Porsche

Porsche 911 (2004-2012)

The words ‘iconic’ and ‘legendary’ are frequently over-used in the motoring arena, but where the Porsche 911 (in this case, the 997 Series) is concerned they’re most definitely deserved. Since 1963 this supercar has captured the imaginations of enthusiast drivers, with its beguiling blend of supercar pace, grand touring usability and brilliant build quality. And with thousands made each year, there are plenty to choose from on the used market, although the number of different 911 variants to choose from is bewildering, and it’s essential that you buy the one that’s right for your needs. Once you’ve pinned that down, the next hurdle is to find a minter with a full history that’s been maintained by a marque expert. And don’t buy anything else.

Key dates

9/04: The 997 coupé debuts in 321bhp 3.6-litre Carrera and 350bhp 3.8-litre Carrera S forms.

4/05: A 997 convertible is introduced.

11/05: There are now Carrera 4 and 4 S options, with four-wheel drive. 

5/06: The 415bhp GT3 goes on sale

7/06: The 480bhp 3.6-litre Turbo reaches showrooms.

6/08: Four-wheel drive models get a new transmission and an all-new, more efficient flat-six (341bhp for the Carrera, 380bhp for the Carrera S). The Turbo gets a 3.8-litre engine and Porsche’s brilliant PDK dual-clutch gearbox replaces the previous Tiptronic auto.

12/10: Carrera GTS has 408bhp 3.8-litre engine and rear-wheel drive.

1/11: Speedster has 408bhp 3.8-litre engine, rear-wheel drive, PDK transmission. Just 356 are available globally.

4/11: Black Edition is limited to 1,911 examples with 345bhp 3.6-litre engine.

5/11: Carrera 4 GTS is four-wheel drive version of Carrera GTS.

Checklist

  • Clutches last 50,000 miles if not hammered; if driven hard, a replacement can be needed much sooner.
  • The suspension lasts well, but the front bushes wear out, especially if the car is driven hard.
  • Don’t buy a 997 privately – especially an early one – without an inspection by an acknowledged expert.
  • Pre-2009 cars can suffer from engine failure, so look for blackened tailpipes and listen for ticking at idle. Later cars aren’t affected.
  • The steel braking system (there was a ceramic option) can suffer from disc corrosion, especially on cars used sparingly.
  • Because of stone chips, a resprayed nose is nothing to worry about, but if any other part of the bodywork has received fresh paint, be wary.
  • The air-con condensers and coolant radiators can suffer from pinhole leaks; replacements are costly.

We like

  • Performance
  • Build quality
  • Usability
  • Handling
  • Engine noise
  • Image
  • Exterior design

We don’t like

  • Not that exclusive
  • Bewildering range
  • Costly to buy

Chevrolet

Chevrolet Captiva (2006-2015)

Chevrolet is now a defunct brand in the UK, but don’t let that stop you from considering what was arguably its most capable model when it was current. The Captiva is a seven-seat SUV that was one of the most affordable cars in its segment when it was new. The brand’s low profile when it was trading here meant the Captiva shed its value quickly; with Chevrolet’s profile dropping further since its UK dealers were shuttered at the end of 2015, its products are more affordable than ever. The Captiva is no class leader in any one area, but as an all-rounder it’s plenty good enough to deserve your attention.

 

Key dates

7/06: The Captiva reaches UK showrooms with 150bhp 2.0-litre diesel or 140bhp 2.4 petrol engines.

2/08: The special edition Captiva Edge appears.

5/08: There’s a new entry-level diesel, the 2.0 VCDi LS. 

5/10: The range-topping Captiva LTZ arrives with standard leather trim, heated front seats, privacy glass, parking sensors and a rear-facing camera.

3/11: A facelift brings a redesigned nose and an upgraded interior. A 2.2 diesel replaces the previous 2.0-litre unit.

6/13: Another facelift brings restyled lights, bumpers, grille, extra equipment and a posher cabin.

 

Checklist

  • Clutches can burn out in under 20,000 miles, especially if the car is used for towing.
  • Brake discs can fail prematurely, so feel for juddering through the pedal under braking.
  • The automatic transmission makes for relaxed cruising, but significantly increases the cost of the annual road tax bill.
  • The ESP can cut in for no apparent reason, leading to the throttle losing response; a software update is the cure.
  • The diesel engine of pre-facelift cars sounds really agricultural around town and when cold.
  • The interior trim feels cheap in places, but it tends to last well. However, the silver paint finish on some items can wear away.
  • The trip computer can be woefully inaccurate, especially with fuel consumption figures.

 

We like

  • Spacious
  • Comfortable
  • Good value
  • Well equipped
  • Looks smart

 

We don’t like

  • Not great off-road
  • No UK dealers
  • Cheap interior

Peugeot

Peugeot 807 (2003-2010)

There was a time when MPVs were the future, then the crossover arrived and suddenly the MPV fell out of favour. Which is a shame because people carriers like the Peugeot 807 tend to be more spacious, comfortable and versatile than any SUV that’s remotely affordable. As the first MPV to score a full five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests, the Peugeot 807 is also a very safe car – at least when tested to 2003 standards. However, there’s a fly in the ointment, and that’s the 807’s reliability record, which isn’t great. So before buying, make sure that cheap MPV doesn’t become very expensive once it’s yours.

 

Key dates

1/03: The 807 goes on sale with 2.0 or 2.2-litre petrol or diesel engines.

