Want a new car but don’t want to spend more than £1,500? We’ve assembled a list of budget cars that won’t break the bank. In fact, they cost less than a typical downpayment on a PCP deal. Ever helpful, we’ve selected two cars from each class, kicking off with a pair of bargain MPVs.
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MPV: Vauxhall Zafira
Why you want it: the innovative ‘Flex 7’ seating is brilliant; prices start from £500; it’s based on the Astra, giving it compact dimensions.
Why you don’t: it’s about as cool as a centre crease on a pair of jeans; the rearmost seats are suitable for small children only; it will look and feel very tired.
MPV: SEAT Alhambra
Why you want it: it’s a proper seven-seater, feels like a car to drive; cheaper than the Volkswagen Sharan and Ford Galaxy.
Why you don’t: you might have to live with a few battle scars; not immune to mechanical problems; feeling dated now.
SUV: Subaru Forester
Why you want it: part estate, part SUV; superb on-road manners; great for light off-roading; excellent reliability; flat-four engine.
Why you don’t: not exactly cheap to run; styling is a little oddball for some; may have led a tough life.
SUV: Honda CR-V
Why you want it: two decades on, it retains a strong image; one of the original crossovers; typical Honda reliability; good value for money.
Why you don’t: original CR-V was petrol only; not exactly cheap to run; not a true off-roader.
Estate: Skoda Octavia
Why you want it: massive 580-litre load space; cheaper to buy than a Golf estate; excellent range of engines and specs; people love Skoda dealers.
Why you don’t: more mechanical gremlins than you might think; interior is showing its age; to some, the badge is still a problem, which is their loss.
Estate: Ford Mondeo
Why you want it: brilliant to drive; cavernous boot; cheap to buy; plenty of choice; TDCi engines blend performance with economy.
Why you don’t: that TDCi engine can be troublesome; many will have been run on a budget.
Family hatchback: Volkswagen Golf
Why you want it: it’s a Golf; for this budget you can buy a Mk3 or a Mk4; solid build quality, plenty of choice; excellent interior; strong image.
Why you don’t: not as reliable as the image makes out; Mk3 and Mk4 are stodgy and not that great to drive; image keeps prices relatively high.
Family hatchback: Ford Focus
Why you want it: still looks great today; brilliant to drive; 1.6 and 2.0 Zetec are terrific drivers’ cars; plenty of choice; cheap to run.
Why you don’t: many tired examples out there; lacks the image of the Golf, although this could be a positive.
Supermini: Skoda Fabia
Why you want it: it’s a Volkswagen Polo in a cheaper suit; well built; good range of engines and specs; vRS is a fast and frugal hot hatch.
Why you don’t: dull styling; interior is showing its age; Volkswagen Polo will look better on your driveway, if that kind of thing matters to you.
Supermini: Honda Jazz
Why you want it: innovative and spacious interior; many will have led an easy life; cheap to run; utterly reliable if well maintained.
Why you don’t: people will think you’ve given up on life; pint-size MPV styling; ride is a little unforgiving; incapable of travelling at more than 42mph on a B-road, probably.
City car: Ford Ka
Why you want it: one of the greatest city cars ever built; brilliant fun to drive; cute styling; cheap to buy and run; plenty of choice.
Why you don’t: rust is a menace, rendering some cars beyond economical repair; original 1.3-litre not without issues; dated interior; cheap build, and it shows.
City car: Fiat Panda
Why you want it: a few million Italians can’t be wrong; fun to drive; narrow dimensions make it brilliant in the city; good size cabin; chic styling.
Why you don’t: not the biggest boot in the world; interior might be showing its age; split-folding rear seats aren’t standard.
Sports car: Mazda MX-5
Why you want it: because it’s the definitive affordable sports car; Lotus Elan for a new generation; choice; value for money.
Why you don’t: beware of imports without history; hardly exclusive; rust is a big issue; taller drivers might struggle to get comfortable.
Sports car: MG F
Why you want it: more practical than an MX-5; mid-engined, plenty of choice; far better to drive than it’s given credit for; excellent parts and specialist support.
Why you don’t: sorry, MG owners, but we have to mention head gasket failure; build quality is patchy; you might wish you had bought a Mazda MX-5.
Convertible: Saab 9-3
Why you want it: gilt-edged image; solid build quality; supremely comfortable; Saab’s demise means prices remain depressed; it’s a Saab, so safety is guaranteed.
Why you don’t: not particularly great to drive; lack of specialist support; parts and servicing can be expensive.
Convertible: Peugeot 306
Why you want it: just look at it, the Pininfarina-styled 306 has aged beautifully; surprisingly practical; excellent ride quality; good value for money.
Why you don’t: some of the electrics might not work; interior won’t have aged well; some tatty examples out there.
Saloon: Honda Accord
Why you want it: because it’s probably the most reliable car in the world; even older Accords offer total reliability; many cars will have led an easy life; premium feel.
Why you don’t: high-mileage diesel engines could be troublesome; not the biggest boot in the world; firm ride, especially when on larger alloy wheels.
Saloon: Toyota Avensis
Why you want it: because Colin in accounts drives one.
Why you don’t: because Colin in accounts drives one.
Executive: BMW 5 Series
Why you want it: strong image; superb to drive; has aged beautifully; a range of brilliant engines.
Why you don’t: some quality issues; hold their value extremely well, so prices are relatively high; parts and servicing can be expensive.
Executive: Audi A6
Why you want it: superb build quality; currently the best badge in the business; superb interior; classy styling.
Why you don’t: not as great to drive as a 5 Series; even more sought-after than a 5 Series, so prices are high.
Luxury: BMW 7 Series
Why you want it: because the godfather of Bangernomics, James Ruppert, owned one; you can pretend to be James Bond; sense of genuine luxury; great to look at.
Why you don’t: because you’re not James Bond; you can’t control it via your Sony Ericsson brick-phone; there’s a lot to go wrong.
Luxury: Lexus LS400
Why you want it: it’s a “Japanese Mercedes”, Lynn.
Why you don’t: it’s a “Japanese Mercedes”, Lynn.
Coupe: Ford Puma
Why you want it: one of the best small coupes ever built; it’s based on a Fiesta, so parts and servicing are cheap; Steve McQueen drove one, of sorts; cheap as chips.
Why you don’t: rust; some flaky examples in the classifieds; 1.4 and 1.6 not as good as the 1.7.
Coupe: Vauxhall Calibra
Why you want it: excellent styling; four-seat practicality; on the verge of classic status?
Why you don’t: prices appear to be on the up; it’s a Vauxhall; other 90s coupes are sharper to drive.
Classic: Austin Metro
Why you want it: undervalued part of British motoring history; cheap to buy; excellent starter classic; Princess Diana owned one; full of character.
Why you don’t: rust is a big issue; potential issues with the Hydragas suspension; the looming cloud of head gasket failure; gearbox problems.
Classic: Saab 9000
Why you want it: supremely comfortable; extremely well built, non-turbo versions are very cheap to buy; everyday classic.
Why you don’t: parts can be expensive; non-turbo versions are rather sluggish; not exactly cheap to run.