Ask PetrolBlog: Cup holders and armchairs for £2k

Sam Dalton is currently celebrating some good news. After a year of unemployment he’s landed himself a new job in Leicestershire. The downside? He lives in Kent, making it quite a commute. Fortunately he’s sorted out some digs nearer work. Which just happen to be in Birmingham. So that’s a sizeable daily commute plus a twice weekly along the M1 and half of the M25.

Which means Sam’s Panda has got to go. Although Sam says he’ll miss the “frugal peppiness” of the little Fiat, he’s after something that will feel more at home in the outside lane of the M1. In fact, comfort is his number one priority, followed by cheap running costs, load carrying potential and somewhere to put a kayak. So tiny sports cars and coupés are out, with Sam looking for an estate car or a large hatchback. Safety is also an important factor as Sam has children and his budget is somewhere between £1,500 and £2,000. Finally, Sam claims that as long his new car has “armchairs and a cup holder, he’ll be a happy lad”. No pressure then?

The immediate temptation would be to spend Sam’s hard earned cash on a big diesel estate and be done with it. But with diesel costing around 5p more per litre and diesel-engined cars costing more to buy, it’s not always that simple. Besides, this is PetrolBlog! So here are ten cars for Sam to consider.

Skoda Superb 1.9 TDi

Skoda Superb on PetrolBlog

Sadly for Sam, his budget won’t stretch to the latest incarnation of the Skoda Superb, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t consider Superb ownership. The original Superb offers S-Class levels of space and comfort and is now well within Bangernomics territory. Admittedly most will be in poverty ‘taxi cab’ Classic spec, but there are still enough toys to keep you happy, plus you still get the same supremely comfortable ride quality.

Pick of the bunch would be the Comfort model which adds luxuries such as rain sensitive wipers, multi-function steering wheel, parking sensors, cruise control and 6-CD autochanger to a spec that includes climate control, electric windows, ‘CatVision’ interior lighting and multiple airbags. It’s unlikely Sam will get the Elegance spec for this budget, meaning he’ll miss out on xenon headlights, sat nav, heated leather seats and 17″ alloys, amongst other things. But find a Comfort model with a few extra option boxes ticked and Sam will have a cut-price luxury motor on his hands.

I ran a 1.9 TDi Comfort for a few months and saw fuel economy figures well in excess of 50mpg. It was also one of, if not the most comfortable car I’ve ever owned. Just bear in mind that in the early cars, the rear seats do not fold down, meaning that the generous 462 litres of boot space is the maximum available.

Used Skoda Superb 1.9 TDi ComfortPetrolBlog Pick: How about a 2005, one-owner 1.9 TDi in Comfort spec for just £1,990? Okay, so the 237,000 miles may put some people off, but with a comprehensive service history and the benefit of split folding rear seats, this could be a perfect car for Sam. It has undoubtedly led an easy motorway life and will probably go on to do another 100k miles with ease.

Check out the ad for the Skoda Superb on eBay.

MK1 Ford Focus 1.6 estate

MK1 Ford Focus estate - Ask PetrolBlog

The original Ford Focus is a hugely underrated drivers’ car. Don’t let the rep-mobile image put you off, the MK1 Focus is a capable B-road machine that offers practicality in spades. Pick of the bunch would have to be the 1.6 Zetec, which offers the perfect blend of low prices (it’s a petrol) and cheap running costs. MPG figures of 40+ are not out of the question with the 1.6 Zetec.

Alternatively Sam could opt for the 1.8 Zetec or Ghia, although whilst power is increased, the fuel economy is decreased. You pays your money…

Yes, I know the Focus estate is anonymous, but that’s half the appeal. Stick the kayak on the roof, load the back with the associated equipment and away you go!

Used Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec estatePetrolBlog Pick: The MK1 Ford Focus looks best in silver, so how about this 128,000 mile 1.6 Zetec estate for £1,499? It looks tidy enough and I’m sure there’s a little room for negotiation. The estate is less common than the hatchback, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be choosy.

Have a look at the eBay ad for the Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec.

Volvo 240

Volvo 240 - Ask PetrolBlog

The original load lugger from Sweden, it’s hard to see where Sam could go wrong with this choice.

The 240 has a reputation for near-bullet proof reliability and longevity, with properly maintained engines seeing mileages of 200k+ with ease. That said, the fact they go on forever means that when something does go wrong, they are inevitably beyond economic repair and are subsequently stripped for spares. According to How Many Left? there are 3,900 Volvo 240s on the road, which may seem like a lot, but you need to bear in mind that only a decade ago there were ten times that amount.

