The average Brit is expected to spend £748 on presents this Christmas – up from £732 in 2015. With more than three quarters of us shopping online this December, we decided to do some virtual window shopping of our own. But instead of seeking out toys, electronics and socks, we’ve been on Auto Trader and discovered how far £748 goes in the world of cars…
- Best used cars for less than £1,000
- The best Christmas presents for you and your car
- More car features on Motoring Research
Jaguar XJ – £600
The ‘X300’ shape Jaguar XJ is in a real sweet spot in terms of budget Jaguar buying at the moment. More reliable than both the older XJ40 and newer X308, the ’94 – ’97 XJ is in that ‘not quite a classic’ phase, and that means they’re cheap. A couple of grand will buy a really good one, but an old-man image and fairly high running costs mean there are several about for little more than a monkey (that’s £500 to you and me).
This example we found on Auto Trader claims to be rust-free (but you might want to have a poke around the sills to check) – and even comes with a suitable private plate. The downsides? The bodywork doesn’t sound to be great, with lacquer peel affecting a number of areas, and there’s “a moaning sound from the starter motor” occasionally. But it’s a £600 Jag!
BMW 7 Series – £700
If you prefer your barges a little more German, how about a BMW 7 Series? Like the Jaguar, high running costs will put most people off, but it even comes with a phone. When an iPhone 7 Plus starts at £719, you’re basically buying a phone and getting a BMW 7 Series for free. Tell that to your family when they discover no presents under the tree this Christmas.
Toyota MR2 – £800
Let’s step away from barges for a moment and look what £748 gets you in the world of sports cars. At this time of year, no one is buying two-seater convertibles, so the world is your oyster. You could buy a predictable (and very good) Mazda MX-5, but we thought we’d be more ambitious and see if we could find a Mk3 MR2 within our budget. We failed, but this one’s just £800 – and who wouldn’t knock £52 off a convertible in the run-up to Christmas?
Check the oil levels – oil consumption can be an issue – and ask if it’s had a new manifold fitted. The pre-cat in the exhaust manifold has a habit of breaking up, with debris being sucked into the engine. It’s particularly a problem in cars that have been driven hard from cold.
Mazda RX-8 – £750
Your kids might hate you now for cancelling Christmas, but in the future they’ll look back and understand your logic in buying a Mazda RX-8 for the price of a few presents. At £750, you don’t need to be Mike Brewer to knock £2 off and get it within budget.
There’s a reason they’re cheap – the rotary engine has an appetite for fuel and oil, and can go wrong if it’s not been maintained. Check that it starts OK while warm, and question the seller on their oil-topping-up habits. Spark plugs are expensive, pushing the cost of a major service to more than £500, but there’s no cambelt that needs changing.
Perodua Kenari – £750
A PR campaign from Perodua in December 2007 suggested customers should “give the gift of Kenari” that Christmas. It went on to say “Britain’s best value mini-MPV” was available from £5,630, thanks to a £500 cashback deal. Bargain hunters will be pleased to know there’s currently a gold Perodua Kenari automatic on Auto Trader for just £750 for Christmas. You really can give the gift of Kenari this Christmas.
Suzuki Grand Vitara – £600
As usual for Christmas, our spending is getting a little bit carried away, with the last three cars being over budget. Let’s rein(deer) it in a bit, with a £600 4×4 that will double up as a convertible when summer arrives. A Suzuki Grand Vitara should make for a trusty workhorse, although an advisory for corrosion on its last MOT means you might want to get it Waxoyled before the rot sets in.
Volvo 850 – £700
Smithy driving his Volvo 850 while singing along to Band Aid is now a traditional Christmas scene for Gavin and Stacey fans. Although his Volvo in the Christmas special is turquoise in colour, Smithy usually drives a maroon Volvo 850, but it was written off in an off-camera crash.
The actual car driven by James Corden sold for more than £2,000 in 2013, making this example we’ve found on Auto Trader look a bit of a bargain. There’s some unsightly lacquer peel on the bonnet, and the wood inside won’t be to everyone’s taste. But it’s a practical load-lugger for those Christmas presents you won’t be buying this year.
Volvo V40 – £740
If you’re not a Gavin and Stacey fan, you might be better buying a newer Volvo V40 for your £748 budget. Many will snub the Dutch-built V40 as “not a real Volvo”, thanks to its platform shared with the Mitsubishi Carisma, but this example looks to be very tidy. Take it for a good test-drive and make sure the automatic gearbox functions correctly.
Black cab – £795
If you’re looking for a career change in the new year, why not invest your £748 Christmas budget (after negotiation) on a black cab? As a TX1, this taxi is powered by a bulletproof 2.7-litre diesel Nissan engine. We wouldn’t worry too much about the 404,000 miles on the clock, although you might want to buy an old Avensis and become an Uber driver instead.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class – £695
Mercs of this era have a reputation for rust, so a £695 C-Class with “no rust issues” certainly grabs our attention. An advisory on its last MOT for “slight corrosion” on the offside sill perhaps suggests an element of creative writing has been used in the ad, but it’s still potentially a bargain. That lovely straight-six engine will soon help you forget about the bodywork, but it might be one to avoid if you cover lots of miles.
