37 excellent used cars from just £995

From this seemingly never-ending news cycle, it’s clear that times are hard.

Few are immune to the current cost of living crisis, and the car world is as affected as any other. But that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom out there. There are ways to enjoy driving without spending oodles of cash. So here at Autocar, we’re starting a series of articles in which we aim to highlight the very best of cheap motoring, starting with 39 modern bangers from as little as £995.

Fortunately, despite the current headwinds, the Great British Banger hasn’t gone away. You don’t have to indulge in marginal motoring at the extremes, always at risk of an MOT failure or worse, in order to get a cheap runabout. Eminently serviceable and reliable cars are possible to find with just £5000 at your disposal.

In fact, it’s possible to drop lower than that. The usual PCP finance deal deposit of 10-15% of the price of a new car is about £2500, and there are some crackers available at that price. The advantage of Bangernomics 2020s style is that a lot of the cars have the benefit of some pretty modern technology. So along with the ability to save you even more at the fuel pumps, there are savings available at every stage of your car purchase. They could also help you avoid the biggest motoring cost of all: depreciation.

Ideally, you will find a future icon or a banger at the bottom of its value curve, so that you can get the double bonus hit of cheap sticker price with possible future uplift. Desirability is the key to success:

37 excellent used cars from just £995
Mercedes-Benz CLK

Obviously the four-door C-Class is more useful, but this stylish coupé looks great value, isn’t too complex and is a nice way to get around. There was a massive range of engines and gearboxes, but it’s best to narrow it down to the petrol and diesel V6s. The petrol one is very reliable and best if you’re keeping the mileage low. These larger engines are automatic, too, so good for everyday use and resale.

Mercedes-Benz CLK

Steer clear of the top-level, high-performance AMGs and choose your diesel carefully, as it needs to be well looked after. All came with cruise control, climate control and four electric windows, although there was a more basic Classic specification until 2005. The only differences between the Elegance and Avantgarde trim levels are in the alloy wheels and interior, while there’s also a firmer Sport. Check the electrics, windows and locks for minor corrosion and for oil leaks on the diesels.

One we found: 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 Elegance, 77,000 miles, £2500

BMW 3 Series

You need to choose the engine in your fifth-generation 3 Series carefully, as the 2.0-litre diesel, revamped in 2008, can eat itself but the petrols you can rely on. BMW’s complicated Efficient Dynamics tech saves fuel.

One we found: 2006 BMW 325i SE, 91,000 miles, £2250

Fiat 500

This lovable small Fiat turned out quite well, just like in the old days. They can be rusty underneath, mind, while the clutch, suspension and interior have proven fragile. Early cars are good value now.

One we found: 2012 Fiat 500 Twinair Plus, 90,000 miles, £2495

Dacia Sandero

Apparently designed to be a modern banger, this roomy hatchback offers two petrol engines and one diesel. Access trim is basic, while Ambiance and Comfort are comprehensive.

One we found: 2013 Dacia Sandero 1.2 Access, 70,000 miles, £2495

Saab 9-3

Still looks contemporary and classy. Fine to drive sensibly, especially with the 2.0-litre petrol. Parts availability persists, but electrics can play up and ECU issues can cause rough running.

One we found: 2007 Saab 9-3 Convertible 2.0T Aero, 109,000 miles, £2100

Kia Soul

Simple box with bags of character and a 1.6-litre petrol or a 1.6-litre diesel, which officially could score 54.3mpg. Short-lived to 2013 (and now only an EV). The worst-case scenario is a blown head gasket.

One we found: 2010 Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi Tempest, 92,000 miles, £2490

Mitsubishi Outlander

This has more cred than the Citroën and Peugeot versions. Automatically folding rear bench leaves a load bay that’s massively useful, especially as it features three 12V power sockets.

One we found: 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander 2.0 DI-DC Warrior, 104,000 miles, £2495

Jaguar S-Type

Overlooked executive express from the noughties. The diesel gave 40mpg from when the saloon was mildly made over in 2004. It’s comfortable like a Jag should be, but suspension parts are pricey and it can get rusty.

One we found: 2007 Jaguar S-Type 2.7D V6 SE, 113,000 miles, £2449

Vauxhall Corsa

Deservedly a best-seller, the Mk3 is bigger than its predecessors and delivers great MPG in a practical and easy-to-look-after package. Watch out for clutch and gearbox issues and leaky radiators.

One we found: 2014 Vauxhall Corsa 1.3 CDTi Ecoflex Design, 75,000 miles, £3095

Smart Roadster

Essentially an MG Midget without the leaks and the rot. It’s fun to drive and gets impressive economy from its tiny engine, although this can have a cracked manifold and a broken turbo.

One we found: 2005 Smart Roadster 0.7 80, 56,000 miles, £2495

Citroen C1

A tiny thing with no discernible boot. Don’t bother with the diesel when the 1.0-litre petrol does all the frugal work. Shabby ones are hard work and cost a lot to sort out.