As they were rust proofed from new, corrosion isn’t a big issue with the 240, but it’s still worth checking the usual areas. According to the Volvo Enthusiasts Club, it’s important to check that the car is fitted with a genuine Volvo oil filter with others causing lubrication issues. Timing belts should be changed regularly and if no service history is present, it should be changed immediately.

Perhaps it’s me, but I can quite easily see Sam in a 240 with a kayak strapped to the roof. The only issue may be a lack of cup holders. A small price to pay for rear-wheel drive retro heaven though, eh?

Used Volvo 240PetrolBlog Pick: This rare 240 SE estate looks like an absolute peach. Despite a few inevitable battle scars, it looks like it has plenty of life left, with the leather seats likely to appeal to Sam. With the great 2.3 litre engine, a 5-speed ‘box and rear-wheel drive this is a car for growing old disgracefully. I want!

Here’s the ad for the Volvo 240 SE estate on eBay.

Ford Mondeo Ghia estate

MK2 Ford Mondeo estate - Ask PetrolBlog

What’s the worst thing about the Ford Mondeo? Depreciation. Which of course is a good thing here at PetrolBlog because it means we can take advantage of stupidly low prices.

The second generation Mondeo is a cracking allrounder, with the TDCi engine being one of the best diesel lumps in the sector. Just check out some of the Mondeo TDCis for sale on eBay and you’ll see that mileages in excess of 200k are not uncommon. What’s more, there are plenty to choose from, meaning you can afford to be picky. I’d hold out for a Ghia X model, giving superb levels of spec and comfort.

It might be predictable, but a good Mondeo TDCi makes a huge amount of sense, just ensure you buy with your head and not your heart. As pointed out by @jonbradbury, be aware of the DMF (dual mass flywheel) issue on these cars. It’s worth reading this thread on Honest John as it can be a very expensive fix.

Subaru Forester

Original Subaru Forester - Ask PetrolBlog

The Forester could be the perfect compromise car for Sam. Ask anyone who has ever owned Subaru’s rival to the Freelander and they’ll regale you with stories of happy motoring, huge admiration and a high degree of fun.

The original Forester offers car-like road manners, strong off-road capabilities and a strong reputation for reliability. Sam won’t see his desired 40mpg, but good Foresters can be purchased for less than a grand. What’s more, like the Volvo 240, the Forester seems to fit the kayaking lifestyle rather well.

Saab 9000

Saab 9000 - Ask PetrolBlog

Like the Forester, Sam might be disappointed with the Saab 9000’s fuel economy, but in just about every other area it scores highly. Supremely comfortable with effortless cruising capabilities, the 9000 is well equipped and spacious. It comes from a time when Saabs were built to last rather than to a budget and it really shows. You only need to look at the number of 9000s left on the road compared to the other ‘Type-4 platform’ cars to see what a great survivor the 9000 is.

The deal clincher for Sam? A Saab 9000 need only cost £500 to buy. A ridiculously low price for a wonderfully engineered car.

Honda Accord 2.0 i-VTEC Tourer

Honda Accord Tourer on PetrolBlog

Hat tip to @robinbrown78 for altering me to the fact that the seventh generation Honda Accord is now approaching Bangernomics territory. The fact is, the Accord Tourer is one of the most accomplished wagons of recent years, offering a great mix of space, specification, comfort and economy. The only real criticism of the car when new was the steep prices being asked by Honda.

Fast forward a decade and that’s no longer an issue. One of the most reliable cars on the planet – what’s stopping you, Sam?

Vauxhall Omega estate

Vauxhall Omega estate - Ask PetrolBlog

Sam could do a lot worse than an Omega estate. Maybe it’s their extensive use by the police, but the Omega just looks right at home when hurtling along the outside lane of a motorway.

The fact that they were used by traffic officers across the land is testament to the car’s capabilities. It may lack the image of its premium rivals, but massive depreciation has resulted in the Omega becoming a Bangernomics favourite. Find an ex-police car, whack a high-vis jacket on the rear parcel shelf and watch the traffic build up behind you. Hours of fun. Well, ten minutes of fun anyway.

The Omega isn’t known for its exemplary reliability record, so choose wisely and ensure the cam belt has been changed at 40k intervals.