7/03: The 2.0 HDi is now available with an automatic gearbox.

2/04: The 2.2 HDi is now available with a six-speed manual gearbox.

6/04: A facelift brings new model designations and a tidier exterior design.

11/05: A refresh means extra standard kit for all cars, including ESP. A Euro IV-compliant 143bhp 2.0 petrol engines replaces the old 138bhp unit.

5/06: The 2.0 HDi engine is now a 120bhp unit (previously 110bhp).

1/08: The 2.2 HDi now comes in 170bhp form (alongside the previous 136bhp option).

 

Checklist

  • ECU faults can mean misfires, poor starting or uneven running – or no running at all.
  • The interior isn’t that tough, so look for damaged or broken trim.
  • The electric sliding doors are a great feature but the electric mechanism can be erratic.
  • Premature tyre wear isn’t unusual, especially on cars with 15-inch wheels.
  • Electrically operated windows and sunroofs can have a mind of their own, so ensure they work as they should.
  • The ball joints in the front suspension can fail prematurely.
  • The 807 has been the subject of new fewer than 21 recalls, so check they’ve all been actioned.

 

We like

  • Practicality
  • Versatility
  • Comfort
  • Refinement
  • Spacious cabin
  • Low purchase prices
  • Torquey diesel engines

 

We don’t like

  • Poor reliability record
  • Interiors get battered
  • Thirsty petrol engines

 

Renault

Renault Twingo (2007-2012)

When Renault failed to bring its brilliant original Twingo to the UK, it made a big mistake – which it didn’t repeat when it introduced an all-new model in 2007. Unfortunately the follow-up didn’t share the innovation of its predecessor, but as a used buy Renault’s smallest car is still worth a closer look for its distinctive styling, spacious and versatile interior as well as the performance in Renaultsport guise. But while the Twingo is ideally suited to urban driving, it’s not so adept at longer high-speed journeys thanks to poor refinement. Reliability can also be an issue, so make plenty of checks before buying.

 

Key dates

9/07: The second-generation Twingo arrives in the UK with a 1.2-litre petrol engine, in 75bhp normally aspirated or 100bhp turbo forms, the latter wearing TCE badges and known as the GT. 

2/08: A 60bhp Twingo 1.2 debuts, for those wanting economy above all else.

9/08: The sporty 1.6-litre Twingo 133 is introduced.

7/11: The Silverstone special edition arrives.

2/12: A facelifted Twingo brings revised styling and a wider array of options.

 

Checklist

  • Engines can run erratically, and idle very quickly, if the throttle control module starts to play up.
  • Alarms and immobilisers can be temperamental, going off for no apparent reason. Fixes can be elusive.
  • If you’re tall, you might struggle to get comfortable as even on its lowest setting the driver’s seat is too high.
  • Water can leak into the front footwells, because of faulty door seals or a poorly sealed windscreen.
  • There can be gear selection issues, especially first when cold. Adjusting the gear linkage should fix things.
  • Any misfiring is down to a faulty coil pack or because the wrong spark plugs are fitted; Renault recommends NGK items.
  • The electrics and electronics can play up, especially the instrumentation, warning lights and items such as the central locking.

 

We like

  • Smart looks
  • Versatile interior
  • Strong value
  • Low running costs
  • Renaultsport is fun to drive
  • Ride comfort

 

We don’t like

  • No five-door option
  • Patchy reliability
  • Not refined enough
  • Gutless smaller engines
  • Cheap cabin materials
  • Spartan cheaper models

Audi

Audi R8 (2007-2015)

Entering a new market segment often ends in tears, but when Audi unveiled its first ever supercar in 2006, it hit the bull’s eye. Pitched against some seriously capable rivals, the Audi R8 wasn’t just their equal – it could beat them. But despite genuine supercar looks and performance, the R8 is as easy to use as an A3 or A4, while running costs tend to be significantly lower than for similar machinery available elsewhere. With standard four-wheel drive to help get the power down, and a choice of brilliant engines and transmissions, could this be the perfect supercar?

Key dates

10/06: The R8 breaks cover with a 414bhp 4.2 V8.

3/07: The first V8 coupés reach UK showrooms. 

3/09: There’s now a 518bhp V10 coupé.

3/10: A V10 Spyder is launched. 

7/10: The lighter, more powerful and more focused 552bhp R8 GT coupé appears. Just 33 come to the UK.

7/11: An R8 GT spyder is now available.

7/10: The Spyder is now offered in V8 form.

9/11: The V8 Limited Edition coupé debuts with navigation, Bang & Olufsen hi-fi, magnetic ride plus numerous interior and exterior trim upgrades.

7/12: A revised R8 comes with a new dual-clutch gearbox, LED lighting, extra kit and now 542bhp in V10 form.

10/14: The R8 LMX packs 562bhp V10 and laser headlights. Just 99 are sold globally.

Checklist

  • Alloy wheels are easily kerbed and repairs can be expensive; replacement wheels are very costly.
  • Don’t pay a massive premium for a V10, when in the real world the V8 is just as quick and better balanced.
  • R8s without any extras are relatively basic, so check to see what options have been fitted. Many cars have thousands of pounds worth of extras.
  • The R8 doesn’t eat tyres like some rivals. But when fresh rubber is needed, the bill will be high.
  • Low-mileage cars can suffer from surprisingly high oil consumption. Things tend to settle down as the miles are racked up.
  • Engine warning lights can illuminate because of poor quality fuel being used or problems with damaged coil pack wiring.

