Ready to take the plunge but not yet certain what to buy?
By targeting pre-2010 cars, you can get the best of all worlds: value, relative simplicity and future classic potential. Here are 20 models our used car guru James Ruppert says you should consider:
A cruel glimpse of a future we never got, this supermini will look cool forever. The issue that everyone talks about is that its aluminium body is expensive to fix if pranged.
The diesel engine will deliver more than 60mpg on a long jaunt, but the perky 1.6-litre petrol is the best all-rounder. Prices will continue to follow a gentle upwards trajectory provided the mileage is reasonable, the condition is mint and the history is comprehensive.
ONE WE FOUND: 2000 1.4 SE, 34,000 miles, £4900
The Evora is as close as you’ll come to the people’s Lotus. Effectively a scaled-up, hard-topped Elise but with a smidgen of practicality, the Evora is a scintillating daily proposition, and you don’t need the hardcore GT430 to have fun on track.
Fit and finish is average and running costs are above average, but compared with, say, the Aston Martin DB9, it’s a bargain. It still looks wonderful, you can squeeze a couple of nippers in the back and it is, of course, amazing to drive. Early Evoras are becoming financially attractive now so could be well worth the risk.
ONE WE FOUND: 2009 3.5 V6 Launch Edition, 69,000 miles, £24,995
Ford Focus RS
How hot do you want your hatchback? There’s the Focus ST, of course, but the Focus RS feels quite a bit more special, and it will become even more so as the years roll by.
It’s whopping wings and gaping air intakes catch the eye, while that grumbling turbocharged five-pot takes care of your ears. It really can’t be missed. Making sure that it hasn’t been chipped to infinity or wrapped around a lamp post are the priorities. Shop carefully to avoid the potential money pits.
ONE WE FOUND: 2010 2.5 3dr, 60,000 miles, £21,995
The award for the best-value middle-order family car goes not to the Ford Mondeo but this. Whether you want a saloon or an estate, the sheer number in circulation means that there’s not just choice but also very attractive prices.
There’s a huge range of engines and trims, topped by the 325bhp V6 VXR (pictured), which is deserving of consideration as a niche Audi S4 alternative. Every Insignia benefits from reasonable parts and servicing costs; just beware dual-mass fly wheel and blocked EGR filter issues.
ONE WE FOUND 2009: 2.8T VXR, 88,000 miles, £6950
Proper estate cars really come in just one flavour: Volvo. And the V70 is the best brickish brute of the bunch. Engines range from hardy petrol and diesel four-pots up to the naughtier 3.0-litre T6.
SE Lux trim offers everything you could want from your comfortable load-lugger. If you can find an ex-motorway patrol car, you’ll be quids in. V70s often get worked hard, because they can take it, and huge mileages are a common sight, so look out for blowing turbochargers and worn suspension.
ONE WE FOUND: 2009 T6 SE Lux, 123,000 miles, £6400
Volkswagen Polo Dune Cross
This was Volkswagen’s answer to the maligned Rover Street wise, and one that was rather better finished. Of course, there was also the regular Polo, which is pretty much all the supermini you will ever need and, when looked after, exceptionally reliable.
But the Dune Cross is quirky and brings none of the financial implications of ‘proper’ SUV ownership. There are just a few niggles, like water leaks into the boot, but they’re cheaply rectified.
ONE WE FOUND: 2006 1.4 TDI, 105,000 miles, £1999
The best thing about the revived Mini brand has been its niche-busting oddities, and they don’t come much more individual than this estate, with its barn-doors tailgate and reverse-hinged offside door. Just don’t let your rear passengers step out into traffic.
The Cooper S brings hot hatch pace without the hefty premium you might expect. The clutch, gearbox and electrics can give trouble, though, so take your time on your test drive.
ONE WE FOUND: 2009 Cooper S, 44,000 miles, £7690
Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon
What a handsome thing the 159 estate is, and it’s bigger than its 156 predecessor where it matters. It’s generally regarded to be a bit more solid, too, plus it brings a flat, wide load bay.
The standard kit list grew in 2009, but Lusso trim has most of what you need. The Q-Tronic automatic gearbox is reliable and owners like it; failing water pumps and dicky dual-mass fly wheels are the major worries.
ONE WE FOUND: 2007 2.4 JTDM Lusso, 54,000 miles, £6750
Forget 2030: what if you don’t want to buy a replacement car until 2130? If so, this is the way to motor. Lexus limousine owners may never wake up early on a Sunday for a B-road blast, but that’s partly because they’re sleeping soundly, safe in the knowledge that they could embark on a spur-of-the-moment transcontinental road trip with no mechanical concerns – provided, of course, that they shell out for proper parts and servicing.
Dodge the hybrid models if you don’t want to overcomplicate that masterful petrol V8. The LS will go down in history as a contender for the finest car of its era; it could be the smartest purchase you ever make.
ONE WE FOUND 2009: 460 SE, 77,000 miles, £9500
The last-gasp Saab is still a contemporary design beauty. Complicated but useful technological touches include a swish head-up display and adaptive headlights, and you can take your pick from petrol and diesel powerplants. However, it is getting harder to find and, unlike old-school Saabs, is proving resistant to serious depreciation.
