The used cars we pluck out of the classifieds for closer inspection tend to be of the performance variety. Perhaps a recent hot hatch that’s been hit with the depreciation stick, or maybe a budget supercar.
But what if you’re not after a fast car? What if you just need a simple, cheap-to-run, cheap-to-buy daily driver? The good news is it doesn’t have to be boring.
Here are our recommendations:
Compared to a lot of more recent, more generic products from Audi, the A2 now seems quite interesting, doesn’t it? The supermini has an air of quirky coolness to it, and it’s not just the styling that separates it from its contemporaries.
It’s built largely from aluminium, and that means it’s light: many derivatives are under 1000kg. Teamed up with a range of simple, lightweight N/A petrol and turbo diesel engines, this lack of bulk makes for an incredibly economical car.
Decent examples start from a grand up (and there are plenty of tatty ones below that mark), and we reckon there’s some future classic potential here. The downside is that the aluminium body isn’t cheap to repair in the event of a bump.
With ancient underpinnings and iffy build quality, the 147 is hardly Alfa Romeo’s finest hour. But now prices have hit rock bottom, this pretty hatchback is suddenly quite tempting, isn’t it?
You can buy one for under £500, but it’ll have galactic-spec mileage and will be fitted with a 120bhp 1.6-litre inline-four. Spend a bit more, and you’ll have a fizzy 2.0-litre N/A engine and 150bhp to play with. We’re even starting to see sharp-looking post-facelift 147s drop below the £1000 mark.
Just avoid the ‘Selespeed’ semi-automatic gearbox like the plague, and make sure the cambelt on the ‘Twin Spark’ petrol engine was changed when it should have been, otherwise very bad things might happen under the bonnet.
We know what you’re thinking: how can we be including a coupe in a list of cheap-to-buy, cheap-to-run daily drivers? Simple: the last-generation Celica is cheap to buy and run. Prices start as low as £500, they’re generally very reliable, and insurance is much more reasonable than you’d expect. In fact, former CT assistant producer George went for one of these over a Honda Civic Type S (another cheap-but-interesting runabout to consider if you’re a little older), as it was significantly cheaper to cover, even as an 18-year-old.
Granted, the entry-level model isn’t exactly fast with 140bhp on offer from the 1.8-litre ‘1ZZ’ engine (the ‘2ZZ’ was good for a more useful 187bhp), but if you’re choosing between this or a boring hatchback, there’s no contest, surely?
Another front-wheel drive coupe, this time from Hyundai. The Korean manufacturer produced the car - known as the ‘Tiburon’ in many markets - for two generations, and with examples of the first-gen car (pictured above) thin on the ground, you’ll have more luck finding a tidy second-gen Coupe.
As with the Celica, this is not a fast car. The 2.0-litre version puts out just 134bhp, which will just get you from 0-60mph in under 10 seconds. There is a 2.7-litre V6 in the second-gen car too, which develops - hold onto your hats - 167bhp.
But is there a better-looking car that can be snagged for as little as £500? I doubt it. Plus, parts are cheap, reliability is good, and they can take a lot of abuse. CT video chief Alex Kersten had one as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, and it’s probably the most sensible car buying choice he ever made. Not that there’s much contest…
Right, enough with the pseudo sports cars, let’s bring things down to earth with a plucky, dependable city car: the VW Lupo. The stupidly popular, rapidly appreciating GTI version seems to get much of the attention, but don’t discount the more sedate models.
None are quick (are you sensing a theme here?), but the Lupo is a much more interesting, endearing car than the naff Fox which replaced it, and we reckon values of the dwindling population of survivors might be starting to creep up. You’ll need at least £700 to bag one.
Whether or not you slam it on big wheels is none of our business.
A 1.6-litre engine seems massive for a hatchback like the Ka these days, but the frisky SportKa comes from a simpler time. Free from forced induction, its inline-four needs to be thoroughly spanked to extract the 94bhp on offer, something which will be an utter joy.
The cheapest working car we can find at the time of writing is a bargain at just £650. There’s usually only a handful for sale at one time though, and that’s related to one of the biggest drawbacks with the original Ka as a whole - the city car rusts almost as quickly as Phil the MX-5 after having a salt water bath. The sills and the area around the petrol cap are problem areas in particular.
Which cheap but non-boring daily would get your vote? Or do you have a different suggestion entirely? Let us know in the comments!