Environmentally friendly doesn’t have to mean boring
Eco warrior: the term conjures up images of Extinction Rebellion activists protesting or maybe Swampy single-handedly obstructing a major infrastructure project. Our warriors are less troublesome, and most have either galvanised steel or aluminium bodies for a long life, while all but one or two are modern classics likely to be cherished for years to come.
Vauxhall Corsa, 2000-2006
£500-£3500: We’re used to 1.0-litre three-pot petrol engines today, but it was a surprise when Vauxhall sprang one in the Corsa in 2000. Would it be gutless? Oh, yes: how about 57bhp and 0-62mph in 16sec? Still, if you weren’t in a hurry, there was 50mpg to savour. (Peppier, less frugal engines are also available.) And it’s a Corsa, so it’s cheap to buy and to run. They’re reasonably rust-resistant but the engine is a little lumpy and there can be issues with its emissions controls.
One we found: 2003 Vauxhall Corsa 1.0, 122k miles, £499
Citroen AX, 1986-1998
£500-£2000: My dad bought a new AX 1.4 diesel in around 1991, charmed by its quirky French engineering and seduced by its real-world 70mpg. But even the petrol versions are frugal. Our spot is a 45bhp 1.0 petrol for £900. Weighing less than 700kg, it will return at least 50mpg. Look for rust, of course, as well as sundry dents and dings and broken trim. Expect to see a little oil smoke and some drips, but at least these can be fixed. What can’t is your feet: too big and they’ll get jammed in the tiny pedal box.
One we found: 1994 Citroen AX 1.0 manual 5dr, 89k miles, £900
Audi A2, 2000-2005
£500-£6000: The A2 was ahead of its time and intended to be as eco-friendly as possible. Built entirely of aluminium, it weighs from 895kg and is powered by a range of extremely efficient engines, the most impressive of those sold in the UK being the 70mpg 1.4 TDI diesel. Among the petrol engines, the 1.4 MPI will do almost 50mpg. This and the lower powered of the two 1.4 TDIs available are the most reliable buys today. Prices have been rising of late, so don’t delay.
One we found: 2002 Audi A2 1.4 MPI SE, 118k miles, £1800
Austin/Rover Metro, 1980-1998
£1000-£9000: It was either this or the Austin Mini but the latter are silly money. Happily, the Metro is still under the money radar – just. Rover ones feel reasonably modern and, thanks to narrow pillars and a large glass area, you’ll love the visibility. A 1.3 will cruise comfortably at 70mph and in mixed motoring return around 40mpg. The Metro is an eco warrior because it’s light, simple and economical and, as classic status beckons, sure to be safe from the scrapper.
One we found: 1989 Rover Metro 1.3, 55k miles, £3500
Volkswagen Golf GTI TDI, 2001-2003
£1750-£7595: We knew diesel had arrived when the Golf GTI got an oil-burner version in the form of the GTI 150 PD. The letters stand for ‘pump duse’, a form of diesel injection favoured by VW over common-rail for its higher pump pressures and greater efficiency. Torque is a handy 236lb ft and 0-62mph takes 8.3sec. Expect around 55mpg. Mk4 Golfs are holding up well (the body is galvanised) while for years diesel versions in particular had a good reputation for reliability. Today, check for oil smoke, a cooked clutch, gnarly changes and worn brakes.
One we found: 2003 Volkswagen Golf GTI TDI 150, 110k miles, £1800
Skoda Fabia vRS, 2003-2007
£2000-£8500: Here’s another lightweight special with a loyal following who will ensure more stay on the road than are scrapped. Its chief appeal is 229lb ft at 1900rpm. Give the little Fab a squeeze and between 50mph and 70mph it’ll see off much more expensive fare. Expect around 55mpg with a steady foot. All this and it’s reliable, too, easily shrugging off 200,000 miles. That said, the timing belt should be changed every 80,000. Check the fuel pump isn’t leaking, too.
One we found: 2005 Skoda Fabia TDI vRS, 68k miles, £5995
Jaguar XJ, 2003-2009
£2500-£12,000: Classic Jag styling, an aluminium body and an economical diesel engine: three things that convince us this XJ is a bona fide eco warrior that will outlast us all. The twin-turbo 2.7-litre six-pot develops 321lb ft but can muster a shade over 31mpg. All very appealing, but the Jag’s forte is its ability to convey you and your fellow golfing pals in supreme comfort. Low and sporty, it cuts a dash among today’s bulked-out SUVs, too. Check everything works and that the suspension doesn’t clonk in corners.
One we found: 2005 Jaguar XJ 2.7 TDVi, 69k miles, £8995
Smart ForTwo Brabus, 2003-2007
£2500-£11,500: From its tiny footprint to its 60mpg economy, the Fortwo aims to make as little impact on the environment as possible. The ‘warm’ Brabus version betrays these ideals a little with its extra power (74bhp, up from 54bhp) and reduced economy (53mpg) but we reckon it’s worth it for its rarity and visual appeal. Don’t expect fireworks from the handling and performance and do make sure the auto gearbox changes smoothly and you’ll get along fine.
One we found: 2003 Smart FortTwo 0.7 City Brabus, 84k miles, £2994
Land Rover Defender 90, 1990-2016
£6000-£75,000: With so many of them still going strong, the Defender is an eco warrior because every last scrap of value is wrung from its production. In these throwaway times, that’s some achievement. It’s a crude old thing but gained a succession of increasingly efficient diesel engines, such as the Td5 of the one that caught our eye. Prize service history over mileage. Check the underside and steel body sections for corrosion and the engine and running gear for oil leaks.
One we found: 2005 Land Rover Defender Td5 XS SWB, 90k miles, £23,995
Lotus Elise, 1996-2000
£16,000-£25,000: ‘Simplify, then add lightness’ – Colin Chapman explaining his design philosophy but also the guiding principle behind eco warriors such as the sweet-handling Elise. It’s small, light (from 725kg), economical (around 40mpg from the 118bhp launch version) and built mainly from rust-free glassfibre and aluminium. Check for speed-bump damage and ensure panel gaps are even. The rear subframe is one of the few steel parts so check it’s not badly rusted. On the test drive, feel for wayward handling and looseness and, back at base, check the tyres for uneven wear. The timing belt should be changed every four years/54,000 miles. Ensure that oil and coolant aren’t mixing and that the gearchanges are crisp.
One we found: 1999 Lotus Elise, 51k miles, £20,980