Beating depreciation: performance cars that cost nothing to own
Steep depreciation is the price for buying a brand-new car, but carefully selected second-hand ones come with virtually a money-back guarantee
Choose your new performance car wisely, be careful not to rack up too many miles and, three years later, it might be worth 60% of what you paid for it. That’s pretty much a best-case scenario. That means the Volkswagen Golf R that you’ve put £35,000 into will be worth £21,000 after 36 months, so it will cost you close to £5000 in depreciation alone every single year.
No matter how you buy your new car – with cash, on finance or on a lease contract – you as the first owner will bear that cost. You can reduce your depreciation liability by buying a second-hand car, perhaps one that is already three years old and has slipped down the steepest part of the depreciation curve with somebody else’s name on the V5 document. But the car will still lose value. As we’ll show over the next five pages, though, it is possible to buy a first-rate driver’s car that will hold on to its value.
There are certain performance cars on the second-hand market that are so well-regarded – and that are in sufficient demand – that their values are set in stone. Pick the right one and it’ll probably owe you nothing two or three years down the road. You could get back every penny you paid for it.
Can it possibly be that straightforward? No, of course not. On the subject of future values, there can be estimates and calculated guesses, but never any guarantees. We will also take a closer look at the realities of choosing an older car over a brand-new one. What you need to know is this: by slashing your depreciation bill to nothing, your motoring expenses could be obliterated. And it’s doable even on the most meagre budget.
Mazda MX-5 (NA)
Not too long ago, an original MX-5 could have been yours for little more than £1000. That will only buy the tattiest MX-5 out there these days, which is as clear a sign as any that values are on the up. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the little sports car’s arrival, which means you’ll invariably be looking at examples with more than a handful of miles behind them and plenty of stories to tell. Nonetheless, there are plenty of cars out there that have been cherished, so that doesn’t mean you’ll have to satisfy yourself with a rust-ridden and careworn old shed.
The perky four-cylinder engines are said to be near enough bulletproof with regular oil changes and proper maintenance, although you should inspect the car closely for signs of corrosion, knackered suspension components and a flappy hood. The original MX-5 was the second-ever winner of Autocar’s Britain’s Best Driver’s Car competition, beating all-comers in 1990, and a good example will be a joy to drive to this day. Now well and truly into modern classic territory, the MX-5 is a sure bet for depreciation-free motoring.
One we found: 1995 MX-5, 55,000 miles, £3250
Renaultsport Clio 197
If there is such a thing as an unloved Renaultsport Clio, this is probably it. The 197 was never reviewed as enthusiastically as the quick Clios that came before it, while the model that came immediately after, the Clio 200, was better to drive. But the 197 is surely the best-looking of the lot – in fact, it must be one of the best-looking small hot hatches full stop – and it’s fantastic to drive by any measure. Costing from as little as £2800, the Clio 197 surely can’t drop much further, if at all.
One we found: 2006 Clio 197, 52,000 miles, £3500
Alfa Romeo GTV 2.0 Twin Spark
So many of these very pretty little coupés have been neglected, their paintwork allowed to fade and rust left to wreak its havoc. But a fair number have been loved and adored, which means you’ll readily find an example for not much more than £2500 with pristine bodywork and a clean bill of health. There are V6 models out there for less than £5000, but the truth is the Twin Spark, with its much lighter four-cylinder engine, was always better to drive. Values may even climb in coming years.
One we found: 2003 GTV, 72,000 miles, £2795
Honda Civic Type R (EP3)
Sure, it’s shaped like a breadvan and, yes, the enormous headlights do give it a startled expression, but the howling four-cylinder motor under the bonnet more than makes up for the Civic Type R’s somewhat gawky looks. For less than £3000, you’ll be buying one of the finest hot hatch drivetrains of recent times, with the rest of the car thrown in for free. These Type Rs tend to live tough lives and often they’re not well looked after, which means the cleanest cars will hold onto their value.
One we found: 2003 Civic Type R, 68,000 miles, £2700
BMW M3 (E46)
The third-generation M3 has been one of the most tempting used performance cars for so long that values have begun to climb. With hindsight, it seems absurd that £6000 was ever enough to buy a serviceable M3 with reasonable mileage because, with muscular but understated styling, one of the finest straight-six engines of all time and peak M-car dynamics, the E46 M3 always seemed to be worth so much more. You’ll need to spend at least £8000 now, but in a couple of years that could rise to £10,000 or so.
