Buying Guide

Ford

Ford Kuga (2008-2013)

Ford was slow to cash in on the SUV craze. When its Kuga appeared in 2008, some of its rivals were in second or even third-generation form; the Toyota Rav4 that launched the segment arrived in 1996. But the Kuga was worth waiting for because in typical Ford fashion it was one of the best cars in its class to drive, build quality and reliability were decent and you got plenty for your money. In common with most of its rivals the Kuga was designed mainly for road use, but as the safest compact SUV that Euro NCAP had ever tested - and for a host of other reasons, the Kuga makes great sense as a family car.

Key dates

6/08: The Kuga reaches UK showrooms in 134bhp 2.0 TDCi form and with a choice of Zetec or Titanium trims and intelligent all-wheel drive.
12/08: There's now a 134bhp front-wheel drive 2.0 TDCi, with lower CO2 emissions. A 197bhp 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol Kuga is also introduced, with 4WD and six-speed manual or five-speed auto transmissions. 
6/10: A high-spec trim level 'Individual' arrives with 19-inch alloys, roof rails, privacy glass and extra bodywork detailing. There's also a new 160bhp 2.0 TDCi and the 134bhp version is boosted to 138bhp. Ford's Powershift six-speed dual-clutch transmission is now optional with the 2.0 TDCi engine.

Checklist

  • You need a special cable, part #1529487, for an MP3 player to work through the car's audio system.
  • Kugas with four-wheel drive can suffer from failure of the Haldex coupling, which is very costly to fix.
  • All engines have a cam belt that needs to be replaced every 10 years and 100-120,000 miles. 
  • Many owners have had problems with fuel leaks after filling up; it comes out of the breather pipe near the filler.
  • Some interior trim wears quickly, especially the gearstick gaiter. The seat trim can also wear; even if it doesn't, creaks are common.
  • The seals for the rear lights can perish, allowing moisture in, so condensation forms inside the clusters.
  • Alloy wheels of all sizes corrode badly; the machined faces suffer the worst.
  • The window seals can squeak where they come into contact with the glass. Buy some Gummi Pfledge (search online) to quell the racket.

We like

  • Great to drive
  • Lots to choose from
  • Strong value
  • Very safe
  • Looks smart
  • Frugal diesel engine

We don't like

  • Narrow model range
  • Patchy reliability
  • No good off road

Volkswagen

Volkswagen Tiguan (2008-2016)

The Volkswagen Tiguan is a small SUV with the same discreet styling, user-friendly cabin, civilised road manners and efficient engines as the Golf. Offered with front- or four-wheel drive, the latter is ideal for those who want to tow, while there’s an Escape version for anyone who wants to do some light off-roading. The Tiguan impresses with its refinement, high-quality cabin and practicality, but if value is one of your priorities you might be less keen as the Tiguan is a premium car. However, its build quality, refinement and spacious cabin make the high prices justifiable, while equipment levels are good too.

Key dates

2/08: The Tiguan arrives with 1.4 TSI petrol or 138bhp 2.0 TDI diesel engines. There are S, SE and Sport trims, with Escape offering greater off-road capabilities thanks to underbody protection, hill descent control and a redesigned nose for a steeper approach angle.

4/08: A 168bhp 2.0 TDI engine joins the range.

10/08: A 2.0 TSI engine is now available in 168bhp or 198bhp guises.

11/08: The Tiguan initially came with 4WD only; from this point on there are 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI 140 front-wheel drive options.

9/11: A facelift brings a 2.0 TDi 110 engine, more efficient powerplants and extra equipment.

10/12: R-Line trim brings sportier design features.

8/13: The Tiguan Match replaces the SE

Checklist

  • The 2.0 TDi engine can stall easily when starting off, if you don’t use the revs, so watch for worn clutches.
  • Rattles aren’t unknown; some owners have found that it’s down to broken front suspension springs.
  • Air-con failures have been known, but it’s usually down to the switchgear failing, rather than the compressor.
  • Faulty electrics can be down to damaged fuseboxes, which can melt because of the high currents going through them.
  • The power assisted steering can fail, especially in sub-zero temperatures. It’s usually a control unit failure, but it can be the steering rack itself.
  • The electronic parking brake can refuse to release, because the driver’s seatbelt isn’t latched, or the clutch isn’t fully depressed.
  • The alarm can sound for no apparent reason, especially in cold weather. Adjusting the sensitivity can make the difference – but not always.

