For anyone who has been reading this blog semi-regularly, you will know that I am currently on a hunt to find my next car; being the first time I will have chosen a car for myself and given the fact I am a massive car enthusiast it means that I’ve spent hours pouring over car reviews and used car classifieds to help narrow down which choice I should make.
A couple of months ago I visited a used car dealer who had a few examples of the cars I had been looking at, and whilst I did not take any test drives or even take a look under the bonnet, it did help change some of my perceptions of certain cars (for the short term anyway). With my extra hours at work paying more money the time is very rapidly approaching when I will be able to afford one of my shortlist, and whilst I have pretty much narrowed down which car I will be getting I am still susceptible to temptation. What follows is a brief summary of the cars that are still buzzing around my head, and the reasons for and against them.
Range Rover Sport/Discovery 3:
Two great looking cars from the JLR stable, they share the same problems as the big Range Rover but in different ways. The Sport with its exclusive image and aggressive looks has held it’s value really well so prices start at over £15k for a tidy 2005 model (way more than a similar vintage full size Range Rover). Higher spec Discoverys are also surprisingly expensive, whilst the lower ones miss out on equipment like leather seats and navigation. Both cars feature a 2.7 TDV6 engine which is also not exactly fast in either model, as well as a plasticky interior (as I witnessed in the car showroom), oh and they are unreliable too!
Owning a Range Rover is something I will do one day, but I am really not brave enough to do it at this stage in my life. My budget would just about stretch to a 2005 facelift model (albeit with a high mileage), but those cars lack the excellent TDV8 engine which followed in 2006 and prices for those start at a good £5k more. The slow acceleration of the earlier models combined with the reliability woes and fuel consumption means that I have to stop entertaining the idea of buying a Range Rover anytime soon.
Mercedes GL/BMW X5 (E70):
Just out of reach of my budget are these two German SUV’s, both with very different appeals. The GL is a massive American-style SUV with heaps of road presence and surprisingly reasonable running costs, whilst the second generation X5 is a handling tour-de-force complete with class leading infotainment system and bags of image. A mere £15k would get me into the driving seat of either car, but considering I’ve already stretched my budget by quite abit I can’t warrant extending it further, especially considering that at those prices the cars will be a bit scruffy.
Audi Q5/Volvo XC60:
Yet another duo that I have decided to pass on, both of these compact luxury SUV’s would offer me a cheaper-to-run entry point to SUV ownership and in packages that are considerably more modern than their larger brothers. I have only recently warmed to the Q5’s styling but it’s interior is class leading and residuals will be rock solid. The XC60 is Volvo’s best selling model and features lots of safety equipment and modern styling, plus can be had for a relatively cheap price given the newness of it’s design. The problem is that I really would want an automatic car with all the trappings of a luxury SUV…and by that I merely mean heated leather seats and posh alloy wheels. To get that on either car it brings them to above £15k.
The only car I have seriously considered but not yet sat in, a few months ago I was seriously investigating buying an XC90 so much so that I was looking up ones I could potentially test drive. A practical interior, comparatively low running costs and affordable purchase price meant that for a while I would have happily spent my hard earned cash on Volvo’s former best selling model. But recently I’ve majorly cooled off towards the Swede for 2 major reasons; firstly is the staid image of the car and brand…at best an XC90 is a middle-class mummy’s school bus, and at worst the brand caters to the over 60’s and is at danger of being put to rest! Slightly easier to overcome were the performance and tax issues I had with the cars which were in my price range; pre 2006 cars were charged less road tax but were also dangerously slow to accelerate from standstill. The more powerful engine (launched in early 2006) remedies this slightly but some have the higher rate of tax (just). I have since extended my budget so cheaper-to-tax versions are now within my grasp, and in fact I have seen 2010 cars for a very reasonable price so the Volvo may be a last minute contender.
After sitting in a Q7 in the showroom I was actually not very impressed at all with the big Audi; the doors were just oddly long and the seats seemed to be mounted very close to the floor for an SUV. The interior though is a work of art and combined with the handsome looks and desirable badge it has since become a fierce contender. These may be relatively hollow reasons, but I have been drawn to the Q7 since even before it was officially launched, and though I may ultimately favour rivals it does have a special place in my heart. The problem with getting a Q7 however boils down to money…firstly we have the purchase price, which at over £13k for an SE model is steeper than I had intended, and desirable S Line models are a grand or so more! Secondly is the cost of keeping the thing on the road…25mpg is the best I can realistically hope for and it goes through tyres like toilet paper according to many owners. I would not rule the Q7 out but I don’t think that one will be gracing my driveway.
BMW X5 (E53):
A longtime favourite of mine, the X5 has dramatically lost it’s shine in recent months just as I was gearing up to commit to one. Unarguably a class leading driver’s car, the X5 still takes some beating in terms of handling and with a powerful yet economical engine and easy to use controls plus exactly the kind of brand image I’m looking for (aggressive and successful) it would suggest that the X5 is the car for me, especially considering that a 2006 55 model can be had for less than newer rivals. But my internal snobbery is what is stopping me from getting enthusiastic about the big Beemer; for starters it is an old design…and I mean old, as it was at beginning of the millennium when this generation of X5 was launched and it has started to show in terms of looks and reputation. This has led to a fall in prices, which in turn means that the traditional owner of the first X5’s has gone from rich bird to jail bird (OK poor example but it stays). These kind of people are less likely to take care of their highly-complicated vehicles and as such reliability issues can appear with increasing frequency. Maybe the example I sat in had been owned by one of these types, as it was very scruffy inside and did not instill me with much confidence. I do intend to drive an X5 but with insurance at double the rate for my current favourite (see below), it seems less likely that I will indulge my previous desires to own an X.
By far the current favourite to be my next car is Mercedes’ second generation ML. Having only recently been replaced by a (very similar) new model yet being available for not much more than older designs such as the X5 and XC90 the ML is one of the few cars to blend modern design and features with relative affordability. The COMAND system might not be the best and there may only be aux input for an iPhone, but Bluetooth can be found relatively easily and the 7 speed gearbox is definately a bonus. It is just a shame that features like the automatic tailgate and xenon lights are not more common, whilst the Airmatic air suspension was a costly extra that not many buyers chose. My dilemma is more with which ML is the one for me as there are two distinct trim levels and engine options; Sport models feature flashier alloys and nicer seats compared to SE models, but they can command considerably more from sellers. The 320 CDI option is the more common under the bonnet and with prices roughly the same as the slower (but equally economical) 280 CDI it would seem a no brainer to pick the larger engine, but with insurance quotes near doubling for ML320’s it would be wise for me to seek out a ML280. Road tax is another issue, as earlier cars are not any cheaper than 2006 ones, but do attract the lower tax rate (£200 p/a cheaper!
Currently I have my eye on a nice ML280 SE, which for £11k on a 2007 57 plate seems a great bargain for a 6 year old car, as other vehicle that price are around 18 months older yet no better equipped. With small alloy wheels and a relatively boring silver paint job, this ML is not my ideal example of the car, but given it’s great value and the fact it costs around £1500 more to get a similar Sport version of the same car, I am sure that I could put up with slightly smaller wheels if the car is still there when I get paid and is in good condition…although Winchester is a far old way to go!