If you’re buying an affordable car, you don’t want to spend a fortune to keep it running.
Whether it’s a city car, MPV or convertible that you’re interested in, it can be important to keep costs down. Here’s 7 great options for a budget of £5,000 or less, along with a few tips on what to look out for when viewing and test driving models.
Although it’s a premium model, the Audi A3 is on this list for good reason. It’s brilliantly built, with a sturdy interior that doesn’t look outdated even 16 years after this second-generation A3 went on sale.
For efficiency, you want to be looking at diesel models, and you have the choice of a 1.6-, 1.9- or 2.0-litre TDI. All should be pretty dependable, but it’s worth going for the 1.9-litre as this engine is known for its bulletproof reliability. It’ll also return a claimed 62.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 119g/km and cost just £30 per year to tax.
What to look for: Clutch judder (manual), automatics can be troublesome, ensure air conditioning works
One we found: 2009 Audi A3 1.9 TDI e Sport Sportback, 90,000 miles, £4,300
Given the Dacia Sandero is Britain’s cheapest new car – with prices starting from just £6,995 – it’s not surprising to see it on this list. The Sandero is a no-frills supermini, and though you get a low-quality interior, it’s a pretty sturdy and reliable choice.
Petrol Sanderos tend to be more popular, but if you want low running costs, search for a 1.5-litre diesel model. With this engine, it’s incredibly efficient – returning a claimed 80.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of just 90g/km – and also giving you free car tax. It’s worth trying to find a top-spec Laureate version, which gets you alloy wheels, a trip computer and air conditioning. The other grades are just a bit too sparse.
What to look for: Scratched interiors, rust (especially on earlier cars), dim headlights
One we found: 2016 Dacia Sandero 1.5 dCi Laureate 5dr, 42,000 miles, £4,790
Just because you’ve set a modest budget and want something cheap to run, it doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on fun. This budget and criteria can even get you a drop-top – the Mini Convertible being our pick of the bunch.
This Mini is lots of fun behind the wheel, and a bit more practical than you might think – it can seat four adults, though those in the back might be a bit squashed. For low running costs, you’ll need to find a version with the diesel Cooper D engine. With this, it’ll return a superb 70.6mpg, with CO2 emissions of 105g/km – meaning £20 per year to tax.
What to look for: Leaking roof, check electric roof folds properly, electronic issues
One we found: 2010 Mini Convertible 1.6 Cooper D, 77,000 miles, £3,950
Honda Civic IMA
While anything electrified tends to hold its value, there are a few options creeping into the £5,000 price bracket. One such model is Honda’s answer to the Toyota Prius in the late 2000s – the Civic IMA hybrid.
It’s a rather sensible choice, as it looks and drives quite unremarkably, but has a brilliant reliability record – something that’s virtually guaranteed from any Honda. Just be aware that if it goes wrong, it may be expensive to fix. In terms of running costs, Honda claims 61.4mpg, with CO2 emissions of 109g/km – meaning just £10 per year in car tax.
What to look for: Ensure impeccable maintenance record, check battery health, and have it independently inspected due to complex hybrid powertrain.
One we found: 2007 Honda Civic IMA ES 4dr, 76,000 miles, £3,445
Renault Grand Scenic
If you need a 7-seater, you might be surprised to learn that you can find a cheap-to-run model for less than £5,000. It’s true that there aren’t many models to choose from, but we reckon the Renault Grand Scenic is the best bet.
With a hugely flexible interior, the Grand Scenic is well-equipped and one of the better 7-seat MPVs to drive. A third-generation model (sold between 2009 and 2015) is the best choice, and for maximum efficiency, go for the 108bhp 1.5-litre diesel. With this, the Scenic will return a seriously impressive 68.9mpg, along with CO2 emissions of 105g/km – equating to just £20 in car tax each year.
What to look for: Make sure seats fold properly, check all electrics, early timing belt failure
One we found: Renault Grand Scenic 1.5 dCi Dynamique TomTom Energy, 93,000 miles, £4,970
If you’re looking for a city car, there are few better than the Volkswagen Up!, which is also available as the Seat Mii or Skoda Citigo. It’s good to drive, feels more upmarket than its price suggests and is very cheap to run.
Debuting in 2012, the Up! still remains on sale, and with minimal changes there’s little difference between a brand-new model and one that’s eight years old. There’s a lot of choice on the used market, and thanks to its 59bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine, it sits in the lowest insurance group. In terms of running costs, VW claims it will return 62.8mpg, with CO2 emissions of 105g/km – meaning just £20 a year to tax.
What to look for: Check heater fan works properly, power steering faults, ticking noise when braking suggests wear to pedal box
One we found: 2013 Volkswagen Move Up! 1.0 3dr, 50,000 miles, £3,495
Volvo is known for its estate cars, which are spacious and very safe – ideal qualities for a family car. While it’s the larger V70 (now V90) that people often think of, the smaller V50 is still a great option. And for a car that first went on sale in 2004, it looks remarkably modern both inside and out.
A host of petrol and diesel versions are available with the V50, but the one with the lowest running costs is the 1.6-litre ‘DRIVe’ diesel engine. It’s not the quickest, but it’s great on fuel – returning a claimed 74.3mpg, with CO2 emissions of 99g/km – and that means it’s free to tax.
What to look for: Ensure air conditioning/climate control works properly, injector failure
One we found: 2010 Volvo V50 1.6D DRIVe SE Lux, 100,000 miles, £4,495
N.B. All fuel economy and CO2 emissions are based on the NEDC testing cycle.