10 awesome two-car garages for the price of a single Volkswagen Polo
People’s car? Not at more than 18 grand, it ain’t. Here’s 10 perfect one-two punches for your hard-earned pounds
We begin today’s odyssey into overlooked used-car bargains with the always engrossing subject of economic theory. Yes, it’s inflation, which manages to rival even End User Licence Agreements in the dullness-to-importance ratio.
The cheapest Polo costs £18,285, which does feel like an almost presumptuous asking price for a bog-standard small hatchback. But somehow, while we’ve all been watching the concomitant car crashes of COVID, climate catastrophe and comprehensive corruption (not to mention the worst case of unnecessary alliteration ever witnessed in car journalism), we really weren’t keeping an eye on inflation.
So really, when you think about it, the fact that money buys you anything at all is becoming more and more of a luxury. So the fact that it could – with some forethought, finagling and a fairly generous interpretation of reliability – actually net you some pretty awesome two-car garages is something approaching a miracle. Yes, maths fans, that means 20 vehicles, all encased in an article that was very patiently directed by our editor to contain exactly 10. Sorry boss.Advertisement - Page continues below
For the brand tragic: Peugeot 505 GTI and 406 Coupe V6
Being a brand tragic is one thing. Well aside from the fact that it singles you out as being... well, singularly unimaginative, it also precludes you from the incredible products on offer from competing brands. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t possess a guitar without the swirly Fender logo on the headstock.
However, being a brand tragic enters an entirely different league when it’s a steadfast adherence to a brand that’s not exactly inhabiting the upper echelon of its field. There’s a certain wilful contrariness – and assumed defensiveness – that’s part and parcel with limiting yourself to something that’s not the best, nor the most popular, nor the best value.
Which brings us very neatly to Peugeot. Yes, there’s the 205 GTi and the T16 and the 504 Coupe, but a fixation on Peugeots won’t exactly bear the same sort of fruit as Porsches, will it?
Then again, that rather misses the point a bit. If you start barking up Peugeot’s tree for all things air-cooled, rear-engined and eye-wateringly valuable, you can’t really blame the tree for not bearing fruit. Or indeed wondering how many more metaphors we’re willing to murder.
Moribund metaphors aside, our point is that searching for superlatives from a brand that has rarely dealt in them is just a recipe for disappointment. But to consider just what you can find – and the money you can find it for – makes steering away from the obvious a trip worth taking.
For instance, you might find the 505 GTi – a proper Peugeot GTi from the 1980s, when that badge meant the most it ever has. It’s not the of-the-moment 205, but we’re still talking about a car that offered a 130bhp 2.2-litre four-cylinder that basically begs to be called rorty, as well as five-speed manual, rear-drive and (in many cases) a limited-slip diff. And it was all fitted to the 505, an update of the 504 that retained much of the older car’s legendary reliability, with design input from both Pininfarina and Paul Bracq – the latter you might remember for being the designer of the Mercedes SL Pagoda. Decent with the pens, then.
Now, a 505 GTi by itself would sort us out, but we did promise two-car garages, so we may as well take the opportunity to find the other extreme of Peugeot. No, not crap. Waft, good people. Maximum waft.
To wit, the 406 Coupe is not a sports car in any fashion. The gear change is both long in its throw and about as vague as a politician’s answer. The seats exhibit much the same squidge as a bowl of yoghurt and the suspension is softer than the questions on a chat show.
But we’re talking about another Peugeot with bona fide Pininfarina design (no Bracq this time, unfortunately), a genuine four-seat coupe that wonders if the ‘GT’ in GT cars couldn’t stand for Gentle Touring instead.
If you’re clever, you won’t take a bit of our advice, which is really just a series of ‘really good ideas’ that never passed muster with our sensible significant other. But if you’re just barely clever enough to be in the hunt for a Peugeot 406 coupe, do go ahead and insist on the three-litre V6 and the five-speed manual, remembering that the 406 really, really isn’t a sports car. The manual is there for the sheer, tactile joy of changing gears (however long or indeed vague those changes might be) and the V6 is for the sound more than the 200bhp or so it delivers.