BMW E30 Touring

BMW E30 Touring - Ask PetrolBlog

The E30 3-Series Touring seems to come up more often than not in these Ask PetrolBlog features, but that’s for a reason. They’re universally loved, unlikely to depreciate, perfectly balanced and will offer Sam a good level of practicality. Not much to dislike really.

Vauxhall Astravan

Vauxhall Astravan on PetrolBlog

The PetrolBlog wildcard? My knowledge of vans is low to non-existent, but I do know that the Astravan is the quickest car on the planet. Whatever your speed, there will always be an Astramax in your rear view mirror. And no matter how fast you accelerate, you’ll never outrun an Astravan.

Who knows, the kayak may even fit inside too.

So that’s ten cars for Sam to consider. The Volvo 240 looks too good to resist, but I suspect the Mondeo, Accord or Focus might present a better case for Sam.

In the meantime, if you’d like to Ask PetrolBlog, drop us a line at the usual address.

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. August 22, 2012
    Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

    From that list, and considering that really, good E30s are creeping to the high end of Sam’s budget, the two cars that top the list by a mile would be the Forester, 9000 and the Volvo.

    The first-gen Forester is growing on me all the time, not helped by the fact it’s like an even-cheaper Dacia Duster. The 9000 is always a good pick, and the Volvo just has a chunky cool these days. And I love cars that feel like they’ll go on forever.

    My only other suggestions, even though they’re both a little feminine to some eyes, would be the first gen versions of the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Both are easily had for a grand these days, have excellent reputations for reliability, and loads of space. Both would struggle for more than 30 mpg, but you’d pay for that in the money you’d not spend fixing the Mondeo every time it went wrong. Or fixing rust on the Focus…

    • August 22, 2012
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      I can’t count. Of course I meant the *three* cars…

    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      The Forester does make a lot of sense as does the 9000 and 240. The most retro choices are probably the most appealing.

  2. August 22, 2012

    I don’t think I would be able to resist that 240. Although the E30 always looks good.

    To my mind there is one omission… the left field choice. I know the reputation isn’t great but colleague at work has one of these and had a couple years of trouble free motoring… I am delaying getting to the point as I am likely to be lambasted for my suggestion of the Alfa 156 2.0TS Sportswagon!

    It looks good, you should get a lowish miles car for £2k and to add to the luxury there is the Bose stereo option. Here’s a picture of one not moving, let’s agree to assume it is parked up and not awaiting the AA…

    Okay, so the PetrolBlog choices were probably better. Kudos on getting the Omega in there.

    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ha! The 156 is a good call and was on the original shortlist. It’s probably no less reliable than the Mondeo and would certainly provide Sam with more style. Another car to buy with your head and not your heart though.

      Volvo 240 FTW.

  3. August 22, 2012
    Sam Dalton


    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Let us know what you go for!

    • August 31, 2012

      What kind of kayak is it?

  4. August 22, 2012

    Forester is a great choice, hens I am also looking to getting one.
    My audition to the list would be a Lexus IS200 Sportcross (estate) although would only really see low 30’s MPG it’s comfy & very reliable. (I have had a saloon IS200 for 7 years put 90k on it & not even had so much as a bulb blow)
    Credit to Lexus on a stunning car is all I can say.

    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Didn’t think the IS200 was quite within Sam’s budget, but a quick eBay search shows that there’s one sub £2k. Certainly something to keep an eye on if prices are dropping that low.

      As for the Forester – keep us posted.

  5. August 22, 2012
    Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

    My dad had a white Granada in the late 80s / early 90s which had an Omega-esque, “S**t, is that a Police Car in my rear-view mirror” appeal about it. Made travelling on Britains motorways very smooth!

    For what it’s worth, my alligience lands with the Mondeo (with proof of DMF replacement) or a Passat B5/5.5. The latter feel like they could do multiple laps of the universe, with just regular stop offs on various lumps of orbiting rock for oil changes. Sure, the Superb does the same thing but the VW was less likely to fall into ‘Mini-Cab’ ownership precisely because of the slightly cheaper Skoda. I found a nice example (it would appear) here:

    Slightly above budget, although there’s room for negotiation, dirt-proof colour, decent spec, and low miles. It also has a cassette player which is a great excuse to crack out the old Duran Duran tapes lurking in the cupboard…

    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Another good call on the Passat and another case of nearly making it to the final ten. On my notebook to the side of me, you’d see the Passat V6 TDi wagon second in line behind the Superb!