The car isn’t without its issues. The most enthusiastic drivers will be looking for coupés with manual transmissions, but so many of the examples you’ll find listed in the classifieds will be convertibles and plenty will have the jerky SMG semi-automatic gearbox. What you’ll really need to look out for is a cracked boot floor, however, because according to some specialists it’s a case of when, not if. BMW made a lot of ‘goodwill’ repairs on cars younger than 10 years old, but even so you’ll only ever have real peace of mind if a recognised M3 specialist has inspected the car closely and given it a clean bill of health.
One we found: 2003 M3, 92,000 miles, £8500
What’s intriguing now about Honda’s no-nonsense roadster is that it’s actually become more valuable, like-for-like, than the Porsche Boxster that was always said to be the superior sports car. Scarcity is one factor, for the S2000 is nowhere near as common as the Porsche, and while its handling balance isn’t as forgiving as the mid-engined car’s, it does have the more thrilling (and durable) drivetrain. The cheapest cars trade hands for £7000 or so, but £12,000 will buy a low-mileage example that will hold its value.
One we found: 2007 S2000, 63,000 miles, £11,800
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI
As the used car market begins to realise the Evo VI is not a boy racer’s car after all but actually a nailed-on future classic, its value is beginning to creep up. These cars are now 20 years old and you’ll struggle to find one with really low mileage for a sensible price, but there are plenty available with 60,000 miles or so for less than £15,000. Its pathetic range makes it unsuited to really long journeys, but across a moorland road there’s not much out there that will be more exciting.
One we found: 1999 Evo VI, 58,000 miles, £11,995
Renaultsport Clio 182 Trophy
The 182 Trophy’s future legend status is assured on two fronts, for not only was it exceedingly rare with only 550 ever built (all but 50 for the UK market), it also happens to be one of the finest small hot hatches ever produced. Why so special? The remote reservoir Sachs dampers that gave it freakish body control with uncanny pliancy over bumps are at the heart of it. Those dampers cost around £1000 each, which is why Trophy owners have them refurbished when the time comes rather than replacing them entirely.
One we found: 2005 182 Trophy, 40,000 miles, £10,000
Lexus IS F
It was never as highly regarded in its day as rivals from BMW and Mercedes, but the Lexus IS F is now more expensive than both the V8-engined M3 and the C63. With fewer than 200 ever brought into the UK, the IS F is exceptionally rare, which is exactly what will keep values strong in years to come. Contemporary reviews said it wasn’t as sharp to drive as the M3 and not as characterful as the C63, but those seem like petty criticisms today. The truth is it handles well enough for a four-door saloon car and its normally aspirated V8 is as delightful now as it ever was.
Its fidgety ride quality was improved as part of a facelift midway through its life, although those post-2011 IS Fs still command £25,000, while the earliest cars are trading hands for around £18,000. It’s unlikely they’ll slip much further.
With typical Lexus reliability and build quality, you can expect to fork out only for routine maintenance and servicing; unlike the comparable M3, the IS F’s engine doesn’t have any commonly occurring issues. Just be aware that a brawny 5.0-litre engine will have an appetite for both fuel and rear tyre rubber.
One we found: 2009 IS F, 69,000 miles, £18,000
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996)
If the 996 really is the unloved 911, the Carrera 4S is at least the most highly regarded version of it (aside from the very expensive GT3 derivatives). From the rear it looks like the Turbo model, thanks to its wide arches and full-width reflector strip. With four-wheel drive and 316bhp, it has much of the all-weather, cross-country pace of the twin-turbocharged version, too, but at 70% of the price. Values have risen sharply in recent years and are unlikely to perform a U-turn.
One we found: 2003 Carrera 4S, 61,000 miles, £23,995
BMW M3 (E92)
The M3’s high-revving V8 is worth the ticket price alone. The cheapest examples cost less than £15,000, but for just a little more you’ll find low-mileage cars with impeccable histories. Buy through a recognised specialist and you may even pick up a warranty, which is worth paying a little extra for given that these cars can present the odd four-figure bill in the event of a mechanical failure. You’ll burn through fuel at an astonishing rate and the tyres won’t last long, but you won’t regret it.
One we found: 2007 M3, 49,000 miles, £16,450
Bentley Continental GT
Can a 15-year-old Bentley ever make financial sense? There’s no doubt that for £20,000 you’ll be getting a staggering amount of car, one that combines speed and luxury unlike anything else at the same price point. But that big W12 engine with its two turbochargers will cost a small fortune just to keep you in fuel and there will be no such thing as a small maintenance bill. If the Conti GT does lose any of its value from here, though, it will do so very slowly indeed.
