Your car purchase budget: a very generous €20,000
Our Mission: Pick a really good car for you
Aidan Timmons teams up with Motoring Editor Eddie Cunningham to help you make a better decision when buying a used car. Each year, 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.
Aidan: Eddie, €20,000 is a great budget. There are plenty of options but they require every bit as much careful examination as cars for €7,000.
Residual values should play a more prominent role in the readers' decisions but ultimately shouldn't be the determining factor. Life's too short to drive cars you don't like.
Here are four we think you should consider
2011 HYUNDAI I40 EXECUTIVE
Background: The i40 has been instrumental in Hyundai's recent rise to prominence here.
It's one of the few brands that go toe-to-toe on price with better-established manufacturers and doesn't come away with a pummelling. Repeat custom is a sign Hyundai is doing things right.
Engines: Choice is a wonderful thing except when there is too much of it. The i40 comes with a 1.7-litre diesel engine only. It has 115bhp and costs €200 to tax a year. It is frugal, relatively quiet and suits the size and nature of the car.
Residual values: Not much bargaining to be had here. On a percentage basis, values for the i40 are among the highest in 'The Car Sales Guide'. The five-year warranty partly explains this as stock is scarcer with relatively few returning to the market.
Cabin: I'm a fan. Forget Comfort spec unless you get it for around €1,500 less than Executive. The higher spec has one of the best reversing cameras I've used (it's a video display in the rear view mirror). The boot is generous, rear leg room is ample but the sloping roof in the saloon might be a touch too shallow for taller passengers.
Choice: For €20,000 I would opt for a 2011 estate in Executive trim. For most drivers, it's all the car they would ever need. The estate was released before the saloon so you shouldn't have an issue finding one.
Watch out for: It could be argued the i40 has peaked so watch out for falling values; but that should still only bring them in line with rivals. Hyundai are specific about the qualifications for their five-year warranty.
We don't buy estates here much but the i40 makes a strong case, I must say. Fine car but now is a good time to go looking for a deal on one.
2013 SEAT LEON 1.6 TDI STYLE
Background: SEAT has undergone major changes in the last couple of years. Its dealer network has been reshuffled and the range has received a much-needed design overhaul. The new Leon is built on the new MQB chassis from VW. Want a Golf but don't want to spend Golf money? Buy a Leon.
Engines: The obvious choice is the 1.6 TDi found across the VW Group. It's got torque, refinement and is appropriately efficient. But petrols are back in the spotlight as drivers reconsider their needs. Diesel Leons cost €2,000 more so if you don't cover the mileage, save yourself money and go for the 1.2 TSi.
Residual values: The car is priced sensibly below a Golf but Astras and 308s dilute the potency of it appearing as a bargain. There were quite a few registered to fleet operators last year so values slid back further than SEAT would have liked. That's stopped now so residuals should be stable.
Cabin: Quality throughout. Spanish on the outside, utterly German in robustness on the inside. The Style spec (now called SE) adds lots of gizmos over the base model including upgraded interior, leather multifunction steering wheel and cruise control. Decent boot.
Choice: The Leon arrived a little late last year so quite a few found their way into fleet companies' circulation. That makes them more readily available than some competitors. In general, 131 reg plates are finding the going a little tougher than other years so €20,000 should be enough to buy a higher-spec Leon Style.
Watch out for: Had the volume of Leons being put out on fleet this year resembled that of last year I would have warned to watch falling values but they haven't so there really isn't anything to be mindful of. The car is still under warranty.
Well specced but still finding its feet. Ambitious for sales so I'd bargain really hard. There are deals out there.
2010 BMW 318 DIESEL
Background: The BMW 3-Series wouldn't normally compete with medium hatchbacks and family saloons but the used car market is a level playing field and everything is open for consideration. For those who aren't too discerning when it comes to reg plates, a four-year-old BMW could be a sensible choice.
Engines: The 2-litre diesel engine is lovely and the 3-series is its most suitable home. With loads of torque, road tax of €270 it can be high-mileage drivers' best friend.
Residual values: The real attraction at this age for this price is that depreciation starts to slow down. Sure, you can expect to lose around €3,000 a year after buying but the previous owner lost more than that and most rivals won't fare much better.
Cabin: The interior hasn't changed dramatically over the years but it still holds up well. I have an aversion to BMWs that don't come with leather. Features or the lack thereof can make or break a 3 Series. At this price, don't settle for anything less than SE spec.
Choice: In January 2010, BMW released a Business Edition upgrade on their standard SE models. At the time it cost an additional €1,600 and added leather, Bluetooth, a sports steering wheel and sat nav. Focus your search here and you won't regret it.
Watch out for: BMW dealers offer two-year warranty on selected used cars. Prices might be a little higher as a result but for the peace of mind, I reckon it's worth it. Imports are in abundance so be sure to run the necessary background checks.
Cabin can be surprisingly drab if it doesn't have leather or light colour upholstery. Great handling car but I've always felt room in it – particularly at the back – was disappointing. Be mindful of that if thinking of it as a car for a growing family.
2010 AUDI A4 2.0 TDI SE
Background: Even when the rest of Audi's range didn't cut the mustard, the A4 performed decently. It's a little long in the tooth and is due a revision shortly so it's a good idea to buy one now.
Engines: The 2.0 TDi comes with a variety of power outputs. The 120bhp version is the most popular but if you want a little extra watch out for the higher options.
Residual values: Values are holding well. They aren't as plentiful from 2009 back as the 3-series, so this bolsters residuals. The new A3 saloon hasn't made that much of an impact on used A4 prices but it's still early days; 2010 models should be relatively unaffected by this anyway.
Cabin: Obviously S Line and Sport are the specs to choose but at this budget they might be a stretch too far. In anything other than a high-trim level the cabin looks a bit bare.
It's well built, though, and the switchgear is unmatched by many newer family hatchbacks at this price range.
Choice: The A4 is one of the most popular cars to be imported so they can have varying degrees of spec as some UK models arrived with huge trim levels. Audi dealers have a new 'Audi Approved Plus' product which guarantees the used car has been thoroughly checked over.
Watch out for: So long as it has a warranty, you're laughing. A4s perform in the UK too, so imports might not be massively cheaper when you compare on a like-for-like basis. Buy the right A4, not the cheapest one.
Imports are often better minded than Irish cars but can have big mileage. Strong car this, but inside can look its age.
Eddie: Thanks Aidan. Back with more next week.
The values quoted should be used as a guide only. They refer to the selling price of a vehicle in proper mechanical condition and with average mileage from a dealership.
Mileage, availability, exact specification, trade-in allowances and the condition of particular vehicles can result in higher or lower values being sought by a dealer.