Auto for older learner driver; smart car for €25k; stick or twist?
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 am a 37-year-old learner driver and am struggling to get off the starter blocks having been at it for six months and not getting further than 5km from my house. I am at the point where I may give up on the learning experience, as I am failing miserably.
After talking with other older learners I've come to the conclusion that an automatic may be the way to go. Gears seem to me to be harder than quantum physics. I have a budget €3,000-€4,000. I want a 4-seater, preferably an estate. I have a Hyundai Accent 2001 with low mileage. What should I buy?
Aidan: I hope you stick with learning to drive a manual car because it offers great flexibility. For a start, choice on the used car market is wider than an automatic. And in cases of emergency, if you are required to drive a manual transmission, at least you will know how.
If, however, you ultimately decide to opt for an automatic then it is unlikely you will find something that will tick all of your boxes.
For a start, forget paying low tax for a large automatic estate. Even finding one for under €4,000 is tough. Diesel cars for this price could have enormous odometer readings and potentially present you with a costly list of repairs and remedial works.
Anyway, what about a Toyota Rav4? It's got a fine 1.8 litre petrol engine, has loads of room, drives well and some came with auto boxes. A clean, low mileage Peugeot 407SW would be good as well, especially with the stronger 2-litre diesel engine.
There should be a few Ford Focus estate for your budget but automatics are rare. A Subaru Impreza estate would be a sensible buy, too. It has a 2.0 litre petrol engine and all-wheel-drive. It will be a little thirsty but reliable.
Finally, Eddie's oft-mentioned Skoda Octavia is worth a look. Watch out for high mileage and ensure you get as comprehensive a service record no matter what you buy.
Eddie: I think you are trying too hard and you've built up a fear about manuals. What does your instructor say? Don't give up yet.
But, back to the basis of your question, I have reservations about buying something larger than you are currently driving - at least for now. Take a small step. Buy a Nissan Micra automatic; there are plenty out there. It's small, roomy enough and, adding to its ease-of-drive, has good visibility.
Then when you are really motoring you can look at something bigger - and maybe a manual?
I'm driving an 05 Ford Focus with 90,000km-plus on the clock. It now needs an NCT every year and services are expensive as it has been acting up a bit.
I'm in my mid 30s, no children, no dogs and have a budget of up to mid €20k. I usually just drive around Dublin but every month or so down the country (annual mileage less than 10,000km). So I want something comfortable.
The Focus is a 1.4-litre petrol and I want something more powerful. I don't want a small car but neither do I want anything too flashy. I don't particularly want a new car but would like the nice to have extras. And I don't really want a 'sensible' car like a Corolla or a new Focus.
Two totally different cars that have caught my eye are the Toyota Rav4 and the Peugeot RCZ. I liked them.
Aidan: Seeing as you cover so few kilometres and most of what you do is around Dublin, the Peugeot RCZ and Toyota RAV4 might be somewhat less suited to you than petrol cars.
The RCZ is a peach, though. So if you fancy one then go for it. Just be sure to give a good blast on those trips down the country. Keep it high in the rev range for a while and let the new-fangled exhaust emissions gizmos do their stuff.
However, I think I've got a couple of interesting alternatives.
First, a BMW 3 Series coupe. Specifically, a 320i petrol. They will be rare but a 2011 model will come in on budget. If you find an M Sport model then you will have a terrific level of trim.
Next up, the Volvo V40 T2 1.6 petrol. You will nearly buy a brand new one in SE trim with leather. Personally, I love the V40. Criticisms of it generally centre on the lack of rear passenger room compared to its rivals (Audi A3, BMW 1 Series) but that won't matter much to you.
Finally, a VW Golf GTi. It has a punchy 2- litre petrol engine that is just as happy pootling about town as it is stretching its legs on the motorways and back roads.
It won't have quite the same feeling of luxury as a 320 Coupe in M Sport guise, though; a 2012 Mark 6 model is within grasp but if you can go another little bit (something I'm not hugely comfortable recommending) then the Mark 7 from 2013 is the complete package; style, sportiness and practicality rolled into one.
Eddie: Go buy yourself an Audi TT. It's a classic. The shape is eternal, there's a good spread of petrol and diesel engines and it's solid and sporty at the same time. You don't need rear seats so that's not a problem with this. Audi cabins are exceptionally good - and so comfortable.
Try it and let us know. I think it's the one for you and you won't have to go too far back the years for one.
At the moment I am driving an 06 Lexus 220d. I love the car and find it comfortable. If I was changing what would you suggest? I wouldn't mind going for a second-hand car and don't really need a big car but love the comfort of the Lexus. I have a budget of €15,000 to €17,000 with my own car. Annual mileage is around 12/15,000km.
Aidan: You could always stick with Lexus and opt for a CT200h. It's a petrol hybrid and retains a lot of the characteristics of bigger stablemates.
You are probably working with a budget of around €20,000, which brings 2012 S-Design models into play. Your annual mileage does seem to warrant a diesel so something from BMW and Audi would suit you.
A 2011 registered 318D will provide the comfort and luxury you have experienced with your Lexus. An Audi A4 2.0 TDi 120 SE from 2011 should be on budget, too. If you want S Line you will probably have to drop back to a 2010. Be a little careful with S Line trim as some people find the suspension can be a little firm. If you don't mind not having the new model Mazda 6, the last of the 'run outs' from 2013 represent excellent value for money.
Eddie: So you love the comfort and luxury of your Lexus? Why change? Get yourself to a dealer and tell them you want to see what they have to offer you. Tell them you don't want to leave the brand, that you are quite happy but there are BMWs and Audi's out there that may fit the bill just as well.
Quick choice please. A new Audi A3 hatchback or a Mercedes A-Class or a BMW 1-series. I have €32,000 of a budget in total as I have a VW Golf which my brother is buying from me. I do 15,000kms a year and enjoy going down the country.
Aidan: How about none of them and opting for a Mercedes CLA 180 Urban instead? It comes in on budget and has a zippy 1.6 petrol engine with 152bhp. It costs €270 to tax and looks fantastic.
But, seeing as you asked about three others let's tease it out. The BMW 1 series is a 'driver's car'. It has great weight to its steering and engaging to drive. BMW have been offering all sorts of packages and upgrades with it this last 12 months. Some included leather and automatic depending on spec. If you want a diesel then the 116D Sport model is on budget.
The Audi A3 Sportback was revised a couple of years ago and is an accomplished car. It looks great and is remarkably similar inside to Audis twice its price. The Audi MMI infotainment system is easy to use and in S Line trim, the leather upholstery and design flourishes are eye-catching.
I think you are splitting hairs between those two. However, if you threw the A3 saloon into the mix then I would not hesitate in having that instead.
I have never driven an A-Class so I will bow to Eddie's knowledge on that one and give him the casting vote. No pressure, Eddie.
Eddie: Thanks, Aidan. I totally agree with you on the Mercedes CLA. What a lovely car.
I'm not as fond of the A-Class or 1-series so I'd plump for the A3 - the saloon is a great mix if you need a boot.
But do take a look at the CLA.