We love Bangernomics at AROnline and in these hard times, we can’t think of a more cost effective way of keeping on the road than by buying a perfectly useable larger family car for between £500-1000.
With this being AROnline, we’ll limit our choices to British-built or badged cars – but even limiting our geographical options leaves us with plenty of choice, some of which are very interesting indeed.
Keeping the show on the road
For anyone who needs reminding, Bangernomics motoring involves buying cheap, spending the minimum amount possible, not growing too attached, and realising that a good time to sell is just before big expenditure is needed. In an era of disposable motoring (when will it end?) it’s perfectly possible to buy something that older readers might consider a ‘new’ car (i.e., anything with a post-2001-style registration number) – because the seller has been scared off by the prospect of a low trade value, and future potential running costs.
So there’s a glut of great cars to buy, and all for less than two or three months’ lease on the equivalent new car. Our selection possibly won’t be the exciting grouping of cars you can buy, but you’ll still be able to enjoy, comfort and space – and in some cases, equipment levels to keep new cars on their toes.
Of course, you won’t get the last word in fuel consumption, but we reckon the cost of running a 35mpg car with no monthly payments against a 50mpg one that does is still going to be considerably lower. The old diesel vs petrol argument also comes into play at this level – do you go for the seduction of a longer range that the better fuel consumption of a turbodiesel brings you, and hope it counteracts the more expensive servicing and maintenance? Or do you stick with petrol, enjoying the UK’s lower pump prices? Tough call. At this level, we reckon petrol might just ace it.
Here are 10 cars that won’t shy away from keeping your family mobile, won’t scare your insurance broker off the map, and shouldn’t cause your local motor factor (you’re DIYing, surely!) too many headaches.
You can get your interest from the classic you also have in your garage…
Rover 75 1.8 1999-2005
£400+ // For: Characterful, still has class Against: Fragile if abused, some failures are showstoppers
You probably like the Rover 75. That’s why you’re here. But we’re being unbiased when we say that the 75 1.8 makes for a surprisingly good Bangernomics motor. Yes, the diesel’s a better all-rounder, but you’ll pay more to buy one, and certainly more to fix it. Unlike some options at this price, you really need to take care when buying one. Because a weak clutch will be a killer to sort on cost grounds alone (around £1000 to do all three parts), and the headgasket issue is so misunderstood in the trade, that so many garages have screwed up perfectly good cars, by not repairing them properly the first time around. So much is now understood about the K-Series, that making one run reliably is simple enough – but you need to go in with your eyes open.
Buy a 75, and enjoy the fine ride, cossetting interior and relatively good fuel economy (40mpg is easy with a gentle right foot), and accept the gasket will go pop if it’s not been done properly. If you find one that has, then rejoice! And look after the brake lines! Upsides are that parts are cheap, and the scrapyards are currently overflowing with them. Downsides – you either love or hate the carriage clock styling; it’s monumentally slow, if you drive in a relaxed manner; and there isn’t quite the quality in-depth that you might think, when admiring those soft-feel interior materials. Probably an enthusiast, rather than rational, choice – and truth be told, if you really want a 75, you’d be best best served buying a cherished one, and paying a premium.
Honda Accord 1998-2003
£400+ // For: Reliable, well engineered Against: Dull to drive, expensive parts, it’s no Rover 75!
The sixth generation Accord was a product of when Honda considered that its EU, Japanese and US models should be tailored for their individual territories. So for the Swindon-built UK models, they came up with a very effective rebody of the previous car (which shared its underpinnings and most of its exterior panels with the Rover 600), which means those used to ‘Rondas’ should feel quite at home in an Accord.
Improvements in build quality, and the option of a hatchback, make these Accords a very trusty and useful option at this price level. For those who don’t closely follow market trends, there might be some surprise at the bottom end prices of these cars – but for your £400-500, you’ll get a S or ES with a 1.8-litre petrol under the bonnet, and working aircon inside. It won’t excite you, nor will you feel special when you drive it, but short of an expensive consumable or two needing replacing, you’ll enjoy reasonably trouble-free running.
