Car Choice: Be wise with your money in these difficult times

Sanjeev Subramaniam has a very quick question on behalf of a close friend. His mate has an MG ZR160, but the running costs have become unsustainable because it regularly goes wrong. It doesn't help that Sanjeev's friend has recently been made redundant. With a £1,200 budget to play with – until re-employment comes to the rescue – just how should Sanjeev's friend spend that money wisely?

A car for the head

Sanjeev's friend needs to spend the least amount of money on the most amount of reliable car. Ideally he needs to spend under £1,000, leaving several hundred pounds to spend on tyres, an exhaust, or other components he may need to replace over the coming months. He does not need a sporty car, just a reliable one – and if you want reliability then you have to buy Japanese. The most numerous, dull, but worthy vehicle ever produced is the Toyota Corolla. If Sanjeev's friend wants a model that will get him by over the coming months then a 1994/1995 1.3 model would be perfect. Here is a three-door hatchback, which is economical to run – returning more than 40mpg – and that only needs minimal servicing. The vehicle will have around 100,000 miles on the clock, be pretty much rust free, have a full MOT, and cost about £400. I know, because I found half a dozen of them in the classifieds.

A car for the heart

A stylish cheap car that you could fall in love with? Well, it would be easy enough to buy an old Jaguar, but the potential running costs on one of those would be prohibitive. In that case then, we can look back to the mid-1990s again and come up with the Mazda 323, below. First of all, Mazdas have a fabulous reputation for reliability, and the 323 in particular has been very good indeed. But even better – it looks interesting. Whereas the Toyota Corolla is completely missable, a 323 stands out as a very stylish package. It resembles a fastback coupé despite having four doors and a rear hatch. Early versions even had pop-up headlamps, just like supercars. Certainly it is a sporty car to drive, which after the MG would mean a fun factor of sorts. There are 1.3 and 1.5 petrol engines and I would recommend the smaller one, which would be slightly cheaper to insure, although the fuel consumption is similar at around 38mpg. For £500 you can find a 1994 version, in immaculate condition, with those pop-up headlamps.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested, and your budget.