Of course, should your budget extend beyond simple base-model Polo money (hey, it could happen), you’ll be able to pick up a pair of properly fun Peugeots for less than the cost of a mid-spec Polo. Yes, not just a 505 GTi, but also your choice of a 106 or 306 Rallye and a 505 GTi. Now that’s the kind of brand loyalty we can get behind.
For the two-wheels-good crowd: Well, motorbikes. Obviously
Now, to be entirely fair, you could buy 18 perfectly fine motorcycles for the cost of a single new VW Polo. But that’s a) hardly useful, b) really going to take a while to write and c) does start to stretch the friendship with ‘advice’ further than even we’re willing to take it.
And, realising that we’ve promised a two-car garage and are now moments away from offering a zero-car garage, you might be wondering exactly are we going to square this with you. Well, without wanting to seem flippant, pretty easily.
If you conceptualise the size of a two-car garage, you’ll notice that it leaves room for more motorcycles, regardless of how spatially challenged you might be. In fact, it’s well within the bounds of reason to fit four bikes in the garage space for two cars, with room left over for tool chests, more spare cogs than your average Rolex factory and enough chains to haunt a hundred Christmases.
So, armed with four hypothetical spaces, we now have the happy task of finding bikes to fill them. And the truly wonderful part here is that there’s no need for any of those Jack-of-all-trades bikes, a compromised machine that really will be a master of none. To complete the set, you’ll want a sports or superbike, a daily beater, a motocross / enduro trail tackler and a tourer. And yes, just £18,000 will have your cup running over with brilliant bikes.
Now, there’s also the small matter of priorities. Are you a track-day and twisty-road aficionado? Throw the bulk of the money into something quick and gorgeous, like the near-unrivalled gorgeousness of the MV Agusta F4. Need something faster? No, you really don’t. So, that’ll soak up £10,000 on its own, leaving you less than nine grand for three bikes. But it’s bikes, so it’s still not an issue. Grab a Suzuki DRZ400 for daily duties and any rocky road stuff, a Honda XR or CRF250 for trails and an old Honda Super Blackbird for long-distance touring – at a pace that’ll still widen your eyes to anime spec.
If you’re of an age or disposition where what we’ve described is your idea of Dante’s ninth circle, you’ll be a perfect candidate to spend the most on a comfy tourer. That’ll mean a Honda if you’re clever and a Harley if you aren’t. The Gold Wing is the obvious pick; peerless reliability and near-painful depreciation mean your tenure as owner will be like the old Patek Philippe ads – ‘you just pass it down to the next generation’. Except Pateks don’t really depreciate, so the metaphor does fall down a bit. Sticking with the £10,000 limit as before, you’ll easily grab the later bikes that outdo cars for sheer spec: a 1.8-litre flat-six engine with more than 120bhp and 120lb ft, a five-speed manual (with reverse!), sat nav, cruise control, stereo with iPod integration and a bona fide airbag. When we’re old and grey, this is the bike you’ll see us on.
Or, if a day without hitting the trail is a fail, if braap is life, if falling in the forest is the only way to feel sound, you’re best off using the lion's share of your coin for something owned by Austrians. Choose KTM for full-bore insanity, or Swedish sister company Husqvarna for full-bore insanity with a slightly comfier seat. Or, if you’re wantonly contrarian (we can relate), dig up the cleanest Husaberg FE 570 you can find – and a second one for spares, now that Husaberg has gone to the great single track in the sky.
Finally, if you’re looking to spend big on your daily beater, you may have missed the point of that bike entirely. But if you absolutely insist on throwing money at the don’t-throw-money-at-this bike, an old BMW F800 GS will get you out of light to medium trouble and fit in perfectly at the local Starbucks.Advertisement - Page continues below
For environmentalists: a Renault Twizy and a bicycle
Of course. Here comes Top Gear, conflating environmentalism with a penchant for petitions, a permanently furrowed brow and a predilection for pushbikes. But not so fast there, chief – we’re actually here to argue something very different: that having fun does not mean burning petrol.
Yes, it’s the sort of argument that you’d imagine would come stapled to a letter of resignation around these parts, but the fact is that even children know that fun comes from being on wheels, and the rest is rather immaterial. From your first balance bike to a Bugatti, the fact is that any vehicle holds the promise of proper entertainment. Yes, even Vauxhalls.
