I'm in the lucky position that I regularly get to drive brand new cars. Some are superb, others so-so. But is a new car really a better bet than a used car?
I'm not talking about one or two year old used cars but ten years old, which is pretty much the average age of most cars I buy. My Audi TT V6 is a 2004 and my BMW 323i SE Touring is a 1998, but the BM is very much the dog car. I call it The Beater and don't clean it very often.
Speedmonkey writer Colin Hubbard recently tested his TT V6 back to back with a new TT RS. The new car won on most counts, but only by a fine margin. The newer car had a better chassis and drivetrain but the older car had the better interior and more character.
Offered either most people would choose the new car, but that costs £50k whereas the Mk1 is worth £5k. Is buying a new car really worth spending an extra 45 grand on?
For most people out there it is worth spending the extra cash for a new car. You generally get a better chassis and engine and the running costs are lower, but if you've paid £5k for a second hand car you won't pay company car tax. The annual car tax is usually lower on a new car, as long as it's relatively efficient, but not by such a margin to make any difference to the crippling depreciation costs of a new car.
A lot of people out there just like the kudos, reliability, warranty and general security of a new car.
But those are normal people, not car enthusiasts. We know that if you choose wisely you can run most cars on a limited budget.
On the efficiency front I know from testing hundreds of modern cars that official mpg figures are almost always a lie. The figures are derived from tests that don't reflect real road conditions. A diesel SUV that's quoted as having a combined mpg of 47mpg will in reality return around 35mpg if you drive it normally.
Yet buy any one of the myriad cars fitted with the old VW group 1.9 TDi engine and you'll easily return 45mpg. I owned a Passat 1.9TDi 110bhp a few years back, thrashed the arse off it and got up to 50mpg.
Old cars can be easily and cheaply brought almost up to scratch with most modern cars by the simple addition of a TomTom Live (with traffic updates and speed camera warnings) and an updated stereo. I paid just over £240 and got DAB and Bluetooth fitted to my TT.
It's now got everything a modern car offers with the exception of cruise control, but that can be fitted for £140.
Sure, some old cars are crap but then again some new cars are pretty rubbish too.
The new BMW M3 and M4 are amazing cars (not that I've driven one, but have driven the 435i) yet I read recently that the chassis in any modern M3 has yet to match that of the sublime E46 M3 CSL. The 2013 435i MSport I drove was a fine car, but at £42k was it really £30k better than a well looked after 2002 model? Probably not.
There are a number of modern cars which are far better than their forebears. I drove a Jaguar E-Type and then an F-Type shortly afterwards. The F-Type is better in every single way. You'd only actively choose the E-Type for its character and kudos, attributes which the F-Type also possesses. The current Fiesta is better than any that have gone before.
VW has improved the Golf with every generation to the extent that the £25k Mk7 GTi is one of the best all rounders on the market. But I owned a £2,500 Mk4 V6 4Motion, drove it 10k miles a year, took it to the Nurburgring and Le Mans and absolutely loved it.
Chuck in a satnav, DAB radio and cruise control and the Mk4 wouldn't be one tenth the car the Mk7 is. I'd say more like 70%.
We're all exposed to adverts for shiny new cars that cost a fortune to buy and many, many people do so. You never see a billboard advertising a 2004 Volvo S80 but that can be just as satisfying to own, to drive and as cheap to run as a new car.
One of the best modern cars is the exquisite Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86. They are £25k new but prices for 2012 models are now at £17k. In another eight years they'll be down to £5k or so and at that point I'll buy one, and it will still be one of the best handling cars on the road.
I often sit in new cars and think, "It's nice but is it really worth all that money?" New cars only offer a slightly better driving experience, and sometimes worse. The interiors are not always better than in old cars, and sometimes worse. The tech is usually better but most tech can be retrofitted to old cars.
Don't get me wrong, I'd love a brand new Golf GTi, a Subaru BRZ, an Audi S1, a Renaultsport Clio 200 or a Fiesta ST but I'm not prepared to pay upwards of £400 a month for one, and not even own it after the lease period.
Yes, most modern cars are marginally better than older cars but the price differential is such that as long as you don't care about the kudos of owning a new car an older car often makes more sense for the average petrolhead.
By Matt Hubbard