We like

  • Build quality
  • Efficient engines
  • Spacious cabin
  • Clear dash
  • Refinement
  • Tidy handling

We don’t like

  • Some reliability issues
  • Anonymous design

Toyota

Toyota Prius (2009-2015)

Mention the word ‘hybrid’ to someone and the chances are they’ll think of the Toyota Prius, first seen in the UK in 2000 and made in vast numbers since. While the first edition was uninspiring in many ways, it created a template for future generations of a car that has become increasingly usable and better to drive, if not exactly fun. The Prius has evolved to impress in many ways from its low running costs and excellent practicality to its superb reliability and the potential for tiny fuel bills. However, many buyers opt for a Prius because of its economy, but how it’s driven makes a massive difference to the economy it delivers – much more than a conventionally powered car. So before you buy a Prius, make sure thatthe roads you use and the way you drive aren’t better suited to a cheaper, conventionally powered car.

Key dates

8/09: The Prius Mk3 arrives in the UK, with better performance, lower emissions and more standard equipment than its predecessor. In place of the previous 1.5-litre petrol engine there is a 1.8-litre unit and buyers can choose between T3, T4 and T Spirit trims.

10/10: The 10th Anniversary special edition is limited to 1000 examples, with body kit, 17-inch alloys and black leather trim.

1/12: A facelifted Prius is introduced, with a tweaked nose, higher-quality interior and revised suspension for an improved ride. There are also improved multimedia and navigation options.

3/12: There’s now a plug-in Prius with a 14-mile range in pure electric mode.

Checklist

  • That wind-cheating shape cuts fuel costs but hampers rear visibility, so check you can see out.
  • The Mk3 engine needs 0W20 oil; the 5W30 used in earlier Priuses increases fuel consumption and cuts performance.
  • To keep costs and weight to a minimum, Toyota doesn’t provide a spare wheel of any kind, not even a space saver.
  • Most people buy a Prius to enjoy spectacular fuel economy, but don’t assume you’ll automatically get close to the official 72mpg.
  • Rattles from the dashboard are common, and getting rid of them can be impossible. The excellent refinement makes things more obvious.

We like

  • Usability
  • Reliability
  • Potential economy
  • Refinement

We don’t like

  • Dynamically dull
  • Costly to buy
  • Firm ride

Volvo

Volvo C30 (2006-2013)

Volvo is much better known for its large cars rather than small models; the C30 is its most compact car to date. Distinctively styled and good to drive thanks to it sharing so much with the Ford Focus, the Volvo C30 was never a big seller in the UK as it never really captured buyers’ imaginations. That’s a shame because the C30 has much to offer, not least of all excellent safety levels, good build quality and most models are well equipped too. The C30 also came with some excellent engines from mild to wild. However, the tiny boot, limited rear leg room and lack of availability of a five-door option made the C30 a non-starter for some. But the C30’s low profile ensures you get plenty for your money and with around 30,000 sold in the UK over a seven-year lifespan, there are more to go round than you might think.

Key dates

10/06: The C30 debuts with 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 2.4 or turbocharged 2.5-litre petrol engines, along with 1.6, 2.0 or 2.4-litre diesels.

2/08: A dual-clutch transmission is now offered on the 2.0D, and there’s an R-Design bodykit option too.

1/09: A 1.6D DRIVe model is introduced, with CO2 emissions of 119g/km.

1/10: A revised C30 appears with a heavily revised nose, facelifted tail and the option of new colours inside and out, plus a sportier chassis. At the same time, a 99g/km stop/start 1.6D DRIVe model arrives.

6/10: The 1.6D became the D2, while the 2.0D is split into D3 (148bhp) and D4 (175bhp) derivatives.

Checklist

  • Wind noise of some early cars can be an issue, usually because of the door mirror design; it can be fixed.
  • The air conditioning stops working when the condenser fails, although system leaks aren’t unusual either.
  • Big alloys on sporty C30s get kerbed easily. They can usually be refurbished inexpensively though.
  • The focus is on style rather than practicality; the C30 can carry no more than four people as there’s no provision for a fifth seat.
  • Door trim panels can squeak or creak and quietening things down can be a time-consuming job.
  • If you do a lot of night-time driving, it’s worth buy a car with xenon lights, as the standard units aren’t that good.
  • Windscreens are susceptible to stone chips and cracking; see if it’s been renewed already.