Rover 400/45 2.0TD 1995-2005
£450+ // For: Grunty and economical Against: Pensionable dashboard and imagine, unrefined
If you must have a diesel Rover, and intend to run it on a shoestring (as Bangernomics dictates), we’d go with the L-Series powered 400/45, or 600 if you can find one that hasn’t been to the moon and back. And with that in mind, the 45 makes the more realistic option by dint of simply being newer. But don’t just think that we’re recommending one of these on a youth-for-your-buck basis. Oh no. The 45, especially, stands on its own two feet thanks to its comfortable ride and 75-spec front seats – in short, it’s a capable and effortless long distance runner.
And thanks to its engine being from the pre-commonrail generation and its transmission having been conceived before dual-mass flywheels had even been thought of, keeping one sweet is relatively simple and inexpensive. Whereas the diesel 75 comes with caveats about its transmission and fuel pumps, all you really need to worry about on a 45 is keeping it rust-free, and changing the oil regularly. Just don’t think you’re going to impress your neighbours with it, and remember it’s effectively a two-seater thanks to those over-stuffed chairs up-front.
Land Rover Discovery 300Tdi 1994-1999
£750+ // For: Huge, great visibility, unstoppable off-road Against: Rot, shonky electrics, unrefined
We love the Land Rover Discovery. It was a stroke of genius by its maker. When launched in 1989, it immediately became a class-leader in the UK, taking the mantle away from the Mitsubishi Shogun. But underneath that Alpine-roofed industrially-styled new-gen off-roader, beat the heart of a Range Rover. With Marina doorhandles. The new 2.5-litre 200Tdi was the star of the range, though, as appealing as the carburetted 3.5-litre V8 was.
Today the Disco of choice for the Bangernomics buyer has to be the post-facelift 300Tdi. Clearly we all know that it’s not the most reliable or well-built car, and that any example at this price is going to be scabby. Look out for collapsed seats, non-functioning electrics, and extensive chassis rot. Get one with some ticket, and enjoy it while you can, make friends with a welder – and praise it to high heavens if it gets you through each subsequent MoT for under £500.
Vauxhall Omega MV6/Elite 1998-2001
£500+ // For: Fast, understated, great dynamics Against: Dear to fix, that badge, fuel consumption
It might be as British as saurkraut und currywurst, but the Omega wears its griffin with pride, thanks to years of faithful service pounding the UK’s motorways, and herding up its criminal classes. And as we all know, the police didn’t buy their cars just on price, but also for fitness of purpose. And covering big distances very quickly is what that bigger V6 Omegas were very good at doing. Today, the Omega is typical banger-fodder – it’s perceived as a low-prestige fuel guzzler, and that means prices are incredibly low right now. For ‘cooking’ six-cylinder Omegas, prices start at iPad money, but even the more desirable higher-powered Elite and MV6s can be picked up for an easy £500.
Admittedly, you don’t get the world’s most reliable large car, but then at this price level, the odd electrical gremlin can be forgiven as long as it doesn’t leave you stranded. Why did we pick the 200bhp-plus 150mph Elite and MV6? Simple – they’re fast, fun, and incredibly understated. And rear wheel drive. If you can afford to fuel and insure it, forget your prejudices, and have some fun before the oil runs out…
Jaguar S-Type 3.0 V6 1999-2003
£750+ // For: It’s a Jaguar! Against: Contrived styling, flaky electrics, engine problems, soggy handling
When it was launched at the British Motor Show in 1998, the Jaguar S-Type went head-to-head with the Rover 75 – and visually, it lost. But whereas its rival’s maker went to the wall just over six years later, Jaguar has gone from strength to strength. And looking at the relative merits of the two cars back then, it’s unlikely anyone would have predicted such an outcome. When it went on sale the following year, it soon became apparent that the S-Type was a little under-done, with a floppy chassis, and interior that lacked the charm and style of its larger brother, the XJ. But Jaguar soldiered on, turning it in to a great car in 2003, with its ‘aficionado’ facelift.
