallest 1.4, which got a mild power boost in 2014. Otherwise, there is an enthusiastic 2.0 petrol for GTI-sized thrills and a couple of TDI diesels that would suit a higher-mileage driver well.

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It is tough not to like the Scirocco. Sorting out the trims and the engines that best suit you is by far the hardest part. Pick a good solid body colour to set off the appealing design and you won’t be disappointed.

Watch out for:

Accident damage. The evidence will be a colour mismatch on the bodywork. Also look for kerbed alloys, unevenly worn tyres, the DSG gearbox giving jerky shifts or the TSI engine misfiring. There may be some electrical malfunctions, so make sure every button works.

Mini Cooper Roadster

Pick of the range Cooper S

Price new £20,900

Price now £8500

See Mini Cooper for sale on PistonHeads

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For anyone who doubted that Mini really was the ‘fun’ brand, the Roadster was conclusive proof that the relatively small car could still put a smile on your face. For many, the best bit was lopping off the coupé’s odd roof arrangement to reveal a purposeful, stumpy bundle of fun.

This is a proper sporty roadster that has been tuned specifically with larking about in mind, from its twoseat format to the weight distribution being rather more centralised than in the softer Mini Convertible.

As for engines, it might be worth upping your budget and tracking down the 2.0 John Cooper Works (JCW), which has 208bhp and will get to 60mph in just over six seconds.

Other petrol models are available, of course. Most buyers will opt for the bog-standard 1.6 Cooper, which is adequate enough, but the Cooper S Twin-Power turbo delivers more immediate performance. It is only mildly slower than the JCW model. The practical choice is always going to be the 2.0 SD diesel, which is said to return more than 60mpg and is reasonably perky into the bargain.

The list of standard kit is pretty comprehensive and includes power steering, central locking, stability control, air conditioning, electric windows, electric door mirrors and rear parking sensors. The in-car entertainment system means there’s a CD player and MP3 compatibility.

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Mini’s official ‘TLC’ servicing packs may still apply to the car and could save you the cost of a couple of services. Don’t pay a silly premium for it, though, if the seller talks tough.

We were surprised by the level of reader support for the Roadster we receive, but more than enough have reported that it is great to live with. Indeed, once you press the button, the electrically operated roof disappears faster than most other models’ roofs at well under 10 seconds and at vehicle speeds of up to 20mph. Meanwhile, you can flick the spoiler deployment switch at any speed.

There is an okay boot, which is adequate for soft bags for a weekend away, and the standard load-through facility means that you might get a set of golf clubs rather than a set of skis in the back.

Overall, the Roadster is good value and it should be a doddle to resell when the time comes. Running costs are reasonable, with decent fuel economy across the range. Most of all, it is super fun to drive.

Watch out for:

It’s no real problem, but check the hood condition and operation. Bodywork is always an expensive fix, so check for damage, and if it is more than a minor cosmetic flaw, get a quote. Check the engine’s oil and water levels.

Honda Civic 

Pick of the range 1.6 i-DTEC SR

Price new £24,360

Price now £11,500

See Honda Civic for sale on PistonHeads

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When it comes to family car legends, the Civic is right at the top. No one ever made a mistake buying a Civic. After all, it is never going to break down. The downside has been dullness, but that has always been a small price to pay. However, the Civic became rather less civilised in 2006 when the designers funked up the styling with radical creases and triangular exhaust pipes. The Type R went to another level of fun, too. We believe a model like the SR represents the middle ground between some excitement and family practicality.

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Less than a decade on, the Mk9 Civic looks almost conventional again, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it is anything other than extraordinarily good. Autocar readers certainly agree and are tremendously loyal to it. Several seriously suggested that whichever generation you went back to, it would still be a contender today. Maybe they have a point, but effectively what they are saying is that old Hondas don’t break down and, on that basis, it deserves to be here. We’d also arguethat it should be here on its very considerable merits.

Let’s highlight the boring stuff first and that’s the interior space. There’s absolutely litres of it for luggage. In all, there is more than 400 litres of space, which means nothing. An averagely large suitcase takes 45 litres, and if you fold the rear seats, there’s almost space for 30 of those. Not only that, this is a flat load space and there are almost a couple of suitcases of underfloor storage as well. That makes it a big old hatch.

The Civic is also a usefully economical hatchback with an almost understandable range of engines. There are just a couple of petrols, a 1.4 and 1.8, plus a 1.6 diesel, although just to confuse matters there was also a 2.2 diesel. For argument’s sake, we settled on a 1.6 in SR trim as the model we’d buy because the stats claim average fuel economy is not too far shy of 80mpg. Add the SR ingredients of leather, alloy pedals and heated front seats to name just a few details, and here is a combination that should be easy to live with and resell later. A Type R remains the performance hatch you always promised yourself, but pay less and achieve more by putting a great-value cooking Civic in your life.

Watch out for:

If it has a full service history, there is not much to worry about. There have been recalls in recent years relating to airbags and a few other electrical issues that a dealer can sort out. Check the basics — tyres, bodywork, trim — and you’ll be fine.

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scrap 29 May 2017

Sorry couldn't get past the F

Sorry couldn't get past the F type write up. This is poorly written. The V8 is 5.0, not 4.2. What on earth is a designer console? And if money is no object, why look at an article where the entire premise is saving money?
k12479 29 May 2017

Couldn't get past the F...

...and how is "minor electricals" issues on a mere three year old indicative of a "bargain of a lifetime" rather than a money pit of hard to diagnose and expensive to rectify problems that will only get worse as the car ages?
NoPasaran 30 May 2017

k12479 wrote:

k12479 wrote:

...and how is "minor electricals" issues on a mere three year old indicative of a "bargain of a lifetime" rather than a money pit of hard to diagnose and expensive to rectify problems that will only get worse as the car ages?

Bargain of a lifetime...if you are lucky enough not to get a "lemon". Though space is very limited in that F-Type convertible, I'd go for Boxster S instead which is also a better drive.