Top 10: used cars everyone should own once

Recently, Autocar named 50 cars everyone should drive once.

From the humble to the exotic, they were the models we think you simply must drive at least once. But don't go thinking that every car that made the cut is a million pound plus supercar. Some are genuinely affordable on the second hand market, so we've also compiled a list of must-have used wheels.

Let James Ruppert be your guide to the models you need to own - all for considerably less than what you'd need to put our number one choice, the Ferrari F40, on your driveway. Encompassing everything from hybrids and convertibles to hardened fast hatches and sports cars, this is the definitive list for anyone looking to buy used.

Editor's note: Prices are based of examples found at the time of writing

Porsche 911

2001 Carrera 2 S - £22,500 -105k miles

The smart money should look at unpopular Porsches for those playing the long ‘appreciation’ game. What everyone really wants, of course, is a 911.

You could get a mortgage and go all 993 for the purity, but right now a 996, the first water-cooled one, is the most affordable.

Porsche 911 - interior

There are problems to dodge, though, from the well-known IMS shaft issues and more rarely cracked cylinder heads and liners. Any rust usually means that it could have been patched up after a bash. But whether you want a coupé, cabriolet or Turbo, this is the best way to drive your dream 911.

Honda Insight

2000 - £5995 - 150k miles

If you wanted to drive the future back in 2000, then the Insight delivered in spades. Whereas today’s hybrids and electrics are as anonymous as a fridge freezer, this looked sensational.

Honda Insight - interior

It’s a coupé with an aerodynamic design, with flat hubcaps and covers over the rear wheels. Indeed, the Insight is narrower from back to front, but the key to its 83 miles to-the-gallon economy is what Honda called the ‘Integrated Motor Assist’ system.

Not actually a hybrid, then. Only 257 were registered and probably only a third were genuine Honda UK cars, so they can be tricky to find, though there is only one for sale at the time of writing.

BMW 5 Series (E39)

2000 M5 - £29,990 - 78k miles

We do have to go back in time for this one. Virtually any E39 5 Series is worth buying, petrol or diesel, six-cylinder or V8. Ideally, though, an M5 would be the best buy. This era of 5 Series is regarded by the experts as the last truly fixable version – in an old-school garage, anyway.

BMW 5 Series (E39) - interior

An M5 would require a bit more attention to detail, but it’s worth the effort and they remain relatively affordable as well. Needs a ton of history to be a safe buy. Plastic chain tensioner must be replaced and a noisy Vanos sounds like trouble.


2009 Mini Cooper S - £4595 - 75k miles

The obvious buy is one of those rusty classic Minis, or restored million-pound ones. The thing is, the reborn Cooper S from 2002 looks and drives the part. We are at the bottom end of the price curve, so it is also the right time to hop on board before they become really cool.

Mini - interior

Older ones are now in their neglected phase so things like alternators need replacing, the off-side back could be rotten and the electric power-steering pump can go on the blink. Pick the Chili Pack if you can, but there was a John Cooper Works in 2006 and earlier conversions are the really collectible ones you always promised yourself.

Volkswagen Golf R

2015 2.0 TSI BlueMotion Tech R 4motion 5dr - £12,500 - 60k miles

Hard to imagine that Volkswagen would ever make something better than a GTI, but the R is a sensational piece of fast Fhatch kit. It’s an R32 but rather more so, with four-wheel drive and a 2.0-litre turbo good for nearly 300bhp.

Volkswagen Golf R - interior

Introduced in 2010, you could go for a manual six-speed or seven-speed DSG. Later models are better, so a Mk7 from 2012 onwards would seem to be the pick. Watch out for fluid leaks. It needs a full history, not least because the four-wheel drive needs attention every 20,000 miles.

Land Rover Defender

1994 90 2.5 TDi County - £8595 - 152k miles

These are unsophisticated, uncomfortable, metal-edged lorries with very few redeeming features. You either love or loathe them, but it is worth getting one to find out what all the fuss is about. Though, as with so much else these days it seems, prices for these are going bananas. But that may mean you'll get a car that continues to go up in value if you look after it.

Land Rover Defender - interior

A 90 is a plaything, the 110 family-friendly and some would say that the 2.2 Ford TDCI-engined example is the best. From 2012, there were a lot more creature comforts. That’s pointless: buy a scabby, dented one, but check for rust to the bulkhead and chassis. Make sure the transfer box works and fluid leaks are minimal.

Look at loads of them before you buy and prepare to be charmed into handing over your hard-earned.

Jaguar XJ

2009 2.7 XJ TDVi Executive LWB Saloon - £9995 - 83k miles

Some of the greatest used car buys of all time have often been Jags. There are loads to choose from, but really an old-shape XJ (the X350 onwards) with the aluminium body still embodied all the grace, pace and reasonable amount of space that are required. And a diesel like the one we spotted should so 35mpg all day long.

Jaguar XJ - interior

If the history is patchy, avoid. The big cars often need new suspension, tyres, brakes and the electronics play up, especially the parking sensors.

It’s worth looking for rust, especially underneath. Quite simply, scruffy old Jags are just not worth the effort. Remember, the point is not paying much and getting an awful lot.

Toyota Land Cruiser

2005 3.0 D-4D LC3 - £7050 - 105k miles

Legendary’ gets chucked around far too much these days. You don’t buy a Land Cruiser because it is stylish, or on-trend, but purely to do a job. The great thing is that it will do that job without making any sort of fuss.

Toyota Land Cruiser - interior

It’s farmers rather than Premier League footballers who endorse this product and that’s all you need to know. However, they can go wrong – corrosion, worn suspension parts, split suspension airbags on the LC5 and worn brakes – especially if they have been neglected in any way.

Diesel is the obvious choice, the older and simpler LC4 the pick if you want a workhorse rather than an SUV.

Mazda MX-5

2011 1.8i Kendo - £6500 - 46k miles

This is a used car cliché but a perfectly understandable one. If you want to enjoy the pure roadster life, rather than rough it in a Caterham, this will at least keep you dry and not make you deaf.

Mazda MX-5 - interior

This really is the ultimate driving machine: low power and high fun. There are 30 years’ worth of models to choose from – the most pain free will be the latest you can afford.

Broken timing belt tensioners, tired suspension with worn drop links and seized brake calipers mean it is the general wear and-tear items you have to check out. Mature previous owners are usually very good to them.

Mercedes-Benz saloon

1995 E220 saloon - £7500 - 65k miles

Peak Mercedes? Arguably that would be W123 to W124 beige taxi era. Without all the modern complexity, just basic Tex vinyl and possibly wind-up windows.

Early 1990s SLs and S-Classes are great, but there is a purity about the hard-working saloons and estates.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class - interior

At immense mileages, gaskets and hydraulic lifters may need attention. The suspension will be tired, so new joints and shock absorbers may be needed. The biggest concern could be a fried wiring loom and rust in very old cars is the most expensive issue. Overall, though, these models remain utterly affordable. Nothing else would be cooler. Though with our weather seemingly getting warmer, it might be worth trying to find one with air-con - though make sure it works.

(Johannes Maximilian)

Top 10: used cars everyone should own once A guide to the models you need to own, including the Porsche 911, Land Rover Defender and Mazda MX-5