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10 of the best cars for £1,000: a Top Gear guide

As ULEZ boots a load of old cars onto the market, it's time to go bargain hunting

Alfa Romeo GT - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000
  1. Ford Puma 1.7

    Ford Puma 1.7 - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    Numerous members of the Top Gear team have owned one of these. Bring it up at your peril though, lest they go misty-eyed and you lose the next hour of your life to tales of ‘balletic handling’ and ‘superb gearchanges’. But yeah, the Puma does both of those things, and it’s arguably even more fun than the Racing Puma special spun from it (and now worth 15 times as much cash). Beware rust, especially around the rear arches. Or worry little about such things, buy a Puma on its last legs, and simply have a ball until it’s no longer roadworthy.

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  2. Toyota RAV4

    Toyota RAV4 - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    Top Gear wholeheartedly endorses small crossover SHOCK! And one of the origins of the breed, no less. The mk1 RAV4 landed in 1994, back when a mocha wasn’t even a mainstream drink, never mind a crossover cluttering the Matalan car park. And the mk1 RAV4 was fun; genuinely smart to drive and available not only with three-door, five-door and soft-top versions, but as an electric car in California. You won’t get one of those for a grand (or at all in Britain), but its petrol-powered mates could be the cheery winter wagon you never knew you needed.

  3. Alfa Romeo GT Coupe

    Alfa Romeo GT Coupe - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    Our instinct was to steer you towards an E46-generation BMW 3 Series Coupe, which fits into budget and has aged an absolute treat if you can dig out an unmolested one in budget. But that’d be a ‘head’ choice, where our ‘heart’ very much screams Alfa. The GT Coupe melded styling elements from the gorgeous 156 saloon onto a 2+2 coupe which – sacrilege! – came with the offer of diesel engines. They are what mostly occupy the classifieds now, especially as you delve below £1,500. There are few prettier ways to clog up your driveway.

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  4. MG ZR

    MG ZR - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    The Lotus Esprit. The Jaguar XJR-15. The McLaren F1. And this. All designs that have dribbled out of the end of Peter Stevens’ pen, only one of which is routinely available for a grand. Stevens was tasked with giving Rover’s OAP-friendly 25, 45 and 75 an ASBO-worthy makeover to make the MG ZR, ZS and ZT at the turn of the century. Whisper it, but they were all actually pretty decent to drive too. The Citroen Saxos have now rusted away, making this your best bet for a weeny budget hot hatch. One with an only slightly tenuous link to supercar sainthood.

  5. Mercedes-Benz SLK…

    Mercedes-Benz SLK - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    …or just about any Noughties folding hard-top you care to name. Yep, the trend of the decade before last –  and the seemingly infinite sprawl of overly complex mainstream cabrios it bred – is now basically the bargain bin of the used car market. Pop a brave pill and you can head back a decade further and buy the car to blame for it all, the original Merc SLK, for as little as a grand. Too much of a gamble? The Nissan Micra C+C, Mitsubishi Colt CZC and eleventy-thousand Peugeot 206CCs are calling your name.

  6. Volvo XC90

    Volvo XC90 - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    Alright, finding an XC90 for a grand is going to involve patience and a fairly relaxed attitude. A relaxed attitude to statements like ‘is it okay that it’s done two laps of the sun?’ and ‘it won’t really shift into fifth gear, that alright?’. But with suitably low standards you too could be the proud owner of the luxe family SUV. And given Volvo didn’t replace it for 12 years, sticking some questionable private plates on a leggy 2002 original could just convince your fellow school runners your car was made in the last decade.

  7. Smart Forfour

    Smart ForFour - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    There are, as you might expect, a lot of superminis on offer for £1,000. At this sort of budget, buying one close to home from someone you trust is probably priority. Failing that, going Japanese – with a Micra, Jazz or Yaris – is your next safest bet. But you’ve come to Top Gear, meaning you want some brio in your small car.

    So why not the slightly gawky but ‘actually is it just me, or has it aged quite well?’ Smart Forfour, the 2003 original based upon the Mitsubishi Colt of its time. So it’s still Japanese beneath the surface…

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  8. Saab 9-3 V6

    Saab 9-3 - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    Delve back into the Top Gear car review archive and you might not find overwhelmingly kind words about the Noughties 9-3. Owing to Saab’s somewhat neglectful stewardship by General Motors, it’s not far off a Vauxhall Vectra in disguise. But it earns a place on this list if you seek the best power-per-pound ratio possible, for a 250bhp sports saloon is surely hard to resist for a bag of sand. Even if it’s not actually that sporty. Convertibles and estates also fall into budget too, believe it or not.

  9. Subaru Legacy

    Subaru Legacy - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    You want a big barge? This corner of the car market is brimming with barges. Every possible flavour of Ford Mondeo appears to be on offer, but take a bit of a punt and you can go a little more glamorous. We’re talking frameless-window glamour. Boxer-engine glamour. Curious-import-with-amibiguous-and-intriguing-history glamour.

    In the dark, people might mistake the looks and noise for a contemporary Impreza. In the light, so might the bloke at the garage writing out your service bill. Either way, we reckon the Legacy is a slice of cool.

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  10. Volvo C30

    Volvo C30 - Top Gear's best cars for £1,000

    A second Volvo! And one at quite the other end of the spectrum to the XC90 and, well, just about every other Volvo ever made. Chiefly owing to the fact it’s not especially practical. You won’t get many more airbags for a grand, but can certainly get a lot more boot space. But if you don’t dare take a risk on an Audi TT at this budget (they’re there, but it’s very much ‘buyer beware’) then the C30 is a style-led alternative that seems implausibly good value these days.

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