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Is it really essential to have a brand-new car? Depreciation and VAT instantly cut the value of your motor. James Ruppert advises on the alternatives

Let's take the cynical view: wouldn't a used car do the same job as a gleaming new one, only more cost effectively? Here is The Independent's slightly used guide to alternatives, for Motor Show newcomers.

City Cars. Small on the outside, big on the inside, hip all over. The truly innovative Mercedes A Class will be the star of the show. But you won't be able to buy one for the best part of a year. Competitive pricing (pounds 12,000) will see to that as it takes on VW Golf-sized cars. If all you really want is to shuffle around town, the Mini has never been bettered. Pay the most you can afford, avoid rusty ones and the running cost will be minimal. But because most city cars end up being used as front line vehicles, you might as well upscale to the Fiat Punto. Prices start at pounds 4,000 for a 1994 example.

The 4 x 4 market may be dying, populated by all-weather dinosaurs, but Land Rover's new Freelander threatens to put the fun back. Not much compares with it, although the trendy Toyota RAV 4 has been around for a couple of years - still quite costly at pounds 8,000 to pounds 9,000. The older, rather naff Suzuki Vitara might do, with 1990 models hovering around pounds 4,000.

Executive cars: a very competitive sector which experiences the biggest depreciation dive. After a few years and a few thousand miles, pounds 30K cars struggle to make pounds 5,000 which is great news for the canny used-car buyer. Saab have high hopes for their strangely named 9-5, but the 9000 CD saloon it replaces has just as much standard kit and can be picked up for pounds 5,000 to pounds 6,000 as a 1992 model.

As luxury cars Jaguars also tumble quickly out of favour. At the show will be the company's new V8 engined saloons. Brand new they are expensive, pounds 50,000 for the XJR. If you like the gorgeous shape the old six cylinder engines are just as smooth and a 1995 3.2 litre will cost just pounds 24,000.

Hatchbacks: the all-new Golf makes it's debut at Earls Court. Bigger and arguably better than previous Golfs, it is more refined and more expensive. But for basic hatchback duties the old one will still do the job, although they are not cheap: a 1.8 litre from 1992 still costs around pounds 6,000.

In the saloon and hatchback sector there may not be much new, although all the usual Vauxhall Vectra, Peugeot 406 and Ford Mondeo suspects will be out in force to tempt the company car buyer. There are more of these cars built than there are customers. Find a low mileage, six month old example at a huge saving. A Ford Mondeo 2.0i GLX hatchback which cost pounds 14,465 in 1996, ought to be no more than pounds 9,000 after pounds 10,000 miles. Ditto a Vauxhall Vectra 2.0 GLS, a mere pounds 12,000 for a 1997 car with 5,000 miles under it's wheels.

Sports: The Porsche 911 is up for replacement. The new 911 looks similar enough to the old car but the new engine is now water, rather than air cooled. There will be an interminable waiting list even at an approximate pounds 65,000 asking price.

The four wheel drive Carrera 4 starts in the early pounds 20K region for a 1989 example. One which is a little older might just slip under the pounds 20k wire, and best of all, you will virtually get your money back after a year of fun. What new car can promise you that?

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