One we found: 2008 Citroën C1 1.0 Rhythm, 74,000 miles, £1499

Skoda Octavia

For some time the nation’s favourite minicab, this spacious and useful family hatchback was introduced in 2004 and restyled in 2009. Super-frugal Greenline versions are great buys. Electricals and ECUs can break, though.

One we found: 2010 Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI CR SE, 77,000 miles, £3995

Renault Megane

A frugal car with a great big boot is the appeal. The smaller petrols work, but the 1.5-litre diesel is the prime pick. EGR filter gets blocked if it only bimbles about, however.

One we found: 2011 Renault Mégane 1.5 dCi Dynamique, 94,000 miles, £2199

Ford Focus

The Mk3 Focus is one of the best used hatchbacks on the market. It isn’t as bulletproof as the earlier ones but is still fixable and, just as important, affordable. There are a lot of engines to choose from, both petrol and diesel. Best to make it easy and get around the possible diesel drawbacks by going forthe 1.0-litre three-cylinder Ecoboost, which comes in two flavours: 99bhp or 123bhp.

Ford Focus

This engine delivers in the MPG department (albeit not as spectacularly as the figures claim) and remains the rather refined choice. Econetic versions go that extra mile, bringing CO2 emissions down to 87g/km and pushing fuel economy up to a claimed 85.6mpg.

Trims are also good, with aircon, alloy wheels, a USB port and Bluetooth on all but Studio. Most cars are Zetec, getting you a DAB radio and a heated windscreen. A few issues: leaking coolant, fixed by a recall; blown turbos; and the gearbox and clutch, which should be operationally smooth rather than clunky.

One we found: 2013 Ford Focus 1.0 Ecoboost Zetec, 74,000 miles, £4295

Toyota Yaris

This is a supermini superstar, and its tiny petrol engine does some heavy lifting without the diesel drawbacks. It’s tough, but lack of care breaks clutches and water pumps.

One we found: 2006 Toyota Yaris 1.0 VVT-i Sport, 102,000 miles, £995

Volvo V50

Compact estate that offered a superuseful folding luggage retainer as an option. Restyled a bit in 2007 with a fresh interior. Air mass sensors and the auto gearbox are your worries.

One we found: 2009 Volvo V50 1.6D Drive SE, 101,000 miles, £3995

Volkswagen Passat

Going for a saloon makes it cheaper but still usefully huge. Well proven and does colossal mileages. Watch out for oil-pump and ECU failures.

One we found: 2012 VW Passat 2.0 TDI BMT SE, 131,000 miles, £4595

Suzuki Swift

Remains a fun warm hatch to own and drive. Suzuki’s build quality and reliability are impressive. Neglect can mean blown head gaskets and a rattly timing chain.

One we found: 2012 Suzuki Swift Sport 1.6, 90,000 miles, £4995

Ford Kuga

Successful SUV is a Focus on stilts and just as good. The front-driven 2.0-litre diesel is the best buy. Decent reliability record. Needs a cambelt and a water pump at 100,000 miles.

One we found: 2011 Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi Zetec, 70,000 miles, £4750

Kia Optima

This is a handsome saloon that’s worth finding, with a great reliability record and a decent diesel engine. Just has minor electrical wobbles with the climate control sat-nav.

One we found: 2014 Kia Optima 1.7 CRDi 2 Ecodynamics, 99,000 miles, £4990

Audi TT

The Series 2 looks and feels just as special, both inside and to drive. It’s amazing that you can get an icon for so little. The clutch is dear to replace, though, and watch out for minor electrics like the windows and air-con.

One we found: 2008 Audi TT 2.0 TFSI, 85,000 miles, £4560

Vauxhall Insignia

Here’s a lot of very frugal family car for not very much money that’s purposeful and solid. There’s a huge choice of models that help to keep prices down, along with numerous engine options, from the really frugal diesels to the fun-filled petrol V6, in various saloon, hatchback and estate flavours.

Vauxhall Insignia

A bit of a facelift in 2013 brought better infotainment with a touchscreen to complete this refined, comfortable and very roomy long-distance cruiser. Standard equipment is very comprehensive throughout all eight trim levels. Design had a DAB radio, shortcuts on the steering wheel, cruise control, climate control, 17in alloy wheels and LED daytime-running lights. Elite had electric door mirrors, dual-zone climate control and adaptive headlights. Most fleet users chose Tech Line for all the fancy digital features.

Issues include power steering leaks, dual-mass flywheel failure and iffy dashboard electrics.

One we found: 2013 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 2.0 CDTi Ecoflex Elite, 102,000 miles, £4700

Citroen C3

This Mk2 French supermini is much better than the original, with none of its niggly problems, and the little petrol engine is easy to maintain and frugal. Plus there’s a big boot.

One we found: 2013 Citroën C3 1.2 VTi VTR+, 50,000 miles, £4700

Mazda 6

Third coming of the 6 is comfortable, practical, great to drive and certainly stylish. A good reliability record, thanks again to that Japanese build quality, is the best reason to buy.