We like

  • Performance
  • Handling
  • Build quality
  • Looks
  • Refinement
  • Easy to drive
  • Relative value

We don’t like

  • Ordinary cabin
  • Thirsty engines

SEAT

SEAT Toledo (2005-2009)

When SEAT unveiled its third-generation Toledo in 2005, it looked pretty unconventional. It was a car that not many people understood; what was the point of this large family hatch, which cost more than an Altea XL, but which didn’t offer much extra? Thanks to the higher price and awkward looks, the Toledo struggled to sell, but on the used market this Golf-based hatch makes more sense thanks to keen prices and more carrying capacity than its Leon or Altea siblings. While the Toledo doesn’t do anything better than an Altea XL, it’s more unusual, comes with some strong engines, plenty of equipment (avoid entry-level Reference trim) and it’s refined too. The Toledo is no class-leader, but if you’re looking for a spacious family hatch, this sizeable Seat is a great-value left-field buy.

 

Key dates

3/05: The second-generation Toledo reaches UK showrooms 2005 with 1.6 or 2.0 FSi petrol engines, along with 1.9 TDi or 2.0 TDi diesels. The smaller powerplants come in Reference or Stylance trims, the 2.0-litre units got their own Sport trim.

5/06: The 2.0 TDI is now offered in Stylance form. 

8/07: From this point on the 1.9 TDi Stylance and 2.0 TDi Sport come with a DSG dual-clutch transmission only.

1/08: The CO2 rating of the 1.9 TDi DSG goes up from 145g/km to 162g/km, increasing road tax costs.

 

Checklist

  • The ABS control unit can fail, and repair costs are high. Check the dash light illuminates with the ignition on, then goes out.
  • Rear-three-quarter visibility is poor and judging the car’s extremities is tricky, so parking sensors are a must.
  • Most Toledos are owned by families, so check the interior trim hasn’t been wrecked by young children.
  • The electrics can be temperamental, so check things like the central locking, alarm, all lights – and tyre pressure sensors, if fitted.
  • The oil pump of the 2.0 TDi engine can fail, destroying the engine and turbocharger.
  • Dual-mass flywheels can fail, so listen for rattling that’s louder with the clutch depressed.
  • The six-speed manual gearbox can suffer from faulty synchro rings, so make sure the gearchange from first to second isn’t stiff.

 

We like

  • Space
  • Practicality
  • Value
  • Refinement
  • Strong engines

 

We don’t like

  • Few to choose from
  • Awkward design

Volkswagen

Volkswagen Phaeton (2003-2015)

The Volkswagen Phaeton never made sense as a new purchase thanks to high prices and heavy depreciation. But as a used buy it can be a far more sensible purchase because for surprisingly little money you can buy a luxury saloon that’s spacious, fully equipped, comfortable and refined. As the most expensive mainstream production Volkswagen ever, ther Phaeton also comes with fabulous build quality as standard, but even diesel models are thirsty and other running costs can be high. It doesn’t help that this incredibly complex car isn’t always as reliable as you might hope, so don’t expect to run a Phaeton for Passat money.

 

Key dates

6/03: The Phaeton arrives, with 3.2 V6 or 6.0 W12 petrol engines.

11/03: There are now 4.2 V8 petrol and 5.0 V10 TDi options. 

4/04: A long-wheelbase Phaeton is introduced. It’s available with all engines except the 3.2 V6.

10/04: A 3.0 TDi joins the range; it quickly became the most popular model. 

1/09: There’s an overhauled interior with revised climate control, new instruments and touch-screen multi-media.

11/09: A further facelift brings a reprofiled nose and extra equipment. There’s now 3.0 TDi power only; a 6.0 W12 is available to special order however.

 

Checklist

  • Beware failed headlight bulbs; replacing them is very time-consuming and if you’re really unlucky it may be that an ECU has failed rather than a bulb.
  • There’s a separate motor for each windscreen wiper and failure of one can cause problems with the other if they collide.
  • Some Phaetons have five seats, others have four. Three seats in the back is the most common.
  • Avoid cars without a full service history; even if the history is complete, look at who has done the work.
  • Most Phaeton issues centre on the electrics and electronics, so ensure that absolutely everything works.
  • The wiring loom that runs into the nearside of the bootlid has an outer sheathing. This wears through, potentially leading to short circuits.
  • Footwells can fill with water, damaging the electronics, if the sunroof drain tubes or plenum chambers (at the base of the windscreen) fill with debris.

 

We like

  • Value
  • Refinement
  • Equipment levels
  • Build quality
  • Spacious cabin

 

We don’t like

  • High running costs
  • Looks like a Passat
  • Can be unreliable

Volvo

Volvo XC90 (2002-2014)

When it arrived back in 2002, Volvo’s first SUV proved a massive success; long waiting lists quickly formed thanks to this seven-seater 4x4’s versatility, discreet styling and keen pricing. More comfortable on the road than off it, the XC90 was one of a new generation of road-biased 4x4s that were good to drive and capable of providing ideal family transport. In the intervening years there’s been no shortage of rivals introduced, and while the XC90 is no class-leader any more, it can still make a great used buy – just beware of neglected cars and be aware that running costs tend to be high.

 

Key dates

11/02: The XC90 reaches UK showrooms in D5 turbodiesel or T6 turbo petrol forms.

5/03: The XC90 Executive comes with standard rear-seat entertainment.