One we found: 2004 Conti GT, 51,000 miles, £20,895
Mercedes C63 AMG 507 Coupé
The 507 was the run-out special-edition model that bade farewell to the thunderous 6.2-litre V8. The C63 that followed would switch to a more powerful but less characterful 4.0-litre V8 with turbos. Now the most sought-after model, the 507 commands something like a £10,000 premium over a standard C63 of a similar vintage and with the same mileage. Objectively it probably isn’t worth the extra outlay, but it is the version that will hold its value, making it far and away the better option in the long run.
One we found: 2014 507 Coupé, 24,000 miles, £38,290
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Undoubtedly one of the riskier bets in this company, the gorgeous V8 Vantage won’t shed much of its value over the next couple of years, if any whatsoever, but its scope for ruinous maintenance bills is not to be underestimated. Still, for a little over £30,000 you could be driving one of the prettiest sports car shapes of recent times – and one that’s punted along by a tuneful normally aspirated V8. The Vantage can be tricky at low speeds with a heavy clutch and weighty steering, but on the right road it’s fantastic to drive.
One we found: 2006 V8 Vantage, 46,000 miles, £32,000
Nissan GT-R (R35)
The earliest R35 GT-Rs have been trading hands for around £30,000 for a little while, which suggests Nissan’s thumping four-seat coupé has now reached a lower plateau. You will need to budget a reasonable amount for running costs and maintenance, while finding a reputable specialist to look after it will be key. In return you will be getting one of the most intoxicating driving experiences of any car at any price, and enough straight-line performance to humiliate new cars costing four times the money.
One we found: 2009 GT-R, 55,000 miles, £32,995
Porsche 911 Carrera GTS (997)
Depending on who you talk to, 2019 will be a more bruising year for the high-end performance car marketplace than the years that came immediately before it. Some car traders will tell you that certain models are taking longer to sell than they did two or three years previously and that they’re no longer fetching the inflated sums they once did. If there is to be a significant correction event, most of the cars in this list will be affordable and common enough to be unaffected. The 911 Carrera GTS, however, might not be.
Nonetheless, the GTS is said by most commentators to be the pick of the 997 range, GT models aside. It took all that was great about the 997 – compact size, hydraulic steering, normally aspirated engines – and combined it with modern interior tech, strong performance and just-so handling. The prices these cars still command eight years later are testament to just how good the GTS was and how desirable it remains, and although shock at the top end of the market might have an effect on GTS values, they’ll never drop so catastrophically that your investment will look reckless.
One we found: 2011 911 Carrera GTS, 48,000 miles, £54,995
The upside of buying a car that’s unlikely to depreciate is obvious, but what about the downsides? Inevitably, there are plenty of them. For one thing, if you really want to protect your car’s value, you shouldn’t drive it at all but keep it parked up in a heated garage. That isn’t what we’re proposing by any means – and with moderate or even average use, the cars listed here will still hold onto their value. If you cover many more miles than the average person, though, it is unfortunately a very different story.
Some of the cars in this list are also getting long in the tooth – an original MX-5 might now be 30 years old – which means they’ll have none of the interior tech that you may have become accustomed to. Still, a dashboard mount for your smartphone and an aftermarket Bluetooth device will between them navigate most of those issues.
The biggest downside? Without a warranty, every car here will cost more to run and maintain than a comparable new car. That’s an inescapable fact. However, since your depreciation bill will be insignificant, or even non-existent, you’ll have to be on the receiving end of a particularly nasty sequence of four-figure invoices before you’re actually worse off.
One way to protect yourself from big bills in the event of a mechanical failure is to buy an aftermarket warranty. In some cases, the manufacturer itself may offer to sell you an extended warranty, but on older models you’ll have to go to an independent warranty provider (and even then they’re unlikely to touch a car that’s more than 10 or 12 years old).
By and large, aftermarket warranties are not as comprehensive as manufacturer warranties, although you can choose your level of cover. You should make sure you know exactly what is and what isn’t covered – the cost of labour, for example, might be passed on to you. Nonetheless, should you get very unlucky indeed and have your car’s engine fail through no fault of your own, you’ll be extremely glad you invested in a warranty. It could save you a small fortune.
The costs vary enormously depending on the car in question. By way of example, Warranty Direct will sell you a two-year engine and drivetrain warranty on a 2009 BMW M3 (that’s covered 70,000 miles and is worth £17,000) for £858. That covers parts and labour in full, although you’ll have to pay more to cover the brakes, suspension, fuel systems and electronics as well.