Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
I think I'm going to have to replace my Mark 2 Golf in the near future - it's done 189,000 miles and has developed the notorious cutting-out problem which I understand is tricky to diagnose and solve.

I don't want to spent more than £4k and I'd like a car which meets the following criteria:

1. Reliable
2. Reasonably satisfying to drive
3. Not much wider than the Golf (5'6") as I have a narrow garage
4. Unlikely to get nicked - it will be spending a lot of time in station carparks.

Having looked in HJ's car by car breakdown and at the Parkers guide my shortlist is Corolla, Civic, Almera. Any views on these or alternatives that I should consider? At what sort of mileage are these starting to get tired?

At the ripe old age of 39 I have never bought a car other than from a family member so I'd also appreciate any views on whether it's worth paying main dealer premium or would I be better off going for a private seller or independent dealer then buying a warranty from Warranty Direct. Local main dealers seem to have very few older cars for sale. Does anyone know of any good independents in or around Sheffield who might have the type of car I'm after? I should also add that I have no mechanical knowledge whatsoever....

Thank you!

Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Jonathan {p}
For reliability I would choose a mazda.

The mazda 323f 1.8 Executive should be good fun. I prefer the 626, which is 5'7" wide. Go for the GSi or SE which has the uprated engine and delivers 136bhp which should be plenty, its probably the most invisible car you can get. Should be no problem picking up either for less than £4k. You will also get electric everything with these and a/c or even climate control. They also come with a factory fitted alarm and immobiliser.

Good Luck

Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - SjB {P}
"I don't want to spent more than £4k and I'd like a car which meets the following criteria:"

==> I paid £2601 for the wife's Peugeot 306 1.8 SR Sedan, with genuine fourteen something thousand miles, on an 'M'. Fully comprehensive insurance with £75 excess, in her name with one year's NCB, and with me as named driver, is £400pa. Third party was nearly as much, so not worth the saving.

1. Reliable

==> Thirteen months down the line in our custody, totally! Has redefined my impression of Peugeots in this regard: This is the first we have owned, yet previously I wouldn't even look at them. It was only the price and known history of SWMBO's 306 that got the bum in the seat, and we're glad that it happened.

2. Reasonably satisfying to drive

==> Terrific fun. Somehow manages to have pin sharp reflexes, and at the same time a very supple, comfortable, ride. 175/65x14 Michelins have grip beyond what they ought, probably helped by the suspension set up. 1.8 8v motor is very flexible, and whilst not hot hatch quick, surprisingly pokey. Averages 34 MPG with what is probably a fairly average mix of journeys. Excellent standard fit stereo, with tremendous feeling of 'space' when listening to FM. Electric front windows and sunroof. Brakes have very good feel.

3. Not much wider than the Golf (5'6") as I have a narrow garage

==> 5' 5" with the (easy to fold, we do it every night) wing mirrors folded in.

4. Unlikely to get nicked - it will be spending a lot of time in station carparks.

==> It's a Peugeot! It also has a keypad-disarmed immobilizer which is apparently very good.

What don't I like?

The body appears to have excellent anti-corrosion protection, with not even a hint of rust, anywhere, including on careful scutiny underneath. The paint however scratches just by looking at it!

I have a long upper body, and find the headroom very marginal, even with the (very comfortable) driver's seat wouond right down. In fairness, I find this with most cars equipped with a sunroof.

Gearbox is a snick-snick joy to use, apart from a reverse gear that often baulks. Solution is to go back in to first, let the car creep forwards an inch or two, then try again.


I fail to see how totally reliable budget motoring, with more than a smattering of fun, can get better than this.

Good luck with whatever you buy.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - MichaelR
I fail to see how totally reliable budget motoring, with more
than a smattering of fun, can get better than this.

It can - with a 306 XSi or a Xsara VTR :) Just as good handling as yours, but they have the sports trim, more kit, better looks, etc :) The Xsara VTR 1.8 Coupe also has a much nicer interior, climate control and rain sensing wipers. And a 1.8 16v engine :)
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
Thanks for these suggestions. I must admit I hadn't considered a Peugot or Citroen - was thinking solely Japanese. And the 323 was a big oversight.