3/04: The D5 engine is now offered with a six-speed manual gearbox; previously it was an automatic only.

9/04: A 2.5T petrol engine joins the range.

1/05: 2.5T engine arrives; a 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit with manual or automatic gearboxes.

9/05: An all-new D5 engine replaces previous unit.

7/06: A facelift brings an exterior refresh plus better trim materials, along with a 4.4-litre petrol V8. Also, a 3.2-litre engine replaces the previous T6 unit. 

7/09: The R-Design brings a sportier look

7/10: A 2.0-litre D5 is introduced, with better economy. 

1/11: A 197bhp 2.4 D5 joins the line-up.

 

Checklist

  • Fuel consumption can be very heavy, even where diesels are concerned – and especially if you’re towing.
  • The Geartronic auto works well enough, but can prove weak, with cars used for towing especially vulnerable.
  • Some early XC90s could suffer drive failure to the rear wheels, making the car front-wheel drive only.
  • Check the state of the interior trim, as it doesn’t always wear very well. The leather trim gets scuffed, while the carpets can look tatty.
  • If you’re looking at a D5, start the car from cold. If it struggles to fire up, it’s probably because of injector problems; repairs are costly.
  • Check the exterior brightwork hasn’t gone cloudy; some chemicals used in car washes can attack the metal and replacement is the only cure.
  • Electrical issues are common on early cars. Sometimes it’s just a question of securely attaching the battery connections.

 

We like

  • Great image
  • Seven seats
  • Looks great
  • High safety levels

 

We don’t like

  • Expensive to run
  • Patchy reliability
  • Cramped third row

Kia

Kia Carens (2006-2013)

As consumers embrace the crossover market, people-carriers are becoming ever less popular. As a result, some of the greatest used car bargains can sit in this sector, and when it comes to value, few cars can compete with the second-generation Kia Carens. It offered a huge amount for the money when new, and strong depreciation has ensured that on the used market you get even more bang for your buck. Look beyond the clunky styling and you’ll find a car that’s comfortable with ample space for the family – so if you’re after maximum practicality for minimum outlay, take a closer look. 

 

Key dates

8/06: The Carens Mk2 reaches showrooms with 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engines, featuring five- or six-speed manual gearboxes respectively; diesel buyers can opt for a four-speed auto.

3/08: A four-speed automatic gearbox is now offered with the 2.0-litre petrol engine, in the 2.0 LS.

2/09: A 1.6-litre petrol engine joins the range.

1/10: There’s now a 111bhp 1.6 CRDi diesel option.

 

Checklist

  • The automatic gearbox doesn’t feel very sophisticated; the fact it has just four gears doesn’t help.
  • Diesel editions driven mainly around town can suffer from a failed dual-mass flywheel in less than 50,000 miles.
  • Some cars pull to one side, because the suspension geometry needs to be adjusted.
  • Make sure the rear door handles work; the mechanism can snap, making it difficult to fix as the door won’t open for access.
  • The handbrake is actually a footbrake, which on cars with a manual gearbox can make hill starts awkward when starting off on a steep hill.
  • Not all Carens have seven seats, and when they are fitted, that third row is cramped, even for children.
  • There can be gear selection issues with the manual gearbox. Changing the oil and adjusting the linkage should fix things.

 

We like

  • Keen prices
  • Practicality
  • Spacious cabin
  • Seven seats
  • Large boot

 

We don’t like

  • Cramped third row
  • Awkward styling
  • Stodgy dynamics
  • Cheap interior plastics

Vauxhall

Vauxhall Ampera (2012-2014)

With its futuristic styling and cutting-edge running gear the Vauxhall Ampera should have been a smash hit, but as the first vehicle of its kind it was maybe too advanced for a very conservative market. The first ever range extender to be sold in the UK, the Ampera featured plug-in technology with a 1.4-litre petrol engine. The Ampera’s wheels are only ever driven by electric motors, the engine serving only as a generator to top up the batteries once they’ve dropped to 20 per cent charged. As a result there’s no need to worry about flat batteries and you can enjoy regenerative braking plus lots of instant torque. The Ampera was good enough to be voted 2012 Car of the Year but this didn’t translate into sales success; it’s still worth a closer look as a used buy though.

 

Key dates

5/12: The Ampera reaches UK showrooms. Just 23 dealers can sell them but each buyer gets their own customer liaison at Vauxhall HQ. There are three trim levels; standard, Positiv and Electron.

4/13: In a bid to boost sales, Vauxhall introduces a free ownership package that covers fuel and servicing for three years.

9/13: A price cut of £3,500 is Vauxhall’s last attempt at tempting buyers, but they remain uninterested. The Ampera is killed off a year later.

 

Checklist

  • The Ampera was also sold in the UK as the Chevrolet Volt; these are even rarer than the Vauxhall.
  • Water gets into the tailgate’s rear light units. Replacing the lights helps, but the problem always comes back.
  • The battery pack comes with an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty.
  • The real-world range on electric only is 25-40 miles. The total range with a tank of petrol is around 300 miles.
  • There’s room for four only, as in the rear there are two sculpted seats.
  • The Ampera was one of the safest cars ever tested by Euro NCAP, excelling in all categories including pedestrian protection.
  • Limited ground clearance means the front spoiler lip tends to ground with speed bumps.
  • For cars used largely in electric-only mode, the odometer gives no indication of how much use the engine has had.