One we found: 2014 Mazda 6 2.2 Skyactiv-D SE, 60,000 miles, £4995

Nissan Qashqai

Practical, high-rise family hatchback for all occasions is deservedly popular. Issues include DPF blockage and a juddery clutch.

One we found: 2010 Nissan Qashqai+2 1.6 Visia, 100,000 miles, £4800

Alfa Romeo Brera

This is the Alfa for which you don’t need to make any allowances. It’s reliable, great value and very, very pretty. Not as sporty to drive as some coupés, despite sharp steering, but hey ho. The basic 2.2-litre four-pot develops 185bhp and sounds good, thanks to a trick exhaust, but many would prefer the 3.2-litre V6. And don’t forget there’s a 41.5mpg diesel.

I must stress that this is a reassuringly reliable Italian. Even so, the electrics are always worth checking and the windows might need to be reset. At six-figure mileages, you get knocking suspension, worn brakes and resultant tyre wear, and the wheels sure need proper alignment. The petrols have timing chains but can get rattly over time. As on any diesel, the EGR valve can get blocked if it’s subjected to repeated short journeys.

One we found: 2007 Alfa Romeo Brera 2.4 JTDM, 57,000 miles, £4750

Infiniti G37

Mysteriously obscure upmarket Nissan featuring the 350Z’sV6 and four doors. It’s best to buy a caredfor example, which will go on for decades. Everything is standard.

One we found: 2012 Infiniti G37 S, 66,000 miles, £4999

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

This was a difficult period for Stuttgart, but the S-Class kept the faith. Pick a V8 for value and unburstability. Any problems may reduce you to a quivering wreck.

One we found: 2002 Mercedes-Benz S500, 120,000 miles, £2099

Renault Wind

Something of a rarity, cuter than the larger Mégane CC and certainly worth finding and enjoying. Good standard kit. Listen for knocking suspension and VVT-i rattling.

One we found: 2011 Renault Wind 1.2 TCe GT Line, 66,000 miles, £1995

London Taxis International TX4

Familiar shape, a sort of compact people carrier that will do stellar mileages at a snail’s pace. Can be completely worn out, though, and the VM engine may need a rebuild.

One we found: 2007 LTI TX4, 254,000 miles, £1995

Volkswagen Golf

The point here is that owners and buyers aren’t set to make any sort of fortune with an old Golf. What they will have is the reassurance that it will always sell. We should look at the Mk5, because it’s at the bottom of its depreciation curve and so should deliver a return. All the FSI petrols are great, from the 1.4 to the 1.6 and up to the 2.0 and 2.0 Turbo. The Sport and GT versions add extra horsepower.

Volkswagen Golf

These will be less bother than diesels in the long term, but still it’s easy to see the appeal of the remarkable old oil-burners. The SDI will be slow but could quite possibly last forever; the turbos are the way to travel if you do big miles. This Golf endures despite some poor reliability ratings, due to blown turbos, failing air-con compressors and leaking door and light seals.

One we found: 2004 VW Golf 1.4 FSI S, 90,000 miles, £1490

Mazda MX-5

The best used convertible that not much money can buy. All-new from 1998, these will always be worth around £1500, provided there’s an MOT. Check the brakes, the hood and for rust, but nothing is unfixable.

One we found: 2003 Mazda MX-5 1.8, 80,000 miles, £1295

Rover 75

The last great Rover is in its twilight years still, yet more are catching on that it’s a pukka modern classic that can be picked up for pennies. Style, comfort and usability never go out of fashion, just up in value.

One we found: 2002 Rover 75 2.0 CDT Club SE, 120,000 miles, £995

Toyota Land Cruiser

Legendary, even in ‘lightweight’ LJ form, these six-cylinder models are still affordable and every bit as bombproof as you would imagine. They won’t stay cheap for very long.

One we found: 2002 Toyota Land Cruiser Colorado 3.0 D-4D VX, 160,000 miles, £3200

Mini Cooper S

The early examples, provided they are sorted and MOT’d, have reached the bottom of the value curve, so those in the right colour and with the Chili Pack will shoot up.

One we found: 2004 Mini Cooper S, 120,000 miles, £1495

Honda Civic Type R

Unbreakable as a used buy, made more special as the hot Type R. Values for the ones that haven’t been over-the-top modified remain strong and will go ever upwards.

One we found: 2002 Honda Civic Type R 2.0, 93,000 miles, £3900

Renault Clio RS

Adding the RS moniker piles on the pounds. The Mk3 Clio has all the airbags and ability, plus these underrated hotties are becoming fashionably desirable. Better hurry.

One we found: 2004 Renault Clio RS 182, 109,000 miles, £4995

Land Rover Defender

Although Defender values can be hard to fathom, there are some scruffy yet fully MOT’d workhorses that may require a running restoration but can still be bought for realistic money.

One we found: 1990 Land Rover 90 2.5 TDi, 104,000 miles, £4500


37 excellent used cars from just £995 Times may be tough, but the motoring world is here to save the day