Buying a car Top 10 medium car tips
- How to choose the best medium car – don’t be influenced by sales figures.
- Buying a medium car that suits your needs for practicality and performance.
- Hatchbacks, saloons, compact-SUVs – we look at all the options.
There is a huge variety of medium-sized cars to choose from
The medium car sector is the second most popular in the UK, accounting for more than one in four new cars sold. Indeed, the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra hatchbacks occupied three of the top five places for sales in 2011.
Our top 10 tips for buying a medium car will show you what to look for. Then read our best medium cars guide to find out all the cars we recommend.
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1. Look beyond the obvious cars
Popularity doesn't necessarily equal quality. Medium cars sell in huge numbers, but it often pays to look beyond the most obvious choices in this class. There are some terrific models available that may be cheaper to buy, better equipped and offer a longer warranty - even if they don't have such a fashionable badge.
Popular cars like the Focus can depreciate fast
2. Consider the depreciation effect
'Mainstream' medium cars can suffer frightening depreciation. A Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec, for example, retains just 35% of its list price after three years and 36,000 miles. A 'premium' alternative like the Audi A3 is more expensive to buy, but better residual values (43% for A3 1.8 TFSI Sport) mean that overall running costs could be lower.
3. Get a bargain on popular models
Many medium cars are volume sellers and oversupply can be a problem for dealers, who need to shift stock. Try car supermarkets and online brokers to see how much you can save. Also, look out for great deals on ex-demo and ex-fleet used medium cars.
Which? Car also publishes two batches of Hot Car Deals each week – keep an eye on these to find the latest medium car discounts.
We'd usually recommend a hatchback over a saloon
4. Hatchback over saloon
Don't buy a mid-sized saloon unless you're buying second-hand. When it comes to medium cars, the UK is a nation of hatchback buyers - we simply don't go in for medium saloons like the Chevrolet Cruze or Volkswagen Jetta in great numbers. That creates a depreciation dichotomy: buy one from new and the value will drop like a stone due to weak second-hand demand; buy one used, and they can be something of a bargain.
5. Check the safety credentials
Check the safety spec. Many people buy medium hatchbacks as first family cars, but the safety equipment of used models can vary wildly - essential safety features such as electronic stability control and curtain airbags may not be standard if you're buying second-hand.
The boot in the Honda Civic is large for a medium car
6. Boot space does vary
If you are considering a medium car as your first family car and you have small children, check that the boot is large enough to accommodate a pram or pushchair. Some medium cars, such as the BMW 1 Series, may not offer sufficient space. However, there are some models that offer exceptionally large boots, like the latest Honda Civic and Citroen C4. Both offer claimed boot capacities of more than 400 litres with the rear seats up.
7. Consider comfort for all passengers
If you’re buying a medium car you’ll probably want to use the rear seats - so make sure there is a good level of comfort in the back. Sloping roof designs can cause issues for access and headroom, although this doesn’t tend to be as much of a problem for hatchbacks.
Consider legroom for both children and adult rear-seat passengers, check to see if there are Isofix mounting points for a child car seat, and make sure the rear door apertures are wide enough for easy access - and for the driver to secure children in the back. Also, make sure the rear window frames are not so high that a small child wouldn’t be able to see out (this can exacerbate car sickness, making a mess of your lovely new car).
Thieves can break and sell medium cars for spares
8. Pick a secure medium car
Popular mid-sized cars like the Astra, Focus and Golf are desirable to criminals for two reasons. Firstly, their sheer popularity makes stolen examples easier to sell on to unsuspecting second-hand buyers. Watch our buying a used car videos to find out what to look for.
Secondly, with demand for spares being high, medium cars can be broken down and sold for parts. Many medium cars are used for commuting, meaning they can be left away from home for large portions of the day. Check the Thatcham security ratings in our car reviews – we give a star rating for both theft of the model and theft from it.
9. Break away from tradition
We’ve already suggested buying a hatchback over a saloon, but that’s not your only option in the medium car sector these days. With ever more compact SUVs hitting the market, you could go for a car that offers similar interior space and boot capacity, but with a raised stance and four-wheel drive. Fitted with eco-technology like stop-start and low-emissions engines, these new crossovers can compare favourably to traditional medium cars for cost of ownership.
VW Golf GTI is perhaps the definitive hot hatch
10. Thrills as well as practicality
If you want a sports car but have a family, a hot hatch like the Volkswagen Golf GTI is a great compromise between performance and practicality. Watch out for high insurance costs, though.
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