“Fashions fade, style is eternal,” said Yves Saint Laurent. But the question is: can you grab a stylish car when your budget is tighter than Kim Kardashian’s clingy bodycon maxi dress? We trawled the classifieds to find out and — as you might expect – there’s plenty of Italian flair to be found.
BMW 3 Series Coupe
To paraphrase Coco Chanel: “A car should be two things: classy and fabulous.” The E36 BMW Coupe is arguably the best looking 3 Series you can buy, certainly for our £5,000 budget. An unmodified six-cylinder E36 Coupe is a thing of beauty. Coco Chanel would have loved it. Probably.
The Audi TT is like a little black dress – it looks good in every scenario. And as Karl Lagerfeld famously said: “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” Quite.
Almost as beautiful as the iconic E-Type and more affordable than the F-Type, the Jaguar XK is a styling sensation. Wait, we appear to be drifting into the kind of commentary you’d associate with the catwalk. Work it, baby.
Look up ‘safe sex’ in the dictionary and it will probably reference the Volvo C70 Coupe and Cabriolet. This is one Swedish mistress you can gawp at on the internet without risking your marriage.
Renault Laguna Coupe
Bet you never expected to see an Aston Martin in this feature. Wait, what?
Alfa Romeo GT
Figures suggest that men think about Alfa Romeos every seven seconds. The GT wasn’t so much built as poured from a bottle. And like a good bottle of Italian red, the GT is ageing beautifully. Bottoms up.
In an interview with Car in 1988, the Corrado’s designer, Herbert Schafer, described his creation as: “quite pretty… certainly not one of these lookalike jelly-mould designs”. He was right. We’re not entirely sure Volkswagen has bettered the look of the Corrado.
You could spend the best part of a day searching for a £5,000 car with more style and elegance than the R129 Mercedes-Benz SL, but you’d be wasting your time. The last truly pretty SL? We think so.
Peugeot 406 Coupe
Twenty years on from its debut at the 1996 Paris Motor Show, some onlookers are still collecting their dropped jaws from the floor. Is the Peugeot 406 Coupe the most beautiful Peugeot ever made? It’s in with a shout.
If your shopping list includes a rotary engine, suicide doors and styling that looks futuristic even in 2016, you’re in luck. The Mazda RX-8 is for you. Just don’t mention the fuel economy.
That it’s not the sharpest tool in the box doesn’t matter, because the second generation Hyundai Coupe is the most beautiful thing ever to emerge from Korea. Extended warranties and value for money never looked sexier.
You want flame-grilled surfacing for your £5k budget – you got it. Once again we’ll quote a certain Coco Chanel, who said: “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” And the Z4 was/is certainly different.
Peugeot 306 Cabriolet
Why splash out £5,000 on a drop-dead gorgeous car when you can spend a mere £500 on a drop-top stunner? Like the aforementioned 406 Coupe, the 306 Cabriolet offers style and elegance way beyond its price tag.
Saab 9-3 Convertible
Once upon a time, a Saab convertible was the choice of car for the image-conscious motorists of Britain’s stockbroker belt. The 9-3 Convertible is a beautiful topless Swede.
So easily forgotten, but in its day the Volkswagen Eos was the best of the coupe-cabriolet set. It looks great, has the right badge, drives superbly and offers a fair amount of interior space. It also sounds like the Greek god of love. A bit.
Audi A4 Cabriolet
There’s just something about Audi Cabriolets – they never seem to date. Even the earliest A4 Cabriolets — introduced in 2002 — still look fresh today. You can look a million dollars for less than five grand.
Your £5,000 budget won’t stretch to a Citroen DS or SM, so how about the next best thing? Following the DS must have been like trying to follow Sir Alex Ferguson, but the Citroen CX proved it was no David Moyes.
Why have a car when you can own a little boat? That the Fiat Barchetta is left-hand drive only simply serves to add to the appeal. Belissima!
You’ll struggle to find a stylish eco car for £5,000, but may we present to you the futuristic brilliance of the original Honda Insight? A future classic in the making.
Much like the Corrado, the Audi Coupe is proof that the Germans are the kings of desirable 90s coupes. Opt for Sport suspension and a five-pot engine, because this particular Audi has got it all going on.
The Rover SD1 (Specialist Division 1) arrived in 1976 and looked, to all intents and purposes, like a West Midlands interpretation of the Ferrari Daytona. It was the 1977 European Car of the Year, no less, and it could be yours for under five grand.
Alfa Romeo 156
Forget the stories of mechanical gremlins and build quality issues for a moment. Instead, just spend a few minutes staring at the grace and majesty of the Alfa Romeo 156. We have hot towels at the ready…
When faced with creating a worthy successor to the E-Type, Jaguar took the easy way out and went out on a limb. Finding a Jaguar XJ-S for this kind of money is getting increasingly tough, and we’re not saying the journey won’t be littered with problems, but the XJ-S has grace in abundance.
Fiat Grande Punto
Trust the Italians to have nailed the whole stylish supermini thing. Squint hard, drive into a hall of mirrors and — with some imagination — the Fiat Grande Punto looks like a pocket-size Maserati.
Alfa Romeo Brera
Arresting, bold and interesting – just three of the words used to describe the styling of the Alfa Romeo Brera. It’s just a shame the concept’s gullwing doors never made it into production.
A controversial choice? Perhaps, but there’s just something about big and quirky Citroens. The XM is considerably cheaper than the CX and looks almost otherworldly. If Jean-Michel Jarre designed cars…
Volkswagen Passat CC
A four-door coupe in the style of a Mercedes-Benz CLS, but with the reassurance of a humble Volkswagen Passat. It’s like Sophie from Accounts letting her hair down on a Friday night.
Audi A6 Avant
We’re just going to come right out and say it: the C5 Audi A6 Avant is arguably the best looking estate car ever created. Ideally, we’d take ours in full-fat ‘Layer Cake’ RS6 form.
Poor man’s Porsche 911? Can’t tell from the front from the rear? Behave yourself, because the Porsche Boxster is one of the defining sports cars of the modern era.
BMW 7 Series
Grab an E38 BMW 7 Series and a Sony Ericsson JB988 mobile phone, head to the nearest multi-storey car park and you too could pretend to be James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies. Just avoid having a run in with Dr. Kaufman – he could shoot you from Stuttgart…
Jeep Cherokee XJ
Finding a stylish SUV is going to be tricky, especially at this end of the market. Our pick would be the effortlessly cool Jeep Cherokee XJ, complete with 4.0-litre petrol engine. Check shirt and supersize Coke are optional.
Another used car feature, another mention for the do-no-wrong Mazda MX-5. To meet the stylish criteria and the budget, we’d opt for the first generation car – a modern day Lotus Elan.
If you happen to have a friend who owns a Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 and another who owns a Citroen XM, do the right thing and buy an Audi S8. Then recreate a few scenes from Ronin. On private roads, of course.
Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon
You know we said the Audi A6 Avant might be the best looking estate car in the world? Yeah, about that. We might have 159 reasons why it isn’t…
If you can’t afford an 1800ES and the 480 is just a little too quirky, you might want to consider the Volvo C30. Its bold styling is ageing well and the turbocharged five-cylinder version is a Ford Focus ST in a different suit and blessed with a nicer interior.
Prices of the last truly eccentric big Citroen have edged below £5,000. It might have depreciated like a stone when new, but that’s not a problem for you.
At this price point you’re not exactly swimming in options when it comes to stylish Japanese cars. But the Honda Prelude is an exception to the rule. A slice of retro cool from the Far East.