Of course, the entertainment value is easier to find on some vehicles than others, but that doesn’t mean it has to have an engine to qualify. In fact, the bicycle stands apart as a perfect combination of the most easily accessed wheels and the most easily accessed entertainment. Sure, in our mostly miserable country, they’re used to commute to work in the rain, but it takes a rare machine to make that entertaining. Remember being a kid and doing, and we quote, ‘mad skids’, wheelies and jumps? If so, it might be time to rekindle that. If not, find a bike and rediscover (or indeed discover) the joy.
As for the car... well, environmentally friendly cars that are also fun aren’t what you’d call super easy to come by. You wouldn’t call it a rhinoceros, water polo or indeed late for dinner either, but that seems rather beside the point. And still leaves us with the original problem, well before you complicate things by trying to find them for less than a basic Polo. Electric Golfs and Nissan Leafs abound for that money, of course, but to call them entertaining is to fundamentally misunderstand the word and perhaps even the entire English language.
And this brings us to the Renault Twizy. Technically, it’s not a car – like the hilarious voitures sans permis and the hideous G-Wiz, the Twizy is a quadricycle, which means all sorts of legal things that really don’t concern us and hard limits to size, power and weight which do. Because, much like the Kei rules in Japan, the limitations placed on quadricycles in Europe (and whatever we’re up to these days) make for some fascinating and truly unique vehicles.
The Twizy, for example, has all of 17bhp and will need a fairly vertiginous drop to ever exceed its 50mph top speed. There’s 30 to 40 miles of range if you drive it anything like we do and it would take the patience of an Emergency Room nurse to achieve the official 60 miles between charges. But then it takes all of three hours to charge from flat using the inbuilt charger, so it’s not exactly like there’s a huge penalty for emptying the battery.
Compared to almost any other car, the ecological impact of building the Twizy is almost negligible, even with batteries that we’re constantly reminded are somehow worse for the environment than literally cracking it open and sucking up the goo that pours out. And besides, you’re buying a second-hand Twizy, so you’re not asking any more of the world than the little it had to give for a diminutive almost-car already.
But what we’ve told you so far is much more about the practicalities of the Twizy than the promise of entertainment.
And it’s fun. It’s fun in the way mopeds are in Vietnam, or Tuk-Tuks in Thailand, or indeed those franken-bike things you get on Philippine islands (guess where we like to holiday). You’re out in the elements, cranking every last bit of performance from the machine under you. It’s the antithesis of the modern car. It’s the antithesis of the modern way. And that’s what makes it perfect.
So, even though there’s only 17bhp, there’s a much healthier 42lb ft that fires you off the line with that instant-on torque that only electric motors (and presumably tugboats) can muster. It peters out before you’ve even crested city speeds, which then makes driving a Twizy all about momentum in a way almost no other modern car is. And if you’ve not experienced the glee of treating the brake like a big ‘GAME OVER’ button, you are in for something of a treat.
Aiding your 30-mile-an-hour madness is a car body that’s as narrow as some human bodies, so width restrictors just become a case of Someone Else’s Problem. Add in the (quite necessary) central driving position and you’ve got the same balance and equal forward visibility as a McLaren F1. Or indeed F1 car.
It’s small and lightweight. Which means it only needs 17bhp to sit comfortably at 30mph without chewing through amp hours. And because it’s light, it’ll get to 30 as quickly as the rest of the traffic does. It’s light and balanced enough not to need power-assisted steering, nor even power-assisted brakes. And the discs are about the size of a mountain bike’s. By keeping the weight down, the Twizy kicks off a virtuous circle that shows the maximum benefits of minimum weight. Really, it’s almost as if Gordon Murray had a hand in making it.
Hang on a minute... Rear-drive. An absence of power assistance. Central seating position. Weird cubby holes for luggage. Low weight. Scissor doors. Seats that look like they’re pinched from a Kubrick film. Gordon, mate, did you design the Twizy too?
For the weekend warrior: Toyota Hilux and a jetski
Regular hatchbacks are wonderful things. All the space, storage and indeed ground clearance you really need, tucked into a compact package that takes all the tension out of tight city streets or narrow back roads. But where they do fall down a touch is if you’re the sort that’s even keener to escape the big city than Snake Plissken.
