28 Oct 2012

Are car prices too high? We try and buy a new car for £18,000

It is 2012.  The world is just coming out of recession, wages have been squeezed, energy prices are going up, house prices are too high  and the price of new cars has risen in recent years.

Average income in the UK is £26,000 - from which the taxman will take about £5,000.  Outside London almost 90% of people drive to work - and the average commute is 45 minutes.  We now have the freedom to choose which schools our children (we have, on average, 2 children) go to - and that means we have to drop them off in the car.  Shops are clustered in large out of town malls with acres of free parking.

In short we drive almost everywhere - unless we live in London.  So Mr Average has to take his £21,000 after-tax earnings and spend it wisely on housing, food, electricity - and a family car.

We will look at a hypothetical situation.  Mr Average has a budget of £18,000.  He has scraped together £15,000 in cash and will get £3,000 for his old car.  He wants a new car and, because Mr Average is a Speedmonkey reader, it has to come with a reasonable amount of style, handling and credibility but it must also be economical and seat four people.

What new car can we buy for £18,000 that ticks all of these boxes?  We've looked at all the major manufacturers and the cars they offer.  We've ignored options and discounts and gone purely on list price - or else this exercise could go on forever.


Our man would love an A4 but the lowest price is £25,420 so we take a step down the ladder.  Surely an Audi A3 would be affordable?  No it isn't.  The cheapest is £19,205 for a 1.4TFSI.  And you can buy a base model A1 on our budget but it is just too small.


A few years ago a BMW 3 series could be had for under twenty grand.  Not now.  The cheapest is £25,860.  OK, so 1 series.  Surely that comes in under budget?  It is, after all, BMWs compact four seater for the masses - even though it looks like it was designed by an infant.  Nope.  The cheapest 1 series is the incredibly dull 116i ES at £19,380.  Not a BMW then.


We all know Chevrolets are actually Daweoos.  It doesn't enhance the image one iota calling it Chevrolet.  In fact it demeans the Chevrolet name.  You can buy any Cruze or Orlando, which theoretically fit our requirements, for under £18,000 but Mr Average is a Speedmonkey reader.  So he won't go anywhere near them.


Ah Citroen.  They make fantastic small cars but they're too small for our family and all their shopping and other bits and bobs.  The only Citroen affordable to Mr Average that seats four comfortably is the C4 and for £17,750 you'll get the base model 1.6VTi with 120bhp.  But he won't buy it because it's dull as ditchwater.  The DS4 would be much more desirable but the base model is £18,150 - and it really is the base model - slow and basic.  No thanks Citroen.


This is more like it.  Either the Ford Focus or Mondeo would suit.  Good cars.  Good handling, reasonable image, modern, practical.  But look closer and the price of Fords are surprisingly high.  You cannot buy a single Mondeo for under £18,000 and the majority of Focuses come in over £18,000.  Those that are below our budget tend to be pretty basic.  In fact the only one worth considering is the new 1.0T 125 Zetec 5-door.  It's got the new Ecoboost engine and has 125bhp.  Not bad but still, you would think there would be more choice below eighteen grand.
Ford Focus


Accord's are way out of our budget.  In fact the only Honda in budget is the Civic and only two Civics are available under £18,000.  The 1.8SE is £17,995.  The Civic is well rated.  It's a good car.
Honda Civic


Most Hyundai's cost less than £18,000.  On paper the I30 suits and loads can be had under budget.  One I40 is available.  But it's only really the Veloster that has any ounce of credibility. The 1.6GDI Standard is £17,995.  That is a lot of money for a Hyundai though.
Hyundai Veloster


Sorry but Mr Average is not that desperate.


The bog-standard, slow 1.8s is the only Mazda 6 - and they're bringing out a cool looking new 6.  We'd never touch a car that is being replaced (the used price will fall off a cliff).  A few Mazda 3's are available.  The 1.6 Sport is £17,695 but it is not sporty at all.  0-60 is 12.2 seconds.  Mr Average does not like that one bit.  OK a 1.6D Tamura can be had for £17,395 but that is diesel and is also quite slow.  Looks like a no show from Mazda then.


