Good cars that offer great value for money

Finding a good car can make all the difference between safe, comfortable, reliable motoring and the stress of breakdowns, big bills and more

James Wilson
Jan 14, 2021

Good cars are worth their weight in whatever precious metal you care to choose. Sure, it might be super-fast sports cars that feature on bedroom wall posters, but, the dream vehicle for the majority of grown-up motorists is one that is reliable - and therefore costs very little to maintain - economical, practical and well-equipped.

While this might not seem like a tall order, the fact of the matter is the list of cars not to buy - or finance - can be the same length as the list of good cars to buy or finance. If value is high on your list of priorities, too, sometimes it's wise to track down a good car that offers you great value for money, rather than tracking down the very best car for a certain task, as these can often cost you more.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of shapes and sizes to pick from when choosing a good car. There are dinky city cars, small hatchbacks, family-sized hatchbacks, saloons, estate cars, small SUVs, large SUVs etc. etc. In addition, there is the small matter of fuel type; petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric are all available. Plus, good cars can come with automatic or manual gearboxes as well as the option of four-wheel drive for extra grip on slippery surfaces. It might seem like a minefield, but fear not; we can help you to track down a good car.

To save time, effort and unnecessary expense, below are eight properly good cars that should give you years of faithful service to take the stress out of running a car. They are all easily available to source second-hand and weigh in somewhere between £7,000 to £25,000 - or typically around £100 to £350 per month on PCP finance. At the time of writing, all of the cars featured below are still being produced, so, whether you want a top value car that is a few years old or you have the budget for a newer one, they should are be great options.

Good used cars

1. Kia Picanto

Our pick Kia Picanto 2
Used deals from £5,295
Monthly finance from £104*

The Kia Picanto is the only city car to come with a seven-year/100,000-mile manufacturer warranty - which makes for an awful lot of worry-free driving, whether you're picking up a brand new car or a used one. Even if you purchase a four-year old model for far less than the list price, you still get three years' warranty, which is what comes with most new cars.

City cars are so labelled as they are small and well designed to nip through tight urban streets and the Picanto is perfect for this task and performs well even when you head out on bigger, faster roads. The Picanto has more than a long warranty to offer, as it is good to drive both in and out of town, economical and if you skip basic entry-level ‘1’ variants, well-equipped as standard.

Popular ‘2’ specification includes Bluetooth, air-conditioning and heated door mirrors, which makes it much more desirable than 1 models. As for engines, it is petrol-power or nothing with the Picanto, though that's no bad thing with a small, light car like this. There are three to choose from but the entry-level 1.0-litre 66hp engine should suit most thanks to the promise of low running costs.

Those wanting more power might want to look at the 1.25-litre petrol producing 83hp, which makes the car more suited to driving on faster roads, as it picks up speed more easily. As for gearboxes, the 1.25 is the only option available with an automatic transmission - all other engines come with a manual gearbox.

KIA PICANTO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Vauxhall Corsa

Our pick Vauxhall Corsa SE
Used deals from £10,199
Monthly finance from £160*

The Vauxhall Corsa has seemingly always lived in the shadow of the Ford Fiesta - which has long been the UK's best-selling car - but, recently the company behind Peugeot and Citroen bought Vauxhall and consequently thoroughly overhauled the Corsa. By all accounts the new model is a significant improvement over the old, offering quite the combination of low running costs, practicality and a fun driving experience.

Still, all these improvements have come at a cost (quite literally) as the range-topping petrol Corsa Ultimate Nav weighs in at over £26,500 new. That's a huge amount for a small car, but thankfully if you're open to second-hand cars you can get this good car for a great price.

Entry-level SE trim with air-conditioning, cruise control and a seven-inch touchscreen media system is one of the more appealing options in the specification lineup, offer far better value than pricier models. When it comes to engines there are petrol, diesel and electric options - although the electric models are pricey. For most, the 1.2-litre petrol engine producing 100hp will be the best bet.

VAUXHALL CORSA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Ford Focus

Our pick Ford Focus 1.0 EcoBoost 125 Zetec
Used deals from £10,690
Monthly finance from £153*

Good is a word that seems to suit the Ford Focus down to the ground. It is good looking, its fuel consumption is good regardless of engine, its standard equipment level is good and its driving experience is good. Actually never mind good, for driving enjoyment the Focus is one of the best cars of this type. Still, drive it more slowly and it will be comfy, refined and relatively quiet.

Sounds good? Most people think so as the Focus is one of the best-selling cars in the UK. That means that this good car is available with excellent value, as there are plenty of used models to choose from. Perhaps helping lure people in is the excellent range of engines. At one end there are super frugal 1.5- and 2.0-litre diesels and at the other end is a very powerful 2.3-litre petrol engine.

For most, one of the turbocharged 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engines that sit somewhere in the middle of those extremes will be the best option. As for trims, there is no rotten tomato, though, entry-level Style models aren’t great but these were discontinued in late-2019. We'd aim for a Zetec model as a minimum and standard equipment should be plentiful, with kit including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard.

FORD FOCUS BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Volkswagen Passat Estate

Our pick Volkswagen Passat Estate SE
Used deals from £8,995
Monthly finance from £199*

There is a fine line between classy yet functional and boring, but the Volkswagen Passat just about gets away with being the former. Thanks to an upmarket interior, refined driving experience and efficient engines, the Passat Estate stands out against its competition, while still being a sensible choice.

