The best cars for students – used car buying guide

19 August 2015

The summer holidays are almost over, and for those students about to head off to university for the first time an affordable set of wheels could well be on their shopping lists. Buying new isn’t an option for everyone, and for those seeking a second-hand bargain, these trusty motors are well worth a look.

1 – Suzuki Swift 1.5 (2004-2010)

We’re huge fans of the Suzuki Swift. In terms of character, the Sport model is possibly the closest modern warm hatch to old-school gems such as the Citroën AX GT. But while the Sport may be out of reach for early 20-somethings, they could have the next best thing: a nippy and well-equipped 1.5-litre Swift GLX.

The 1.5 retains the Sport’s wide track and feelsome steering, making it a hoot to drive on challenging B-roads, and the 101bhp motor can average 44mpg and still push the Swift from 0-62mph in 10.0sec and on to a maximum of 115mph. We found a 2009 model with only 13,000 miles under its belt for £5k.

2 – Peugeot 106 Quiksilver (1998-2003)

Back in the late 1990s, Peugeot spotted a gap in the market for a watered down GTi model to rival Citroën’s Saxo Furio. The result was the limited edition 106 Quiksilver. It had the 106 GTi’s suspension and bodykit but was propelled by a 1.4-litre eight-valve engine instead of the GTi’s 1.6 16-valver.

The 75bhp Quiksilver is a sharp steer thanks to its 850kg kerb weight, and it feels much faster than its 11.2sec 0-62mph time suggests. Driveshaft problems and rear axle issues are common, but just under £1500 will get you a clean 2002 Quiksilver with a respectable 78,000 miles on the clock.

3 – Mini Cooper (2001-2007)

When the first-generation BMW-owned Mini hatch arrived in 2001, it came with premium pricing and a level of desirability that set it apart from other cars of its size. The Cooper model was powered by a 115bhp 1.6-litre four-pot petrol engine, which helped the car to a 0-62mph time of 9.1sec and a top speed of 124mph, and in our original road test we were gobsmacked by the impressive roadholding ability.

Early Mini Coopers have since depreciated to the extent that they’re now within the reach of younger buyers. They have reasonable group 21 insurance, too. A fiver under £4k will get you a 2007 Cooper with a full service history and 69,000 miles on the clock.

4 – Volkswagen Up (2012-present)

Young buyers seeking a desirable badge and quality interior on their sprightly hatchback should look no further than Volkswagen’s Up city car. In 74bhp 1.0-litre guise, it’s nippy enough around town and has an addictive, charismatic three-cylinder thrum that urges you to chase its 6200rpm redline. It’s an agile and predictable thing to steer, too.

The VW also has the lowest running costs here, plus it’s the cheapest to insure. Standard kit is generous and in five-door form it can carry three passengers with ease. For £8500, you can have a two-year-old flagship High Up five-door, with only 15,000 miles.

5 – Ford Puma 1.7 (1997-2002)

The Puma coupé may not be blessed with the most masculine design, but what it lacks in stylistic virility it more than makes up for with an engaging and involving chassis. And despite being powered by a 125bhp 1.7-litre Yamahadeveloped engine, it has relatively low group 23 insurance.

The 0-60mph sprint is cracked in 9.2sec and the Puma can romp on to 121mph, so it’s got the poke to back up its sweet handling. There are plenty of Puma 1.7s in the classifieds for under a grand. We found a tidy 2001 example, with only 74,000 miles on the clock, selling for £900.

20 thoughts on “The best cars for students – used car buying guide”

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