Why is everything so expensive these days? What ever happened to ‘cheap and cheerful?’ Well, we’ve been out hunting for 10 of the best cars for a grand, and while these contenders might be far from perfect, they are proof that you don’t need a king’s ransom to buy a good car.
Bargain hunters, are you ready? Let’s begin.
Launched back in 1998, the Ford Focus remains one of the UK’s most loved cars. Exceptionally popular at launch, their abundance makes them something of a bargain today. While a sporty ST170 is a push at our bargain budget, the regular 1.6 petrol is a great handling car as standard.
This was the car that cemented the Focus’ reputation as a keen steering, and rusty examples aside, there’s actually plenty of choice out there. The car’s age is something fo an asset here as forums on repairs and weaknesses are in abundance. Parts are also readily available.
As much fun as a Focus is to drive at a pace, it’s also a great family car. A respectable boot and seating for five makes it a cheap means of ferrying the family from point to point.
Mini’s don’t have the best rating for reliability, but the first-generation of BMW’s Mini is actually pretty good. For around £800 you can get a car with 125,000 miles on the clock, and provided that it has been respectably maintained, that Pentastar motor should go the distance.
We’d avoid the second generation of BMW Mini as that’s where most of the poor reliability stories emanate from.
Looking for something with a premium badge, right this way… The Jaguar X-Type is often written-off as a Ford Mondeo in drag, and while it does share plenty of components, a Jaguar for £1k is not to be sniffed at.
Our slim budget will get you a mid-spec car with a strong diesel engine.
Mazda is famed for its Wankel rotary engine – stop laughing – but the unique powertrain hasn’t seen an official outing for some time. That’s what makes the RX-8 so special, but also something of a high maintenance machine. Featuring a 1.3-litre rotary motor, the car revs into the stratosphere before you grab another gear. Don’t let that small displacement fool you, the RX-8 is brisk.
Being a Mazda sports car, a lot of attention has been given to the chassis, something that is a joyous thing on twisting country roads. Light and agile, the Mazda’s excellent weight distribution and involving drive makes for an entertaining package. Factor in four-seat practicality via a set of subtle rear-hinged doors and you have a surprisingly versatile car.
However, there’s a reason RX-8s are cheap. They are thirsty beasts and also consume a lot of oil, also engine rebuilds are not unheard of at 70,000 miles. These cars are pretty highly strung and need to be looked after accordingly.
Ok, so it’s not the big-boy Type R, but the 138bhp Type S was still a pretty good warm hatchback by all accounts. The futuristic design of the FN2 makes this generation much more interesting than the dull FK2 that replaced it, and just like the Jazz, it offers strong reliability.
Good chassis, practical, triangular exhausts. What more do you want?
The days of buying a MK1 car with pop-up headlights at this price are now gone, and while the MK2 features a less distinctive design, it’s still a great sports car. Its lightweight nature makes it a lot of fun behind the wheel, and the ability to drop the top is a luxury rarely found at this price point.
Be sure to look out for rust! It’s a real killer for MX-5s.
Some people mock the Ford Ka, but those are the people who’ve never driven the perfectly pleasant city model. Its rounded design still seems pretty fresh today, and its compact size makes it perfect for city living. Beyond its life as an economy car, the Ka is actually pretty good to drive. A nice square footprint on the road and a short wheelbase gives it a quick change of direction.
These cars are prone to a lot of rust under those big wheel arches, so be sure to check for signs of the dreaded red rot. If you’ve got a bit more budget, Ford did a Sport Ka that added some more performance to what is ultimately a great little chassis. Sadly, it also suffers from the same rust issues, however, there are some good examples out there.
Mocked for being front-wheel drive, this Celica is actually a good handling car with a respectable 1.8-litre engine. Its styling has aged well with its swooping profile appearing far more modern than its 20+ years would suggest.
Generally speaking, reliability amongst these cars is good, but do some homework to make sure you come away with a strong runner.
The first-generation land Rover Freelander might not have the kudos of a similar era Discovery, but it was a very capable off-roader. Its genuine ability to hit the rough stuff gave it a strong following, as did its status as an entry-level car to the Land Rover brand.
There’s a surprising number of these cars out there for £1,000. Rust and general reliability remain causes for concern – especially at this price – but there are some good ones to be found for cheap off-road thrills.
This might just be the cheapest way into a mid-engined sports car. The MG TF is something of an unloved British classic these days, and while far from the most reliable thing on the road, it is a proper sports car. A Toyota MR2 might be your next best bet for something with the engine in the middle, but values of the Japanese machine are heading upward.
A quick search revealed a handful of MG TF and earlier MGF cars with over 100,000 miles, however, some had a fresh MOT and even looked to be in an acceptable condition. A cheap means of drop-top fun, with the added exotic allure of where its engine lives, this might be worth consideration. Just be mindful of gasket issues and rust.