The best drivers’ cars for under £5,000

Renault Clio 182

What’s the best car you can buy for £5,000? It’s a question that frequents the forums of popular car sites.

Five grand can buy you a whole lot of car nowadays, but for true car enthusiasts, who demand an engaging drive, the pickings can be a whole lot slimmer. With that in mind, here are several drivers’ cars that can be had for £5,000 or less.

I’ve included everything from oldschool hot hatches right through to rear wheel drive roadsters. Those of you who don’t have that much to spend shouldn’t worry, some choices here can even be had for less than £1,000. Heck, there’s even a Porsche in the list!

This list was last updated on October 13th 2018

BMW 330 (E46)

BMW 330 E46 grey side on

Image: Aurimas/Flickr

Rear wheel drive thrills and BMW’s legendary straight six make this a comfortable and swift cruiser that rewards decent driving. It’s no M3, yet neither does it command the costs of M-car ownership.

+ Great handling, smooth engines with decent grunt, reasonable running costs
– Rusty bodies, open differential, lots of bad examples around

The one to buy: 330 coupe with 6-speed manual box

BMW Z4

BMW Z4 roadster

Image: Diddlecome Dawcock/Flickr

Love it or hate it styling means the Z4 won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who appreciate its shape, it remains one of the best performance used car bargains out there. They’re great to drive, reliable to own and people won’t believe what you paid for it.

+ Sharp handling, still turns heads, 3.0 engines are surprisingly fuel efficient
– Interior build quality, roof motor failures are extremely common, naff electric steering, no limited-slip diff

The one to buy: 3.0i roadster

Honda Civic Type R (EP3)

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Image: Steve Coulter/Flickr

Family car under 6,000 rpm and touring car wannabe above, the EP3 is a capable track tool that’ll have you chasing its giddy redline time and again.

+ schizophrenic engine, superb gearbox, well built & reliable
– fuel economy can seem to outweigh performance, UK cars never got the LSD they deserved

The one to buy: Premier edition

Renault Clio 172/182

Renault Clio 182

Image: Stefan Ray/Flickr

Renault’s pocket rocket can be had for laughably small amounts of cash nowadays and is a favourite among tuners and track fiends.

+ Quick and agile, impressive fuel economy
– Dull, low rent interior, maintenance can be costly (belts & dephaser)

The one to buy: A car with full history and evidence of a recent cambelt/dephaser change

Mazda MX5

Mazda MX5 Mk1 NA

Image:creativelabs ck-cabrio/Flickr

Whether you pick Mazda’s first, second or third generation MX5, these lightweight convertibles all deliver a similar feeling. When it comes to smiles per miles they’re tough to beat.

+ Great handling, lovely gearbox, incredibly reliable, plentiful, top down motoring
– Coarse and relatively feeble engines, slow, rust issues

The one to buy: early 1.6l Eunos Roadster or the example with the least rust

Suzuki Swift Sport

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What the Swift Sport lacks in outright pace it makes up for with its superb handling. Think old school hot hatch thrills but without the potential trouble.

+ Great value, superb, playful handling
– four seats rather than five, interior isn’t durable, close service intervals

The one to buy: A clean and well looked after, standard example

Ford Fiesta ST (mk6)

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Image: jambox998/Flickr

It’ll never win a round of Top Trumps but Fiesta’s Mk6 ST now represents particularly good value for those wanting cheap kicks.

+ Very affordable, another great handler, reasonable to run, decent tuning potential
– Non-charismatic engine

The one to buy: low mileage ST150 with full service history

Honda Integra Type R (DC2)

Honda Integra Type R DC2

Image: Alan Head/Flickr

Widely considered as one of the best handling front wheel drive cars of all time, the Integra DC2 is almost racecar raw. It’s a modern classic, and the sort of car we’ll probably never see again.

+ Amazing B18 VTEC engine, raw, does what people told you FWD couldn’t
– Too basic for some, rust and crash damage is rife, horrible insurance premiums

The one to buy: the Integra with the least rust and the best mechanical record

Honda Accord Type R

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Image: Mark van Seeters/Flickr

The Accord Type R delivers further refinement over red-badged Integra and Civic models. Its 2.2l engine – a higher compression version of the unit fitted to Honda’s Prelude – kicks out 212hp to the front wheels via a limited slip differential. Today it represents superb value for money.

+Giddy revs and ample torque for a VTEC lump, fantastic Recaro seats, superb steering and chassis
– Gearbox issues are common, marmite rear wing

The one to buy: facelifted, low mileage example

Toyota Yaris T Sport

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Toyota’s Yaris T-Sport proved popular among elderly buyers when it was released, thanks to a great spec, fetching looks and a nice balance between performance and economy from its 1.5l engine. It’s no Swift Sport in the handling department, but a few mods can make these particularly fun to drive.

+ Revvy VVTI engine, cheap to run, very reliable,
– High seating position, arcade game steering feedback, not exactly fast

The one to buy: A standard example of a facelift model

BMW E36 328i Sport

BMW E35 328i Sport

Image (Edward-Hall)

Consider this a more raw alternative to the E46 330i that features at the top of this list. Compared to that car, the E36 is a lighter, more driver-focused option. Again, this is no M3, but remains a practical and cheaper to run alternative.