At the risk of sounding like a complete Luddite, I think I might be happy to settle for base models - current car doesn't even have power steering and I'm very happy with wind-down windows. I'm also very easily pleased re "fun to drive": I really like the way my Golf steers and handles and would be very happy with only a little bit more poke. Had been thinking that the Corolla on my original shortlist might be a bit lacking in the fun to drive stakes but the others might satisfy my rather meagre ambitions!
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Aprilia
A Honda would be reliable and they drive well.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Humpy
From exchange and mart you can get a xsara 2.0l 16v VTS for £4000. 20-40000m R-S reg
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - owen
306 XSi definitely a good choice - can get then from about £2k upwards. Mine's been reliable so far, good fun, reasonably quick, lovely ride/handling, fairly understated, reasonable insurance, etc etc.

Mk2 Golf is a nice car to drive, i've not driven the Japs you mention so can't compare, other than to say that in comparison to the Golf, you woulnd't be dissapointed by the Peugeot.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
Thanks for the suggestions. I must admit that I do like the look of 306s and I've heard they are lovely to drive. I might end up going Japanese purely because I'm keen to maximise the odds of getting something reliable.

I popped down to a local dealer this morning and he showed me a couple of 'P' and 'R' reg low mileage cars (ie, 35-40,000). I was under the impression that low mileage on older cars is potentially bad news as it means that they have been used for lots of short journeys. Have I got hold of the wrong end of the stick here? Does having a full service history reduce the likelihood of short journeys causing problems?
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - DieselBoy
I briefly owned a 98 R Xsara 1.8 16v, and although I didn't like the tacky trim and rattles, it was a hoot to drive.

The chassis was great around corners, and as Rob the Bus will confirm, was very fast in a straight line with the pedal to the metal. Mine was an SX version, so was easy to lose in a car park.

Go on, do it!
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Rob the Bus {P}
>>and as Rob the Bus will confirm

Consider it confirmed! Oh the fun I had on Euxton Lane, Chorley in that car. I just couldn't believe how fast it was.

As DB says, do it!


Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Garethj
We've had a 106 Rallye and a 406 HDi, the 106 was a frantic hoot but the servicing costs, especially for the 406 weren't funny. The 106 was a year old and the 406 was brand new but the Peugeot dealers seemed to have an inflated idea of 'reasonable servicing costs'. Worth checking out before you buy - phone around and get the 10,000 and 60,000 mile service costs from a few manufacturers?

Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - alex

What about another Mark 2 Golf ? In the back pages of VW enthusiast mags you'll find one or two reputable VW independents advertising Mark 2s with lower mileages and for less than you're willing to pay.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
Hmm. The suggestions I'm getting are real eye-openers. I had harboured an impression of the Backroom as populated by cost conscious, risk averse, reliability obsessed types (like myself actually!). To be honest, I think that what I really want is a nice reliable little run around - if I were to go for a 2 litre Xsara or XSi I might find myself having lots of foot to the floor, chuck it round bends fun and who knows where it might end?!

Interesting idea about the Mark 2 Golfs though - If I could find one that had sorted out the carb problem I might consider it. There's something very liberating about driving a very old car (I quite often ding mine when squeezing it into the garage and it doesn't matter one jot). I seem to remember TheGRowler enthusing about hamnering around in an old Civic.

Just to pick up on the low mileage point again - does low mileage for age always equal lots of short town journeys (and therefore bad news)?

Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Andrew-T
Gareth - I'm sure almost any franchise dealer can make regular servicing look expensive. The HDi car has a 12000-mile interval with little to do that you can't do yourself - oil & filter, air & fuel filters, etc - and once out of warranty, coolant and brake fluid every few years. Of course if something goes seriously wrong, another story ...
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - nick
If I were in your position I'd do one of two things.
buy another Mk2 Golf in good nick and keep yours for spares (space permitting) or strip it for useful bits and scrap the rest
buy a Japanese car for around £4k. I'd prefer younger with higher miles (if well serviced), than older with the same mileage.

I understand lots of people have reliable French cars but the odds are much better buying Jap. For me, for an everday car, it must start and stop with boring reliability and bits mustn't fall off. Everything else is optional.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - PB
Regarding the 323, a friend of mine has just received his company car so will be selling the 323f he has had for a few years. About P reg, silver, 50k from memory. It would be well within your budget and about as safe as buying from a family member (i.e. the car is genuine). He is in Leeds but in Sheffield with family very regularly. Email me and I can put you in touch.

