Car clinic: What small hatchback is economical but also fun to drive?

Your used car questions answered


Q. Is it possible to buy a small hatchback that is economical but also good fun to drive? I have £8,000 to spend on a replacement for my tired Peugeot 306.

JM, London


A. Frugal cars that are fun to drive do exist — and the best is the Mini Cooper D. Powered by a 1.6-litre diesel engine, it can eke out as many as 72 miles for every gallon of fuel, yet has enough get-up-and-go to make the most of the Cooper’s sporty handling. Like all Mini hatchbacks, even the fuel-efficient D model has been engineered to be a hoot on a winding road. The steering and front tyres respond keenly and the little car flies round corners as if on rails. The compromise is that you have to put up with rather firm suspension and precious little space in the back seat and the boot.

A 40,000-mile 2010 Cooper D costs about £8,000, but the age and mileage of the cars in this price range can vary widely, so browse the classifieds on to get a feel for what’s available.

The Ford Fiesta may not be the most stylish thing on four wheels, but it is Britain’s bestselling car, which ensures there are plenty of used examples around at low prices.

A 2011 Fiesta with the 1.6-litre TDCi diesel engine and 20,000 miles on its clock will cost much the same as the older, higher-mileage Mini Cooper D. It can return 69mpg on the combined cycle and feels pretty peppy when you’re on the move. The best thing about the Fiesta is that it manages to be nearly as much fun to drive as the Mini, but with a ride that is more forgiving of broken-surfaced British roads.

Given that you value fun, an outside contender worth test-driving is the BMW 1-series, and specifically the 120d. As a new car it was more expensive than the smaller Mini and Fiesta, so you’ll probably have to settle on an older car for your budget.

I’m recommending it because it is one of the few compact cars to have rear-wheel drive, which gives more responsive handling and greater poise on winding roads. Its 2-litre engine is punchy, but with a combined-cycle 53mpg it isn’t as frugal as the Mini.

For your budget I found a 60,000-mile, 2009 120d.

Jason Dawe


Mini cooper best used car buy

Mini Cooper D

For Cheeky design; holds its value well; frugal to drive Against The back seats and boot are small

Search for used Minis on


Fiesta Zetec ECOnetic front 2011 (UK) (9/28/2011)

Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCI

For Plentiful; affordable; comfy Against Doesn’t have the feelgood factor of the Mini or BMW

Search for used Ford Fiestas on

BMW 1-series used car guide

BMW 120d

For Powerful engine; handling is enhanced by rear-wheel drive Against You’ll be buying an older car

Search for a used BMW 1-series



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