Currently reading: James Ruppert: cool options for young drivers
Our man takes a look at some of the best not-quite-hot-hatches for the style-conscious teenager
5 mins read
9 November 2021

Does it look the part? This is an important question for used car buyers who want a hot hatchback but can’t quite take the insurance premium hit. Fancy alloy wheels, flash paint and some nice extras they can stretch to, though. 

We’re talking to the younger drivers, of course, but they still have to bear in mind that if their tepid hatch looks as if it means business, it’s probably going to affect how much they pay for cover, along with their driving record, where they live and what they do for a living. Anyway, let’s have a look around and see what might be on offer. 

Well, this looks nice: it’s a 75,000-mile 2009 Ford Ka 1.2 Style+. This snazzy three-door has some added bits and pieces but is apparently still cheap to insure and will do around 55mpg. The details are a Zetec S front splitter, black alloys, black badges, tinted windows and a rear spoiler. Not only that, but more than £400 has also been spent replacing its suspension, which all makes the £1999 asking price sound like a bit of a bargain.

For just a few quid more, a Seat Leon offers more space and more practicality – and it’s even better if it has a full styling kit. The 1.6 petrol will pull it along smartly enough and just about return 37mpg. So a 2007 Reference example with 95,000 miles and a rather attractive Sport styling kit and nice alloys at just over £2000 is tempting. And it really does look like a proper Cupra-clone hatchback, minus the real performance, but quite honestly I’m attracted by its relative cheapness and I can’t see any drawbacks.

A Citroën C2 Loeb is a tiny limited-edition car that makes the most of its 121bhp. That might cause some insurance issues, but it could be a reward for a young driver with a few years of good behaviour. It’s a great-looking car with cool alloy great-looking car with cool alloys and a bodykit that of course celebrates Sébastien. This 2007 example with 92,000 miles costs £1400, and it’s certainly worth a go. 

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I might be fairly mad to consider a Vauxhall Tigra, but surely a 2000 example is some sort of weird classic and in effect just a funkier Corsa, and that massive glass hatch now makes it look like a 1950s Dan Dare pocket-rocket. The 1.4 engine sounds barely adequate with 89bhp, but actually it makes it insurance friendly. This example has had just a couple of private owners and seems to be very tidy indeed. Even better, despite the low, 61k mileage this ‘future classic’, as the advert calls it, could be on your drive for just £500. 

The caveat is always that insurance quotes will vary, but with a tight budget and an open mind there are plenty of interesting little trolleys for you – or your young ’uns – to enjoy. 

What we almost bought this week

BMW 325i (E30): We all have that dream car, don’t we? This week it’s this lovingly restored BMW E30 325i, attractive for its sub100k mileage and immaculate bodywork. Up for £20,995, the car has been completely overhauled, including a Glacier Blue respray, cambelt, water pump and gearbox changes, plus new shocks and springs.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

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Land Rover Defender Series 3, mileage 133,767: While the Flying Pig was stuck at the MOT station waiting for fresh bolts, the Lorry turned up and got its ticket with no advisories. It felt all the better for the visit even though all I had asked them to do was change the oil. They had the Pig as a hostage so I didn’t pay for the Lorry or see any paperwork proof that they had done anything mechanical, or otherwise, to the old girl. It just felt smoother, which is an oxymoron really. The following day it was loaded up with a gas bottle, seven packs of flooring and four bags of compost. I know it can go down a mountain at walking speed, but it also makes a great van.

Reader’s ride

Citroën C1: Thanks to Meilyr for sharing this great little car with us. “Chloe, my stepdaughter, bought this C1, christened Frankie, for £1200 three years ago and learned to drive in it,” he writes. “It’s had a few minor issues, but the independent garage we use has been fantastic. I’ve used lots of cable ties and a glue gun to keep it in good order. Oil and filter changes, bulbs, wipers and a battery change were easy. It’s 10 years old and done over 128,000 miles on the original clutch. You sense that PSA and Toyota had a good natter over about making a car that was cheap to run and easy to work on. This is the only decent photo I could find as Chloe has gone back to college in it. I’m a bit jealous really. It’s been fantastic value for money and a lot of fun.”

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Readers’ questions

Question: I want to buy a new car but I’ve read about supply issues and semiconductor shortages. What sort of waiting time should I expect? Steve Cross, via email

Answer: Each manufacturer has been affected differently by the supply shortages. What Car? research found that the average waiting time for most brands was between four and six months. Jaguar Land Rover, however, has reported a wait of up to 12 months on some models. Some specification levels are more affected than others: Mercedes-Benz and Ford both previously dropped certain electronic options from their models. Thankfully, some car makers including Nissan believe the “toughest months” are over, although problems remain. JW

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Question: We are moving out of London and away from the dreaded ULEZ expansion zone, so I can finally buy a hot hatch. Can you recommend a fun small car for under £5000? Henry Mullins, Cricklewood

Answer: You’re spoilt for choice. For a reliable daily driver, older Volkswagen Golf GTIs are less than £5000 or, if you’re patient, a Renault Sport Mégane might pop up. We also found a 2004 Ford Focus ST, and have recently put together buying guides for the VW Lupo GTI and the Renault Sport Twingo, if you’d like some more in-depth analysis. All could make excellent runners, and most are holding their prices well if you need to sell on. JW

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sabre 9 November 2021

It is understood that the small Citroen is reliable due to Ctroen's cooperation with Toyota. It proves my advice to Stellantis: Add one Japanese cmpany or more to its many European and American companies that are never at the top section of reliability surveys.