Welcome to our new Q&A series How to Car – From those ‘In the Know’, I am James Batchelor and I am here to answer your questions on ‘Finding the right car for you’.
– Need some help finding a car that fits your exact needs and lifestyle?
– A car that covers everything on your ‘must have’ list?
– Don’t know where to start and some help is what you need?
Q: Hi, I’m looking for a used car ideally in good condition and with no more than 80,000 miles on the clock and for less than £1,400. I’d like it to be economical on fuel and have cheap road tax, too. What would you recommend?
This end of the market is always popular and that’s especially been the case for the past 12 months during the height of the pandemic. Cheap used cars have been hard to come by and this is only set to continue for the rest of the year.
For this kind of money and with your requirements, you might be surprised at how few cars are available. But three cars crop up more than anything else – the 2005-2014 Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and the Toyota Aygo, and they easily fall into this budget and mileage bracket.
The good news is all three cars can make excellent buys, and apart from some different headlamps, grilles and badges, they’re identical. The C1, 107 and Aygo were built (and continue to be built but the 107 is now known as the 108) as a joint venture between the three firms, and represent good value for money on the used market.
Despite the three cars being sisters, I’d go for the Aygo. Because of the Toyota badge, quite often Aygo was bought by older, more mature buyers and consequently they can be better looked after compared to the Citroen and Peugeot. These two versions were loved by students and newly-qualified drivers so they can show their age a little more. This is a pretty accurate generalisation, but a generalisation anyway; it’s a good idea to give a used car a good check-over before you part with your cash, and these three cars are no exception.
The 2005-2014 Aygo came with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine available in two outputs. Both fall into the group 1 insurance bracket and both will return in the 60s mpg-wise. Servicing is pretty cheap too compared to other city cars and they cost no more than £20 a year in VED.
This is a very popular question and it’s not surprising considering we’re racing towards an electric and hybrid future. In recent years, a number of hybrids have been launched called ‘mild hybrid’, ‘full hybrid’ and ‘plug-in hybrid’.
Let’s focus on the most common hybrid, a full-hybrid (or sometimes called a self-charging hybrid) and this is what the Honda Jazz Hybrid is classed as. The biggest advantage with a hybrid is in normal driving you will get better fuel economy compared to a regular petrol engine. That’s because the car will be using a blend of petrol and electric power, and in most cases prioritising electric running – therefore you won’t be using any petrol. Hybrids can also be cheaper to tax because they, according to official tests, emit less carbon dioxide.
The disadvantages are hybrids can be more expensive to buy, and depending on which type of hybrid you buy, they can be slower to accelerate. And if you’re a fan of driving a car with a manual gearbox, almost all full-hybrids and plug-in hybrids come with an automatic gearbox or a CVT gearbox.
Q: I am thinking of replacing my Jaguar X-Type Estate with a car that is of equal length. I need a car that can carry grandfather clocks which can be up to 2.3m long. Unfortunately, I haven’t the money to get another second-hand Jaguar and so, I have been looking at the following cars instead.
Which of the four options above is better for my purposes and any downsides with the models?
I like in-depth questions! Well, the first thing to say is it’s great you’re considering estate cars and MPVs and not SUVs. More often than not, an SUV looks bigger but is in fact smaller inside than an estate or an MPV.
Let’s start off with the three estates that you’ve chosen. The Mazda 6 is a good car but, as its name suggests, it’s a Tourer and not a very spacious estate car. It has a low roofline which makes the car very good looking, but doesn’t help with space inside. With a 522-litre boot before you’ve folded down the rear seats, it’s the smallest of the estate cars you’re considering. The Mazda is the best of the three to drive though.
It’s much the same story with the Toyota as it’s not the most spacious with a 529-litre boot. It’s dependable, reliable and, as it’s a Toyota, it’ll give you years of service – but it’s not that exciting to drive.
The Volvo V60 has a very small boot at 430 litres for the 2011-2018 model, or if you go for the current model, you get a much better 529 litres, but I would overlook both for the larger V70. It’s the winner here for boot space as it has a 575-litre boot even before you’ve folded down the rear seats, and the front passenger seat can also be folded. It’s safe, dependable and still a classy choice, so the V70 would be the car I’d go for.
Q: When searching for my next car should mileage play a big part in my search? I understand the higher the mileage the more wear and tear there will be, but is it really a red flag? Could some cars thrive by going the distance?
You are right – the higher the mileage, the more wear the car will have. That is natural, but you shouldn’t worry.