 

We like

  • Futuristic design
  • It’s different
  • Cheap to run
  • Decently practical
  • Comfy seats
  • Very relaxing to drive

 

We don’t like

  • Few to choose from
  • Only four seats
  • Not engaging to drive
  • Poor visibility

Hyundai

Hyundai i20 (2009-2015)

Flushed with the success of its i10 city car and i30 supermini, Hyundai launched another small car in 2009 – the i20. From the outset it was clear the titchy Hyundai was aimed at those who saw their car as little more than transport, but that doesn’t make the i20 a poor buy – just one that’s unlikely to excite you. With its Vauxhall Corsa-esque styling and keen pricing, the i20 was a success for Hyundai in the UK, and thanks to it being a pensioners’ favourite, low-mileage, cherished i20s aren’t rare, which only makes it an even more appealing second-hand buy.

 

Key dates

1/09: The five-door i20 reaches UK showrooms with 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrol engines (the latter with a 4-speed auto option) and a 1.4 CRDi diesel, in 74bhp or 89bhp forms.

4/09: There’s now a three-door i20. 

7/10: A 99g/km 1.4 CRDi Blue eco edition arrives; its introduction coincides with CO2 emissions reductions for all engines, and the fitment of standard bluetooth for all models except the Classic. 

5/12: A facelift brings an overhauled interior, refreshed exterior styling and a new 1.1-litre diesel engine, rated at 84g/km.

 

Checklist

  • The radio can regularly lose all of the presets for some reason.
  • If the central locking fails, the transponder unit has probably failed.
  • The clutch pedal pivot can dry out and squeak, but a drop of oil is all that’s needed to restore silence.
  • Clutches can wear out in under 10,000 miles, with dealers invariably claiming it’s because of the owner’s driving style.
  • Some owners have had problems with corrosion around the door handles and rear wiper arm; look for signs of bubbling.
  • All of the seats offer little support, so they can be uncomfortable on long journeys.

 

We like

  • Spacious interior
  • Easy to drive
  • Excellent reliability
  • Well equipped
  • Cheap to run

 

We don’t like

  • Not cheap to buy
  • Mediocre to drive
  • Anonymous looks

 

Toyota

Toyota Aygo (2005-2014)

When Toyota teamed up with Peugeot-Citroen to launch a new economy car in 2005, it set the cat among the pigeons. Here was a youthful city car that blended low purchase and running costs with a feel-good factor often absent from the segment. Perfect for zipping around town and great fun to drive on the open road, the Aygo is ideal for anyone keen to cut their motoring costs to the bone. The Aygo is far from cutting-edge in terms of safety and refinement and it’s not the most spacious city car around, but few cars are as cheap to run, thanks to the fuel-efficient engine and decent levels of reliability. 

 

Key dates

7/05: The Aygo arrives in standard, Aygo+ and Sport+ forms, with a 67bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a choice of three or five-door hatchback bodystyles. 

1/06: A short-lived 1.4 diesel is introduced.

1/09: The high-spec Blue and Black appear and CO2 emissions are cut to 106g/km.

3/12: CO2 emissions are cut further, to 99g/km when the Aygo is facelifted with an improved interior, extra equipment plus a redesigned front end. 

8/13: A final refresh brings new trims and standard ESP.

 

Checklist

  • Catalytic converters fail, so put the car through an MoT for an emissions check.
  • Clutches get damp from leaky bellhousings, leading to corrosion and premature wear; check for slipping.
  • There’s no temperature gauge, so it’s hard to tell if the engine is running hot.
  • The tailgate and rear light seals can leak, allowing water into the boot.
  • Water pumps can leak or fail on the petrol and diesel engines; look for signs of coolant leaks.
  • Exhaust back boxes can rot out in little more than two years, so listen for blowing.
  • The rear wheel brake cylinders can so look for fluid on the brake back plates and check the system’s fluid level.

 

We like

  • Cute styling
  • Low purchase costs
  • Low running costs
  • Reliability
  • Ready availability

 

We don’t like

  • Lacks safety kit
  • Not that refined
  • Cramped cabin
  • Tiny boot

Mazda

Mazda 3 (2009-2014)

If you’re looking for a small family car that’s good to drive and reliable into the bargain, but you don’t want to follow the crowd, Mazda could have just what you’ve been looking for; its Golf-sized 3. Despite its Focus roots, the Mazda 3 has never set the charts alight as Ford’s family car has done. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as you can enjoy many of the benefits of the Focus while also having something more distinctive on your drive. And while the 3 is class-leading in few areas, as an all-rounder it’s a great small family hatch. We’d avoid the MPS though, as while it’s enjoyable to drive, there are plenty of alternatives that do a better job.

Key dates

5/09: The Mazda 3 Mk2 is introduced. There are four-door saloons or five-door hatchbacks in S, TS, TS2 or Sport trims, with 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engines, a 2.0-litre petrol or 2.2 diesel, the latter in 148 or 182bhp forms. There’s also a 256bhp 2.3-litre petrol option, in the MPS.

3/10: The 1.6D engine is upgraded and gets a six-speed manual gearbox for better efficiency.

2010: The Tamura and Takuya special editions arrive in February and June respectively.

3/12: A facelift brings a reprofiled nose, improved refinement and extra standard equipment. The steering is also improved to provide more feedback and two new trim levels are introduced: the Sport and Sport Nav, the latter featuring standard navigation.