Because unless your idea of outdoor pursuits extends no further than naked rambling, getting away from it all generally entails bringing quite a bit of it all with you. That means tent, fly, barbecue, gas bottle, ice chest (esky or chilly bin for our Antipodean cousins), towels, toiletries and a pair of flip-flops for the disgusting communal shower. And that’s before you’ve even thought to take the fishing rods / mountain bikes / boat / spelunking equipment to keep yourself entertained over the weekend. To carry this lot, you’ll likely need a pick-up truck, and probably a dual-cab one at that.
It follows that if you’re going to buy a pick-up truck, putting up with the slings, arrows and other suitably medieval weapons that come with a ladder-frame chassis and leaf springs, you may as well seek shelter in the knowledge that the pick-up you’re piloting is broadly indestructible. And there’s only one that’s earned that title: the Toyota Hilux.
In fact, a few of the in-budget Hiluxes we found were, quite genuinely, in a trim level called ‘Invincible’. And it’d take braver people than we are to christen anything that didn’t have the goods to back up that sort of moniker.
As we’re not exactly the most outdoorsy people you’ve ever met (besides the few in the office who insist that climbing a freezing cold mountain is in some way equivalent to a good time), we’re not super up on the cost of a jet-ski. But a quick go-round of the usual second-hand suspects have told us two things. The first is that it’s entirely possible to afford a Hilux, jetski and trailer for the cost of a new base-model Polo, and the second is that people really are adamant that they know what they have. Which has to be a good thing if they’re trying to sell it, right? Otherwise you’d risk trying to sell a pitchfork to someone who wants cutlery, or something.
For the family-first kind of parent: Ford S-Max and a Volvo 850... T-5R
First things first. As any parent will tell you – beyond the usual about how sleep deprivation was used as a torture technique in Guantanamo and how many parallels they’re starting to draw with their own lives – is that once you have a kid, all sorts of objects start multiplying in your house like brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And that means, regardless of what you might prefer, you’re going to need space. Lots of space. And if you have any inkling of enjoying driving after procreation, there’s really only two choices: a fast estate and an MPV that doesn’t make you want to sign up for Exit International just on spec.
Of course, you could buy quite a range of family vans for similar money or indeed much less. The Nissan Elgrand, for example. But as the heading of this article did specify ‘awesome’ and not ‘designed to look like a Gillette razor on a bar of soap’, we’ll probably stick with the S-Max. Also, if you are a budding car designer, please remember that while a shower is a great place for ideas, it’s not supposed to be a mood room.
Also, and this probably bears repeating, the S-Max still drives a lot like a regular car. In fact, it does bear repeating, so bear with us: the S-Max drives a lot like a regular car. Not a Honda S2000, of course, but about as well as an average family estate and better than a great many jumped-up monstrosities that we’re supposed to think are somehow more practical because there’s an extra inch of ground clearance. As a small aside, there is a very specific point where more does not necessarily mean better. In most circles, this is generally referred to as ‘enough’. So, for all the SUV makers and buyers out there, enough.
But, as ever, we digress. The S-Max we’ve chosen for the two-car garage is cheap enough to be immune to solicitude and yet powered by a drivetrain you will worry about ever having to give up: Ford’s brilliant 2.5-litre, five-cylinder turbo, channelled through a six-speed manual. That’s the Focus ST engine, which means 217bhp, 236lb ft and 0 to 60 in about seven seconds... in a seven-seat family van. And it then follows that you can give your children a practical demonstration of the Dylan Thomas poem they learned in school that day – specifically that bit about ‘raging against the dying of the light’, no?
Now, eventually your little darlings will grow up to be quite not-little and likely not-darlings. At around this point, it’s time to teach them how to drive and then set them loose on public roads. So you’re going to want something big enough that every one of their friends has their own seatbelt and a lot of very strong metal around them for the inevitable trip through a hedge. And a Volvo 850 estate ticks those boxes perfectly, as it should. Adding the T5R bit just means the years before it becomes a teenage charabanc are that much more interesting.
For those of a classic car bent: Mini 1000 and Volvo PV544
And we just got through talking up a Volvo from yesteryear. Scrape off our faces and make an omelette, et cetera.
If you’re going to go for a classic car, it may as well look old. And the Volvo PV544 already looked old when it was brand-spanking new. But the geriatric skin belied the serious performance chops it had – claiming international rally and endurance race victories across Europe and the US. Presumably while mystified onlookers were trying to figure out how what looked like a 1940s Ford was smashing 1960s cars into a fine paste.
