Top 10: best first cars for £2,000
Tuesday 28 January 2014
Buying your first car can be a daunting experience. But, whether you’re after a car that looks good, is fun to drive, easy to park or just cheap to insure, there’s one to suit everybody’s wants and needs. From the classy VW Golf to the ubiquitous, but excellent, Ford Fiesta, here are our top ten first cars for less than £2,000.
The Ford Fiesta is the biggest-selling car in the UK, ever. More than two million have found homes in Britain since its introduction in 1977 and it remains top of the best-seller lists today. Mind you, it’s easy to understand its enduring popularity: it’s cheap to buy and to run, and it’s good to drive as well.
That so many have been bought as new cars is good news for used buyers, too, as it means that there is loads of choice for not much money out there. For our budget, you can get anything from a fairly ratty early ’90s example to a pristine 2003 model, but naturally, we’d advise you to get as new a model as you can afford. For this money, you can pick up a fairly decent 2003 model with the excellent little 1.25-litre petrol engine. It may be tempting to go for the 1.4 as it offers a smidge more power, but the fuel economy is considerably worse and it isn’t as smooth or, perhaps more importantly, insurance-friendly.
The Fiesta is also the car to go for if you want a bit of fun for this budget. Despite the diminutive engine, there is some genuine entertainment to be had, at non-licence-threatening speeds, too.
Our pick: 2003 Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec
Look for a Fiesta in our classifieds
This may not be the most exciting car in the world, but my word is it dependable. Solidly built, reliable and with plenty of choice on the market, Golfs are hard to say no to. The only slight drawback is that they held their values reasonably well, so you’ll have to go for an early-2000s model to get one within our budget.
The huge choice of engines can be a little confusing, but the best bets are the 1.9-litre TDI diesel and punchy yet frugal 1.6-litre petrol versions. Cabin and trim quality is good, but you might need to shop around to get the equipment levels you want – we prefer the SE models, which come with air-conditioning and front and rear electric windows.
VW’s build quality is legendary, but running costs for the Golf are very low – they hold their value well – as are repair bills. That said, although reliability is generally good, make sure you check that any prospective purchase has been well looked after – in particular, ensure that all the electrical equipment works as it should.
These cars are likely to have been well looked after, and not done a huge number of miles. Besides, they are incredibly tough and reliable, anyway.
Granted, they’re not the most exciting things to look at, but they are an awful lot of car for the money; and, although, they are likely to cost a little bit extra in insurance than smaller cars, it may well be worth it with all the extra space and reliability that you’re going to get.
After all, with your first car, surely you want dependability over desirability?
Our pick: 2003 Honda Civic 1.6i VTEC
Find a Civic in our classifieds
When it was new, the re-invented Mini was a ‘premium’ product, but now they can be picked up for peanuts. You can even pick up one of the brisk Cooper versions for less than our budget. However, these are likely to be far from pristine examples, so we’d recommend spending the same on a less powerful One model, which will be more insurance-friendly, too.
It’s still good to drive, though, and the cheeky good looks will make you stand out from the crowd, too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these are practical things, though. There won’t be much room in the back seats for your mates, and the boot is a bit small, too. Minis have also got a bit of a record for unreliable electrics, so when you go to have a look, make sure everything works as it should.
Other than that, there are no major issues to worry about, and if you want something with a little bit of panache, then we can’t really think of anything better.
Our pick: 2002 Mini One 1.6
Gone are the days when Skoda was the butt of our jokes. Ever since it was taken over by VW, it’s been turning out some really decent machinery. The Fabia was introduced in 1999 and has been a mainstay of the range ever since, although updated heavily with a new version in 2007.
For our budget, we’ll have to go for an earlier version, but that’s no hardship. It’s a solid, if uninspiring, drive, and although the interior is a mass of grey plastics, you can be reasonably confident that nothing’s going to fall off. It’s built on the same mechanicals as the VW Polo of the same vintage, too, so it’s going to be pretty solid underneath, as well.
We’d advise going for a petrol 1.4-litre model, as this strikes a nice balance between performance, economy and affordability. The 1.2 petrol is just too weak to generate any meaningful performance in a car of this size.
Our pick: 2004 Skoda Fabia 1.4 16V
For this sort of money, you’re looking at a ten year old car, but they generally come with pretty generous kit levels. Most will have a CD player and air-con, and there’s plenty of room in the back for friends and family. The boot’s a decent size, too. For us, at this price we’d go for a 1.6-litre petrol model. It’s relatively frugal, but powerful enough to keep up with traffic on the motorway. It may cost a little bit more to insure than a smaller-engined car, but this should be more than offset by the fact that these are pretty bullet-proof cars, so you won’t have to fork out much on maintenance.
It’s not the most exciting car in the world, but it’ll get you from A to B with no trouble, and you’re unlikely to lose much money in depreciation.
Our pick: 2005 Mazda 3 1.6 TS
Find a Mazda 3 in our classifieds
This model was introduced in 2002 and brought with it a stylish new look, a range of punchy engines, and a sporty, if rather firm, ride. Best of all, every model came well-equipped – SE models even have alloy wheels. Opt for the powerful, yet frugal, 1.2-litre petrol and you can expect to return 50mpg.
Reliability is generally good, but there have been reports of transmission or electrical faults, so make sure you check any potential buy thoroughly.
Our pick: 2002 Seat Ibiza 1.2-litre 12v SE 5dr
Find an Ibiza in our classifieds
It may not have the class of a Volkswagen or the solidity of a Honda, but it’s so simple that there’s very little to go wrong. For this sort of money, you’re looking at an eight- or nine year-old 1.5 GLX. This is a wonderful little car – fun and easy to drive, economical, and as reliable as they come. It shouldn’t be too dear to insure, either, as it’s a small car with a relatively small engine. Performance is sprightly, if not scintillating, and although it can be a little raucous on the motorway, because of its relatively short gear-ratios, you’re likely to be having so much fun that you won’t care.
There aren’t a huge number of these on the market, but if you can find one, then it’ll make an excellent first car.
Our pick: 2006 Suzuki Swift 1.5 GLX
Find a Swift in our classifieds
The Volkswagen Polo is an obvious choice for anybody in the market for a reliable and good-looking supermini. Polos hold their value very well so you’ll be looking at a slightly older version to stick within the £2,000 budget.
You’ll have to hunt around to find a post-2002 Polo, but it is a safe bet, with a cushy ride, sleek if dull interior, excellent VW build quality and a wide range of petrol and diesel engines. The only caveat is that their gearboxes are a known weakness, so before you buy a Polo, ensure its gears engage smoothly and easily.
Running costs are very low, as are repair bills. And, while there are few better-built superminis out there, make sure you check that any prospective buy has been well looked after.
Our pick: 2001 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SE
The Toyota Yaris’ pert styling, low running costs and bulletproof reliability have kept its used prices higher than some of its rivals, but it’s still possible to find a decent one within our budget. It was introduced in 1999, redesigned in 2003 and replaced in 2005 – and you’ll be looking at an earlier model for less than £2,000.
The interior is somewhat idiosyncratic, with a large digital read-out dominating the centre of the dash, and plenty of useful cubby holes dotted around. The most major drawbacks are that rear seat and boot space is tight, and the Yaris is not as practical as some of its competitors, either.
The engines run like clockwork, though, and the only major gripes to watch out when you’re shopping are with the transmission. Ignore any cars with gearboxes that whine, while clutches wear quickly if the car spends most of its time in stop-start traffic.
Our pick: 2000 Toyota Yaris 1.3 VVTi GS 5dr
Find a Yaris in our classifieds