No chance.  The new A class starts at £18,945.  Pity.


Aha! An MG6 1.8T SE can be had for £16,955.  It's roomy and reasonably well built.  It has a massive problem though.  Depreciation is so bad Mr Average wouldn't buy it.


The MINI Clubman is in our budget but is just too small for a family of four plus accoutrements.


They don't make the Primera any more.The Juke is a strange-looking joke.  One model Qashqai is available but it's only the very basic bog-spec 1.6 Visia and that's as about as exciting as wallpaper paste.  Everything else is too small or too expensive.  Not a Nissan then.


308 is too horrible looking.  107 is too small.  208 is good and no current 208 is more than £18,000 so you could have any of them - but it's a little too small for Mr Average.


The Megane is the only one in the budget which is big enough.  But only the lowest of the low Megane comes in under £18k.  A 1.5dCi that does 0-60 in 12.5 seconds?  No thanks.


Altea looks weird.  Ibiza is too small.  Exeo is too expensive.  That leaves us with the Leon.  You could buy a 1.2TSi for £17,225.  But it isn't a very good car and is being replaced next year.  If it was the only choice available Mr Average would take it but he'd never really be happy.  He's going to say no to a Leon 1.2.


Fabia is too small.  But...wait - you can buy a decent spec, decent engined Octavia, Roomster or Yeti for £18,000.  If you want a normal, high quality saloon the Octavia 1.4TSI 122 fits the bill perfectly.  It even looks good.  The interior is almost VW standard and the 1.4 engine is a peach.  It'll do 0-60 in under 10 seconds too.  Then the Roomster.  A little odd but the family will easily fit inside and you can buy whichever you want because the most expensive is £16,120.  Best bet would be a £14.470 1.2 TSi.    And then we come to the Yeti.  It's a fantastic car, has all the space Mr Average needs and he can buy a  1.4TSi 122 for £17,690.
Skoda Yeti


Yaris - small.  Auris - novocain for the brain.  Avensis - too expensive (the cheapest is £18,450).


Ah, Vauxhall.  Safe haven for many a year of the reasonably priced family car.  Err, no.  Not a single Insignia is available under £18,000.  Out of dozens and dozens of trim and engine options the Astra has precisely seven under £18,000. And of these the only one that isn't desperately slow is the 1.6 Exclusive at £17,815 and even that struggles away from the line with only 100bhp.  Zafiras all cost too much so we look to the Meriva.  It looks OK and handles reasonably but for under £18,000 you can only get a Meriva that is insanely slow.  0-60 in 13.9 seconds.  No thanks Vauxhall.


Polo is too small.  Beetle isn't sensible.  In fact everything above the Golf costs too much.  For once we'd waive our rule about not buying an outgoing model.  Golf Mk VI's will hold their values when the Mk VII comes out.  But you really are scraping the Golf barrel for £18,000 - there aren't many at all.  You'll get a 1.2TSi and a couple of slow diesels for our budget and that's pretty much it.
Volkswagen Golf

So that's it.  Our Mr Average has available to him a fairly miserly choice of cars for his budget.  Ford and Vauxhall fail miserably to give him a decent car.  It's no wonder they're struggling to sell cars.  Premium brands have priced themselves well out of this market.  Nissan seems to have stopped building normal cars for families.  Toyota make cars for people with no soul.  The French make great cars for people with no children.  The Koreans can make you a car for your money but you wouldn't necessarily want one.

In fact the only car manufacturer who makes proper cars that fit four people, look and feel good, have good economy, speed and handling and won't plummet in value as soon as they leave the showroom is Skoda.

For £18,000 you can buy a funky, practical Yeti or a classy, practical Octavia.  And you'd feel good about it for years.
Skoda Octavia