I've driven a lot of cars and vans, but for an enthusiast, I've not owned all that many. Including those I've jointly owned with my wife the grand total is 9 so far. In rough order of ownership they are:
Ford Escort (mk6) 1.6 LX or SI (can't quite remember)
Rover 25 1.4 Impression
Kia Ceed 1.6 (petrol) LS
Citroen C4 Picasso 1.6 HDi VTR+
MG Midget 1500
Rover 220 Coupe
Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi
Alfa GTV TwinSpark
Whether it was through careful purchasing or sheer good luck they were all good cars in their own way. They certainly all had their downsides, but I don't seem to have the history of ‘hateful’ motors some people seem to have had. Maybe it's all just a matter of perspective though.
Given I'd describe them all as good cars, it's hard to pick a favourite, but I'll try and walk you through my logic and arrive at an answer.
It's fair to say the most reliable were the Kia Ceed and Citroen C4 which makes sense being the most modern*. If I had to choose I would say the Kia takes pride of place as the most reliable. That said none of the cars gave me too much trouble and all of them would start eventually (after some coaxing) with all the important functions you need to stay roadworthy.
* We haven't owned the 208 long enough, nor is it old enough, to really pass judgement on the reliability, but so far so good.
Well the C4 Picasso is the most spacious, comfortable and versatile, an easy win there.
Nothing beats an MG Midget for the driving experience in my eyes. However special mentions have to go to the Alfa, both Rovers and the Smart Roadster in that order. All these cars offered something to enjoy when barrelling down a country road in their own way.
The Peugeot and Citroen C4 are tied for this with one being petrol and the other diesel it's hard to say which is better overall. However the Peugeot gets extra points for being generally 'greener' than the Citroen. One thing you might not expect is the Midget was a very economical car returning almost 40mpg. That's if you don't take into account maintenence costs!
I think of this as a quality that is separate from reliability and something I care about in a car. At the top of the list would be the Kia and Rover 25. You might not expect the latter but it is one of the cars I owned the longest and it took a lot of abuse. The clutch never wore out despite some serious abuse on steep hills and the gearbox was slick and never deteriorated either. It went to the Scottish Highlands and south of France, down tiny lanes, in all weather and was airborne at least once. It led a full and colourful life. I don't think any of the other cars have been put through quite the same paces, so I have to say that, shocker, the Rover 25 wins here.
On the flipside the worst cars for robustness would have to be the MG Midget and Smart Roadster. Sports cars need constant fettling and just aren't made to do the (perhaps silly) things we all tend to do from time to time.
The 208 would rank higher here were it not for the low front bumper which is easily scuffed and damaged as my wife discovered quite promptly after we bought it which to be fair has caught me out a few times since!
I'm lumping external and internal design in together here, along with the overall feeling you get from driving or riding in the car. This is the most subjective criteria and something I care about less in a modern daily driver and more in a classic car. The Rover 220 Coupe was definitely a respectable car that turns heads, but I think the Alfa is the winner in terms of design: it manages to feel like a classic car that is also comfortable and (for a sporty car) easy to live with.
Whittling this down to my top 3, we have: Citroen C4 Picasso, Rover 25 and the Alfa GTV TwinSpark. A strange medley of cars, each with their own merits. The Citroen is by far the best family choice, the Rover the best all-rounder and the GTV the best sports car. So the choice now really comes down to which type of car would I want to live with out of all three and the ‘all-rounder’ hatchback has to be the one. There's a reason this class of car is the best selling of all time.
People would chide the 25 at the time as being just another ‘grandad’ car. This image is a legacy of the marque which in some people's view still persists today. But despite the corporate turmoil that led to their ultimate demise, by the late 90s Rover were starting to transform their image. The 25 was every bit as capable as most other hatchbacks on the market. It also had the added touch of a more upmarket looking interior and enough design features that set it apart from the rest. But best of all it stood the test of time, for me at least.
It's slightly absurd to try and choose between some very different cars to decide which is the ‘best’, but I hope this was an enjoyable read. Given a few more years service and exposure to its modern creature comforts, who knows, perhaps the Peugeot 208 will become the new favourite or will something else come along to take the crown?
If you enjoyed reading this, subscribe below for more from me on cars by email: