10 used cars for less than £5k we found this week
Today’s edition? Non-obvious city cars, each more niche than our article ideas
What makes a Mini great? Well, any number of things, of course – after all, people don’t remember Sir Alec Issigonis’ name more than half a century later just because he did an OK job.
But the true foundation, the bedrock of Mini brilliance, comes down to its size. Or, more to the point, lack thereof.
And yes, so much is pretty patently obvious. So why, then, have we chosen the Clubman? Have its stretched dimensions somehow softened over time? Is a third door that opens straight into traffic (at least in RHD markets) suddenly become a better idea? Are the barn doors any easier to see through? Has defeating the entire purpose of a Mini somehow become more palatable?
Well, that’s a lot of questions for a single straw man to ask, but obviously the answer to all of the above is a resounding no. The Clubman is retro pastiche taken to its natural conclusion, aping something that served a purpose in antiquity but now makes as much sense in modern times as a course of leeches. If you need space on a regular basis, you get a proper estate, a van or people mover. Or, yes, an SUV.
The Clubman, on the other hand – and in spite of it being close to the apotheosis of style over substance – manages to be useful in spite of itself. It manages to be only fractionally worse to drive than the regular Mini hatch, yet offers the opportunity to carry a decidedly practical amount of things. Ditch those rear seats (and any notions of using it as a family wagon) and you’ve basically got a modern Escort panel van – just one without the intimations that what you’ve done will catch up with you eventually.Advertisement - Page continues below
OK, we’ll admit that the RCZ isn’t the first thing that’d pop into your head when it comes to city cars. In fact, there’s a fairly safe bet that it’s not the first thing to pop into your head for any reason, even if you’ve accidentally walked out in front of one and are about to require medical assistance of some variety.
From what we can tell, we’re in that post-production doldrums part of the life cycle, where no one gives much thought to the fact you can get what’s basically a Peugeot 308 GTI (the older, heavier one, but still), formed in an Audi TT-besting shape – Zagato-spec double-bubble roof and all. It claimed all sorts of awards when new, too – including our Coupe of the Year in 2010 – and has even been accused of being a sports car on multiple occasions.
And yet, despite the awards, sporting intimations and stylistic aspirations, the RCZ remains casual, unfussed and unperturbed. Which probably goes some way to explaining why it never seems to pop into anyone’s head.
What, exactly, was the Renault Wind?
Even now, years after it blew through our part of the world (thank you and goodnight), it’s still something that’s rather hard to grasp. Like the... wind, for instance.
So let’s start with what we do know: it was a two-seat, front-drive roadster, with a decent amount of commonality with the Clio and Twingo. Apart from, as we just mentioned, the whole ‘two-seat roadster’ bit. For such a small, specific oddity, Renault kind of went all-out on it – using that huge flip-over-backwards roof from the Ferrari Superamerica 45, for instance, or sculpting the metalwork to the point that until only its dimensions and interior remind you of where it came from. Or that the entire project was given to RenaultSport to sort out.
Like so many things that humans struggle to define, the Wind was never really popular – even over in the UK, the place Renault had in mind for it from the beginning. So, what sold instead? Ah, yes. The MX-5. Yeah, we get it.Advertisement - Page continues below
Originally, we thought we’d hunt for one of those French cabriolets that started off as a hatchback – you know, Megane CC, Peugeot 308 CC, that sort of thing. Just as we’re heading into winter. Because we’re logical like that.
Of course, we could try to explain it with some handwave of ‘they’ll be selling them cheaper’ or some other guff, but the fact is we wanted to find some convertibles for no other real reasons besides the fact that they’re fun and something a bit different to the seas of uninspired dross that we generally see doing city duties. Even in Holland Park, which just goes to show that its residents don’t actually get a customised G-Wagen as a housewarming gift. Which came as something of a surprise to us.
Perhaps a bigger surprise would be to find an MG TF purring in Holland Park Mews, given that a) it is decidedly cheap, b) even when MGs were British, they weren’t exactly a ‘Holland Park’ kind of car, and c) TFs don’t really purr, even when they haven’t swallowed a head gasket whole, do tend to sound rather... chewy. In a good way. Unless the VVT is going, in which case it sounds like a combine harvester trying to thresh a picket fence.
However, should you address the one or two (or six) places where a severely cash-strapped Rover went full pennywise and pound stupid, you’ll have a seriously lightweight, advanced and powerful engine, mid-mounted in a ‘how did they do it for the money?’ mid-engined roadster.
As for how they did it for the money... well, they cheaped out. Obviously.
Suzuki Mighty Boy
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you... which is a thing that apparently happens to people. Is that what beer goggles are? Hm. We’ve wandered away from the point here.
Anywho, this is exactly what it looks like: not just a Kei car, but a Kei ute. And, as you might expect, this niche within a niche was not the runaway worldwide success that something like the small SUV was.
And the Mighty Boy’s rarity keeps multiplying: unlike most Kei cars, it was exported – Australia and apparently Cyprus, because obviously – and unlike most utes, it’s front-wheel drive. From a practical perspective, this means maximum luggage capacity from the decidedly minimal tub on the back. From a young Australian teenager’s perspective, this meant that a pair of McDonald’s trays was a passport to oversteering hilarity.
But we’ll leave that in the past where it belongs and focus instead on the present: a car that has all the attributes that seem important these days. By which we mean rarity, a few decades under its belt and the ability to say ‘JDM’ when describing it. And yet it’ll also be ULEZ exempt (at least in London) and do 60mpg without a sweat. Without any speed, either, but where do you have to be in such a hurry?
