Six of the best used cars we found this week
Our picks for any budget from £1,000 to £20,000. Some bravery might be required
£1k: Ford Puma
If, for whatever reason, you’re a big fan of reading the phrase ‘spares and repair’, ‘P/X to clear’ and ‘no MOT’, searching for a car for less than £1,000 is a singularly productive avenue.
It really does seem that, even in Britain, 1,000 pounds is no longer enough to find a car that manages to combine ‘interesting’, ‘reliable’ and ‘still comprising all of its component parts’.
So what rabbit have we pulled from the hat this week, when even MX-5s at this price point are, even speaking euphemistically, little more than ‘project cars’?
It can only be the original Puma 1.7 – Ford’s gift to our cold and wet corner of the world, which took the humdrum (if perfectly decent) platform of the Fiesta and created a svelte sports coupe with a Yamaha-fettled four-cylinder and handling that made you wonder how they did it for the money. So it’s only right that the Puma is now one of very few ways to be miserly without being miserable, no?Advertisement - Page continues below
£2k: Mazda MX-5
Of course we’re going to get the MX-5 in here. And no, it’s not a problem for us that it’s an obvious answer. It’s obvious, for instance, to not dive head-first into a medical waste bin, swim off the coast of Maui with your board shorts full of chum or attempt dentistry with a jackhammer.
And besides, buying an MX-5 on the cheap actually adds to the experience. Of course, you could buy a new one (and if you can, you probably should; they’re brilliant), or expend the necessary amount for a Concours-spec, low-mileage original from the first year of production.
But a decent proportion of the joy of an old MX-5 must surely be the fact that you picked it up for a song – or at least a short set list. You get the immediate thrill of a bargain, of course, but think longer-term – daily driving joy without a single shred of solicitude. It only exists because you can get the MX-5 so cheaply, but the feeling itself borders on priceless.
£5k: Audi TT V6
By the time you’ve amassed £5,000, you’re in a properly decent place to get a solid, reliable car with varying takes on the concept of ‘being interesting’. If your idea of interesting is ‘rare’, ‘unique’, or ‘manual diesel estate’, five grand is usually enough to find something reasonably close to what you’re after.
For this week, we’re thinking about the concept of absolute beauty. Yes, there’s the old ‘taste is subjective’ thing that’s old enough to have been written in Latin first (de gustibus non est disputandum, in case you were wondering), but we’re here to say that good design is still good, regardless of tastes or opinion.
As designer Frank Stephenson (of modern Mini, Maserati and McLaren fame) once said, “The difference between good design and bad design is not subjective. It’s guided by science and the basic laws of proportion and balance.”
Which brings us to the original Audi TT. This is, speaking as objectively as we’re able, an example of good design. Speaking perhaps more subjectively, it’s a stellar example. Powering it with a throaty 3.2-litre V6 is just icing on the cake. Wanting it to drive particularly well? Eh, leave that to the MX-5 or Boxster.Advertisement - Page continues below
£10k: Porsche Boxster S
With 10 grand, you’re well into Porsche Boxster territory. In fact, you’re in the enclave of the better-looking, better-equipped 987 – and even in the postcode of the Boxster S.
At this point, you’re probably expecting some kind of curve ball, and we’re happy to report that... for once, we’ve actually thrown straight dice. Murdering metaphors, on the other hand, does seem to be a harder habit to break.
Unless you need to carry multiple passengers, have some aversion to sunshine, dislike the idea of having one of the rarest and best-sounding engine configurations in existence or somehow feel that a mid-engined, 300-odd horsepower sports car is somehow altogether not enough, the 987 Boxster S is pretty much peerless at this price.
£15k: BMW 135i manual
When you get to £15,000, you can really start to expect certain things from a used car – modern safety, technology, economy and performance. Of course, you could do the usual ‘HEY LOOK SHINY THING’ that we may or may not have actively encouraged in the past and wind up with a 1991 Bentley Turbo R, but we’re going to break with tradition for a little while and suggest something that won’t actively bankrupt you.
BMW made its name building small saloons (and so on) that did double duty as seriously potent sports cars. Every one of these machines was rear-wheel-drive, almost all had manual gearboxes, and some of the very best among them had straight-six engines.
So does it not make a noticeable amount of sense to find a car that distils BMW’s honed and perfected recipe into a single car? And what about one that also happens to be a modern, safe and comfortable hatchback you can park on the street overnight without needing to hire a nightwatchman?
£20k: Lotus Elise
Twenty grand is a fat stack of cash to be playing with in the used car market – even these days, when pounds are apparently worth as much as Reichsmarks and anything that can be mentioned in the same breath as ‘modern classic’ has taken on some seriously... well, classic car pricing.
But, thanks in no small part to the largesse of a £20k budget, we’ve gone and done just that – found a bona fide hand-built modern classic. One that also manages – with the requisite amount of mental and literal gymnastics – to work as an everyday proposition. Yes, the usual Elise experiences still apply – some motorcycles offer better luggage space, the roof rivals a chocolate hobnob for its ability to resist liquid ingress and marriages are easier to get out of – but if you can work around that, you’ll be unlocking a world of benefits.
That is, unless, the concept of a small, economical car that’ll fit into any parking space – that also doubles as a pure distillation of everything that makes driving such a rewarding experience – somehow doesn’t appeal to you.