A car with high mileage means the car has been used, which is good news. It means the engine oil has got up to temperature and is lubricated, and items like brake pads, brake discs are even the air conditioning system are being used. A car is meant to be driven after all.
In your search, you will inevitably come across adverts that say low mileage is a good thing. It certainly can be, but on the other hand, it also means the car has been sitting around for long periods of time – which is bad for a car. So, if a car is being used it’s good news.
But there is one big caveat here, though. Yes, while it’s good a car has been used – as shown by the high mileage – it needs to have been maintained properly during that time. So, check for service history, invoices, bills and a fully stamped service history book – proof that the previous owner has lovingly looked after it. If you come across a car with a high mileage and little proof of maintenance, you’d be better off going with a car with lower, more average mileage. A well looked after vehicle is what you’re after, not a car with galactic mileage that’s been unloved by several owners.
Lastly, high mileage is fine for the vast majority of cars, especially ones with bigger engines – 1.6-litres and above, for example. The larger the engine, the less stressed it’ll likely have been during its life. Small, city cars with tiny engines and high mileages could mean that the engine has spent a life being strained beyond its purpose, which could cause you problems.
Q: I’m looking for a second car so our budget isn’t exactly big (say £6-8k). We would like a small automatic, five-door that will be good for short everyday use. I say small but a good boot size is needed.
The Volkswagen Polo has long been a great little supermini and it could be the perfect second car for you. For this budget, the previous generation Polo would be in your grasp (2009-2017) – it’s comfortable, well made and still looks pretty classy too and hasn’t dated that much. The reason why I’d go for the Polo is it has a DSG automatic gearbox.
Volkswagen likes these gearboxes as they tend to give a smoother drive than conventional automatic gearboxes, and the DSG is a perfect fit with the Polo’s relaxed character. The DSG gearbox doesn’t like to be neglected however, so when buying make sure the car has been looked after. The DSG gearbox needs to have been properly maintained with oil and microfilter changes every three years – service history and invoices will be able to back this up.
This is nothing to worry about and if you’re buying a Polo from a dealer a good warranty should cover you if anything goes wrong – something you could say about most cars, and the Polo is no exception. Another reason why I’d recommend the Polo as a good second car is that because of its strong reputation and classy image you shouldn’t have any problem selling it in the future – there’s always a buyer for a used Polo.
The Polo has a good-sized boot for a supermini, but if it’s still a little too small I’d recommend a Ford Focus with a Powershift automatic gearbox. Again, this will be the previous model to the car that’s currently on sale, but it’s a still a great, fun driving car, with plenty of space and a nice smooth-shifting gearbox.
Q: I haven’t got anything specific in mind, colour/make don’t bother me, but I do have some specific requirements due to my lifestyle/work! I need…
An enormous boot (I have 70kg of dogs to cart around!)
Large back seats (I use a very large ‘block’ for work and it often doesn’t fit in the back of a lot of cars)
Low boot access if possible (one of the dogs only has three legs!)
Good on frequent short journeys
A car which immediately springs to mind is the Skoda Superb Estate as it’s perfect for those who care less about image but are more interested in the important things like practicality. It has some of the biggest back seats of any car on sale with plenty of legroom and tons of headroom.
If you do short journeys rather than long ones, go for petrol rather than diesel. The 1.4 TSI petrol will be efficient on fuel and is ideal for short journeys; if you need a bit of extra punch there are 1.8 and 2.0-litre TSI petrols, too.
The best thing about the Superb though is its boot. It has a rear bumper with hardly any lip so it’ll be easy to load heavy items or for your dogs to jump into the boot. The boot itself is enormous and one of the largest of any estate car on sale, and a number of dogs will easily fit in the back. There’s reason why the police like to use Superb Estates as dog units after all.
If you need more space, the Ford S-Max is even larger. Its rearmost seats cleverly fold flat into the floor, and because it’s a tall car with a low bumper, it means loading awkwardly shaped items is very easy. While it is a larger car than the Superb, the Ford is actually more fun to drive and comes with a range of efficient petrol engines, too.
Q: I have a small family (and therefore 2 car seats), a long commute to work and a hobby which might mean a bit of off roading. Could you recommend a car for such a lifestyle? I don’t want a big car and it has to be economical, but one with plenty of space for children and sports.
A: A small to mid-sized SUV would be my choice purely on account of flexibility. Not all SUVs have four-wheel drive – or all-wheel drive as it’s sometimes called – so in this case look for an SUV that has it and a decent ride height. If your hobbies regularly take you off-road, then I’d recommend fitting a set of all-season tyres as no matter how good a car’s four-wheel drive system is it’ll be useless in slippery, difficult terrain with the wrong tyres.
