Car Buying Advice - Shop sMart for Used Cars

Previously owned perfection

Want a small family runabout maybe as a second car? Then you may well be on a budget that leaves you searching in the used car market. Need some help? Our used car expert Jonathan Crouch offers a few suggestions you might want to look at.

Jonathan CrouchJonathan Crouch

November 2016

Once upon a time, a small car was something good for trips to the supermarket – and not a lot else. These days though, little runabouts can do an awful lot more. About five years ago, the mainstream makers started developing compact affordable models capable of longer distances and greater refinement. Now, these same cars are becoming widely available at tempting prices on the used car market. Here are three very good choices in that regard.

This month’s affordable used car choice

Renault Clio
Renault Clio Mk 4 - bigger, better looking and more efficient.

Bigger, better looking and more efficient, Renault's fourth generation Clio was launched in 2012 to return the company to volume credibility in the supermini sector. It did. Bubbling with personality, it's an effervescent statement of intent from the Gallic brand. In terms of what you’ll pay, for a base 1.2-litre petrol model, prices begin at under £6,000 for a 2012 model, rising to around £8,000 for a later 2015 variant. For a diesel, prices start at around £9,500 for a 1.5 dCi 90 derivative from the '12 model era, rising to around £13,000 for a later 2015-era car.

This fourth generation Clio sports a cabin that's a good deal better screwed together and made of more durable materials than its rather reedy predecessors. It also runs on largely tried and tested mechanicals, so Renault has lessened the risk of problems cropping up quite cleverly.. Whatever variant you're looking at, check tyres, exhausts and front suspension alignment carefully and try to establish if the previous keeper was diligent in the car's upkeep. Look for parking scratches on the alloys and evidence of child damage on the interior plastics and upholstery. All of these issues are common and could give you scope for price negotiation.

Used Renault Clio cars for sale


Want a tip for something a little trendier?

Peugeot 3008
The Hyundai ix20 - bigger than a MK1 Nissan Note, and better built

We don’t tend to think of MPVs as being ‘trendy’, but the new breed of so-called ‘super-mini MPVs’ certainly are a little more fashionable than some of the super-minis they’re based upon. They’re a lot more sensible too – to the point where I don’t really understand why more people don’t buy them. Hyundai’s ix20 is a good example. It was introduced in 2010, following the success in this segment of cars like Nissan’s Note. With a 440-litre boot, an ix20 was bigger than a MK1 model Note – and better built too. Not much goes wrong and most ix20s you look at should have been serviced on the button. The only other significant things you'll need to look out for are parking knocks and scrapes and any damage to the interior caused by kids.

Prices for 1.4 litre petrol-powered ix20s in Classic trim open at just over £4,000 for a 2010-era car, rising to around £8,000 for a 2016 era model. For mid-spec 'Active' trim, the price span would be £4,500 to £9,500 for models from this era, while for top 'Style' trim, you're looking at £4,700 to £10,300. If you'd like to look at a diesel-powered 1.4-litre ix20, it won't cost you much more. For 'Classic' trim, you're looking at around £4,500 for a 2010-plated car, rising to around £8,800 for a later '16-plated model. Add around £1,000 to those figures if you want plusher 'Style' trim.

On to the 1.6-litre models. The 1.6-litre petrol only came as an automatic. For one of those in base-spec form, you're typically looking at around £4,600 for a 2010-spec car, with prices rising to around £9,700 for a later 2016-era model. If you want plusher 'Style'-spec with a 1.6-litre petrol auto ix20, the price span would be £5,000 to £10,700 for this same era. Finally, there's the 1.6 CRDi diesel. For one of those, you're looking at paying from around £5,800 for a 2010-era model, with prices rising to around £9,000 for a later 2015-era model. For plusher 'Style' spec in this period on a 1.6 CRDi diesel, you're looking at a price span between £6,000 and £9,500.

Used Hyundai ix20 cars for sale


And if your used car needs to have a premium badge...

Audi A1
The Audi A1

There are super-minis and then there's Audi's A1, a small car that never seems to be trying too hard. It's stylish without being overly attention-seeking and it's mopped up a huge number of orders since it was launched at the start of 2011. So what if it's built on the comparatively humble underpinnings of a VW Polo? This model is now becoming affordable on the used car market, with an early 2010-era 1.2-litre 85PS petrol model likely to retail from around £7,500. That’s for a three-door model. A few hundred pounds more gets you the more versatile five-door ‘Sportback’ variant that I’d recommend. If you want a diesel, then you won’t pay much more. Prices for the 104PS 1.6-litre TDI variant start from around £7,700.

So what do you get for that? Well, if you speak Audi design language fluently, there won't be too many surprises inside the A1. The cabin is maturely finished with no speedometers the size of dinner plates or garish graphics. Audi contend that if you're downsizing from a bigger car, you expect big car sophistication and the A1 serves that up in spades. Everything is soft touch, silicon damped and consistent in feel and design. Outside, the contrasting roof arch is the A1's most distinctive feature. Just don't ruin an A1 owner's day by mistaking it for a Citroen C3 Pluriel. The A1 body can only offer so much interior space in a package 3954mm long, but the 267-litre boot extends to a respectable 920-litres if you drop the back seats.

Standard safety equipment across the range always included two front airbags, side airbags and curtain head bags. Isofix child seat fixings, seatbelt tensioners and integral headrests round out this aspect of the safety provision. Options for new buyers included xenon headlamps with LED running lights, interior lights and LED tail lamps, light and rain sensors, a panoramic sunroof, a choice of two navigation systems and a thumping 465-watt Bose surround sound stereo with no fewer than 14 speakers. There was a choice of manual or automatic air conditioning systems and heated front seats were also optional.

Unlike most other super-minis, Audi A1's tend not to have been abused as business hacks and many are in very good condition. This only makes the rare neglected one stand out even more, so you can afford to be fussy when inspecting. Check the car's specification carefully, as some of the more desirable features weren't standard on lower spec cars. Check that the servicing has been done on the button. On the whole, it's a solid and dependable vehicle.

Used Audi A1 cars for sale