A more powerful Golf? A four-seat convertible? Bias against imports?
Aidan Timmons and Motoring Editor Eddie Cunningham team up to help readers make the right choice with their next car. Aidan visits dealers all over the country to produce a monthly guidebook on the values of used cars. He is co-editor of Motor Trade Publishers, who supply a car-valuing service to the motor trade, insurance companies and finance houses. Eddie is author of former best-seller 'Clever Car Buying'.
I would like to ask for your recommendation on the purchase of a low to mid-range new convertible with four seats. My price range is €25,000/€30,000. I have a six-year-old Fiesta Titanium, with only 50,000km and in excellent condition with NCT. The cars I have been thinking of are the Renault Megane, Peugeot, Audi A4. I do not want a soft-top. Do Ford manufacture a convertible in this price range?
Aidan: I am afraid I have bad news. You will have to make some compromises here. Convertible versions of popular family hatchbacks simply do not exist any more; or at least, not in this country. In fact, the whole market is a bit shy of choice in the cabriolet/convertible segment.
When drop-tops were more readily available, they didn't sell, so lots of distributors scrapped them from their price lists. Perhaps ask a main dealer if one can be got as a special order. Otherwise, your budget will not stretch to the price of what is available, most notably the Audi A3 cabriolet or the BMW 2 and 3 Series. And in any case, used A3 and 2 Series are still a bit over budget and are soft tops so they are immediately ruled out.
If you decide to look around for a used car then you can afford something flashy under warranty from a main dealer. Sorry to be a stick in the mud, but what is available will be back the years and a new car won't come into the equation. What about a BMW 3 series? Your budget will buy you a 2010 or 2011 registered 3 Series.
Why not go for something with a bit of performance that can be used every day? I am thinking of the Golf GTi et al. In fact, if your Fiesta is amply proportioned for your needs, then the Fiesta ST would be a fantastic buy. It's a hoot to drive and looks the part and best of all it comes in on budget with a few quid spare.
If it is a bit too performance-focused for you then look to the 1.4 TSi Volkswagen Scirocco. One with a panoramic sun roof and a few extra bits comes in on budget.
Eddie: I too don't like shattering your dream but I have to say I'd be slow to recommend one anyway. That is based on a hard-headed assessment that you just don't get the value out of it. How many days a year will you get the weather to drive any length of time with the hood down?
But it's not all bad news. I'm going to suggest a compromise. Buy one of the excellent models suggested by Aidan, or any small-family car, with a sunroof. Yes, a sunroof. That widens your choice significantly. And it's nearly the same thing. And it won't cost that much extra.
I am currently driving a 2012, VW Golf Trendline 1.2 85bhp petrol (previously had 1.4 petrol) and will be changing in January to a 2016 model. I'm considering upgrading to the Trendline 110bhp as I find that although the car drives beautifully on urban journeys, it seems to just be lacking that bit of extra power when encountering steep hills and having to go through the gears a bit. Will the bigger engine be quieter and have greater torque? Will I notice the difference on steep hills? As a retired person, my annual mileage is low, 6,000 miles per annum. What would your view be?
Aidan: You are going to have to take the 110bhp model for a spin because power, in most cases, is a very subjective thing. On paper, at least, the 110hp version has 10pc more torque. That should make a difference alright. But it is all about how you drive and how comfortable you are revving the car.
The 110bhp model also has a 6spd manual transmission where the 85bhp has a 5spd. Drive one and see how you feel with the extra gear. Personally, I prefer the 110bhp model because it feels zippy in town but cruises beautifully on motorways. There is only a €700 premium for upgrading to the higher power version and if you factor in that you might get a return of a few hundred euro when you trade the car back in, the overall cost for a more effortless drive is miniscule.
The present model Golf is quite a bit more refined than your own model and noise suppression is a real standout feature; so while the engine might not be much quieter, the whole cabin is better built to keep road and wind noise out.
I could offer excellent alternatives, such as the new Toyota Auris 1.2 or even the Peugeot 308 1.2 (they both share the same engine) but if you are happy with your Golf and want another one then I have no qualms with that. And I am sure that neither will you.
Eddie: Something that is often overlooked in the focus on brake horsepower is the pulling power or torque of an engine. Aidan has touched on it. This can help reduce the number of gear changes you have to make without needing a lower ratio. Mea culpa, I often ignore it. In the case of the more powerful Golf that you seem to have your heart set on, the torque, or pulling power, is higher than in the 85bhp version.
And it is available across a wider spread of engine revs - up from 3,500 to 4,000. So you should notice an improvement in your new car's driving. Good luck with it. I also think the Ford Focus is well worth a look.
I know that the euro/sterling exchange rate is not in our favour but I have been testing the water up North and I think there are still some good deals. Why are you and Aidan so against imports? Have ye a vested interest? I notice cars up there are better minded and look cleaner too. I am pursuing a BMW 5-series - two or three years old - but now I'm beginning to think I should wait because the exchange rate can't always be that bad. What do you think?
Aidan: I am not dead set against imports whatsoever. The only time I have an issue with imports is when they flood the market and depress values, which makes my life a little tougher when analysing residuals. Lately, the questions we received on the topic all had answers to be found at home.
Providing advice at arm's reach necessarily places an additional duty of care on our shoulders so sometimes we have to be ultra cautious and minimise risk wherever possible. And besides, the exchange rate is appalling. It's such dead money losing value due to a change in currency.
Even if a better deal can still be found, it would need to be vastly better and at a very minimum comparable to the overall package offered here. By that, I mean many people have a tendency to pick the expensive car here and compare it to the cheap one in the UK in order to make the maths work. Get one on a like-for-like basis and the difference is not always so great.
Imports are fine once the buyer knows what they are doing. Even dealers can get caught out on occasion. I agree, for the most part, cars in the UK appear to be better minded. We're not a great nation of car washers by any stretch of the imagination. If you find a genuinely better deal and are happy to go the import route then go for it. Just remember that if you buy privately or from a non-BMW franchise and anything goes wrong, you have a potentially messy situation on your hands.
The reason I advocate buying locally is that servicing, warranty and other customer service needs are better handled when you're not a few hundred kilometres away and talking over a phone.
The 5 Series is a great car and while values stagnated a year or so ago, they are back to their best. That means that if they continue holding strong you can expect quite a cheap overall cost of motoring. Most came as SE or M Sport Automatic models. Go for the M Sport if you can; it's a nicer car all around.
Eddie: I'd concur with Aidan but I would also agree with you that the exchange rate can't always be this unfavourable. Waiting for it to swing back a bit your way may take some time, however.
You can accuse me all you like of having a vested interest. I haven't. It's your money. We're trying to make sure it's spent as wisely as possible.
Let us know what you decide and how you get on.