      Again, speaking from experience, I did 40k miles in one year in a Passat V6 TDi saloon. It had every single extra fitted and was totally and utterly reliable, apart from a split coolant hose. Still regret selling it – cracking cars and the engine is slightly more interesting than the run of the mill diesel units.

      • August 22, 2012
        Ed Smythe (@Ed_Smythe)

        Agreed. A friend of mine had the 1.9TDi 110 but in a Golf Estate, oddly. Even with constant abuse, and a boot that remained full throughout ownership, it still returned epic MPG and really could move in the mid range.

        His dad actually owned the 300k Passat Estate another friends dad now owns and uses daily. It’s never cleaned, but it runs as sweet as a sweet thing with sugar on it, topped with a honey glaze.

        Also justy noticed that the above linked car is within budget! Result. Steel wheels may put off some, but adds to the useability I think.

  6. August 22, 2012

    astra van……..ha ha nice comment……are they that fast or is it just company van driver’s big boots?

    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      I’m tempted to organise a track day for Astravans, just to find out!

  7. August 22, 2012

    Sam would have to choose between a workhorse made just to travel painlessly from A o B, or a daily driver a bit more interesting, something you start to wash every weekend and once finished admire for a few minutes.

    In the first case, a Superb is…well, superb. Comfortable and very economical.
    In the second a 240 or a 9000 starts to make sense. I´m a little biased, but knowing a bit about 9000s, with that budget Sam could afford to buy a very good 9000 CS (it seems the 2.3 LPT was the most economical), clean the oil sump and pick up tube, change the coolant hoses, and he´ll have money left to buy petrol for a few months.

  8. August 22, 2012
    Simon Hingston

    Never thought I’d say this but avoid the Volvo! They are lovely (though that particular one shouts over priced dog to me) but these days they cost way too much to run for any distance. My 740 Turbo (which is more economical as less stressed) managed to average 32 with the 2.3 and a 240 would probably get around 25, hopefully. Damn.

    Head would probably split between the Skoda and the Mondeo depending on what was best at the time. Heart might go for the Honda as a lot more interesting and you might get an electric tailgate to entertain yourself with till it failed but would then be distracted by the 156 mentioned above.

    Ok if none of the above were available I’d take a look at the Focus as they’re a great drivers car and the estate looks great in silver.

    Finally if anyone offers you a Vectra please shoot them in the face (maybe a little extreme but totally justifiable in court).

    • August 22, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ha! Your comments suggest that you deserve a place within Team PB!

      Good to get some perspective on the 240. I was quite drawn to the 240 on eBay as I think it has been owned by an enthusiast and you could probably take a good look at it first. Just occasionally it’s worth paying a little bit more for something!

      But the fuel economy is a different story. It’s okay on the 9000 as the cost is offset by the purchase price.

      Electric tailgate is a good enough reason to buy the Accord on its own. And based on my own experience with the PetrolBlog Shed and its aerial, it will never, ever fail. It would actually outlast mankind.

      Vectra you say? Robin and I were chuckling over an ex-police car the other night. 170mph FTW.

      • August 22, 2012
        Simon Hingston

        Most kind. Is that cos I’ve just been washing the car in the rain?

        For that money you should be getting close to mint. Despite what you might think they’re really not worth much because of their size (!) and economy. I reckon that one’s been used for a bit too much long distance towing (Caterham to the Ring perhaps) and the suspension is drooping, body work has been tarted up as has interior. If it was half the price it would be a good buy lol.

        Can you fit a kayak on the roof of a 90s Prelude 2.2 Vtec? Mmmm.

        Don’t care how fast it is the Vectra is complete grey, wrinkly pants. Clarkson was dead right for once! There’s a thought buy an old riot van instead lots of space and some pace. Economy a bit shoddy though offset buy never having to replace a windscreen 😉

    • August 22, 2012
      Antony Ingram (@antonyingram)

      I quite like the *idea* of the Focus or Mondeo, but I’ve heard too many scare stories that Fords of that era essentially have an in-built life span after which they start needing new bits and pieces with utter regularity.

      I sold my Fiesta just as it was getting to that stage (my Fester was a bad example actually – rust aside, and brake pipes which I had done, it’d probably go on forever – cam chains > cam belts) and we all know what Pumas look like these days. Focii are the same. Mondeos might be better, but then with the diesels you’ve got the aforementioned issues.

