The best 10 used city cars for 2022
Looking for an interesting around-town runabout? We've got you covered
Some would argue that if you live or work in the city centre, you don’t want a shiny, scratchprone new car anyway. Far better to spend relative pennies on something that’s easy to park, fun to drive and cheap to run, surely. How much was that rail season ticket, again?
*Ford Ka, 1996-2008*
*£650-£3000:* Here’s a town centre tiddler that’s something of a legend, yet it remains incredibly affordable. It’s a classic in the making, which is the best reason to buy right now, while rust has yet to get stuck in. The economy is decent, at 42mpg, but it’s the huge amount of fun you can have that will sell it to you. For as little as £650, you can have precise steering, balanced handling and excellent grip. It rides well, too, and feels pretty sporty with it. So the Ka never feels out of its depth on the open road, when most small cars are just plain silly. There’s not much room in the back, but it’s great to drive and so slow that it is completely safe as a first car.
*One we found: *2000 Ford KA Now Limited Edition, 62k miles, £950
*Smart ForTwo, 1998-2007*
*£1000-£4000: *Delivers as a city centre assault vehicle with a 600cc turbocharged Mercedes-Benz engine mustering 60mpg potential. It is safe, too, with electronic traction and stability control to stop it from falling over and the much lauded Tridion safety-cell-reinforced steel frame and integrated side impact struts keeping it in one piece in the event of a crash. Engine’s life expectancy is put at 80,000 to 100,000 miles, with high oil consumption and overheating plugs the most common causes of death. The clutch actuator can be sticky, too. Otherwise Smart.
*One we found:* 2001 Smart ForTwo Passion, 28k miles, £2995
*Volkswagen Lupo, 1998-2005*
*£1000-£9000:* A Volkswagen Polo without all that wasted space – and with the quality to make it effectively a micro-Volkswagen Phaeton. Standard spec supplies the bare minimum, much like the 1.0-litre engine itself. The slightly rortier 1.4 comes in two power outputs: 75bhp and 100bhp. For 64mpg potential, nab the gentle 1.7 or more sporty 1.4 turbo diesels. There’s even a premium-priced GTI if you don’t fancy paying £16k for the new hot Up.
*One we found:* 2002 Volkswagen Lupo 1.0 SE, 29k miles, £2500
*Renault Twingo, 1993-2007*
*£1500-£7000: *Delightful and oft-dented city stalwart blends clever packaging with quirky styling features, such as an asymmetric bonnet air intake, bug-eye headlights and green plastic interior details. There are even sliding, fold-flat seats, which turn it into one of the world’s smallest campervans. It was technically a Renault 4 replacement so mostly comes in billy-basic spec, but air-con and a sunroof were also available when new. Take your pick of frugal 1.2-litre 8v and 16v petrol engines and get used to sitting on the wrong side. They’re all left-hand drive. One we found: 2011 Renault Twingo 1.2 8V, 82k miles, £6995
*Lancia Y10, 1985-1995*
*£2000-£8000: *The really cool one wears an Autobianchi badge in Europe and Japan, but fundamentally the Y10 is just a posh Panda. This brick is properly aerodynamic, with a drag coefficient of 0.31, and feels distinctly plush with its Alcantara seats and LED-lit dashboard. Get the sporty (but ultra-rare) Y10 Turbo or warmed-up GT ie for driving thrills, or import the not-for-UK 4x4 model. All are super-rare and often super-rusty. Dare to be different.
*One we found:* 1987 Lancia Y10 1.0 Fire LX, 57k miles, £3395
*Citroen Saxo VTS, 1997-2003*
*£2500-£12,000:* Cheap, cheerful and all too often chopped about, the hottest iteration of the humble Saxo holds up well as an accessible driver’s car today. You’ll have to fight through some dubious bodykits, outdated liveries and rampant rust to find the real gems, but perseverance will nab you an economical and enthusiastic runaround heading for collector status.
*One we found:* 2002 Citroen Saxo VTS, 98k miles, £4000
*Fiat Panda, 1980-1986*
*£3000-£15,000:* Giorgetto Giugiaro, as we know, is a genius – and the original, most pure of Pandas is the absolute proof. As a piece of industrial and functional design, it was simple and easy to build. After all, they did end up making 4.5 million of them. In the beginning, it was a sub-Fiat 127, no-frills people’s car that could have been called the ‘Rustica’ or ‘il Zero’. Instead, the cuddly Panda had flat glass, easily pressed body panels and that brilliant offset one-piece grille.
Inside lived the deckchair seats and minimalist dashboard. There wasn’t much to it, but it was stylishly done, of course. Pulling it around was a 903cc Brazilian-built OHC four-cylinder petrol developing 45bhp. Gentrification did happen with the Super, which had conventional seats, and in 1986 it became marginally more bland, but the Fire engine made sense. It’s the greatest city car of all time despite the rust, rattly engine, oil leaks and worn wheel bearings.
*One we found: *1984 Fiat Panda 4x4, 36k miles, £3500
*Suzuki SC100, 1979-1982*
*£3500-£14,000: *The legend that is the Whizzkid was badged as the Cervo in Japan and SC100 in Europe. It has a fantastically buzzy engine and sharp rack and pinion steering for haring around town, which it can do, weighing just 655kg. There aren’t many on sale and prices are on the up, because rot and indifference have killed most of them in the UK, which means it’s now ultra-cool and ultra-exclusive. Best to shop in Europe for these at reasonable classic car prices wearing the Cervo logo.
*One we found: *1982 Suzuki SC100 GX, 47k miles, £5000
*Autozam AZ1, 1992-1994*
*£14,000-£20,000:* The best city cars, as any Tokyo resident will tell you, are kei-sized. Built by Suzuki, designed by Mazda and sold through the Autozam brand, this pricey pint-sized supercar (shorter than a Smart Fortwo) will nip through the tightest gaps and, thanks to its gullwing doors, you’ll never be trapped inside it by a neighbouring parked car. Its mid-mounted three-cylinder turbo engine is wonderful to shuffle along as well, so you won’t see anyone driving one with a frown.
*One we found:* 1992 Autozam AZ1, 43k miles, £14,999
*Aston Martin Cygnet, 2011-2013*
*£30,000-£40,000:* One of the most unlikely tie-ups in automotive history brought us one of the most unexpected cars we’ve ever seen: the Aston Martin Cygnet. A rebadged and substantially more expensive take on the Toyota iQ, this tightly packaged four-seater (3+1 really) was an Aston for city dwellers who couldn’t drive their V12-engined DBS to the shops. Guess what? It didn’t sell like hot cakes, so it’s holding its value astoundingly well, even a decade later.
*One we found:* 2012 Aston Martin Cygnet, 18k milels, £34,850