You can buy a practical, new car with room for four people and luggage, with manufacturer’s warranty and all modern safety equipment. There is an attractive range of options for under €10000 (/ or under £9k – £10k). Every cent or penny extra, is spent on luxuries, mainly adds to the manufacturer’s profit. Car dealers will try to sell you a larger model with better profit margins, that’s why you will have to show some persistence to make them offer you a 10k car.
Light, sub-compact cars with small engines (under 1l) have the smallest live-cycle ecological footprint, better than any expensive plug-in hybrid green-wash. These sub-compacts are not only lighter on the environment, but due to their small engines and low fuel consumption pay less tax. Due to their modern safety equipment they are also cheaper to insure than many used cars, making them particularly attractive to young drivers. Most models are very reliable and surprisingly cheap to own and run and if – against expectations – something goes wrong, the car is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
17 good cars for under €10k / £10k
With a tight budget come trade-offs. The 17 models span from the 3.55 meters short sphere-shape Fiat 500, to the half a meter longer Dacia Sandero, and from the solidly feeling Hyundai i10 / Kia Picanto and VAG triplets to the somewhat flimsy Mitsubishi Space Star. Most of these 17 car models are very good and reliable cars. Some, like the Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Ford Ka+ were designed for consumers in emerging economies. Others, like the Smart ForTwo and the retro Fiat 500 sell you style over substance. But all seventeen have their unique features and character and each of them is worth a look:
- Citroën C1 – most reliable (three)
- Dacia Sandero – the biggest
- Fiat 500 – the cutest
- Fiat Panda – practical
- Ford Ka+ – outdated
- Hyundai i10 – most grown-up
- Kia Picanto II – balanced
- Mitsubishi SpaceStar II – very economical
- Peugeot 108 – most reliable three
- Renault Twingo III – rear engine (two)
- Seat Mii – over-engineered (three)
- Skoda Citigo – over-engineered (three)
- Smart ForFour II – rear engine (two)
- Suzuki Celerio – underrated world car
- Toyota Aygo – most reliable (three)
- Vauxhall Viva / Opel Karl – lost in translation
- VW up! – over-engineered (three)
Hyundai i10 (Kia Picanto II) [*2013, Turkey, European CU]
Dimensions: L3.665 × W1.660 × H1.500 metres (the new Kia Picanto is using a slightly longer base)
Boot space: 252 l – 1046 l
Three cylinder petrol engine with 49 kW / 67 hp. All i10 come with four doors.
Hyundai is a relative newcomer on the reliability league table, but its vehicles are proving well built. The i10 is scoring 84.8% and the updated Kia Picanto model was rated the highest by owners, gaining a reliability score of 89.6%.
Hyundai i10 II / Kia Picanto are the counter-thesis to the VW Up: very reasonable, cheap, well equipped, secure. Even the fixed height driver seat suits most drivers from short to tall. The Hyundai i10 II / Kia Picanto II are the one small car model, in which one sits well and can also endure longer motorway journeys. The Hyundai i10’s quality, solidity and comfort comes with additional weight, resulting in a lower top speed and higher fuel consumption than most models on this list, though not as bad as the Ford Ka+ or Dacia Logan.
The second generation Kia Picanto was designed in Frankfurt by Peter Schreier, who was responsible for Audi designs like the first generation Audi TT. The father of the i10, former BMW designer Thomas Bürkle, has given the car as much BMW 3 feeling as possible on a fraction of the budget, space and weight. Among these 17 models, the i10 is the mid-size, but feels the most grown-up.
The Hyundai i10 will receive a facelift soon, and be put on a longer base, which is already being used for the Picanto in Europe and for the i10 in India (where it has been one of the best selling car models) and at Hyundai’s NAFTA factory in Monterrey, Mexico. Chances are, that Hyundai may offer some discounts on the current model…
The triplets: Peugeot 108 / Toyota Aygo / Citroën C1
Second generation, with French chic and Toyota reliability [*2014, Czech Republic, EU].
Dimensions: L3.470 × W1.620 × H1.450 metres
Boot space: 196 l
The prettiest and most expensive of the three.
Dimensions: L3.455 × W1.615 × H1.460 metres
Boot space: 168 l
The Toyota Aygo has gained a perfect 100% reliability score, with no owners reporting faults on their cars. The other two models from the same factory, which share the same technology and parts are just as good.