Checklist

  • Servicing can be expensive thanks to short intervals and high costs.
  • Saloons are rare and unloved, so can be tricky to sell on.
  • The diesel particulate filter on 2.2 diesels can cause problems which require a dealer visit to change the oil.
  • Diesel-powered cars tend to get through front tyres quickly, thanks to the extra weight of the engine.
  • The Bluetooth sometimes play ups, but a software update usually fixes things.
  • The rubber boot button can crack, letting water in, leading to reliability issues.
  • While the headlamps are great on main beam, they’re poor when dipped. Upgraded bulbs don’t seem to help.
  • The front seats could be more supportive, so you might suffer back ache after a long journey.

We like

  • Distinctive looks
  • Sharp dynamics
  • Good value
  • Strong engines
  • Reliability
  • Equipment levels
  • Build quality

We don’t like

  • So-so MPS
  • Unrefined 1.6D
  • Busy dash design
  • Thirsty petrol engines

Daihatsu

Daihatsu Materia (2007-2010)

If you’re looking for a small car that really stands out from the crowd, the Daihatsu Materia could be just the job. With its distinctive design and generous equipment levels the Materia is a left-field option for anyone who wants to avoid the obvious supermini choices such as the Ford Fiesta or Vauxhall Corsa. With typically Japanese levels of reliability the Materia can be an easy car to own, although Daihatsu no longer sells new cars in the UK so there’s no longer any dealer network. Not many Materias were sold new either, so you might have to search to find the right one, but there aren’t many choices to make thanks to the Materia coming with just one engine and trim level; the only choice is between gearboxes and colours.

Key dates

4/07: The Materia is introduced with a 1.5-litre petrol engine and a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. There’s just one trim level, with standard equipment including alloy wheels, electrically adjustable door mirrors, remote central locking, air-con plus electric windows front and rear.

2010: The final Materias are sold in the UK, as Daihatsu announces that it’s quitting Europe.

Checklist

  • Daihatsu sold its last car in the UK in 2010, so parts availability is patchy at best.
  • The original wipers aren’t great. The driver’s side was 500mm long and the nearside 475mm; swapping them for 550mm and 500m items is worthwhile.
  • The factory-fit headlights also aren’t highly regarded. Fitting Osram Nightbreakers or Philips X-treme Power bulbs helps fix things.
  • Brake discs corrode and then warp, so feel for juddering when braking. Aftermarket replacements aren’t costly.
  • The rear seat slides back and forth, but when moved forward the boot is still small even though there’s no longer enough leg room for back seat occupants.

We like

  • Cheap to buy
  • Well equipped
  • Looks distinctive
  • Seems to be reliable
  • Spacious interior

We don’t like

  • Dynamically flawed
  • No diesel option
  • Few to choose from
  • Patchy parts availability
  • Noisy at motorway speeds
  • Sombre cabin design
  • Small boot
  • Brand now defunct in the UK

Richard Dredge

BMW

BMW X3 (2004-2010)

Car buyers love premium brands, and they love compact SUVs too – combine the two and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for success. That’s what BMW found when it launched its original X3 in 2004. The looks may have been a bit awkward and professional reviewers had reservations, but the X3 proved a success for BMW, with owners generally loving them – and it’s easy to see why. Offering almost as much of everything as its bigger brother the X5, but in a smaller, more usable package, the X3 provides performance with efficiency, and it’s a great car to drive too. X3s with black plastic bumpers have a downmarket feel, but facelifted models have a higher-quality interior and body-coloured bumpers. Buy one of these and you’ll feel as though you’re in a BMW rather than a budget SUV.

Key dates

3/04: The X3 debuts, with 2.5 or 3.0-litre petrol engines. 

1/05: 2.0 and 3.0-litre turbodiesel units arrive.

9/05: A 2.0-litre petrol engine appears, along with M Sport trim. 

8/06: A facelift brings a new grille plus fresh bumpers front and rear. The 2.0-litre petrol engine dies, the 2.5 and 3.0-litre petrol units get extra power and a twin-turbo 3.0 diesel also appears, the 3.0sd. 

7/08: New badging means all X3s carry an ‘xDrive’ tag, the 2.5i becoming the xDrive 25i and the 2.0d being renamed xDrive 20d for example.

Checklist

  • All X3s have a firm ride, but cars with sports suspension (M Sports) are even less forgiving.
  • The 2.0d can suffer from deposits in the fuel system; regular use of an additive can help prevent this.
  • The brushed aluminium roof rails can corrode, especially if a roof box has been clamped to them, damaging the coating.
  • The parking sensors can be temperamental, although not all cars are fitted with these.
  • Make sure the rear window washer works, as it can come apart under the cabin carpet, leading to floods and a big bill.
  • The SE got cloth trim as standard, but some option packs brought leather. Cars with leather stain less easily and are easier to sell.

We like

  • Driving experience
  • Strong image
  • Spacious cabin
  • Efficient engines
  • Build quality
  • Reliability
  • Capacious boot

We don’t like

  • Low-rent early cars
  • High purchase prices
  • Firm ride of some models

 

Richard Dredge

Audi

Audi A3 (2003-2012)

When Audi introduced the original A3 in 1996 it created the first successful premium small hatch, and the car would go on to become hugely popular. It was with the second take on the formula though, that Audi really got into its stride. Sharing the Volkswagen Golf’s floorpan, the A3 featured a more upmarket interior and the understated styling for which the German brand is famous. With a lifespan of almost a decade, the second-generation A3 came with a huge choice of engines, trims, transmissions and bodystyles, which is why there’s bound to be one for you.

