10 Oct 2014

The Miserableness Of Cheap New Cars

There are lots of cheap cars on sale nowadays. You can buy a host of brand new machinery for around £13,000 or below.  But don't do it, you'll regret it.

City cars, superminis, hatchbacks, clever packaging, economical engines, low or no road tax, low insurance, low running costs, low maintenance and cheeky looks.  There are many compelling reasons to buy a cheap new car.

Reviewers tell us that the Skoda Citigo is amazing, the Toyota Aygo is brilliant, the Ford Fiesta is awesome, the Dacia Sandero is insanely cheap and the Fiat 500 is the cutest little car ever made.

All of this is true.  These and the myriad small cars on sale today are, by and large, incredibly designed, packaged and priced - except the Mitsubishi Colt, which is crap.

Get in one (not a Colt, the others), take it for a thrash and marvel at how it flies round corners, be amazed at how the designers have used cheap materials but arranged them in such a way as they're lovely to look at and realise you can own one for not a lot more than your council tax bill.

Modern cars are wonderful and cheap motoring is available to the masses.  Hurrah for us and our car makers.  Life is wonderful when you buy a cheap new car.

Well, it is for the first few days.

You see, in my capacity as a tester of cars, but also as a normal bloke with a normal job, I drive all sorts of machinery and drive them many miles.  I take delivery of a car and use it every day, which quite often involves day-long trips around the UK.

Despite having driven hundreds of cars when a shiny new press motor first turns up I look over it like a child on Christmas morning.  This is mine for a few days. Will it be good, will it be bad?  That doesn't matter right now for it is shiny and new and smells good.

And then I drive it.  I enjoy those first few miles, finding out about the car, the tech, the systems, the engine, the steering.  It's all good even if it's bad.  My semi-expert eye casts over the shapes, my fingertips feel the materials and surfaces.  I mentally compare it to the competition.

I sometimes marvel at how the manufacturer makes such a thing for such a small price. For £10k you can have a VW Up! or a fairly rubbish conservatory.  The Up! is amazing value in comparison to almost everything else, and don't forget tax takes up a big chunk of the price.

But then after a few days I've got used to the press car.  Some things are and remain great but some things are, remain and persist to be annoying. After a few days with and a couple of long trips in some cars not only has its character revealed itself but its failings have really started to get on my tits.

Cheap material is cheap material no matter how cleverly designed and arranged.  Hard, scratchy plastic will forever be nasty. Fabric seats might look great in photos but they attract particles of dirt and dust and hairs weave themselves into the material, and they feel horrid to sit in.

To make a car cheap some elements of what you'd expect to be in a car in 2014 are missing.  Manually winding windows in 2014? You'll find them in lots of cheap cars. Ugh.  The seat might adjust so if you're taller than 5 foot 10 you can work the pedals properly but to save on cost the steering wheel is not necessarily adjustable for reach and you need weirdly long arms to use the gearstick.

Frugal engines don't cost much to run but frugal often equals weak. Sure, it's fun thrashing a 0.9 litre engine round the back lanes but use it where you need a bit of power, such as on an A-road or motorway, and you'll find it doesn't have enough puff to pull the skin off a rice pudding.

And then there's the whole chassis thing.  Fizzy, sharp, fun cars are usually tiresome when driven for more than 30 minutes. You arrive at your destination feeling frustrated, weary and irritable.

Cheap cars are cheap for a reason and their shortcomings will reveal themselves sooner than you think.

I review cars at the cheaper end of the spectrum based on how they feel within themselves, against the competition and whether they do the job they were designed for.  Most of them do this job well but ask more of them and they'll let you know that you were a cheapskate.  You should have bought a more expensive car or a better, more luxurious, more powerful and more refined car on the used market.

£10k buys you many different brand new cars but it'll also buy a whole lot more wonderful cars that are just a few years old.

Make your choice but know this - as you make your bed so must you lie in it.

By Matt Hubbard