I’ve divided my finds into three categories, two of my top tips in each section plus a wild card just in case you’re feeling brave…
1) Fiat Panda 1.3 Multijet diesel: cheap to run (65mpg) and peanuts to tax (£30 for the year), a shade under £3k gets you a 2005 example with 70,000 miles and a new MOT. Despite being cramped inside, it’s durable and fun to drive.
2) Volkswagen Polo 1.2E: base-spec 2007 Polos with above average miles (around 90,000) are on the £3k list too. The popular hatchback offers bullet-proof reliability, safety and comfort. For your money, you’re looking at a two-owner car with a 12-month ticket and full service history.
The wild card – Reva G-Wiz: yup, the G-Wiz is my wild card choice. No fuel costs, road tax or London Congestion Charge to worry about, so you’ll be doing the planet and your wallet a favour (provided there’s a plug socket handy). A 2005 example is yours for £2500.
1) Alfa Romeo 159: The 159 has had a few recalls in its lifetime (oil leaks, brake failures and faulty vacuum pumps), but it’s beautiful both inside and out. It’s safe, too (scoring five Euro NCAP stars), and comfortable to drive. Look at a 2.0 JTS Veloce and you get leather as standard. A low-mileage 2005 example is yours for £3295.
2) BMW E46 330d: fast, wholly reliable and refined. The 330d will also achieve 42mpg and 150mph (just in case you’re late for the school run). Handling gets top marks, as does safety and resale margins. A must-have family taxi for the keen-driving family man.
The wild card – Renault Avantime: with two petrol engines to choose from – a 3.0 V6 or 2.0 turbo – it’s the latter, more economical unit to go for. The Avantime’s dimensions ape those of the Espace, so the interior’s airy and family friendly and boot large at 510 litres. Prices for this luxury family barge start from only £1500 (for the V6) and rise to £3k for a 2.0-litre 2003 example with average miles.
1) Mazda RX-8: rear-hinged rear doors and a rotary engine. It can only be the 192bhp RX-8, prices of which start from a measly £2000. Okay, fuel economy takes a hit (26mpg on a good day), but the car’s handling is sublime and the standard equipment list is as long as your arm.
2) Audi TT: upwards of £2500 buys you an early 1.8T Quattro TT. Expect around 130,000 miles on the dials and a few owners on the log book. Styling and quality of materials are impeccable and the 1.8T engine is the perfect companion for the TT’s lightweight body.
The wild card – Chrysler Crossfire: Mercedes SLK underpinnings, a creamy 3.2-litre V6 and standout looks give the Crossfire unrivalled rarity on our roads. You’ll pick up a 2004 example with 50,000 miles on the clock for £2900. Equipment levels and reliability score highly, but you’ll have to live with high fuel and tax costs, plus pricey servicing intervals.
With £3000 to blow, what would you recommend?