Then again, if we’re talking about proper giant killers, at some point we’re almost obliged to acknowledge the David that felled any number of automotive Goliaths. Yes, it’s the Mini, as much of an example of ‘Light is Right’ as anything from Colin Chapman or indeed Gordon Murray. Really, it seems the secret sauce in the automotive world is to keep the weight down first, then add as much power as the situation demands.
For classic car purposes, the 1000cc engine in the Austin (or whichever) Mini will be more than enough... to start. Fair warning: if you go down the rabbithole of engine / gearbox modding... well. One day you’ll find 10 years have got behind you. Really.Advertisement - Page continues below
For road-trippers: the Volkswagen T3 Syncro and BMW R80 G/S
Look, we spend a lot of time finding new and interpretative definitions of ‘advice’, ‘good ideas’ and indeed ‘day job’, but every so often we dream up something that really does give us pause. Why, exactly, we didn’t have this idea years ago? What’s stopping us doing it now? And how serious is it when you drink enough coffee to give yourself heart palpitations?
Well, the fact is that we kind of did have this idea years ago. In fact, if you look right here, you’ll see that both building blocks of this idea are sitting there, as plain as the nose on Gerard Depardieu’s face. What we failed to do is connect them in the absolutely correct and retrospectively fairly obvious way. Which we shall now attempt to redress. For anyone curious, the answers to part two and three of the question are, in order, something about needing larger numbers in our bank account, and coffee doesn’t apparently give you palpitations – it’s just good old-fashioned anxiety about the world falling down around our ears. Y’know, regular stuff. Let’s move on.
The truest of truisms is... probably up for debate, especially in an era where the entire concept of truth is subject to more interpretation than it’d get in a third-year philosophy class. But a regular-strength truism that’s somewhat relevant to our point is that the best road trips are rarely found on the best-quality roads. And often the most memorable places are found halfway down the most horrible roads.
To wit, you’re likely best off with a vehicle designed to soak up the kind of punishment usually reserved for the BDSM crowd, something as simple as a Marvel film and as easy to fix as a Russian election. And that means unstressed, air-cooled boxer engines, frames and suspension that rival ultra-marathons for sheer toughness, and the word ‘Gelande’ used by at least someone who came up with the vehicle in question.
The ‘G/S’ in R80 G/S stood for Gelande/Strasse, which literally translates into Land/Street, figuratively into Off-road/On-road, and very definitely not into ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’. Now you know. It’s a bike that won the Paris-Dakar more times than Scott Morrison can count, and basically invented the adventure bike category. It also saved BMW Motorrad from bankruptcy, but we’d be here all day if we do the full history lesson. So here’s our version of the Cliff Notes: Dakar wins. Saved company. Round-world trip. Darien Gap. Get one.
As for the T3 Syncro, well, it’s our old friends at Steyr-Puch over in Austria. And if you’ve not been to Austria, it turns out that a fair chunk of it is found off a road, halfway up a mountain that’s steeper than the drinks menu at a Soho bar and twice as intoxicating. So they know their business when it comes to designing four-wheel-drive systems to surmount them. The mountains, that is. Best of luck surmounting the bar tab at Soho Lounge.
The T3 Syncro, as you likely have already figured out, uses a Steyr-Puch four-wheel-drive system to take it places a Kombi van couldn’t dream of getting, spawning the run of 4WD vans from Japan and basically ensuring that you can take your van a-rocking where there’s no one there to come a-knocking. Yeah, that wasn’t our finest work.
Anywho, the power move, as far as we see it, is to mount the R80 G/S to the back of the T3 Syncro and head off to whichever parts of the wild blue yonder take your fancy, taking everything you need for an all-terrain road trip, including a bike that’s part ultra-reliable back-up vehicle, part camp runabout, part desert-crossing dune basher. Honestly, really struggling to figure out why we didn’t have this idea earlier. Oh, wait...