The Sport in its title is significant: these cars featured revised suspension, tidy BBS alloys and body improvements and, in the case for early cars, a limited-slip differential. Regular 328is are still a hoot though, and so are any of the higher output six-cylinder E36 cars, so don’t get totally hung up if you can’t find a Sport.

The chassis has long been appreciated by those who track their cars and also to drifters, so finding a good one is really quite difficult today.

+ Lovely looking, a fantastic drive, more power is easily attainable
– Rust is a real problem, general age-related issues, a nice example is hard to come by, Nikasil engine problems

The one to buy: a manual car with the least rust and best service record

Ford Puma 1.7

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Image: Gerard McGovern/Flickr

The Puma is always complimented on its sharp chassis, a development from the Mk4 Ford Fiesta. Its somewhat feminine styling definitely divides opinion but there’s no denying that this is a car that wears its years well.

+ A hoot to drive, dirt cheap to buy and run
– Rotten rear arches are the norm, engines sensitive to correct oil

The one to buy: A car with clean or well repaired rear arches and evidence of regular oil changes (particularly with the correct grade of oil)

MG ZR 160

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Credit: Tony/Flickr

Yes, it was only ever a Rover 25 in drag but at one point these were the best selling hot hatches in the UK. Today, a clean ZR 160 can be had for as little as £500, making them a favourite for those seeking a cheap track toy.

+ Undeniably fun to drive, offensively cheap to buy
– Tacky appearance, The dreaded head gasket failure

The one to buy: The best condition car with a receipt for a replacement head gasket!

MINI Cooper S R53

Mini Cooper S R53 in British Racing Green

Image: James Tworow/Flickr Creative Commons

BMW’s first generation MINI is a cracking little car in any form, but it was the first generation Cooper S that gave this car the power its brilliant chassis deserved.  When drivers aren’t enjoying the shriek from its supercharged Chrysler engine they’ll be lapping up the delightful cracks, pops and bangs through its cheeky central exhaust.

A sure modern classic this one, and the vast array of personalisation with these means that no true are ever truly the same. If you can’t stomach the fuel or insurance costs of the supercharged car and don’t mind going a little slower then the regular MINI Cooper is a great alternative.

+ That supercharger whine, fun through and through, plenty of tuning potential,
– BMW parts can be expensive, likes a drink, cramped interior

The one to buy: hold out for the exact colour and specification you want

Toyota MR2 Mk3 Roadster

Toyota MR2 Roadster Mk3 in silver

Image: Kwan Cheung/Flickr Creative Commons

The third generation Toyota MR2 might not be a brilliant looking car but drive one of these and you’ll quickly forget that.  Motoring journalists even hailed the third generation MR2 as a cheaper (and considerably more reliable) Lotus.

Despite this, the MR2 always sat somewhat in the shadow of the more playful, front-engined MX5, but that’s part of the reason why these cars are so damn affordable.

+ Rewarding driving experience, Toyota build, low running costs
– Lack of storage space, rear subframe/cross-member corrosion, dodgy pre-cats can cause engine failure

The one to buy: A late car with a clean MOT and a dipstick reading full

Porsche Boxster (986)

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Credit: Kelly The Deluded/Flickr

Reserved for the brave, this one. Porsche Boxsters can now be had from as little as £3,000. These aren’t particularly deadly in a straight line but if you value chassis balance, steering feedback and throttle response, then the baby Porker can’t be matched.

+ Sound and response from the flat six engine, delightful chassis, it’s a Porsche,
– Porsche parts are Porsche parts; this is not a cheap car to maintain,

The one to buy: A Boxster owned by a Porsche technician

Ford Focus ST

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Credit: Jon Large/Flickr

The 2.5 litre, five-cylinder engine under the bonnet of the Focus ST is best known for its role in fast Volvos yet here, under the bonnet of Ford’s Focus, it delivers effortless pace, massive tuning potential and a soundtrack reminiscent of Group B rally. Bag yourself two thirds of the Focus RS experience for a fifth of the price.

+ Plenty of go, well equipped and comfy, massive tuning potential
– Thirsty, blandish looks, It’ll never be an RS

The one to buy: clean, standard example

MG ZS 180

MG ZS180 grey i

Image (Pistonheads classifieds)

There aren’t many V6 saloons that handle in the way the MG ZS 180 does, let alone ones that are available to buy for as little as £1,000. You don’t have to search hard to find glowing reviews of these cars from when they were new.

This particular clip even sees Fifth Gear’s Tiff Needell state that it was about the best handling front wheel drive chassis he’d experienced.

Much like the ZR above, if you can rise above the badge snobbery then these cars represent superb value for money.

+ Dirt cheap, highly accomplished chassis, V6 sound and punch
– Expensive cambelt replacements, annoying electrical issues, Poor image

The one to buy: An example with evidence of a recent cambelt replacement

Peugeot 205 GTI

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 F425 MFJ silver

Widely accepted as the hot hatch king, the 205 GTI is still prominent in every car mag and website, and for good reason. Values are all over the place with these at present, with rougher examples selling for under £4k while this pristine 205 GTI sold for over £30,000 just last year.

+ A true appreciating collectable, hugely involving and fun
– Weak in a crash, some are making silly money, require regular mechanical attention

The one to buy: the most loved example

Think you know a car that deserves a space in this list? Leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to get it included.