Eight best sub-£20k investment cars to buy now

02nd July 2020
Dan Trent

OK, who else has spent a good portion of their lockdown browsing used car classifieds? Us too. Time to kill and motivation to dream of better times are a powerful cocktail, the more so when laced with the kind of live for the moment attitude many of us will be carrying into the new normal. For sure, the used car market offers a wealth of opportunity for those lucky enough to have a bit of spending power so we’ve set some price points to pick out some cars worthy of investing some money in. That may be in the hope of a financial return but there’s an emotional one to consider too, given the kind of cars we’re looking at here are the ones to put a spring in your step and perfectly geared to that staycation road trip you promised yourself once this was all over. First up, the cars you should be considering for £20,000…


BMW M3 (E46)

To drive an E46 M3 today is to realise BMW absolutely nailed the correct balance of size, performance and charisma in its 20 years back. And anything since is just overkill for what you can actually appreciate on the public road. Expect more and more enthusiasts to wake up to this in the not too distant future too, recognition of the late ‘90s and early 2000s as a sweet-spot of performance and usability meaning values of the iconic cars of the era can only go one way. Do your research on the well-documented issues that can come up, get a good one and your money should be safe.


Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (996)

£20,000 is an interesting price point for 911s, given it could get you the absolute pick of early 996 Carreras or even entry into the better looking and more modern feeling 997. Bridging the two is the 996 Carrera 4S, one of those occasional ‘bitsa’ Porsches that really strikes a chord with fans. The Turbo inspired widebody look and full-width reflector strip make it one of the better looking 996s and, while purists may prefer rear-wheel-drive Carreras, the four-wheel-drive means it’s a true all-weather sportscar you can just about cram the family into. Its popularity when new has endured and means a nice example – preferably a manual coupe – will always be in demand.


Renaultsport Megane R26.R

Everyone raved about the Megane R26.R’s hardcore driving manners and the purity of its stripped-out ethos. But buyers were reluctant to actually put the money down, meaning Renault couldn’t even sell the full UK allocation of 230 cars. Some remain confused about the point of a hatchback with plastic windows, no rear seat and a roll cage but to drive the R26.R is to realise this is basically a hot hatch 911 GT3 RS, in intent and the purity of its engineering. Make sure you buy one with the optional cage and – if possible – expensive titanium exhaust to get both the full experience and guarantee future desirability. 


Lotus Elise S1

Fast cars are getting ever faster and more complicated but the roads we drive them on are becoming busier and more restricted than ever. Meaning cars like the Elise S1 and the focus on the experience of driving, rather than the numbers, will be ever more relevant as time goes on. You’ll get a flavour of the same in any Elise but the original S1 remains the prettiest, as well as the purest expression of the minimalist engineering mindset Lotus has always stood for. Prices vary and many have been re-engined or otherwise modified over the years. Find a nice, original one, keep it that way and you’ll be onto a winner.  


TVR Cerbera

You’ll be spotting a theme here but cars that deliver an experience are the ones likely to be in increased demand as modern vehicles become more remote and less involving. And a TVR is certainly going to do that. Equally famous for suffer-no-fools dynamics as they are their quirks and sometimes flaky reliability, TVRs of this era have been around long enough for specialists to know their flaws and they are inherently simple cars compared with many. And you’ll never have a boring drive in one, that’s for sure.


Ford Focus RS

There are few safe bets in the world of investment cars but RS-branded Fords have to be up there, given the huge popularity and place in motoring culture. The second-generation Focus RS is something of a bruiser among hot hatches, thanks to its beefy looks and thumping five-cylinder turbocharged engine. The latter is famously tuneable and many have been souped up in the way generations of fast Fords have been. But the base package is potent enough to put a smile on any face and a smart, original RS which hasn’t been ragged too hard will always have a queue of people ready to buy it. Enjoy it and cash that cheque when you’re ready.


Honda S2000

Mazda MX-5s are all very well, Boxsters are nice to drive but can land you with big bills, and Z4s and SLKs are pleasant enough but hardly sharp to drive. Forgotten among all of them is Honda’s sparkling S2000, this classic two-seat roadster combining sharp looks with an absolute zinger of an engine and handling to do it justice. OK, earlier ones were a little spiky on the limit and opportunities to let it sing to the 9,000rpm redline are few and far between. But appreciation of this car is quietly growing and values are on the up. Grab one before they go silly.


Subaru Impreza

There are so many Impreza variants to choose from it’s sometimes hard to know which to go for but, for the purposes of this, we’re talking about the ‘classic’ Impreza of the mid to late ‘90s. Like many Japanese performance cars of this era – equivalent Mitsubishi Evos included – Imprezas went through many years of modding, hard driving and hard living. Appreciation of the few that remain in nice, original condition is growing and, like the Mk1 and Mk2 Escorts of a previous era, these will be the covetable modern classics prized by a new generation of nostalgic fans. Clean Japanese imports are still trickling through and offer the pick of exotic STI saloons and ‘Type R’ two-doors but even a UK-spec Turbo in original condition would be prized by fans and worth preserving with an eye to increasing values.

E46 M3 and 996 911 image courtesy of Bonhams.

  • BMW

  • M3Lotus

  • Elise

  • Porsche

  • 911

  • 996

  • Subaru

  • Impreza

  • Honda

  • S2000

  • TVR

  • Cerbera

  • Renault

  • Megane

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