Over time the Passat range has become progressively more upmarket, meaning that while it once competed against cars such as the Ford Mondeo Estate, which prioritised value over desirability, it is now considered by many to be a worthy alternative to the likes of the upmarket BMW’s 3 Series, feeling like a high-quality product. This is high praise indeed.

The majority of Passat Estates are diesel powered but following a bout of updates in 2019, three petrol engines became available as well. There is also a plug-in hybrid version available, called the Passat GTE and if charging the battery daily - to make most of a 25-mile or so electric range - is realistic for you, then it is definitely worth considering.

As the majority of Passat buyers are company car drivers, standard equipment levels seem suitably tailored to such motorists, with the Passat's cabin majoring on comfort and quality rather than sportiness and wacky design. SE trim is a good option and comes with Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control and sat-nav as standard.

VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT ESTATE BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Renault Captur

Our pick Renault Captur Play
Used deals from £8,700
Monthly finance from £139*

Renault is on something of a roll as of late - its latest Megane, Clio and Captur are all great improvements on the models they replace. Focusing on the Captur, though, Renault has ensured comfort, build quality and standard equipment are all rather good.

Granted, some may argue that the Captur is a little uninspiring in the looks department, but so is Daniel Radcliffe and just look how well he's done. Still, there are a few bright colour schemes available to help add some visual pizzazz.

For those after low-emission motoring, there is a plug-in hybrid Captur, which is a great option if you cover many short trips and are happy to charge the car regularly to make the most of the limited electric range, and so start to offset the premium over standard petrol models. More affordable petrol and diesel models are in ready supply but regardless of fuel type, all Capturs are two-wheel drive, so don't expect to go off road in this high-riding car.

Depending on the engine, there are also manual and automatic gearboxes to pick from. As for trims, the range is dead easy to follow, especially considering entry-level Play specification packs an awful lot of standard equipment. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, LED headlights and automatic folding door mirrors are a few examples and make this version a good choice for many drivers.

RENAULT CAPTUR BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Mazda CX-5

Our pick Mazda CX-5 2.2d 150hp SE-L
Used deals from £21,883
Monthly finance from £306*

Mazda is a curious carmaker - it doesn’t get sucked into making the flashiest, fastest or most expensive models, it instead produces a range of cars which are rather good all-rounders. Take its CX-5, which is a family-sized SUV what looks and drives well but is also comfy, refined and shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to run.

A substantial level of standard equipment is on the menu, too, as front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers and climate control are all included. So, even if you go for one of the cheaper versions of this generation of CX-5, you shouldn't feel short-changed.

As for engines, the 2.2-litre diesels are the best options over decent punch and strong fuel economy - one produces 184hp and the other 150hp. The former is only available with four-wheel drive, mind, so deciding if the extra power is worth the higher running costs should be considered.

Irrespective of engine choice, Mazda offers automatic and manual gearboxes which are both good. We'd stick with the 150hp manual model, as the gearbox is very slick, the 150hp engine is strong and allied with two-wheel drive offers better fuel economy than the four-wheel drive 184hp model. Since this isn't a car designed for going off-road, paying a purchase price premium and getting worse fuel economy with the four-wheel drive version doesn't seem necessary here.

MAZDA CX-5 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Skoda Kodiaq

Our pick Skoda Kodiaq SE Drive
Used deals from £16,900
Monthly finance from £251*

Skoda did a damn good job with the Kodiaq as the whole car is very well thought out. Take the range of available engines; there are smaller petrol-powered units and larger diesels, all of which will appeal to a different type of motorist; if you cover short journeys or don't cover that many miles, sticking with a petrol engine makes sense, with the more expensive but more economical diesel models being better suited to those who chalk up many tens of thousands of miles every year.

Despite diesel falling in popularity, diesel engines still make an excellent case for themselves in the Kodiaq, especially thanks to their good fuel economy, as they offer plenty of low-engine-speed muscle, making them suited to carrying heavy loads or towing. Skoda’s impressive ‘DSG’ automatic gearboxes are an option, too, as is four-wheel drive.

As an overall package the Kodiaq is practical (helped by having the option of seven-seats), pleasant to drive and well-equipped. Even so, our recommendation would be to skip past entry-level SE versions and find a Kodiaq in SE Drive specification. That way, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, 19-inch alloy wheels and a touchscreen multimedia system are all standard.

SKODA KODIAQ BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Renault Zoe

Our pick Renault Zoe Play
Used deals from £19,989
Monthly finance from £275*

More and more electric cars are becoming available second-hand and one of the most convincing options is the latest Renault Zoe. With an official range of 245 miles per charge, the majority of motorists need not worry about running out of charge.

Still, with the Zoe's rapid charging capabilities meaning that around 75 miles of range can be added in just 23 minutes, a low battery shouldn't prevent you from continuing your journey. Be aware, though; rapid charging is normally only possible from powerful commercial charging stations - domestic chargers will be much more leisurely, so expect to require most of the night to completely recharge the car at home rather than being able to add hundreds of miles of range in an hour.

Renault’s electric hatchback is relaxing to drive with no gears to worry about - as is the case with all electric cars - is relatively spacious and is even well equipped in entry-level Play form; a 10-inch digital dashboard, a seven-inch media system (which is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible), cruise control and air-conditioning are all standard. There are two power outputs to choose from with the current version of the Zoe - a 136hp model badged as ‘R135’ and a 109hp model badged as ‘R110’. Both versions are good options.

MORE DETAILS ON THE NEW RENAULT ZOE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

Read more about:

Latest best cars & vans

  1. Top 10 most popular lease cars

  2. Best used Hyundai i10 finance deals and offers

  3. People carriers and seven seaters with big boots