Moderator: hopefully this is OK, I could do two people a favour here.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - lordwoody
Have a look here if you're considering a good Mk2.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Paul531
Hi Pete,

Get a Volvo 960 estate, fully galvansied, so no need to put it in the garage.

204 BHP, room to park a scound car in the boot, great fun leaving all the boy racers standing at the lights.

Leather, air con, alloys, bomb proof, SIPS, WHIPS, cheap to run, as seldom go wrong, RWD so better turning circle than a unicycle, rubber coated RSJs as bumpers.

27 MPG with a following wind is the only down point, but unless you do mega miles no big probs - and as you take the train anyway should be OK?

See HJ\'s car by car breakdown - the ultimate Q Car !!!!!!!!!

Paul {Forest of Bowland}
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
Crikey! Now we really are getting into the realms of vehicles I hadn't considered. I have a mate who has a Volvo estate which seems to have plenty of poke and I love the idea of a big safe Q car. And the mpg isn't really an issue - though lots of short runs round town and squeezing into parking spaces might be. Still think I'll probably end up with a Civic though!
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Andrew-T
Paul - Volvo estate? Reliable, yes; solid, yes; cred, yes. But in my book a waste of space and fuel. Unless you have a reason to occupy the space of two small cars on the road, get something less greedy.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - edisdead {P}

I'll comment on the Civic, as it's my current weapon of choice...
You'll get a very nice one for 4k - you could probably get a hot version with the rev-happy 1.6/1.8 vtec, although they all seem to handle and go well. 1.4/1.5 models are less likely to have been abused. If you are looking at 3dr hatchbacks, check you can get in/out ok in your garage, as the doors are long and it's quite a low-slung design. Reliability comes as standard, just make sure you get one with a good service history. I bought my 1.5 auto with shopping trolley miles, now I do intergalactic motorway mileage. It runs like a dream and I regularly get 44mpg. There are still a relatively large number of quite old Civics on the road, so I'm hoping mine will be with me for a long time to come. On the negative side, there are a few trim rattles and it is noisy on a cold start. But I can't really complain in a 7 year old car.

HTH, Ed.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - edisdead {P}
ps. would be interested in any views of Corolla vs Civic, as I never got round to test driving the toyota.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
Thanks Ed, that's really helpful - and encouraging. Think I'm veering more towards a Civic or 323 rather than Corolla as they sound like a more satisfying drive. A mate has an M-reg Corolla which is completely reliable but doesn't handle as well as the Mark1 Polo he had beforehand.

Thanks again for the pointers

Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - spottydog
I've had a 1.6l 1998 306 for the last 4 years and have found it surprisingly cheap to service. From 1998 the 306's started having 2 year service intervals (with a free dealer checkup in the other years).

Having a dealer proper service has not yet cost much more than £200 (and that one included brake changes and MOT).

Not sure which other cars have 2 year service intervals, I know my new BMW has 15k service intervals (not time based) so that should be 2 years for me.


Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - Ben {P}
I can't see the wisdom in paying those rediculous prices for mk.2 golfs. It just daft. A '90 car is still a '90 and there wern't even making them as well as the early cars. Those guys selling those golfs are making a packet. three years ago a friend of mine tried to sell a mint 89F golf, it had a new engine (well a mint 60k mile unit with cam upgrade, mappable engine management etc),fully rebuilt gearbox done properly, big brakes, total suspension upgrade, etc etc. All he could get for it was £1500. If you look around at some cars that have been modified properly there are some real bargains to be had. At this age you want to look for a car that has had an engine, and particualrly on mk.2's a proper gearbox rebuild. Spend £3.5k on a j reg mk.2 and more than likely you will have a half knackered car with shoddy bushes dampers and mounts etc. Those cars are for people to store hoping they will become classic, and there might be too many around for that.

For £4k you could buy a really good nick almera gti. Much better than a bog standard mark 2.
Reliable and fun to drive for £4k? - pete&hisgolf
Anne, thanks for the info on 306s. I think if it was company money I'd be very happy with a 306 as it sounds as though they are a really nice drive. But I think the safe option (he says touching wood) is for me to go Japanese.


Value my car