Currently reading: James Ruppert: with small cars, choose substance over style
A run-of-the-mill small hatch is the answer to many questions, but beware of brand appeal
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5 mins read
3 September 2019

It’s funny how some car buyers just want something that is funky-looking and on-trend, when really all they need is a hard-working hatchback. Here’s what Ryan said to me: “Hey James, I’m looking for a small and cheap motor to run between local schools for my sports coaching company. I’ve looked at a Smart car and a Toyota iQ. Could you recommend any?” 

Well, the Smart is quite an old bit of kit now and the Toyota iQ is no longer with us but that doesn’t make them bad choices. The Smart is well proven and the Toyota is a Toyota, so it won’t break down. Both are small and neither is that cheap, although a tidy 2003 Fortwo Passion with 50k miles is around a grand and a proper warranted iQ from 2009 is £2500. That’s not too bad, but if you’re using a small car for work, it can turn out to be not that practical – especially a minimally booted Smart. That’s why an old-school shopping hatch is always going to be a better idea. 

The Ford Ka won’t be around for that much longer, but I rather like them. I was surprised that a pre-Aston grille example from 2009 is just over £1000. The mileage was 100k, but it had service stamps and was at a dealer, so they had a responsibility if anything was awry. For that money, it would be a three-door 1.2 Zetec. 

Ryan might find he wants a couple more doors, so let’s think Kia Picanto. They’re mostly privately owned and well looked after. Picantos have tiny wheels and do look a bit toy-town, but a 2004 1.1 SE with lots of MOT and a fresh service for £700 is pretty good going. It would do a spectacular job and keep Ryan running for a year without a worry, proper cheap motoring and high-50s economy. 

At this point, Ryan came back to me. The Ka seemed to fit his criteria pretty closely and I had mentioned the Toyota Aygo in passing, but he was unaware of the badge engineering which also created the Citroën C1 and Peugeot 107. A 2008 1.0, for instance, is £20 road tax and, with 100,000 miles showing, costs £750. So that’s a contender. Ryan, though, had his head turned by a Volkswagen Up. More style over substance? I like them, but Ryan would struggle to get very much below £3000 and he would be dodging insurance write-offs to do it. But if he wants to Up his budget, then by all means do it. 

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Car review
Kia Picanto review hero front

The new Kia Picanto gets lashings of style and a good 1.2-litre petrol engine to make it a compelling choice in the city car market, but the Volkswagen Up makes for stiff competition

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New small cars are going out of fashion, but used ones will be around for some time to come yet. It’s the continuing beauty of buying used.

What we almost bought this week

Fiat Cinquecento 1.1 Sporting: Once we’d mastered the name and sampled the eager motor and kart-like handling, the Sporting won a place in our heart. This 1996 car with 36,000 miles, full history and one former keeper brings it all back. It’s just £2295. Best feature? The sporty red seatbelts.

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

Volkswagen Golf, mileage - 55,175: The immediate follow-up to last week’s fat-pin-in-tyre crisis: the Michelin Fit2Go tyre checker said the pressure was dropping fast, and a tyre specialist condemned the rubber. Given that the car belongs to Miss Ruppert, it’s up to her to do the shopping around.

She found a 205/55 R16 19W Michelin Energy Saver to match the rest for £76 fitted. At times like these, a good old-fashioned space saver would really help, and my daughter wasn’t keen on using a tin of tyre gunge. The garage, though, took the car in a day early. 

Reader’s ride

Skoda Fabia vRS: Here is part two of Nick’s inspiring tale, which began last week with his Peugeot 206 banger. 

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“My colleague’s granny bought a Skoda Fabia vRS diesel new in 2004 and then passed it on a couple of years back. It’s done 99,000 miles with full history but it isn’t perfect: the bushes need replacing, the fuel cap doesn’t clip shut, the radio maintains a poor grasp on a signal and the bonnet is sun-bleached. But I’m now stopping at the pumps once every seven days rather than every four. It cost me £700 with no increase on my insurance. I put a fresh MOT on the Peugeot 206 and sold it – for £700. I’d call that a free upgrade!”