For the outdoorsy sort: Land Rover 90/Defender and... Land Rover Discovery
If you’ve been reading along so far, you might notice that we just got through outlining two particularly off-road-ready vehicles and are now recommending something entirely else for what appears to be the exact same scenario. You might remember that we also did the ‘two cars from one manufacturer’ thing already. You might even feel that in this article alone, we’ve written enough words to exhaust the dictionary and will have to start again from the top. But we haven’t. Asceticism. Engender. Lugubriousness. Sempiternal. Quandaries. Moot. See? Loads to go.
And, as if to ease your mind, our recommendation here is for a machine that quite literally has no more stories to tell. Coincidentally enough, every single word that could be uttered about the Land Rover already has been, and to try to find more would be an exercise in futility. Although... has anyone ever said that while the asceticism of the cabin could well engender lugubriousness in its driver, the fact is that the sempiternal nature of the Defender renders such quandaries moot? Wait... someone did?
Well, there you have it. The classic Land Rover 90 we have no need to introduce, to explain why it’s our pick for this purpose or to argue for its place in the two-car garage of the outdoors-minded individual. As for the Discovery, basically take everything you know about the Land Rover 90 and Defender, add some creature comforts and make it break down much more often. And there you have it.
You might rightly question why we’d recommend a car that’s famed for being as reliable as a McDonald's soft serve machine and requiring twice as long to fix. Ah, well... see, the genius in this plan is that at least one of your cars is guaranteed to be working on the day you need to take it somewhere. Possibly. Almost.Advertisement - Page continues below
For the track day lover: Toyota MR2 and Suzuki Swift Sport
In our younger and more vulnerable years, we got some advice that we’ve been turning over in our heads ever since. “That’s a speed limit, not a challenge,” they said. “If you want to go fast, take it to the track.”
But in our younger and more vulnerable years, we were a touch short of the cash required to just pop out for a track day when the mood – or indeed the imp of the perverse – struck. But now, in our older and more vindictive years, we finally have enough to... no, wait. Gas bill. Next month, then.
But if you’re the sort with a budget that can land you a new VW Polo, the world is your freshly shucked oyster. Or even something that tastes good and isn’t a slimy grey ocean booger. And that has to be good news.
So, if you’re not up on the prices of MR2s and Swift Sports in the UK (how dare you), you might not be aware that this particular two-car garage starts at a very reasonable £5,000 – that’s for two registered, road and racetrack-worthy cars, each a bucket of laughs and neither a bucket of bolts. Honestly, it does feel like we should get some sort of reward for this. Oh, that’s what a salary is? There you go.
Anywho, it does stand to reason (or at least what passes for reason around these parts) that you could, in fact, buy a pair of MR2s, a couple of Swift Sports and indeed a shedload of spares and go-faster bits before you reached the price of a new base-model Polo. But we could be more reasonable still (because that’s what you come here for) and suggest capping it at a single MR2 and Swift Sport, some spares, tyres and safety bits, leaving a satisfyingly large chunk of change left over for track day licences and entry fees. Good grief. If we get more sensible, we’ll have to change careers and become a conveyancer or business consultant or something.
Before we move on, we should address the track-day elephant in the room. And not daydream for too long about how exactly a track day for elephants might work. So, for less than new Polo money, you could still get an EP3 Civic Type R and a Renault Clio Sport. But we’ve already recommended them very recently. And while it wouldn’t exactly be plagiarism to just run the very same list a second time, it does feel like we’d be setting new standards in phoning it in. Like ‘Calling on a Gertrude from the Mariana Trench’ kind of phoning it in. But it’s worth mentioning that these brilliant track-day options are still very much still on the table.
For those who think this entire article is contrived and just want a VW Polo: how about TWO Volkswagen Polos?
Yeah, that’ll learn ya.
Well, to our slight credit, you can easily buy a Polo GTI (late-gen or otherwise) with new base-model Polo money, and still have enough left over to buy a second, cheapo Polo for all that dreary daily driving, with its attendant wear, tear and overbearing speed limits.
That way, you can save your nicer, faster, safer Polo for when speeds grow larger, distances grow longer, and passengers grow more precious. It’ll still be a Polo, of course, so any notions of sparing it for better resale or because it’ll be a classic some day are really up there with the Freedom Convoy in terms of... um, ‘interesting interpretations of reality’, so don’t be too precious about it.
Also, if you feel like finding yourself right in the centre of our good books, it’s worth remembering that the late Nineties Polo came as an estate, with a five-speed manual. Talk about doing more with less...