Is there such a thing as a bad car anymore?

The Austin Allegro has a terrible reputation, but it’s not actually that bad a car. I know this because I bought one two weeks ago and have been using it as my daily vehicle since then.CHAL Banner

Granted, when new it was both slower and more expensive than the 1300 it replaced and the styling was derided even in 1973. The grille and headlight arrangement that’s some way narrower than the rest of the car makes it look as if somebody has tried to over-inflate a Creme Egg, with the resulting mess being painful to look at.

However, despite the terrible reputation it gained (wheels fell off, rear windows popped out and there was that infamous square steering wheel) it’s actually not too bad.

If you’ve got this far, don’t panic just yet – I’m not about to write another 600 words on how good the Allegro is.

Austin Allegro 1973 ProfileThe Allegro I picked up is 38 years old. It accelerates, and has reached the heady speeds of 67 mph. It stops, with only mild concern at the length of time it takes. It goes round corners and has yet to fall over and kill me. It’s spacious enough for such a small car, even compared to some modern cars, is comfortable enough, and it doesn’t let water in during a storm.

For basic transport it does all that is required, yet in 2008 was voted the worst British car ever made.

That got me thinking; if the poll was carried out on current cars, what would come bottom of the list.

That in turn got me thinking; I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a bad car anymore.

The cheapest car on sale in the UK today is the Nissan Pixo. At retail price, you can pick one up for £6,995, with five percent discounts readily available. That’s around £125 a month on a contract hire plan with maintenance, which is astonishing value considering what you get.

The Pixo is a small anonymous city car. It’s got less presence than the other Milliband brother, but makes much more sense. Outside it’s pretty bland, making even the old Almera look interesting, but there’s nothing offensive about it. Inside there’s plenty of hard plastic, but it’s all screwed together well and won’t fall apart at the first sight of a speed bump. The one litre engine lets the car zip around urban areas nicely, and will just about cope with a motorway, whilst returning and economy figure of 60 odd miles per gallon. It seats four, is cheap to insure and cheap to run.

Suzuki Alto 2012 Left FrontIt’ll never win any style awards, but there’s no doubt about it; the cheapest car on sale is by no means a bad car. It does all that’s asked of it, and reasonably well. It’s the automotive equivalent of sliced white bread.

An extra £400 or so could get you a Chevrolet Spark, and I’d go so far as to say the Spark is actually a good car. It shares the same kind of economy as the Pixo, but adds some style, both inside and out. It’s granary bread, but still from a supermarket.

Compare that to a Ford Fiesta. The base Fiesta starts at around £9,500, some £2,500 more than a Pixo or Spark. The Spark is more powerful, more economical, faster, cheaper to tax, and you’ll be left with enough money for a holiday to the home of Chevrolet in Detroit.

The mainstream cars are embedded in buyers’ minds, and that’s why the top ten best selling cars in the UK has barely changed over the years. The Fiesta has always been a fixture, while the Escort and then Focus follows it. But step outside of that predictable area of ‘safe’ purchases and there’s a world of other metal that will be every bit as good, every bit as safe and reliable, and usually significantly cheaper.

I’m not pretending that these cheap cars are superb. They’re usually not, but they do the job that’s required of them.

Much like my Allegro. The worst British car ever? After 38 years it still works, so it can’t be that bad.

The Allegro has now been sold. It may not be the worst British car ever, but it’s not a patch on a Toyota Celica I bought for the same money.

[button link=”” rel=”nofollow” color=”orange”]This article was first published at on 18 May 2012.[/button]

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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