Readers’ questions

Question: I’ve seen a oneowner, 2015 BMW i3 Range Extender with 77k miles for £12,950. It would be my first EV. Does it sound like a good buy? Don Shelby, Bristol

Answer: The range extender version is no longer made so used ones are sought after. You can expect up to 180 miles of range from the car compared with 100 miles max from the regular i3. If the batteries have always been topped up and the extender never used, the 650cc motor occasionally cuts in to keep itself fresh. Its servicing is condition-based and should be recorded on the key fob. However, the motor was subject to recalls, so check they were actioned. All being well, it sounds good. John Evans

Question: I’m planning a driving trip after October, but how will Brexit affect my EU driving entitlement? Simon Fisher, via email

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Answer: It’s all still a bit uncertain but there’s nothing like being prepared so get an international driving permit, find that old GB sticker in your garage and pack the car’s V5 along with your motor insurance green card. Plan for possible Eurotunnel and cross-Channel delays as cars and freight are processed. Find out more at gov.uk and search for guidance on driving in the EU after a no-deal Brexit. John Evans

Read more

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BMW i3S 2019 long-term review​

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Comments
8

3 September 2019

The rise and rise of premium brands and the decline in the mid market shows that Ryan isn't alone and it isn't confined to the buyers of small cars.

Not surprised he wants an UP, it's widely recognised as the best in the class and that's reflected in used car prices. A used car might be with you for 5 years or longer so why spend it in a poorly driving car with a cheap interior.

3 September 2019
SamVimes1972 wrote:

The rise and rise of premium brands and the decline in the mid market shows that Ryan isn't alone and it isn't confined to the buyers of small cars.

Not surprised he wants an UP, it's widely recognised as the best in the class and that's reflected in used car prices. A used car might be with you for 5 years or longer so why spend it in a poorly driving car with a cheap interior.

 

Readers reviews show widely reported gearbox issues with the UP!, while many Japanese/Korean cars have longer warranties and less problems, substance over style.

3 September 2019

Well the Mk2 model was stopped three years ago, but replaced by the Fiesta-based Ka+ which is still a relatively new model. Surely that's not being dropped after just three years? 

 

3 September 2019

Any recommendatjions on small used automoatic runabout, that's quick enough to keep up with day to day traffic?

 

3 September 2019
Overdrive wrote:

Any recommendatjions on small used automoatic runabout, that's quick enough to keep up with day to day traffic?

 

i10/Picanto/Mazda 2, all have proper TQ gearboxes, avoid automated manuals on Euro branded cars.

3 September 2019
Takeitslowly wrote:

Overdrive wrote:

Any recommendatjions on small used automoatic runabout, that's quick enough to keep up with day to day traffic?

 

i10/Picanto/Mazda 2, all have proper TQ gearboxes, avoid automated manuals on Euro branded cars.

I was thinking about the Mazda 2 myself. i10 might be worth a look too, Thanks.

3 September 2019
Overdrive wrote:

Takeitslowly wrote:

Overdrive wrote:

Any recommendatjions on small used automoatic runabout, that's quick enough to keep up with day to day traffic?

 

i10/Picanto/Mazda 2, all have proper TQ gearboxes, avoid automated manuals on Euro branded cars.

I was thinking about the Mazda 2 myself. i10 might be worth a look too, Thanks.

Girlfriend has a Mazda 2.  Quite a fun little car to drive, by cheap little hatch standards.  Lowered on alloys with a tint, it looks the part, too.

3 September 2019

As someone who has had several smart cars, the boot isn't that small and more than enough for a couple's weekly shop. Plus the passenger seat folds down, which makes it surprisingly practical. I've had a fridge freezer and a 4 drawer filing cabinet in a fortwo before. Not at the same time mind you, but I think most small cars would struggle to get either in. Also, as the seats don't have to go all the way back for an average height person (there is loads of room for very tall drivers), there is extra storage behind them. 

Just avoid MHD versions, though, there is a belt that can snap and cook the engine. Get a diesel or turbo verion. Also, look up forums/facebook groups/websites etc if you are interested. Loads of advice out there if you know where to go

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