£12k winter cars | Six of the Best

The nights are drawing in and the rain won't stop; time to think about a car that'll see you through

By PH Staff / Saturday, October 10, 2020

Probably this would be better titled 'flood cars'. PH spent part of this week in Somerset, taking pictures of all manner of things sporty and low to the ground. In other words, cars completely unsuited to the conditions, which included foot-deep puddles and torrential rain. Yes, summer is most definitely gone. Autumn is the new normal. And it gives every indication of being a miserable one.

Of course, our default response to climate change is to consider which new (used) car would best suit it. And the question of cheapish winter cars is obviously a reoccurring one. At £12k, we've been quite generous with the budget – kudos to anyone who manages to deliver a suitable option for less than half that – but the criteria are predictable enough: four-wheel drive, generous ground clearance, log-carrying practicality and the sort of implied toughness that would have you approaching the north face of the Eiger undaunted.

We're early to the fray here so the options ought to be plentiful and without the sly premium such cars tend to attract when frost is on the ground. To the classifieds…

Ford F-150 4200, 2004, 42k, £10,950

What better for winter than North America's favourite pick up? An estate is good, yes, but an F-150 is 'Built Tough' according to Ford (or at least the new ones are) and think of the harshness of a US winter. Any vehicle designed to withstand the cold of Colorado or minus 20 in Maine will be fine with some drizzle in Driffield. Especially one that, despite more than a decade and a half of driving, has only accrued just over 40,000 miles. Which is about one year of average Stateside travel.

While I appreciate that a V6 is not dream F-150 spec, its paltry specific output – making just over 200hp from 4.2 litres – is just the ticket for many more years of dutiful service. Unstressed lives are long lives, aren't they? Indeed this truck looks to have barely ever seen a hard day's work: the chrome still gleams, the load bay is unmarked, even the shiny and plasticky interior looks barely any worse than it would have early in the 21st century. With an F-150 tip runs, B&Q shops and bike rides will never be the same again; the £1,000 left over can be spent, obviously, on getting hold of as much road trip confectionary as possible. And getting rid of some of that chrome…

Audi Allroad 4.2 V8, 2004, 69K, £6,990

With the days growing darker and colder as we head towards the winter months, I'm beginning to daydream about my favourite things in the season to be jolly; relaxing in a comfy armchair next to an open fire, drinking copious amounts of tea and listening to Michael Buble's Christmas album for the 500th time.

If I do have to grab my PH beanie and leave the house, I want to do so in comfort. Cozy heated leather seats? Check. Four-wheel drive for collecting firewood in any conditions? Check. Top-notch sound system for banging out Auld Lang Syne? Absolutely. Although I might just find that, with a 4.2-litre V8 (way) out front, I don't end up listening to much music.

While this isn't your average JDM import, it ticks all the right boxes for the perfect winter hack – right down to the sunroof for keeping a watchful eye out for Father Christmas and his sleigh. Anyone else feeling merry yet?

Subaru Forester STI, 2006, 90k, £10,995

Thanks to our generous budget this week, I can stretch to a vehicle which is great for these soggy days but will also be just as much fun when it all dries up again. I present to the panel a Subaru Forester STI.

For those who haven't yet been introduced, in the mid 2000s Subaru took all the good bits from a contemporary Impreza STI – flat-four EJ25 turbo and six-speed manual, most notably – and crammed them into a Forester body, creating an oddly lovable, JDM-only STI in the process. The result was (hood scoop aside) one heck of a sleeper estate.

This happened to be during my impressionable years and since then I've longed for one. Growing up in the States meant it would have never been a reality due to the strict import laws, but with the grey import economy in the UK it's great to be able to see these unicorn JDM models in use here.

As much as I love a Subaru, there's no denying the unfavourable (I think what I really mean is chavvy) reputation they have in the UK. However, I've always thought that this car is an exception to that stereotype, and is as close as I'll probably ever get to convincing my wife to letting me own an STI. Which is one of the main reasons why former Ed Dan Trent bought his in the first place.
P.S. Wife has since told me no way in hell.

Dacia Duster, 2014, 34k £6,994

After a recent house move, my winter is going to consist mostly of runs to B&Q and the dump, so the appeal of a utilitarian load lugger is growing by the day.

I need something that can cheaply ferry four of us (and a load of junk) around while not losing a fortune in the process. Sounds simple, right? Not as easy as you might think. Which is why I've ended up with a Dacia. This 2014, four-wheel drive Duster, in rental car white with black rubber bumpers (and a towbar, of course) seems to fit the bill. 475 litres of load space extends to an impressive 1,600 with the seats down and it even has some creature comforts thrown in. Like, y'know, air-conditioning. And maybe some other stuff. A stark reminder that these really did set a whole new benchmark for the term 'poverty spec'.

PH had a 1.2 TCe on the fleet in 2017 and with my slightly younger head on I confess I didn't really see the appeal back then. However, I was clearly in the minority as there was quite a buzz at PH HQ about it; in fact, it's apparently still the press car Ben has driven where someone accosted him at a petrol station to chat about it in great detail! So, a few years on, my taste has matured – I must admit that the humble Duster does have a lot going for it.

So, although a 1.5-litre diesel Dacia is never going to be the most exciting entry ever, I think all the conditions of the brief have been emphatically met here. And for thousands under budget, too…

Range Rover Vogue, 1987, 72k, £11,995

Is there a finer car in which to take on winter's worst than a Range Rover? I think not, particularly when said Rangey is a V8 Vogue classic with all the trimmings and a fresh restoration. Land Rover's luxury 4×4 established a segment when it arrived in 1969 with three doors; three generations on and it's still arguably the king of the pile. With that in mind, I instinctively sought out an early Mk4, but even the cheapest L405 is more than double our budget.

Oh well, this 1987 Vogue will just have to do. I think it's a sure-fire winner, dressed in Plymouth Blue metallic and trimmed with light Teddy Bear Grey fabric inside. It's a timeless design, as purposeful and posh as it was back in the eighties, and with a 3.5-litre V8 under the bonnet, it'll certainly sound good – if not actually move that fast. 72,000 miles is nothing for this big old lump; I'd feel no shame in putting it to good use in the cold months. Just don't get any mud on my velour…

Skoda Yeti, 2014, 52k, £12,000

OK, this is probably a little leftfield, but who better to build a winter car than the company who've also built class-winning WRC cars for almost 25 years? Like Skoda's Fabia rally cars, the Yeti sits a rung below the top-level machinery, but is probably all the better for it. It's not a big 4×4 or a huge American truck, but something practical and brilliant. Way back when I was given one after a delay to my new Skoda Octavia vRS, and was frightened to let my wife in it; she would have instantly asked why we weren't buying the more practical vehicle instead.

To double down on the SOB criteria this week, the Yeti in question has the 'rough road package' on top of its flagship Laurin & Klement spec. The heated seats will keep you warm through cold winters, even if they look like they look to have been well used. It comes with a manual gearbox and even an "off road" button; just the thing for the wettest weather in Wetwang (just around the corner from Driffield, in fact).

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