Motoring: Don't get bad, get even...

MOTORING JOURNALISTS might tell you that there is no such thing as a bad car these days. Well, don't believe everything you read in the papers, or magazines for that matter. Although it may be true that just about every car on sale today will indeed get you from A to B, usually in complete safety and without breaking down, there are still cars which could prove to be bad buys. Depreciation is the biggest hidden cost of ownership. Then there are the small matters of value, ability and image.

At The Independent we are not afraid to say that certain vehicles don't do what they say on the tin. Finding bad new car buys isn't that hard.

Small: The smallest and most loveable car of all, the Mini is a spectacularly bad buy. It's overdue for retirement at the end of this year, yet Rover still insists on charging pounds 9,325, plus pounds 300 for a Cooper badge. Safer, it now has an airbag and is still lots of fun. However spend anything between pounds 500 and pounds 3,000 and buy a perfectly good, though probably rusty second-hand example which is just as noisy, unrefined, uncomfortable and fun, of course.

Also in this class are so called "superminis", little shopping hatchbacks which are very able, stylish and economical, like the latest Toyota Yaris. But there are lots of merely adequate makeweights. A Subaru Justy is a real oddball, having four-wheel drive. This is pointless, unless you really do live in the middle of a field, as it reduces fuel consumption and is expensive to fix. The Kia Pride is a recycled 1980s Mazda 121. It is cheap, practical and reliable, but that's about it. Ditto the cheapest car on sale in the UK, the Perodua Nippa. You'd be better off with a used Ford Fiesta.

Medium: The description "Escort class" has referred to the size of a hatchback rather than the fact that the Ford in question was a class leader.

That is why the stylish, spacious and practical Ford Focus now dominates this sector. To reassure conventional buyers, alarmed by the radical Focus design Ford has kept the old Escort on the price lists for a few more years, but please don't be tempted. The better equipped Escort may be badged Finesse, (the basic model is the Flight) but it does not have any. Massive depreciation is assured for this retiring fleet model. Pay a few pounds more for a Focus.

The Rover 400 is not a bad car, just a misconceived one. Rover is asking medium-car money for what is a fairly small car. There are lots of deals at the moment, so don't pay full price; a heavily revised model will be on sale later this year.

Large: The French can't do big cars, and the Renault Safrane is the proof. It may be well equipped, fairly refined and spacious, but a car in this class needs image, and Renault is best known for small, economical hatches. The depreciation is truly alarming, a car dealer in a generous mood might give pounds 13,000 for a '98 2.5 that cost pounds 23,000. The equally French Citroen XM deserved to do better, with a brilliant luxury car ride, but it had a quirky and quality-free personality. Even Citroen has to give an XM its own three-year warranty. Don't be fooled.

People carriers: One thing the Mercedes V series can do is carry people, six in quite large seats with an optional seventh. Not only does the V Class look like a van, it drives like one, probably because it is actually a Vito van. It is unrefined, has an uncomfortable ride and a very un-van- like price tag, costing as much as pounds 28,290. Depreciation is heavy, too.

Nissan's Serena is just as van-like. With an uncomfortably narrow design, sluggish performance and minimal refinement. Like the Mercedes, though, it won't break down.

Off-roaders: Daewoo has just launched its Korando and Musso models. They used to be badged as Ssanyongs until Daewoo acquired its Korean rival. The styling is odd, but the Mercedes mechanicals are good. Before you buy a Daewoo, though, there are currently plenty of identical unsold Ssanyongs in circulation at massively discounted prices. So shop around.

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