There isn’t too much to worry about in terms of wear and tear, save for possibly a failing clutch. When it comes to parts, surely there’s nothing that some 3D printing couldn’t fix…
ONE WE FOUND: 2010 2.0 TiD Vector SE, 30,000 miles, £9995
A comfy, great value saloon that won’t let you down? That would be the Accord, my friend. You can pay through the nose for something prestigious and German, but this hardy Honda won’t need half as much TLC as the years go by. Its cabin may be relatively tight, but it will still seat four adults without too much squeezing.
We would avoid the diesel in favour of the rather more straightforward 2.0-litre petrol. Specs are pretty decent overall; EX gets most of the required toys.
ONE WE FOUND: 2010 2.0i VTEC EX, 39,000 miles, £6950
Almost everyone wants a 911; it’s one of those ‘icons’ people bang on about. Yet the entry price isn’t as prohibitive as you might imagine – if you filter your searches carefully. In our target range is the 996 model, which does have issues, but being careful is the only way to buy a Porsche in any case.
There are loads of versions to choose from, and the ‘basic’ Carrera seems to do it for most. Upkeep costs and Porsche-branded consumables will bring a bit of a reality check, and you will want to get very familiar with the symptoms of IMS bearing failure.
ONE WE FOUND: 2003 3.6 Targa, 90,000 miles, £19,499
For a sophisticated coupé experience, you can depend on the Audi TT. There are differing levels of immersion, from the hard TT RS to the much softer standard car. Somewhere in the middle is the four-wheel-drive TTS with its punchy 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-pot, lower suspension and smattering of performance-inspired styling addenda.
By all means go for the manual if you like to keep your left arm busy, but the auto is a tad quicker off the line and easier to live with in town.
ONE WE FOUND 2008 TTS quattro, 93,000 miles, £7650
Toyota Land Cruiser
Modern SUVs are all well and good if you prioritise practicality over everything else, but a bona fide 4x4 is something different altogether.
Most Land Cruisers sip from the black pump, but if you look hard, you might find a petrol V6. This is the real deal, right up there with the Land Rover Defender and Mercedes G-Class: if you ever need to call on its awesome ability, you won’t find it wanting.
ONE WE FOUND: 2008 3.0 D-4D LC4, 46,000 miles, £14,790
A better-value embodiment of classy British motoring than the XJ you will struggle to find. Its aluminium body and underpinnings will cost plenty to fix in the event of a prang, but a spot of internet browsing will usually land you the parts you need.
Although the V8 is the proper way to travel, you will find far more diesels to pick – and probably be glad you did so, given the potential for 30mpg-plus. Don’t expect to take much baggage, though – boot space isn’t this saloon’s strength.
ONE WE FOUND 2007: 2.7 TD Sport, 82,000 miles, £9795
Jaguar XK Convertible
The Jaguar F-Type has yet to enter the realm of accessibility, but fortunately the older XK can be snatched for a relative song. It’s still very handsome, and the convertible version has a proper triple-layered roof that stands the test of time.
It folds away in about 18 seconds and is far lighter and less complicated than the folding metal roofs you will find elsewhere. There isn’t acres of extra boot space as a result, but the dynamic advantage is tangible.
ONE WE FOUND: 2009 5.0 V8 Portfolio, 42,000 miles, £24,995
What about the future classics from the 2000s? Read on:
Brutish, big-engined sports cars are rapidly falling out of fashion, so those interested in them need to hurry while stocks last. The 370Z is even more focused than its acclaimed 350Z forebear – hence the brace bar behind its front seats – but not at the cost of reliability or usability.
Its short wheelbase and rorty V6 engine deliver the complete hardcore driving experience, and generous kit across the line-up means that any 370Z will age well. Don’t forget the Roadster for a rapid change of hairstyle.
ONE WE FOUND: 2010 3.7 V6 GT, 84,000 miles, £11,950
Here’s something that won’t ever get made again: a high-revving Honda roadster. That’s reason enough, surely, to track one down? The S2000 has been out of production for a while now, but its enduring legacy means prices remain high. Rust is an issue, particularly on coastal-dwelling examples, and tricky VTEC-related engine problems can bring big repair bills.
The electric soft top packs away in a rapid 10 seconds, but the S2000 itself gets to 62mph even quicker, and few modern convertibles are so objectively handsome.
ONE WE FOUND: 2009 2.2 GT, 98,000 miles, £12,900
This is a very classy shopping hatchback that has aged remarkably well. Underrated when new and overlooked on the used market, it’s an affordable and attractive alternative to your common or garden Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.
There are cooking 1.6-litre petrols and diesels as well as middle-order 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre options, but the slightly bonkers five-cylinder T5 is your best bet for future classic potential. Cons? Well, it doesn’t have the biggest boot in the world and its air-con system can go pop – rather expensively.
ONE WE FOUND: 2007 2.5 T5 SE, 53k miles, £6790
The Monaro was arguably the best use of the griffin badge after it was glued to the Lotus Carlton, and like that loutish’ loon, it’s not technically a Vauxhall. This obnoxious Aussie was imported for just a couple of years and is worth finding simply for the soundtrack of its Corvette-derived V8.
Unsurprisingly, it’s not cheap to run, but it can still be considered affordable in light of same-aged supercars that offer similar performance. It’s also properly rare, too, so you won’t meet many warbling the other way.