Key dates

5/03: The A3 Mk2 arrives with a wide choice of petrol and diesel engines.

7/04: A 2.0 TFSi (turbo petrol) joins the range, along with the five-door Sportback. 

5/06: A 2.0 TDi 170 is introduced, with optional quattro 4WD. 

10/06: A 1.8 TFSI debuts, alongside the quick S3.

5/07:  A 1.4 TFSi petrol engine is now available.

10/07: The ultra-frugal 1.9 TDie appears. 

4/08: The A3 cabriolet arrives, as the range is facelifted.

7/09: A 109g/km 1.6 TDi reaches showrooms; six months later its emissions are cut to 99g/km. 

1/10: A 1.2 TFSi engine debuts.

Checklist

  • On manual cars, clutch judder suggests the flywheel is falling apart; it can happen after just 40,000 miles.
  • A3 radiators can prove fragile, with leaks possible after just 18 months. Look for signs of coolant at the base of the radiator.
  • Owners can get locked out of their cars if the door sensor microswitch fails. The doors lock themselves, with the keys left inside the car.
  • Steering racks of early cars are prone to failure; replacements are costly but racks to the later design tend to be more durable.
  • ECUs, electrics, electronics and associated sensors can all play up, so make sure all the warning lights go out and that everything works.

We like

  • Wide model range
  • Lots to choose from
  • Build quality
  • Strong engines
  • Strong image
  • Refinement
  • Comfy seats

We don’t like

  • Inert handling
  • Less reliable than you think
  • They’re everywhere
  • Three-door’s cramped rear seats
  • Firm ride of some models
  • High purchase costs

 

Richard Dredge

Peugeot

Peugeot 207 (2006-2012)

It’s easy to see why the 207 was one of the most popular cars in its class when new. Keen pricing and a wide choice of engines, trims and bodystyles made it very accessible. Now the 207 is available only as a used buy, nothing has changed; you’re still spoiled for choice. When Warranty Direct claimed in 2011 that the 207 was the most reliable European car, Peugeot’s transformation appeared complete, but online forums suggest not all owners think their cars are so dependable. That’s why you need to check any potential purchase carefully, but a good 207 can represent spectacular value for money.

Key dates

5/06: The 207 hatchback debuts, with three or five-door options and any combination of 1.4 or 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engines. 

1/07: A 120bhp 1.6 VTi petrol engine joins the range, along with the 207CC (Coupé-Cabriolet), the latter with 1.6 petrol (normally aspirated or turbocharged) or 1.6 diesel engines. 

6/07: A 95bhp 1.4 VTI petrol engine and a 175bhp GTi debut. 

7/07: The 207SW (five-door estate) debut, with a pseudo off-roader edition soon after, the Outdoor. 

8/09: A facelifted 207 brings a fresh nose and interior, a higher quality cabin plus standard Bluetooth.

3/10: Allure trim is added to the range.

4/10: The 1.6 HDi is tweaked to comply with Euro 5 emissions regulations. A six-speed gearbox replaces the previous five-speed unit.

Checklist

  • Peugeot recommends 10 years between cam belt renewals; six years or 60,000 miles is more advisable.
  • Pairing a phone via Bluetooth can be a pain. Disconnecting the battery for a few minutes can fix things.
  • The interior trim isn’t very durable, so check for damaged or missing parts.
  • The dashboard’s LCD can fail. The only effective cure is replacement, which is costly.
  • Anti-pollution warnings lead to the car reverting to limp-home mode. Effective fixes can be elusive.
  • Gear selection problems and difficulty getting out of fifth gear is down to the linkage being incorrectly set up. It’s an easy fix.
  • The ECU that controls the anti-lock braking module can fail, leading to warnings on the dash. Replacement is costly.
  • The 207 has been the subject of a lot of recalls, so make sure any necessary work has been done.

We like

  • Wide range
  • Lots available
  • Looks smart
  • Great diesel engines
  • Cheap to buy
  • Comfortable ride
  • Good to drive

We don’t like

  • Small boot
  • Cramped back seat
  • Uncertain reliability

 

Richard Dredge

Land Rover

Land Rover Defender (1990-2015)

When Land Rover built the final Defender at the end of 2015, it may have looked as though it had driven straight out of the 1940s, but under that boxy skin was a car that had been constantly updated over the years. It was still noisy, slow, thirsty and agricultural, but if you’re looking for a weekend toy or a tow vehicle which can traverse even the most demanding terrain, the Defender is in a class of its own, while its relative simplicity makes DIY maintenance a breeze. However, you’ve got to be committed to buy a Defender as just about any rival is more comfortable, refined and high-tech, but somehow the Land Rover’s crudity is a large part of its appeal.

Key dates

1990: The Defender arrives, little different from the 90 and 110 that it replaces. There’s a V8 petrol option or a 200 TDi 2.5-litre diesel.

1992: The V8-powered 110 becomes special order only.

1993: The diesel is now a more muscular 300 TDi 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit, which is cleaner, more refined and smoother. There’s a slicker five-speed gearbox and disc brakes at the rear.

1998: The all-new TD5 engine replaces the 300 TDi, and electronic traction control plus anti-lock brakes are now standard.

2006: There’s an all-new 2.4 TDCi engine, six-speed gearbox and a heavily revised interior. 

