Posh cars for empty-nesters
The kids have flown the nest – to college or off to build their careers. And suddenly, writes Ray Castle of motors.co.uk, that big family estate or MPV sat in the drive isn’t needed any more.
If this is you, an exciting choice lays ahead as you chop in your five- or seven-sweater for something far more interesting. But it’ll also take you into uncharted waters as you consider car options that haven’t been there for you before.
Relax, though. Let motors.co.uk take you on a tour of five cars, one of which we reckon will suit you to a T.
Used: from £4000.
Though the new-age Mini has been with us for close on 10 years – and has enjoyed booming sales throughout that time – it’s still ridiculously popular. Which is quite something when you think that it’s expensive for a small car, has too little space in the back for adults to sit comfortably, and the boot is too small for a week’s grocery shopping. Take a drive in one, though, and we believe that after taking only a few corners, you’ll be smitten. It really is top fun to drive: quick enough, eager and responsive but also sufficiently refined and fluid-riding for you to tackle a long motorway sprint confidently.
What’s more, it is beautifully built for a small car, while an endless choice of equipment and paint colours means that those lucky enough to buy new can personalise theirs just-so, while it’s rare to find two second-hand that are exactly alike.
Pre-pay servicing packages make the car cheaper than most to keep on the road and also ensure that second-hand ones have had all the servicing needed. The car’s enduring popularity means it loses value second-hand more slowly than most, which is good news for owners but also means that prices for used ones are steep.
Fiat 500 C 1.2 Pop
Used: from £8000.
Like the Mini, this little car is unashamedly retro in its styling. It is a dead ringer for the original 1950s and 60s car although underneath it shares engines and running gear with its range-mate, the Panda, and also Ford’s Ka. Here we’ve picked the ‘C’ (for ‘cabrio’) version that comes with a full length folding cloth roof. New, this is a stinging £3000 dearer than equivalent fixed-roofed 500s while second-hand ones command almost as much of a premium.
We think it’s just about worth the extra, though, for that great wind in the hair feeling that an open-top brings.
Providing you fold the roof all the way back, it is surprisingly civilised inside at up to motorway speeds.
Even with the entry-level 1.2 engine we’ve chosen, the 500 is nippy, and it’s very economical, promising up to 59mpg overall, while this model also loses value more slowly from new than the others.
And, if you’re buying new, this is another car that offers thousands of paint, trim and equipment options.
Mazda MX-5 1.8 SE
Used: from £3000
If you hankered after a Lotus Elan or MGB when you were younger but weren’t lucky enough to own one, you’ll love this car. It’s a two-seat, drop top sportster in the classic mould. Which means rear-wheel drive, quick steering, a rorty exhaust and brisk acceleration. But where a vintage ‘B’ or Elan will be fragile and unreliable, an MX-5 is one of the most dependable cars, new or used, that you can own.
It will also be affordable to insure and service while, like the others here, it loses value slowly from new. If you’re looking second-hand there are plenty for sale and while prices are high, they still represent top value. And the oldest MX-5s, with pop-up headlamps, are now rising in value if they’re in excellent condition.
Most MX-5s come with a cloth roof. But if you live in a city or plan to use it every day, it’s worth either buying one with a removable hard-top or else go for the coupe-cabriolet version, which has a folding metal roof.
Mercedes-Benz A160 Classic SE five-door
Used: from £3000
Little on the outside but big on the inside, the smallest Mercedes you can works magic. Even though it is shorter than a Ford Ka, it packs enough room inside to sit five adults comfortably while there’s also a sensibly sized boot. And, once you’ve flipped the seats forward, including the front passenger’s, you’ve a load space the size of a small van’s. That makes it perfect for DIY store trips or for ferrying dogs around.
It’s steady rather than fun to drive but it’s high set driving position and Benz build quality make it a quiet and relaxing companion on a long journey. Fuel economy is a strong point and its 1.6-litre petrol engine will return up to 47mpg.
Second-hand, the A-class is attractively priced and you can pick up a three-year-old one for little more than half what it cost new. Stick with the cheaper models in the range, though, because they’re much better value.
BMW 118 SE 5dr
Used: from £7000
It’s the smallest of its breed but nevertheless feels every inch as grown-up as bigger BMWs. It’s another rear-wheel drive car, which means that it is steering feels more precise because the front wheels don’t deliver power as well as change direction. And although here we’re recommending the model just one up from the cheapest, its 141bhp makes it a quickie to drive, but it will also return over 46mpg overall. It also has a comfortable and hushed cabin that’s great for long journeys.
Interior space isn’t a strong point – the legroom for the rear seats is cramped, while the boot is small – but you can always drop those rear seats if you’ve bought more shopping than you meant to.
There are plenty for sale second-hand. Prices are stiff but many of the cars are high-spec and show low mileages.
For more great car buying advice and to view and buy new and second-hand cars, click on to motors.co.uk. Surf the web using your mobile phone? Go to http://mobile.motors.co.uk/ or text ‘motors’ to 65056 and we’ll send you a link. If you’ve an iPhone, you can download the motors.co.uk app for free. Go to the ‘utilities’ section of the iTunes store.