As a new Smart is unveiled, we look at the greatest rear-engined creations of all time
Top 10: Used cars under £500
Having surprised ourselves with the sheer variety and desirability of some of the cars available at the £1,000 mark we’ve set a new challenge of finding 10 used car bargains. This time though we’ve only got a theoretical £500 to spend.
Not a lot for a car, but as you’ll see it’s surprising how far it’ll stretch. Just don’t expect them to be perfectly maintained, pristine examples though... Click the links to list available examples on Auto Trader.
Peugeot 106 - from £110
£500 is first car territory and the Peugeot 106 is a perfect starting point for many a youngster. The 106 still looks sharp, drives with real verve in any form and is reasonably practical, too. What’s more they’re loved by those young buyers wanting a starting point for customisation – meaning there’s a plentiful spares supply and an enormous amount of styling and performance enhancing kit out there for it. £500 gets you anything from a 1.0-litre to a 1.4 and all offer great economy to help keep the bills down. Simple enough to work on yourself, cheap to insure and a joy to drive the Peugeot 106 is a fine choice that’s got real credibility despite its affordability.
Volvo 240 Estate - from £200
Volvo 240 Estate
I’ve had a soft spot for these big load-luggers since running one for years as a student. Simple mechanicals, tremendous reliability and vast boot made me a popular chap at the end of term when friends flat’s needed emptying, the boxy Volvo a useful, if unexciting machine. I’m not the only one to look on the big estate with affection as they’ve recently become rather cultish in their appeal. £500 will buy you a reasonably respectable one, though if you can’t stretch to that much you’ll get a decent runner for less than half that. Chunky, dependable and damn useful there’s a lot to like about this big old bus. Just looking at them has me tempted again.
Volkswagen Scirocco - from £150
This pretty coupe is essentially a Mk I Golf wrapped in more svelte bodywork. Despite this it’s not held in quite the same regard as its hatchback relative. However, that does mean they’re a fair bit cheaper. Being based on a Golf means that parts are readily available, plentiful and cheap, which means that cars needing a bit of work shouldn’t put you off particularly if a bit of home spannering means you’ll get one cheaper. They’re not that common, but search around and you’ll find a perfectly serviceable example for £500. A great drive, the Scirocco is available with either 1.6 or 1.8-litre engines. We’d look for the later if possible, not least because it’ll be one of the later cars.
Alternatively, search down the back of the sofa, miss a few nights in the pub and add another couple of hundred pounds and you’ll get an absolute cracker...
Nissan Primera - from £125
Nissan’s family saloon has long been ignored, but at £500 it represents good honest transport. Loved by minicab drivers due to fantastic reliability, find a good one and you’ll have to be quick before it gets snapped up by someone wanting to fit a radio and meter to it. Mileages are likely to be rather galactic, but they wear them well and put up with a fair amount of abuse. There’s a fair bit of engine choice, but we’d look for a 2.0-litre as not only does it offer more power, but also more equipment. So what that it’s pretty unremarkable to look at? Its big boot, surprisingly enjoyable drive and low price more than make up for any shortcomings in style.
Audi 80 - from £250
Audi 80 Avant
An Audi for under £500? Absolutely. The 80 was a mainstay model for Audi before it became the A4, the German marque still on its upward premium spiral when the 80 was around. Solid mechanicals with a lot in common with its VW contemporaries, a smart interior and neat, classy styling make the 80 a desirable choice – particularly if you get an Avant (estate) model. Specifications are decent across the range but don’t expect it to have your pulse racing on the road – the drive is worthy rather than exciting. Still, at £500 you’re getting a respected badge on a stylish, reliable car that with a bit of care should provide many years of inexpensive motoring.
BMW (E30) 3-Series - from £250
BMW (E30) 3-Series
Okay, we mentioned the E30 3 Series in the £1,000 used top ten, but that was the Touring. Here we’re looking at the saloon - particularly the two-door model. The classic BMW shape, the E30 3- Series still looks fantastic today and still drives as well as ever. Avoid the 1.6 as it’s lacking in useful grunt, instead opt for the 318 models and above. There are plenty automatics out there, but unless you want a cruiser we’d avoid it, the 3-Series is about driving after all. Find a clean, unmodified example and you’ll be the owner of a bona-fide modern classic that’s both inexpensive to run and enjoyable to drive.
Citroen ZX - from £250
The ZX might look fairly unremarkable and in many ways it is, but it was always praised for its ability to soak up the bumps while providing a precise, involving drive. Indeed, the chassis was something of a cracker, making the hotter Volcane models – in either turbodiesel or petrol guise fast and fun. What’s more, you’ll find one for our budget if you’re lucky. More mundane models have similar grace on the road, if not the pace. The interior is functional and the styling is plain, but one drive down a winding road will leave you impressed with this inexpensive French machine.
Fiat Cinquecento - from £200
The Cinquecento (500 in Italian) might be tiny, but it’s a great little car for not much money. £500 is enough to buy a nice one without a silly mileage, the majority of most Cinquecento’s lives being spent in and around the city. It’s cramped inside for more than two, and the boot is miniscule - so treat it as a two seater and use those back seats for additional storage. Small engines mean modest performance, but that’s part of the pleasure – maintaining speed in the Cinquecento a challenge to be relished. Cute looks appeal, as does its ability to squeeze into gaps in traffic more normally the reserve of motorcyclists. If you’re short of parking space then you’ll welcome its manoeuvrability, good visibility and compact proportions.
Cheap and economical, at £500 the Cinquecento is a good deal more appealing than a bus pass.
Ford Fiesta - from £100
The Fiesta is a national institution mobilising the masses since it was introduced back in 1977. As such there are gazillions of them on our roads, in a mind-boggling array of specifications and engines choices. Our £500 budget isn’t going to get you in one of the latest and greatest examples, but look around and you’ll easily find a nice mid 90’s model. Late Si models in 1.6 and 1.4-litre guise are available within our price range and mileages needn’t necessarily be that high either as prices are kept low by the shear volume of cars available. A solid interior, inoffensive looks and a competent drive appeal, as does low insurance, decent economy and simple, inexpensive maintenance. It might not be an original choice used, but it’s a very worthy one.
A Mercedes of the old school, the 190E is built like a Panzer tank and keep it looked after and it should last a lifetime. Archetypal ‘Benz looks, the 190E, like its BMW 3 Series contemporary is something of a modern classic. £500 won’t buy you the best example admittedly, but parts are relatively cheap so long as you’re prepared to search out specialist breakers and suppliers. None are particularly sharp to drive and the majority are automatics, but the 190E exudes an understated class that’s difficult to find in a car costing so little.
Built to transport you and your passengers up the autobahn at sustained high speeds the 190E might not be quick off the mark but once it reaches its comfort zone on the motorway it’ll lollop along effortlessly.
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