YOU WON’T get that new-car smell and they may need some mechanical TLC, but for drivers who want to spend only £1,000 on their next car, these are some of the best budget buys on the used-car forecourt.
Driving has suggestions for £1,000 family cars, fun-to-drive models, cars that are cheap to run and others that are as plush as a luxury hotel suite. Invariably, cars in this price range will be high-mileage and not exactly in the first flush of youth, and the paint would benefit from a drop of polish, but find one that’s been well maintained and boasts a full service history, and there is every chance that your £1,000 runaround will earn its keep for years to come.
Remember to shop around, compare cars back to back with a thorough test drive, check all paperwork and get a quote for insurance. If you’re not mechanically minded, take along a friend who is, and check Driving’s helpful Advice section for used-car buying tips.
Ideal first car: Ford Ka
Dreaming of taking to the open road for the first time? Try a Ford Ka. Used models are not only cheap to buy; they’re also cheap to insure, service and repair. The 1.3-litre engine wasn’t the last word in sophistication, but it uses a chain to drive the camshaft – a bonus as it’s less likely to go wrong – pulls keenly, doesn’t drink too much fuel (42mpg) and is cheap to have serviced at your local garage.
The best thing about the Ka is how well it drives. That’s because it has a wheel placed as far out as possible at each corner, much like the original Mini. So its roadholding is surprisingly good, which means that maintaining the momentum you have built up – a tiresome task in the relatively low-powered Ka – is easy enough.
It seats four and the boot isn’t a bad size either, so as low-cost budget transport goes, the Ka is a sensible starting point. We found a 76,000 mile, 2003 Ka Collection that has more equipment than basic models for £995.
Luxury as standard: Rover 75
The Rover 75 is one of those cars the critics like to refer to as “underrated”. It was a family saloon car that offered a refreshingly different take from the many obvious, German saloons, such as the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-class. The problem for Rover, and its parent company BMW, was that not enough buyers were interested in defying convention. Sales were slow and Rover went bust in 2005.
This 1999 version is a 1.8-litre petrol in Club trim. It’s a handsome car, albeit one that’s finished with more chrome parts than bathroom, which may not be to everyone’s taste. Still, for £795, why let some cosmetic embellishments put you off?
It comes with a year’s MOT, and if all is well with this particular car, the suspension should give a supple, smooth ride and the engine will pull along with muted enthusiasm. In Club trim it’s loaded with equipment, too. Just be sure to take a test drive and check everything works as it should…
For ferrying the family: Renault Scénic
When it comes to ferrying the family around, nothing is as practical as a people carrier, and no one as been making them longer than Renault. The Scénic fits five in comfort, as there are five individual seats, and three of them have Isofix mounting points for child seats (two in the back and the front passenger seat).
Any car at this price will look a little tired, and a people carrier like the Scénic is no exception, as children will have put it through its paces. But don’t worry about cosmetic blemishes and concentrate on what does and doesn’t work – in particular the folding rear seats and all electrical items.
There’s no highlight to the driving experience, especially in the 2004-plate 70,000-mile, 1.6-litre petrol model we spotted, other than to say it’s acceptably refined at speed and the suspension is comfortable enough whether for pottering around town or on a longer trip.
Just for fun: Ford Puma
The Puma is a hoot to drive. So if you’re looking to have fun at the wheel, this is probably as good as things get for £1,000. With the Puma, Ford nailed what it is that makes cars fun to drive – quick steering, responsive handling, a nice gearchange and a sweet engine – and packaged the whole lot up in a distinctive body that looks great from the front, if slightly awkward from behind.
The 1.7-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine was developed with help from Yamaha; it is silky-smooth and loves to be revved hard. It needs to have had regular servicing to stay healthy – oil changes are particularly important – so check any car’s service book and paperwork carefully.
The back seats and boot are tiny, but that’s not a concern for selfish drivers who just want to enjoy the open road. And rust can be lurking on the body, especially around the rear wheelarches. But in general you buy a £1,000 Puma just for fun.
Built to last: Honda Legend
If you’re happy to roll the dice and take a chance on a large, luxurious car that would have been expensive in its day, the Honda Legend is the one that’s worth a roll. Owners swear by their reliability, but as ever that comes with a caveat – it has to have been serviced according to the manufacturer’s schedule.
What do you get? Space to stretch out in, plush heated leather seats that favour the fuller figure and nearly as many bells and whistles as in the cockpit of an airliner. The 3.5-litre V6 engine was smooth and hushed, and the suspension was tuned to give a comfortable ride – traits a well-cared-for example should still exhibit.
There are downsides, though. Road tax is expensive (£230 a year) and, at best fuel economy hovers around the 23mpg mark. But if you’re a driver that doesn’t travel many miles each year and want a car that feels sumptuous, the Legend should make you feel very comfortable indeed.