Best drivers' cars for less than £1,000

  • The Parkers pick of the most affordable fun cars for £1,000
  • Mix of open-tops and souped-up sensible models
  • Use the Parkers Cars for Sale to find a performance bargain

Why not spice up your motoring life with something inexpensive and fun?

Parkers has selected some enjoyable cars for less than £1,000* that you might not have considered, to give you an idea of what you can get for your money. Some offer luxury, some offer serious driver involvement. All get from 0-62mph in 10 seconds or less.

It's usually not too difficult to find these cars either, so a bit of searching should soon turn up a few good examples for sale near you.

As with all used purchases, do remember to get a car history check. It might just save you from an unpleasant surprise later down the line.

1. Mazda MX-5 Mk1 and Mk2

Mazda MX-5 Mk1

The perfect budget roadster

It's a rear-wheel drive convertible with sharp handling and a lively engine, making it great fun to drive. The original MX-5 is a classic now but you can still find a good example for less than a grand. Keep an eye out for rust though and if you can, get one with a recently changed cambelt.

Mk2 models from 1998 onwards lose the pop-up headlights and gain power. Structural rust can reach an advanced stage in well hidden locations on these; check the MoT history online and consider an expert inspection.

Need to know (Mk2 1.8 Sport)

Price (used from): £950
Power: 140hp
0-62mph: 7.7secs
Top speed: 127mph
Fuel economy: 33mpg

2. Hyundai Coupe (2002-2009)

Hyundai Coupe

GT style with low running costs

Hyundai's third-generation Coupe is a front wheel drive four seater with a range of engines from 1.6 litres to a 2.7-litre V6. The ride is firm, and handling doesn't quite match the style for finesse.

The best balance of power and economy is the 2.0 litre, but for younger drivers the 1.6 litre's low insurance costs make for an easy introduction to sportier looking cars. Go for the 2.7 if you want a soundtrack to match the looks. 

Need to know (2.0)

Price (used from): £760
Power: 141hp
0-62mph: 9.0secs
Top speed: 129mph
Fuel economy: 35mpg

3. MINI Cooper (2001-2006)

MINI Cooper S

Timeless and entertaining small hatch

Unmistakably MINI, the original Cooper provides genuine excitement, with interior and exterior style that is leagues ahead of anything else of the time. Luggage and rear passenger space is compromised. For a city car, it's remarkably capable in the country with a torquey 1.6 litre engine and exceptional handling.

You may find a rough Cooper S with the 163hp supercharged 1.6 litre, but the standard 115hp Cooper has plenty of power; buy on overall condition, not specification as both are immense fun.

Need to know

Price (used from): £999
Power: 115hp
0-62mph: 8.9secs
Top speed: 124mph
Fuel economy: 42mpg

4. Ford Focus ST170

Ford Focus

A true all-rounder

History suggests you can't go wrong with a fast Ford, and the replacement for the Escort focused on significant improvements in handling and dynamics. Aptly named, the Focus chased away the XR3i with the ST170. Falling between XR and RS levels of tuning, Cosworth involvement on the engine and a Getrag gearbox hinted at motorsport thinking.

The reality was not quite as competitive or hard-edged as that implies, instead proving extremely competent while losing none of the practicality of the regular Focus. Look out for limp-home modes masquerading as expensive misfires, and if it's particularly clean lock it in a barn for a decade.

Need to know

Price (used from): £950
Power: 170hp
0-62mph: 7.9secs
Top speed: 109mph
Fuel economy: 33mpg

5. Lexus IS200

Lexus IS200

Compact executive with quality feel

Moving into a smaller segment, the IS targeted the BMW 3-series. Compact and rear wheel drive, with six-cylinder petrol engines, the IS exemplifies the Gran Turismo generation. As a used buy it avoids many of the electric and build issues that affect contemporary BMWs.

Interior styling is far from dull, despite the restrained exterior. This is the car that launched a thousand aftermarket taillights; it has merits beyond such gaudy trinkets, particularly the 24 valve VVTi engine.