Dimensions: L3.466 × W1.615 × H1.460 metres
Boot space: 196 l
The small car of 3.45 meters in length is available as a three- or five-door and on request also with extras such as a breezy folding roof or a modern reversing camera, which does not quite fit in a cheap car. And if you do not like the Citroën logo on the bow, get the 51 kW / 69 hp city car – much the same as a Peugeot 108 or Toyota Aygo – but then you’ll have to pay slightly more.
The second generation Peugeot 108 II / Citroën C1 II / Toyota Aygo II are perhaps the most reliable car series in the world. They are very economical but smaller.
Suzuki Celerio [*2014, Thailand]
Dimensions: L3.600 × W1.600 × H1.540 metres
Boot space: 254 l
Suzuki is the market leader by units sold in India and Japan and has a very good reliability record. The Celerio drives with a 50 kW / 68 hp three-cylinder engine and can reach up to 155 km/h. This tall sub-compact is a valid compromise between the sturdy Hyundai i10 and the bigger, flimsier Mitsubishi Space Star.
This “world car concept” was developed for consumers in emerging economies like India and Thailand, where the units sold in Europe are being assembled. The Thai Suzuki Celerio is not covered by the EU-Japan EPA and duties apply. Suzuki may therefore be less generous with discounts.
The VAG triplets: VW up! / Skoda Citigo / Seat Mii [*2011, Slovakia, EU]
Dimensions: About L3.55 × W1.641 × H1.48 metres
The VAG triplets are a popular car with students from families, who can afford to buy more engineering but less car. It is a popular graduation gift. A fully electric version with a range of 270 km (165 miles) under WLTP standard, is to be mass produced from autumn 2019 and going to be aggressively priced (cross-subsidised) at around €20k, to help Volkswagen AG reach its fleet fuel consumption goals and avoid multi-billion Euro penalties. Combustion engine versions of these triplets are to disappear with the next generation of fuel standards in 2021, as Volkswagen AG considers it uneconomical to deliver the required reduction in fuel consumption in sub-€20k combustion engine vehicles. With these triplets soon to be superseded petrol version, look for special offers.
E.g. the Skoda Citigo has a reliability rating of 88.5%.
Twins: Renault Twingo III (and Smart ForFour II) [*2014, Slovenia, EU]
Dimensions: L3.595 × W1.646 × H1.554 metres
Boot space: 188 l (plus some space at the front)
The 3.60 meter long, five-door four-seater stands out from the crowd, not only because of its cute design, but because of its rear engines with 51 kW / 70 hp. Rear engine designs produces sturdier cars (think of the indestructible original VW Beetle) and an unrivalled small turning circle. The Twingo III and Smart ForFour II are the ideal urban runabout, but their boot space is encroached by the rear engine. The engine in the back of the cabin becomes rather vocal at motorway speeds.
The Smart versions tend to be dearer, but if you can get your hands on a well equipped pre-reg Smart ForFour at under £9000, you’ll have a bargain.
Mitsubishi Space Star [*2012, Thailand]
Dimensions: L3.795 × W1.665 × H1.500 metres
Boot space: 235 l – 912 l
Compared to the other listed economy cars, this is a bargain, at under 8,000 Euro in a lean spec. Nearer to 10,000 Euro you will get an audio system, USB sockets, electric mirrors and central locking. The sparkling three-cylinder with 52 kW / 71 hp allows a top speed of 172 km/h while zipping little fuel. It is all well in town, but the driving position didn’t fit me and driving at speed (above 80 km/h or 50 miles/h) is no joy. Matt Jones of Top Gear magazine rated the car 2 out of 10, commenting that “it’s truly, profoundly terrible. The steering is slow and vague. It rolls extensively. Grip levels are non-existent. Every lump and ruffle in the road is transmitted directly to your backside. It’s inexcusably noisy. Hell, there’s so much slack in the steering that you can’t tell which way the wheels are pointing…“.
Nevertheless, if a cheap car for a small family in Bangkok or Manila is needed, the frugal and relatively spacious Mitsubishi would certainly be an option.
Opel Karl / Vauxhall Viva [*2014, Changwon, South Korea]
Dimensions: L3.675 × W1.604 × H1.476 metres
Boot space: 215 l
Three-cylinder, 6.3l / 100km
The Opel Karl / Vauxhall Viva seems less clever and spacious than the previous small Opel / Vauxhall Agila, which was developed in cooperation with other GM brands Suzuki and Daewoo and manufactured in Hungary.The 3.68 meters long and five doors sub-compact is tighter than the Asian competitors and offers only one engine: a three-cylinder 1 litre petrol engine and 55 kW / 75 hp. While certainly a good car, it’s price-performance seems inferior. This Daewoo Korean platform model will be discontinued in Europe at the end of 2019, for being too heavy and coming from former owners GM, reason why I personally would not buy the current Karl, even at a sell-off discount.
