This quirky hatchback will bring you smiles for miles
The decades-overdue Mk2 Fiat Panda is as cute as the original but so much better, and pretty much the only used car you will ever need.
Need affordability and economy? Well, there are plenty to choose from, varying from boggo to off-road ready to sporty.
The 1.1-litre petrol engine will return 56.5mpg, but the bigger 1.2-litre offers the same economy along with slightly more performance. There might be a fractional difference in insurance, but otherwise it just comes down to the showroom specification. The 1.3-litre diesel beats them both, getting 65mpg, and all three are in the £30 VED band.
It does pay to check the specification. The fact that Active trim brought only a tape player is irrelevant. That it doesn’t get a split-folding rear bench while all other models do is notable, though. Dynamic trim will get you a CD player and even air conditioning. Buy a Skydome just because of the name, never mind the hole in the roof. The boot is only a just-about-useful 206 litres, but the sheer charm of the Panda makes that bearable.
If you think the basic Panda is fun, the 1.4-litre 100HP will give you a warm glow. A sub-10sec sprint from 0-60mph isn’t record-breaking, but the seat of your pantaloons tell you otherwise.
And, of course, a Panda can take you just about anywhere. The hardy 4×4 variants aren’t as economical, but ultimately the Panda is one of the cheapest cars to run in any class.
Problems on early cars were head gasket failure. The timing belt should be replaced every 36,000 miles, so history is vital. Otherwise, you need to watch out for leaking suspension dampers, failing clutch master cylinders and dodgy electric power steering.
Ones we found
2007 Fiat Panda 100HP, 91,000 miles, £2895: The 100HP is the Panda you should seek if you really want to have fun. This one has a full service history, plenty of recent bills and quite a lot of MOT (with a clear history) left.
2010 Fiat Panda 1.2 4×4, 79,000 miles, £4295: Here’s the perfect titchy SUV with just a couple of previous owners: a four-wheel-drive Panda. It comes with a panoramic sunroof as well as the usual roof rails, plus a full MOT.
Or try this
2012 Kia Picanto 1.0, 56,000 miles, £3995: Basic city car? Here’s one answer that’s slightly less boring and better value than a Honda Jazz. It has below-average mileage, a full Kia history and a competitive asking price.
Alfa Romeo 147, 2001-2009
The 147 was the best small Alfa Romeo for decades, with superb styling, engines and specs – oh, and the usual long list of issues to worry about. Never mind, though, because it’s great to drive when it works. Choose a 3dr for looks or a 5dr for practicality, even though the latter feels more claustrophobic.
Anyway, Alfas are all about the handling and the engines. The 1.6 TS makes 120bhp, while the 2.0 TS is Prosecco-fizzy with 150bhp. The 3.2 V6 in the GTA has a whacking 250bhp and the 1.9 JTD diesels (from 2005) are frugal while making 120bhp and 150bhp.
It’s worth finding a car in Turismo trim, which gives you climate control. Steel wheels are standard, but you will find alloys on a Lusso.
Galvanised bodywork seems to have worked its magic. However, you need to watch out for worn suspension bushes and wishbones (listen for clunks and look at tyre wear). The Selespeed gearbox can go on the blink so make sure the paddles work. The TS engines can drink oil, so check the level and judge the seller. And if the odometer is flashing, there could be a problem with just about any ECU.
Honda HR-V, 1999-2005: The world had no idea it needed a three-door 4×4 estate styled like the Space Shuttle. The world was also offered a front-wheel-drive SE version for a while. A five-door arrived in 2000 and eventually became the sole flavour of Honda HR-V, and there was a complete range that was freshened up in 2001.
By early 2003, the range comprised just a 1.6 CVT and a 1.6 VTEC manual. Standard kit included power steering, two airbags, air-con, electric windows and mirrors, anti-lock brakes and remote central locking.
In case you wondered, the Dual Pump four-wheel drive system came from the CR-V and is really a subtle assistance system that will help you in a grassy car park, rather than clamber up the Eiger. The HR-V is very likeable, fun and practical, then, but it does suffer from rust and neglect.
One we found
1999 Honda HR-V 1.6, 96,000 miles, £1090: There are a few around these days, but this represents the purity of the original concept. It’s cheap enough, too, as it’s a grand’s worth of future classic car. It has a service history and an MOT for a few months, according to the selling dealer. It seems to be worth taking a chance on if it’s as described. Ask for a full MOT.
Bangers and cash: Used car price insanity continues, I conclude, as readers regularly tell me what the car they bought some time ago is now worth. It’s partly a matter of demand outstripping supply but also one of inflation. Bear in mind that whatever you sell has to be replaced by something else that’s relatively more expensive. The economy might cool things down a bit, but don’t hold your breath.
I had to go shopping for new tyres on my old BMW 320. I often buy the tyres and then give them to my local garage, but I didn’t have time in this instance. My default fitter said four Uniroyal Rainexpert 3s would be £400. At Blackcircles, same fitter, same tyres, it cost £300. Shop around.