But you won’t be getting one of these for £750. Oh no. You’ll be looking at a 3-litre V6 in 240bhp form, and with lots of miles on the clock. And probably quite a few niggles to keep you busy at the weekend. Some parts prices are horrible, too, but as they have dropped out of the dealer network now, there are plenty of independents who don’t charge the earth. We’ve already said it’s not exactly sporting, but the 3-litre S-Type is quick, and still has plenty of road presence. Tight rear headroom and a lack of boot space are issues – and when it came to that big repair that writes off the car, could you be the one that takes an S-Type to the scrapyard? We’re not sure we could!
Ford Mondeo 1.8LX 2000-2007
£500+ // For: Great to drive, cheap parts, practical Against: Engines smoke with age, suspension problems
More than any other car, it’s the Ford Mondeo Mk3’s availability from under £500 that really gives the Bangernomics argument credibility in today’s climate. Because for the price of a week’s holiday in Scotland, you can buy a large, capable and well-made saloon, estate or hatchback that is pretty much as capable all-rounder as a new car. The Mondeo didn’t win so many plaudits when it was new for its value for money, though – like the 1998 Focus that came before, its excellent dynamics were the headline-grabbing story. But delve deeper than the pin-sharp steering, and you’re looking at a car with a tough interior, and in 1.8LX form, an excellent compromise of performance and economy.
They’re tough, too. And although Mondeos have a reputation for chewing through tyres and suspension bushes, they’re cheap as chips to sort on a regular basis. And there’s so much expertise out there, you’ll struggle to find a problem that can’t be sorted. The Duratorq engines aren’t the last word in refinement, though, and are really intolerant of stretch oil changes. So if you’re buying a car that doesn’t smoke, make sure it stays that way. Out of all our selection, the Mondeo is probably the most sensible all-rounder.
Nissan Primera P11/P11F 2.0 16V 1995-2002
£350+ // For: Reliable, great build quality, not as dull as it looks Against: Firm ride, expensive parts
Generally regarded as being the minicabber’s favourite, the poor old Nissan Primera gets a bit of a rough ride in enthusiast circles. But that’s slightly unjustified. When the first Primera, the P10, was launched in 1989, it was a landmark car – it matched Europe’s best on the road, but combined its dynamic excellence with great build quality. Without doubt, the Primera was the best British repmobile of its day. The P11 was no step-forward, though, losing its predecessor’s independent rear suspension, while introducing a bit of cost cutting to the mix. But it was still a great all-round, albeit slightly sportingly set-up saloon/hatch wrapped in a rather dull set of clothes. The same could be said for the 1999 facelift, which looked even more outdated compared with its contemporaries.
Buy one now that’s in good order, and do your bit to keep it that way, and there’s no reason why a 1999-2002 car won’t go on for years to come. Problems that do occur are almost exclusively limited to electrical gremlins, suspension wear and axle faults – bravo Washington. Although not as well-engineered as the P10, the P11 was still some way ahead of rivals such as the Mondeo Mk2, and that still shows through today. Shame the boring styling limits wider appeal – but then it means great prices for discerning buyers.
Rover 620 1993-1999
£300+ // For: Reliable, dependable Against: …and dull; known issues with the rear brakes and rust.
In many ways, the 600 is a much better Bangernomics choice than the ticking time-bomb 75. Fans of the car will tell you it’s a more stylish option, and of all the ‘Ronda’ collaborative cars, it’s the one that most successfully made the transition from Japanese to ‘British’. There’s no denying that the 600 remains a great looking, understated, saloon, which in the right colour can still turn heads. We’ll pass on cheap turbos now, unless they’re being passed from friend to friend, leaving us the staple 2.0-litre Honda-powered cars, which were offered in 113 and 129bhp form. Of the Hondas, there was also the 623 (which bizarrely gained a reputation for engine failure) and the later 618.
Things that go wrong are few and far between, and everyone knows about them. And they are – failing front window regulators; sticky rear calipers; body corrosion; rusty brake pipes. Get a nicely cherished 620 (and there’s still plenty around) without these issues – keep on top of it, learn to live with its thirst and uninspiring handling, and you’ll have a long and quite unmemorable relationship. And isn’t that what Bangernomics is all about?
Toyota Avensis 1.8 1997-2003
£300+ // For: See Nissan Primera Against: See Nissan Primera
See Nissan Primera, but substitute Derby for Washington… Zzzzz
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.