Need to know 

Price (used from): £745
Power: 153hp
0-62mph: 9.2secs
Top speed: 134mph
Fuel economy: 29mpg

6. Saab 9-3 Convertible

Saab 9-3 Convertible

Versatile cabriolet for families

Vastly improved over the 900 Convertible, the 9-3 can be found in both 1998 facelift and 2002 redesign at this price point. It's worth seeking out the later model for improved interior quality and equipment. 2.8 V6 Aero models offer up to 276hp and 7 second 0-62mph.

Both models offer decent space for four adults with excellent seats, good refinement with the roof up thanks to the glass rear window and multi-layer top, and passable luggage space. The 1.8t Vector has respectable performance, but the Aero is the one to find if you want real excitement.

Need to know

Price (used from): £1000
Power: 147hp
0-62mph: 10.0secs
Top speed: 127mph
Fuel economy: 32mpg

7. Suzuki Ignis Sport (2003-2005)

Suzuki Ignis Sport

Rough, tough and ready for anything

Derived to tie-in with WRC campaigning, the Suzuki Ignis Sport took the slightly quirky, tall supermini and gave it a 1980s hot-hatch attitude. Bold alloys, foglights and fishnet Recaros sell the experience; well-tuned firm suspension, a lively 115hp VVTi engine and close-ratio gearbox deliver.

Minimalist, but built with 21st century strength, the Ignis is surprisingly practical for the size and performance. Rural drivers may prefer to seek out the more subdued, but very capable Ignis 4Grip instead.

Need to know

Price (used from): £950
Power: 115hp
0-62mph: 8.5s
Top speed: 115mph
Fuel economy: 40mpg

8. Subaru Impreza

Subaru Impreza Estate

A modern classic with rally credibility

Realistically, for minimum cost the 2000-on Subaru Impreza in 2.0 naturally aspirated form is the best bet. You can enjoy a sub-10 second 0-62mph and secure all wheel drive handling with some of the looks of the competitive rally cars.

If you want the real thing, the WRX does sometimes venture into the £1,000 area. Expect something modified and needing a bit of work for that price, but worth the investment for the cross-country ability.

Need to know

Price (used from): £999
Power: 124hp
0-60mph: 9.5secs
Top speed: 115mph
Fuel economy: 29mpg

9. BMW 528i (E39-generation)

BMW 528i

The finest executive car of the era

Reaching a peak of engineering, efficiency and styling, the E39 BMW 5 series is simply one of the best automotive designs of the time. Responsive steering and excellent balance allow a confident approach to twisting A-roads, and the 2.8 litre straight six avoids some of the complexity of later developments.

Externally, the styling is crisp, free of the excesses and challenging lines of subsequent BMWs. Damp and neglect can cause problems with the sophisticated electrical system, so pick models with lower specifications.

Need to know

Price (used from): £950
Power: 193hp
0-62mph: 7.3secs
Top speed: 143mph
Fuel economy: 29mpg

10. Toyota Celica (1999-2006)

Toyota Celica

Celica Coupe - stylish reliability

The Toyota Celica was completely redesigned for 1999, gaining a sharp fastback shape that still looks modern today, and sharing mechanical components with the outstandingly reliable Avensis. Power is relatively modest, with a choice of 140hp or 190hp VVT-i engines, but there's a six-speed gearbox to make the most of it.

Handling is competent, rather than truly engaging, but with this much style and practicality there has to be a compromise somewhere. Prices for good cars are consistently low, too, with affordable servicing and maintenance - when required.

We'd recommend the 190hp model, and it's worth remembering that unlike the dull diesels that swamped the market after the Celica, this is a peaky petrol that needs to be revved to get the best out of it.

Need to know

Price (used from): £795
Power: 190hp
0-60mph: 7.2secs
Top speed: 140mph
Fuel economy: 33mpg

* Prices based on examples found on Parkers Cars for Sale and limited to availability. Similar examples may be on offer.

Parkers Top Buying Tips

Don't forget you can use our valuation tool to get an idea of how much you should be paying for a car. You can also check our reviews section for more information about the cars you are interested in.