Yes, we know what we’re doing. And yes, we know the Niva was constructed with all the care and passion of a McDonald’s hamburger – and relish the inherent irony in that comparison.
But if you love the new Jimny, its simplicity and retro aesthetic – we can relate – but only have a fraction of the funds you need to own one... well, you’re going to need to rationalise a few things.
Retro styling? It doesn’t get more retro than a design that was basically unchanged from the late Seventies. Simplicity? Absolutely – Soviet-era products aren’t exactly known for their superfluous amenities.
But, and hear us out on this one, it’s also got what you need where it counts. It’s a proper unibody (which the Jeep Cherokee proved is no impediment off-road), with independent front suspension, and coil springs all round. It’s also a proper four-wheel-drive, with high and low range, as well as a locking centre differential for proper 50-50 power distribution between the axles. It’s small and lightweight, too – 1.2 tonnes for a proper 4x4 is genuinely impressive – so it’ll work wherever a Jimny does, i.e. everywhere. Except for when it stops working, of course. Then you might need to flag down a Jimny driver.
Daihatsu Charade GTti
One litre, one turbocharger, one hundred horsepower... not exactly astounding figures these days, are they?
But when they combine in a little Japanese hatchback that weighed quite a bit less than one tonne (just a touch more than 800kg, in fact) you see why a Daihatsu – long associated with grandmas and high school graduates – becomes a properly petrolheaded choice.
Just in case you’re harbouring ideas about this being the next 205 GTI or something, we should probably point out that the GTti doesn’t have that same feel as the Peugeot, as similar as the experience would seem on paper. And now that 205s are worth real money, you’ll find people put real money into keeping them in fine fettle. So the argument for Japanese longevity rather goes out the window.
Even so, the Little Daihatsu That Could never really gets the love that it should – no, it’s not the next 205 GTI, but in its defence, it never claimed to be. It’s a happy, hilarious little side note in the history of hot hatches that doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t. No charades, just Charade.Advertisement - Page continues below
If there’s one thing that suits a European (or indeed recently ex-European) cityscape, it’s a small delivery van. And the Kangoo is just that: a van, with some chairs in it.
Hardly something to set your passions ablaze, of course, but we’ve found that time and again, that tends not to be what most people actually want from a car. So to approximate actual useful advice as best as we’re able we find that the Kangoo has as many chairs as you could reasonably expect to need, sliding rear doors to prevent children from performing impromptu panel beating when opening them, and a high roofline for maximum headroom. However, it doesn’t seem to include Max Headroom, who we could really use at a time like this. Don’t facts like that just wipe you out?
There’s also luggage space for days (like Thurs-Fri at least) and airline-style overhead lockers that one person can fill with a bag that’s clearly too big for carry-on and then ruin it for the rest of us.
As for the driving side of things? Well, it’s based on the old Megane platform... and it’s a van. So, it’ll be fine, probably. Remember, not everyone cares about stuff like that.
Alfa Romeo Mito
Remember that old Top Gear film from back in the days of the last financial crisis (ah, capitalism sure is working well), when the trio searched for cheap cars that managed to also be cheerful in some way? The upshot, for those who haven’t, is that most cheap cars are in no way cheerful, but the Fiat 500 is. Back to the studio.
However, during the film, James picks out the Alfa Romeo Mito as a contender for a car that’s both cheap and cheerful. Which rather says all it needs to about Alfa Romeo’s fortunes in the early parts of the 21st Century, but we’ll move past that.
Unlike the similarly sized and admittedly wonderful 500, the Mito used Fiat’s more expensive SCCS Platform, as opposed to the Mini Platform the 500 (and Panda) used. Ah, those Italians. Always so lyrical.
Anywho, the SCCS Platform makes liberal use of high-strength steel. In the Mito this means that, despite using similar torsion-bar rear suspension, the rear can be (and indeed was) stiffened to allow sharper turn in and a bit of old-school... well, we were going to say ‘rear-wheel steer’, given how that’s making a comeback, but the word that actually applies here is ‘hooliganism’.
Just a word of advice for anyone expecting a sharp-as-John-Oliver’s-wit experience out of the box: like any Alfa from this generation – 8C, Giulietta – it takes a fair bit of aftermarket fiddling and finessing to find the car it has the potential to be. Think of the Mito like the Fiat Punto with which it shares a platform: nothing tremendous out of the box, but capable of much more than you’d think – if you’re willing to pursue it.
After all, the Punto – we repeat, the Punto – won the European Rally Championship in 2006. Enough said, no?Advertisement - Page continues below
Kia Soul (the old one)
Not for the first time in this article, we’ve found ourselves asking, ‘What, exactly, is this?’ And, much like with the Renault Wind, we’re going to have to get there by degrees.
It looks like an SUV, but it’s a city car, hardly longer than a Renault Clio. You sit upright, under a tall roofline, but it’s still not an SUV. It’s actually kind of slow, the steering is pretty vague and it’s only two-wheel drive, but no seriously we’re not talking about an SUV.
What it is, despite its name, looks and the suspicion that someone looked at Skoda’s homework, is a bastion of practicality: a slightly higher-riding hatchback with extra headroom and storage space. And the fact that Kia managed to combine it all without ending up with a Ford Fusion is commendable. Add in the surfeit of toys and factor in Kia’s big reliability push (complete with seven year warranties) and you’ll have a comfy, well-appointed city car with all the space you could reasonably expect. Just perhaps no... oh, what’s the word?