MG ZR – £750
The MG ZR is an underrated hot hatch, with many put off by their reputation for poor build quality. One way to get around the head gasket issue that plagued the K-series petrol engines fitted to the MG ZR is to buy a 2.0-litre diesel. The L-series engine isn’t particularly refined, but it is bulletproof and, as the more powerful 113hp model, it’ll hit 62mph in 9.1 seconds. OK, the 51.5mpg figure is a little more impressive…
Alfa Romeo 147 – £595
No one has ever regretted buying a cheap Alfa Romeo. Possibly. The seller of this lovely-looking 147 says he’ll take a watch in part-exchange – so chop in your old Casio and it ought to be even more of a bargain. Check through its history: it’ll need a cambelt if it hasn’t been changed in the last three years, but you might be surprised how cheap that can be at a specialist. Budget up to £300.
Land Rover Freelander – £600
Old Freelanders have potential to be money-pits, but we think this 2001 V6 looks to be much more than £600-worth. It’s only covered 71,000 miles (probably because the owner couldn’t afford the fuel bills), but it’s going to be more fun to drive than the problematic 1.8 or sluggish 2.0-litre diesel. Transmission issues mean a lot of Freelander 1s have been converted to front wheel-drive by having their prop shaft removed – and the seller of this example admits this to be the case. That’s not a huge concern unless you need the four-wheel-drive ability – and it should even help you save on fuel.
Fiat Multipla – £600
The original Fiat Multipla was crowned Top Gear’s ‘ugliest car of 1999’ when it was new, and the public’s reaction led to the car manufacturer toning its quirky MPV down when it was facelifted in 2004. But we look back at the Mk1 Multipla now and find it quite endearing. Its three front seats make it a quirky family carrier, and kids will love the bright interior of this example we’ve found.
Honda HR-V – £750
Marketed as the ‘joy machine’ when it was launched in 1999, the HR-V was a lightweight, low-emissions crossover designed to appeal to a young demographic. Today, they’re a reliable and interesting compact SUV and a number of well-used examples are creeping below our budget. The seller of this example at a dealer in Buckinghamshire admits it’s come in as a part-exchange and has a few dings, but it doesn’t look a bad buy for £750.
Ford Focus – £745
Let’s be sensible for a moment. If we really were given £748 and told to buy a car we could use every day without costing a fortune to maintain, we’d probably seek out a cared-for Ford Focus. There are loads about, so you can afford to be picky, and parts are cheap. For simplicity’s sake, we’d search for a petrol, and we’ve found this very tidy example from 2003 on Auto Trader. In LX trim it’s not as desirable as a Ghia, but it looks to be in better condition than most. With a very short MOT, we’d try to negotiate a fresh MOT as part of the deal.
Suzuki Ignis Sport – £595
Right, back to the fun stuff. The Suzuki Ignis Sport is a plucky little hot hatch – what else offers Japanese reliability combined with Recaro seats and yellow mesh in the headrests for sub-£1,000? They’re few and far between within our £748 budget, but there is an example advertised at a dealership in Leeds. Just don’t expect it to be a minter…
Rover 75 – £725
The Rover 75 was actually a pretty good car, it just happened to arrive a bit late to save Rover and was hampered by a half-hearted launch. The engine you don’t want is the 1.8-litre K-series (they’re plagued by head-gasket failure) and automatics are less problematic than the manual gearbox. Naturally, we’ve picked out a lovely 1.8 K-series from the classifieds. While a V6 would be more fun and a diesel generally better in every way, the 1.8 can be bought cheaply and, if you’re careful, won’t necessarily give you any trouble. Watch the temperature needle like a hawk on the test drive and make sure there’s no evidence of oil and coolant mixing to form ‘mayonnaise’.
BMW 3 Series Compact – £700
The Compact isn’t the most desirable 3 Series, but that means you can pick up a better example than the regular model within our budget. This 2001 example on Auto Trader looks very clean, with just 95,000 miles on the clock, although the seller does say it’s showing an airbag warning light. That’d be an MOT failure, so would need fixing soon.
Mazda MX-5 – £750
Have you heard? Mazda MX-5s are going up in price now, especially tidy first-generation models. While this is a Mk1, we wouldn’t describe it as ‘tidy’. It’s been written off in the past, and there are various shades of red going on across different panels. The engines are very reliable, though, so bodywork aside, there isn’t much to worry about. Get on your hands and knees and check underneath for rust.
Vauxhall Signum – £785
The Vauxhall Signum is like a Vectra, but much rarer than a Vectra. And that makes it cool. The front bit is the same as the repmobile on which it’s based, but the rear has been extended to provide extra legroom. There’s a near-vertical tailgate, and it was priced above the Vectra when new.
Renault Laguna – £750
Old Renault Lagunas aren’t the choice for anyone who expects their car to start every morning – even the key card can be troublesome. But this example, powered by a lovely 3.0-litre V6, looks promising. It’s covered just 63,000 miles and has full service history including two cambelt changes, says the seller.
SEAT Leon Cupra – £699
With 180hp, the original SEAT Leon Cupra would hit 62mph in 7.7 seconds. That was hot hatch territory back then, even if it wouldn’t see the direction a hot Leon went today. The original Leon Cupra is relatively unloved, putting it firmly in bargain basement territory. We’re not sure about the aftermarket exhaust fitted to this example (it hints at a boy racer owner), but that’s easy enough to change.
Lexus IS200 – £595
Yes, we could have found a Lexus IS200 with lower miles for the money, but a 240,000-mile example appeals for the novelty factor. They’re exceptionally reliable, and an MOT history search shows no major issues on the horizon. Wave £500 at the seller and see if you can get it to 300,000 miles without any big bills – we’d be surprised if you can’t.