Buying a used car can be daunting. Almost seven million second hand cars are sold every year in the UK, and one of the most popular types of car is the small family or compact hatchback. There’s a bewildering choice of different brands and models, so knowing where to start can save a lot of wasted time and effort and help you buy the best used hatchback for your budget.
That’s why we’ve teamed up with motoring expert James Foxall. Every week, he advises drivers on how to cut the cost of buying and running their car in the Daily Telegraph’s motoring section. Here he reviews three used hatchbacks that deliver class-leading performance in three specific areas – driving, comfort and value for money – for a budget of £10,000.
BEST TO DRIVE: Ford Focus
Ford is remarkably accomplished at building cars that do all the boring things that family life demands yet are also incredibly fun for keen drivers. The Focus encapsulates that. Britain’s second best-selling car of 2013 isn’t just good to look at, it’s easy to live with, well equipped and you get a lot of car for your £10,000.
Funky and fresh
Ford has done a great job keeping the Focus feeling modern inside. It looks good and all the controls are logically arranged. That said there are so many hi-tech features, it feels like a daunting prospect to get the most out of your motor. The interior has been criticised by some reviewers for sacrificing head room to achieve that coupe-like profile.
Smoothing out the rough
As with its rivals, the Focus comes with a wide range of power outputs from a series of petrol and diesel engines that offer a choice between economy and performance plus pretty much everything in between. But the most impressive element of the Focus is that even the more sports-oriented models maintain their ability at smoothing out bumps on all but the roughest roads.
Ten grand buys a lot
The Ford Focus doesn’t hold its value as well as either the Volkswagen Golf or Skoda Octavia. That means a budget of £10,000 will buy a newer car. Our search found a 2012 12-reg 1.6 Zetec model with plenty of kit and 34,000 miles on it as well as a 2011 61-plate 1.6 Zetec that had done just 11,000 miles.
BEST VALUE: Skoda Octavia
Skoda stands for brilliant value for money and the Octavia typifies that. As all-rounders go, you’ll struggle to beat it. Built using the same basic mechanicals as a Volkswagen Golf, the Skoda is cheaper to run thanks to cheap servicing.
Wins the space race
In terms of space per pound the Octavia tops its class. The cabin is roomy and the boot is enormous: at 580-litres without the seats folded down it’s more than half as big again as the Golf and Focus making it sufficiently versatile for pretty much anything life can throw at a family.
VW engines, Skoda value
As Skoda is part of the VW Group, the Octavia benefits from the same wide range of engines as the Golf. The 1.2-litre turbo and supercharged petrol is a really good buy, as it offers over 50mpg and low carbon dioxide emissions. As well as 1.4, 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrols there are also 1.6, 1.9 and 2.0-litre turbo diesels which appear more popular with Octavia buyers.
Used prices between Golf and Focus
The Skoda sits pretty much between the Golf and Focus in terms of second hand prices. Within our budget we found a 2011 11-reg Octavia 1.2 TSI with 10,000 miles on it from a franchised Skoda dealer. We also found a 2011 11-reg 1.6 TDI with 21,000 miles on it for a whisker under £10,000.
MOST COMFORTABLE: Volkswagen Golf
The Volkswagen TV campaign where rival cars are compared by saying they’re “a bit like a Golf” has a lot to it. Now into its seventh generation, the Golf is quite simply a brilliant all-rounder. However, it’s the previous, sixth generation model we’re interested in and even when it was replaced by its slightly bigger brother it was still a class-leader and deservedly Britain’s fifth best-selling car.
Substance and style
The Volkswagen hatch has always been functional and as it’s grown so the cabin has become comfier with more carrying capacity in the back. And it’s all pulled off with a panache that rivals can’t match. The ride is comfortable and engines are quiet and refined. From the driver’s seat, everything around you seems well built and logically laid out and the materials used give the cabin the ambiance of an executive rather than family car.
Engines for all sorts
One of the appeals of the Golf is that there’s an engine size to suit all needs. If you want a fuel-sipping petrol there are the turbo and supercharged TSi engines with 1.2 and 1.4-litres. For performance drivers there’s the 220bhp GTi. And owners planning on large mileages have an choice of either 1.6 or 2.0-litre turbo diesels with various power outputs.
What £10k will buy
Analyst CAP Automotive says the MkVI Golf’s running costs are lower than its Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus rivals, largely helped by it holding onto its value better. Residual values are nonetheless solid rather than spectacular meaning our £10,000 could buy us a 2010 60-reg 1.6TDI 105 that’s done 48,000 miles or a 2008 GT Sport 2.0TDI that’s done 60,000 miles.