21/11/2008 00:00

Top 10 cars for less than £500

Dan Trent's biography

£500. Less than the monthly depreciation on certain brand new cars, given the current market climate.

But it's also an ideal benchmark for exploring the lower reaches of the used car market. And you know what? Cheap mobility is still a reality.

MSN Cars has, of course, its own exponent of this philosophy in the shape of James Ruppert and his theory of Bangernomics. You can read more in the specially-dedicated section of the site indeed. But what can you get for £500 exactly? We went fishing to find out...

And we landed some beauties. Good enough that more than one of us in the office was seriously tempted to follow up the lead and lay down some cash. It's an addictive pastime too, hunting for bangers. And here are 10 of the best we found.

GALLERY: top 10 cars for less than £500

Vauxhall Omega

Vauxhall Omega (© Image © Vauxhall)

Depreciation hits bigger cars harder than most, meaning normal rules are reversed and if you're spending this kind of money an unloved executive saloon is probably a better bet than squabbling over more desirable superminis. And nothing depreciates harder than a big car with a less than prestigious badge.

Step up the Vauxhall Omega. The fact it's loved by both the police and minicab drivers should underline its toughness. And if you're looking for bargain rear-wheel drive thrills you'll get more for your money than with an old BMW. Estates are huge and practical, saloons cheap and cheerful. And it doesn't even look half bad.

Display used Vauxhall Omegas less than £500

Ford Scorpio

Ford Scorpio (© Image © Ford)

Like the Omega, the Scorpio is a big, old-school executive saloon with a non-prestige badge. Which means it's cheap. What makes the Scorpio an even more appealing buy at this price level is the fact its frankly hideous looks mean few people want to be associated with it, let alone actually own it.

Just the ticket for bargain hunters then. Especially if all you want to do is waft around in velour-lined, fake wood trimmed pseudo luxury. Cosworth V6s burn fuel and money, manual 2-litres and 2.3s probably the more sensible buy if you're looking to keep costs down. The estate is marginally better looking and usefully huge too.

Display used Ford Scorpios less than £500

Mercedes-Benz 240D estate

Mercedes 240D estate (© Image © Mercedes)

A Merc for £500? Yup, and a classic looking one with chrome bits and everything. OK, the one we found had some brown flaky bits too but at this price level you can't be too fussy. This model, commonly referred to by its W123 model code, is a proper old-school Benz too.

Yes, they do rust. But you only have to look at news reports and see the number plodding on in various states of disrepair across the developing world to realise quite how tough they really are. Diesels are dog slow and six-cylinders are thirsty and prone to top end failure, making 200 and 230 four-cylinder petrols the ones to go for.

Display used Mercedes estates less than £500

Mazda 323F

Mazda 323F (© Image © Mazda)

The RX-8 isn't Mazda's first attempt at the four-door coupé theme - the mid-90s 323F explored similar territory. As exciting as other 323s were dull (that is to say, very), the 323f still looks handsome now and the fact we found a couple lurking around the £500 mark got us very interested indeed.

The fact you could get it with Mazda's fabulous 2-litre V6 makes it even more appealing, although hefty repair bills lurk if it's not looked after properly. The 1.8 uses a version of the MX-5s sweet (and bombproof) twin-cam four-cylinder and is therefore probably the smarter buy at this price level.

Display used Mazda 323Fs less than £500

Ford Mondeo

Ford Mondeo (© Image © Ford)

I spoke to a mechanic once who was enthusing so much about Ford Zetec engine reliability I thought HE would explode. The engines, such as the 2.0-litre fitted to this Mondeo, are bulletproof, he told me. Ford had to detune them for production, he explained. Just make sure you replace the cambelt, and they go on and on.

Much like the rest of this car. Mondeos are commonplace, but for good reason. There's just no stopping them. Parts are cheap, they rarely fail, and they all combine to create, at the time, one of the best cars of its class. Sporty and refined, the 1994 Car of the Year almost does it all. For £500, it's a steal.

Display used Ford Mondeos less than £500

Rover 620 SLi

Rover 620 SLi (© Image © Rover)

Even today, this is one fine-looking car. It's been dumped into banger status, but this is unceremonious. There remains elegance about the almost-a-Brit-3-Series Rover that belies its near-total Honda Accord-derived architecture. And this detail is why it's the best cheap Rover you can buy, too. It's a way into Japanese reliability for pennies.

There are no unreliable Rover-designed engines, for example. Build quality is superb. And the 2.0-litre motor is both smooth and has a decent turn of pace, too. Rover fitted its own super-comfy seats and plush interior trim, and so long as you check the wheelarches for rust, there's really little to go wrong. A much underrated bargain.

Display used Rover 620s less than £500

Nissan Micra

Nissan Micra (© Image © Nissan)

The first Car of the Year from Japan was a revelation when it launched in 1993. It looked like nothing else, blinded supermini competitors with how it drove. Yet inherited all the Nissan reliability its hideous predecessor was famed for. 1.0-litre and 1.3-litre engines rev to high heaven and sip fuel and the snappy gearchange is bliss.

It handles tidily too, particularly the sporty 1.3 Super S. Grippy tyres mean it's actually quite fun. Don't be put off by high miles: it's proof of how they really do go on and on. We've even seen reports of disappointed current-shape Micra owners wishing they'd never changed from their 'reliable' old models...

Display used Nissan Micras less than £500

Skoda Felicia

Skoda Felicia (© Image © Skoda)

When Volkswagen bought Skoda, it took on a mammoth task. Bring a talented but underfunded company out of antiquity and into the 21st century. Money for the development of cars was tight at first, yet the smart Czechs still managed to realise the promise of the old Felicia, with this - the facelifted Felicia.

The last 'true' Skoda, it's an exemplar of simple, straightforward engineering honed to perfection. Honest and straightforward, anyone can fix it and, by and large, they just keep on rolling. The sweet 1.3-litre engine is like a tappety little sewing machine, and to drive, it's honest and cheerful. Word is, they're even getting a bit of a cult following...

Display used Skoda Felicias less than £500

Honda Civic five-door

Honda Civic five-door (© Image © Honda)

Let's get sensible for a minute. It's all very well dreaming of smokey old rear-wheel drive motors, but what could be a better £500 used buy than a Honda Civic? Don't go expecting perfect condition or low mileage at this price, but a 1996 five-door hatch is achievable, complete with plenty of MOT.

They do rust a bit, so watch out for that. But so long as you keep them regularly serviced - clean oil is a must - the engines in these cars just run and run. Even the styling has stayed relatively fresh, which is more than you can say for the Rover equivalent.

Display used Honda Civics less than £500

Volvo 940 estate

Volvo 940 estate (© Image © Volvo)

Got stuff to move? Then you clearly need a Volvo estate - just ask regular MSN Cars photographer Jamie Lipman, who runs around in a battered 850. Roller-brushed matt grey, with lowered Koni suspension, his car proves Volvos car be cool. But while 850s are available, £500 also buys the even bigger 940.

These genuinely are built like tanks - much more so than the traditional 'old Volvo', the 240. Well looked after the engines last forever, but don't be surprised if the suspension's gone a bit soggy after all this time. No need for super amounts of space? Save even more cash and buy a 940 saloon.

Display used Volvo 940s less than £500
Bangernomics: our guide to buying a cheap used car
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