2012: A new 2.2-litre diesel engine offers the same power and torque as before, but with far greater refinement.

2015: The last Defender is built, but not until Land Rover has offered three run-out limited editions. These are the Autobiography Edition (80 built), Heritage Edition (400 made) and Adventure Edition (600 produced).

Checklist

  • Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are high, so road tax is costly, especially for post-2006 cars.
  • More Defenders are stolen each year than any other car, so check you can get insurance before you buy.
  • Corrosion can be a real issue. Check the bodywork and chassis, especially the rear crossmember; replacing this can take 10 hours.
  • Knocking from the transmission as you take up drive is usually wear in the gearbox or transfer box. Effective repairs are expensive.
  • Waterlogged footwells are common, because of leaks through the windscreen seal, sunroof or the panel joint above the windscreen.
  • If buying a 200 or 300 TDi check the head gasket hasn’t blown, and that the engine doesn’t overheat.
  • Starting and running problems can be caused by a faulty fuel injection loom or ECU connector, a tired fuel pump or a blocked fuel filter.

We like

  • Iconic design
  • Appreciating asset
  • Off-road abilities

We don’t like

  • Lack of refinement
  • Low-rent interior
  • Not very comfortable
  • Poor security
  • Corrosion issues
  • Poor on-road dynamics
  • High purchase costs
  • High running costs

 

Richard Dredge

Nissan

Nissan Note (2006-2013)

With downsizing very much in vogue, it’s cars like the Nissan Note that make the trend so understandable. Combining a cleverly designed interior with discreet good looks, the Note is one of those cars that’s inconspicuous but very talented, leaving you wondering why you don’t see a lot more of them. Compact yet spacious, the Nissan Note is good to drive and surprisingly versatile, plus it looks smart too. Now the earliest cars are getting old, the Note still scores strongly for reliability. And with plenty of cherished low-mileage cars available, this ultra-practical Nissan is as appealing as ever.

Key dates

3/06: The Note arrives as a five-door hatchback only, with 1.4 or 1.6 petrol engines or a 1.5-litre turbodiesel. 

1/09: A facelift brings a fresh nose and a higher quality interior with more standard equipment.

8/10: Further revisions bring more tweaks to the exterior detailing plus extra standard equipment – significantly more, for the high-spec N-Tec. 

2/12: A final facelift means extra standard kit for the Acenta and N-Tec, plus a new range-topping N-Tec+ trim.

Checklist

  • Squeaks and creaks from the front suspension suggest fresh anti-roll bar bushes are needed.
  • Cars with 16-inch wheels and 55-profile tyres have a ride that you might find too firm.
  • The engine auxiliary drive belts can wear quickly.
  • The windscreen suffers from chips and cracks in the lower corners, which then spread throughout the screen.
  • Steering racks aren’t very durable, so feel for play.
  • Waterlogged footwells suggests the air-con system is leaking; repairs can be involved.
  • The electrics can be unreliable, so ensure they all work. Pay particular attention to the powered windows and stereo; check the CD player too.

We like

  • Versatility
  • Practicality
  • Smart looks
  • Keen prices
  • Reliability
  • Driving experience
  • Low running costs

We don’t like

  • Bland cabin design
  • Basic entry-level cars
  • Cramped for five

 

Richard Dredge

Chrysler

Chrysler Grand Voyager (2008-2015)

Chrysler invented the people carrier in 1983 when it launched the Voyager, so it knows a thing or two about making MPVs. While some rivals are better all-rounders, when it comes to all-out practicality, little can touch the cavernous Grand Voyager. Even with all seats in place there’s a 756-litre boot; fold the various chairs flat and this jumps to a huge 3,296 litres, making even the biggest estate car seem small. Buy a Grand Voyager with the neat Stow ‘n’ Go system, which adds a DVD-based entertainment system and centre seats that can swivel through 180 degrees, and you’ve got the perfect family carry-all. But running costs can be high and reliability can be poor, so buy with care.

Key dates

2/08: The fifth-generation Grand Voyager reaches UK showrooms, with 3.8 V6 petrol or 2.8 CRD diesel engines and seating for seven. 

5/09: The Special Edition celebrates 25 years of the Voyager (a year late); just 100 were made, each with leather trim, DVD player and metallic paint. 

7/10: Revisions cut CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by 10%. Anti-whiplash head restraints are now standard too. 

7/11: A facelift brings revised lights, badging and grille along with improved seating and extra standard equipment. At the same time, the petrol engine is dropped.

Checklist

  • Diesel-powered models are thirsty; petrol editions are very costly to run.
  • All cars have powered side doors and tailgate as standard; the former can sometimes open for no reason.
  • The paint gets chipped around the sat-nav screen, making the dash look tatty.
  • Base models don’t get parking sensors as standard, yet they’re essential.
  • The brakes have to work hard and can wear quickly, so check the discs and pads aren’t tired.
  • Make sure all the electrical items work, such as central locking, windows, seats, doors and lights; these can all be unreliable.
  • The quality of some interior plastics isn’t great, so look for marks in the fittings, and broken trim.
  • The paintwork gets damaged easily, with the sills and leading edge of the bonnet the most likely to chip.

We like

  • Space
  • Practicality
  • Comfort
  • Refinement
  • Equipment levels

We don’t like

  • High running costs
  • Poor build quality
  • Heavy depreciation
  • Chrysler defunct in the UK
  • Poor safety rating
  • Mediocre to drive

 

Richard Dredge