The Volkswagen Tiguan is a solid choice as it has strong, dependable engines and a roomy interior finished in quality materials. The four-wheel drive models are badged ‘4Motion’ and there’s even an Allspace model if you need more… errr… space. If you want to make your commute a little more thrilling then the Mazda CX-5 is a good choice as it’s great fun to drive. Factor in a well-made interior, good looks and reliable engines (that can come with all-wheel drive), the CX-5 is a great option.
My recommendation, however, would be the Volvo XC40. It’s a brilliant all-rounder as it’s comfortable, easy to drive and has plenty of useful tech on board. The XC40 also comes with a wide range of engines; some with all-wheel drive, and there’s even a plug-in hybrid model should you want one. There’s plenty of room for two child seats, and the boxy dimensions means there’s plenty of space inside. The boot is large, too, and most models get a clever boot divider which is pretty handy. Lastly, it’s a great looking SUV so you shouldn’t have any problems when the time come to sell it as it’s a desirable used car.
Q: I am looking for a ‘family’ car which will be great for loading the children and everything in for holidays in the UK, with lots of space. I am thinking of either an SUV or an Estate. What is the real difference between the two and what would you recommend?
A: An estate car is essentially a saloon car with a squarer, taller rear-end so you can fit lots of stuff in the boot. An SUV is quite often just a large hatchback but with a higher ride height and sometimes four-wheel drive. Don’t discount estate cars thinking they’re smaller than SUVs as can have just as much space inside as an SUV, and sometimes they’re even bigger.
A good example is the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate. It has a massive boot that’s perfect for carrying prams and holiday paraphernalia, and it’s really comfortable making it perfect for long family holidays. A wide engine range (from fuel-sipping diesels, powerful petrols and efficient plug-in hybrids) and classy looks make it an ideal family estate car.
If you want practicality and comfort but in a higher riding package then the Volvo XC60 is a good choice. Smart looks and a well-made interior that’s brimming with technology make it a very desirable family SUV.
However, if your budget can’t quite stretch to the super cool Swede, I’d recommend going for the Skoda Kodiaq. It very much combines all the good aspects of an estate car (long roof and big boot) with a mid-sized SUV (good ride height) in a great, value-for-money package. The Kodiaq comes with the choice of five or seven seats, it’s very spacious inside, easy and comfortable to drive and that higher ride height makes loading children that little bit easier.
Q: We are looking for an eco-friendly family car which has room for children but also for commuting. Can you recommend an electric vehicle that would fit the bill? It needs to have a decent range so that UK family holidays aren’t a challenge when it comes to charging!
A: The electric car market is rapidly changing and it won’t be too long until charging and range problems become a thing of the past. But, for now, these can be obstacles for many families.
They don’t have to be, though. The Nissan Leaf was the first mass-market electric car and it’s been the benchmark for the last 10 years – in fact, the Leaf is a perfect example of how far electric cars have come in the last decade.
The current model is a solid choice for families wanting to embrace electric motoring. It’s comfortable, roomy and if you go for the big battery 64kWh model, you get up to 239 miles on a full charge. Even in cold weather you should get at least 200 miles, meaning it’s good as a long-distance car.
The Leaf is starting to feel a little old, though, and that’s why I’d recommend the Kia e-Niro. This car was so popular when Kia launched it in 2019, Kia sold out of them in a matter of weeks and has only recently managed to get enough supply.
The e-Niro a great electric family car with a very realistic 230-mile range if you go for the 64kWh battery model. It has a well-made and practical interior, it’s comfortable and very easy to drive and has a seven-year warranty – no wonder why it’s been a sell-out star. That warranty is important too because even the oldest e-Niro will still have three years of cover should anything go wrong, which is unlikely as Kias are some of the most reliable cars on the road. And, when you come to sell, you should have no problems getting rid of it because the Kia e-Niro is just as popular with used car buyers.
James has been a motoring journalist for over 10 years and cut his teeth on the motor trade title Car Dealer Magazine, rising from tea boy to Editor. Since then he had a long spell at Britain’s best-selling weekly car magazine, Auto Express, and its sister title Carbuyer, first as News Editor and latterly as Editor-at-Large and Head of Motoring Video. During this time, he was also the face of Carbuyer on its hugely popular YouTube channel and regularly appeared on television and radio as a motoring expert. He’s now freelance and writes for a number of leading automotive titles, including Motors.co.uk, and produces low-rent videos on his YouTube channel. When not writing or driving, he’s scouring the classifieds for cars he doesn’t need.
June 8, 2021