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
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.
PetrolBlog 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
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!
PetrolBlog 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.
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?
PetrolBlog 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.