We like

  • Safety levels
  • Build quality
  • Stylish design
  • Strong engines
  • Keen prices
  • Fun to drive

We don’t like

  • Tiny boot
  • Four seats only

 

Bentley

Bentley Continental GT (2003-2011)

When Bentley revealed the Continental GT in 2003, it marked the dawn of a new era for the Crewe marque under Volkswagen ownership. The model has gone on to become easily the most popular model ever offered by this luxury sporting brand, with a variety of offshoots also offered, including convertible and saloon editions. Anyone worried that VW Phaeton underpinnings might devalue the Bentley brand were quickly reassured by the car’s blend of agility, comfort, performance and reliability. And while you’ll need deep pockets to buy and run one of these stylish machines, the Bentley Continental GT still represents something of a bargain on the used market.

Key dates

6/03: The Continental GT debuts in 552bhp coupé form, as the world’s fastest four-seat coupé.

4/05: There’s now a four-door saloon, the Flying Spur, mechanically identical to the coupé.

10/06: The Continental GTC convertible goes on sale.

11/06: The Diamond Series celebrates 60 years of Crewe production and features ceramic brakes, unique wheels and fresh colour schemes.

8/07: 600bhp Speed versions of the Continental GT and GTC debut.

3/09: There’s now a Continental Flying Spur Speed.

10/09: The 621bhp Supersports appears, capable of 204mph and with carbon-ceramic brakes as standard.

Checklist

  • Despite their generous dimensions, the GT and GTC aren’t especially spacious inside, with rear seats suitable only for children.
  • Some cars are fitted with aftermarket wheels on ultra-low profile tyres, which damage the ride quality.
  • Some cars have tacky paint schemes; buy with caution as selling them on can be extremely difficult.
  • The heated rear window contains the radio aerial. These fail, with the whole window having to be replaced.
  • A warning that the engine is overheating when it isn’t is probably because of an imbalance between the two exhaust manifold temperatures.
  • The high-level brake light over the back window can fail, and repair costs can be high.
  • Tyres can be hard to find; standard GTs are fitted with 275/40 ZR 19 105Y (B) rubber. It’s essential that you fit tyres with the correct loading.

We like

  • Performance
  • Refinement
  • Build quality
  • Image
  • Comfort
  • Four-wheel drive

We don’t like

  • Cramped cabin
  • High running costs

Kia

Kia Sportage (2010-2016)

It was the original Picanto that showed Kia’s potential, but when the third-generation Sportage appeared in 2010 the Korean manufacturer realised that potential. This sharp-looking SUV came with concept car looks, a long warranty, generous equipment levels and a healthy dose of practicality – yet it was every bit as affordable as you’d expect a Kia to be. Accounting for around a quarter of Kia’s sales in the UK, when the Sportage Mk3 was current it was the company’s biggest-selling model and it’s not hard to see why. As a used buy the Sportage is just as enticing.

Key dates

11/10: The Sportage Mk3 arrives with 1.6 or 2.0-litre petrol engines, along with 1.7 or 2.0 CRDi diesels. The smaller engines have front-wheel drive; the 2.0-litre models get standard four-wheel drive and an optional automatic gearbox. There are three trim levels (1, 2 and 3, with 4WD models getting a KX prefix).

7/12: There’s a new range-topper; the KX-4.

2/14: A facelifted Sportage brings extra equipment, more options and minor styling changes. 

7/15: The limited edition Axis is restricted to 1200 cars and is offered with 1.6 GDi or 1.7 CRDi engines. It sits between the 2 and 3 trims.

Checklist

  • There’s no seven-seat option; if you need more than five seats you’ll have to trade up to a Sorento. 
  • All diesel-engined Sportages have a diesel particulate filter (DPF), so if you’re a low-mileage driver go for a petrol-engined car.
  • Some early cars could suffer from wind noise from the glass sunroof; adjusting the mechanism fixes it.
  • The 1.7 CRDi can suffer from a loss of power. Replacing the fuel filter can fix things.
  • If you’re towing buy a KX-4. It has 282lb ft of torque instead of the 236lb ft of the regular 2.0 CRDi engine.
  • The front seats can suffer from tears along the sides of the base, near the front. 
  • Some cars pull to one side, usually the left. Resetting the electric power steering software helps.
  • The standard headlights are poor, so many owners uprate the bulbs. Even the xenon items aren’t that great.
  • Corroded alloy wheels aren’t unusual.

We like

  • Sharp looks
  • Generous equipment levels
  • Practicality
  • Reliability
  • Value
  • Frugal engines

We don’t like

  • So-so dynamics