Fiat 500 [*2007, Poland, EU]
Dimensions: L3.546 × W1.627 × H1.488 metres
The Fiat Cinquecento is a three-door hatchback based on the renown, old Ford Ka platform. While it is by far the oldest of the seventeen under €10k models, it is certainly still the cutest and produces smiles when looking at it or driving it. Unfortunately, the Fiats are also the only cars on this list with some reliability issues.
Fiat Panda [*2011 Italy, EU]
Dimensions: L3.653 × W1.643 × H1.605 metres
The third generation of the Fiat Panda is based on the more up-to-date Fiat Mini platform. For what it lacks in the cute-factor when compared to the Fiat 500 it makes up for in practicality and space.
“Score 70.2% – both the Panda and 500X lingered close to the bottom of their categories. Pandas suffered more engine and suspension troubles, while electrical gremlins bugged the 500X.”
Dacia Sandero [*2013, Romania, EU]
Dimensions: L4.057 × W1.733 × H1.523 metres
Since 2007 Renault’s Romanian subsidiary Dacia offers spacious cars for less €/£. Dacias are designed for and assembled in places like Iran and Egypt. We have refrained, but if space is paramount, you may want to look at the second generation Dacia Sandero.
The second generation Sandero was featured alongside the Ford Fiesta and VW Up! in series 21 of the BBC’s Top Gear as part of a three cylinder cars challenge, which ended with Clarkson (Up!) and May (Sandero) having to drive into the abandoned city of Chernobyl, with Hammond’s Fiesta having already run out of fuel. The Sandero was the only car to make it back out and complete all the challenges. May pointed out the large price difference between the Fiesta and the Dacia Sandero, stating that at £17,500 vs £7,500 he could afford to lose his car, buy another Sandero – and still be better off than Hammond.
Ford Ka+ (*2016, India)
Dimensions: L3.93 x W1.7 x H1.52 metres
While the first generation Ford Ka was designed as a compact city car for Europeans, the 2016 Ford Ka+ – based on the larger, old Ford Fiesta platform – is aiming at families in emerging economies. But size isn’t everything. The Ford Ka+ is heavier and thirstier than most of the other sixteen models and lacks brake assistance and grip. Ford doesn’t seem too keen to cater for the 10k price tag.
For comfort and to minimise depreciation you should aim for some equipment, which you may not obtain at list price – go for a pre-registered car instead! Equipment should look for include things like four passenger doors, stereo radio with audio-jack, USB sockets, at least six air-bags, ABS, EPS, remote central locking, height adjustable driver seat, Euro 6 or better, metallic paint, avoiding exotic colours…
With car models which share a platform and are put together by the same workers in the same factory, like eg the VW up! / Skoda Citigo / Seat Mii or the Peugeot 108 II / Citroën C1 II / Toyota Aygo II you should go for the best and most convenient pre-registered option you can find – assuming you plan to keep the car for a couple of years. However, despite negligible differences, the models may vary in depreciation. So if you are considering selling your sub-compact within the first three years, you may find that eg the Toyota Aygo tends to retain more value than the similar Citroën C1. Equally a used VW up! will sell for more than a similar Seat Mii.
Last but not least, help the environment and minimise your driving! Active travel by bike or by public transport is a healthy alternative for most journeys. Note that car tires should be changed within eight years, regardless of their wear or mileage. If your mileage is low, try to get all-season tires in the package from your car dealer.
Note that the manufacturer’s warranty starts counting down from the day of the registration. E.g. a Hyundai with 5 years warranty registered half a year ago will already have run down 10% of its warranty period.
Used car value
A frugal entry level car retains its value better than any luxury car, simply because for people who need a four-wheel motor there is no cheaper alternative. With a pre-registered car you will already have an important discount over the list price – resulting in a lower depreciation.
What will happen after electrification
VW have already announced that they won’t manage to achieve the next generation fuel consumption requirements with petrol engine cars at a price below €20k – see VW up! above. Therefore in Europe, this very popular low price car category will be superseded by €20k electric cars. These upcoming EVs may be cheaper to run, but be out of reach for many drivers. If Euro-6 cars will continue to be allowed to circulate in urban areas and if petrol won’t be taxed out of reach, any of these €10k models could potentially become highly sought after as a used car in a few years time (there are two “if’s” ;-).
Ten thousand is all it takes to buy a new car. Spending more to carry two and occasionally four passengers takes you quickly into the field of Veblen goods!