      Frankly, I’ve gone off diesels quite a bit recently. If ultra economy was my thing I’d prefer a hybrid, and in all other situations the difference in price between petrol and diesel makes the latter fairly pointless, unless you do large mileages. Sam *will* be doing large mileage to be fair, but I’d take a simple, easy-to-fix naturally-aspirated petrol over something with a turbocharger, dual-mass flywheel and particulate filter any day…

      Actually, which does make me think: How about a W202 Mercedes C-Class of some description? I mean, the mileage on this one is on the high side, but you could get a pretty nice one for £2k:

      (Okay, I’m done!)

  9. August 22, 2012
    Olly (@Captain_Peanut)

    Interesting post, have been contemplating a similar move of late so have a few other suggestions to throw in the hat.

    Vauxhall Signum – Not the biggest of cars but prices seems to have come right down. £2k would give the choice of either the diesel variant or a nice V6!

    Golf Estate (1.9 TDI) – Think this has been mentioned but they are a frugal choice in my opinion. Good MPG, plenty of room and cheap parts should the worst happen. Could look at a Seat Cordoba as an alternative.

    Peugeot 406 Estate (2.0 TDi 110) – Another taxi drivers favourite. GLX should get decent spec and comfortable for long journeys. Buy a white one for that ‘sh*t, police’ effect!

    MG ZT-T – I couldn’t leave the MG out! Plenty of room for load carrying and decent looking too. The 190 would be my choice but may be a bit thirsty, diesels are around for budget but usually high milers. If out and out grunt isn’t an issue the 1.8 would be an option, providing hills could be avoided!

    Mitsubishi Galant Estate – Throwing this in because I drive past a 2.5 V6 version every day that has a for sale sign in the window and wanted to gauge opinion.

    Having run an Omega for a year or so I can vouch for their load carrying ability, used mine to help friends move house in place of a van and didn’t find much that wouldn’t fit in! I had a 2.2i petrol (auto box) which returned decent MPG on the motorways but liked a drink around town. Running costs were reasonable up until the gearbox packed up!

    • August 25, 2012

      Spotted inThe trade 316se auto 42000 miles from 91 in red. Comfy simple cool rwD fun. When it lurches unexpectidely into the next gear mid slip road should thrill you. A two owner minter with enough spare spondooly to have. Some paddy hopkirk cup hoders stuck on. Spotted now in the trrade. Cool??? I think so.

  10. August 27, 2012
    Ton D. (@Tonsty)

    I don’t think we have Astravans or Astramaxes over here, so in my world the Ford Transit and VW Transporter are the fastest cars on the planet. Will look into the Superb for myself as well. Even though I’m afraid people will think I skipped 22 years of my life and now am 50 years old when they see me in that!

  11. August 29, 2012

    Our family is currently looking for similar criteria in a car adding the ability to carry an eager dog. From my research the Ford Mondeo 2.0 tcdi estate seems to be too good to be true at this price, but as mentioned depreciation works in our favour here. I’ve found a couple with mileage under 100,000 and in fantastic condition for around the £1700 mark, I can’t see a better car for the money with a fuel efficient engine to boot.

    I tend to find that the smaller car (golf and focus) in estate form are a bit on the sluggish side, but for your needs they would both suffice

  12. September 2, 2012


    Many thanks for putting this together. You’re obviously keen to know that the outcome of your hard work has seen me take ownership of a 2003 I-VTEC Honda Accord Tourer.

    The car is visually very scruffy, having been owned by an elderly couple from Bexhill on Sea. Apparently, Mrs Elderly could no longer squeeze the car through the gate without rubbing the wall at the end of the driveway. Hopefully their 2011 C Class estate will fair a little better!

    Under the skin, the car has covered a touch over 93,000 miles (currently increasing by about 1,400 miles a week!), but the Elderlies were the second owners having bought the car as an ex demo from Honda, and kept it serviced by Honda throughout their ownership.

    The price for the car? £1,400. Once I’ve finished belting up and down the M1 on a daily basis, it’ll receive a tart up, new front bumper and OSF wing, and it’ll look as good as new. You never know, it may even return a little profit…

    My next mission is to buy a roof rack, so I’m stalking eBay for a Thule system for it. The playboat and polo boat (just) fit inside, but I need a bit more room for the slalom and creek boats!

    Thanks again,

    • September 10, 2012
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Great news, Sam. Pleased to see the advice came in handy.

      Sounds like the Accord is a bargain. Cosmetic issues can be forgiven at that price, especially with a service history as good as that. I only wish I had seen it first!

      Good luck and keep us posted.


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