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Cars for less than the price of the train

Millions of UK workers commute by train, but could it be cheaper to buy a car instead?.....

21 Jul 2019 18:00

A total of 1.7 billion rail journeys were made in 2017-2018; that's 4.7 million train journeys every day.

Compilation image

It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that overcrowding is common, particularly in big cities such as Manchester, Birmingham and London. So could it be more beneficial – and cheaper – to travel by car instead?

In the autumn of 2017, the latest period for which figures are available, Britain’s most overcrowded train was the 04:22 service from Glasgow Central to Manchester Airport. The four-car service had a carrying capacity of 191 passengers, but at times it exceeded that allowance by a staggering 111%, with a total of 403 passengers struggling for space on the packed train at peak times.

Running a car can be expensive, but train travel is in a league of its own

Train

Today, a ticket on that same service will cost you £33 each way, or £85 return. Added up over the course of a year, that’s £20,400 spent on train tickets. Fortunately, season tickets exist for just such commutes, and a season ticket for this service lowers that annual price to £12,568, or £1047 per month. And for that budget, you could drive a brand new car instead.

Over the next few pages, we've gathered together three leasing and PCP deals that all cost a lot less per month to run than you would spend on the train, and we name three used cars that you can buy outright for the price of a season ticket.

As our recent PCP deals have shown, choosing finance for your next car could allow you to run something you wouldn't normally be able to afford. So if you're tired of overcrowded train travel and fancy a car instead, read on.

New car leasing deals for the price of the train

Leasing guide

Personal contract hire, or simply personal leasing, is one way of financing your new car. Essentially, you're renting your car from the dealer or broker, with an agreed limit of typically between 8000 and 10,000 miles per year.

Unlike personal contract purchase (PCP) deals, there's no option to buy the car at the end of your lease period, but since the deposits are low (all the cars mentioned here require a deposit of typically either three or six months' worth of rental value), you'll be able to lease something that you might otherwise struggle to afford. Our monthly budget of £1047 would make this challenge too easy, so let's halve it to £500 instead, leaving you the extra to spend on insurance, servicing and fuel.

Here's our pick of three personal leasing deals, all taken from What Car? Leasing:

Range Rover Evoque D150 2WD

Range Rover Evoque D150 2WD

The deal: £315 per month, with a deposit of £1894

Duration: Four years (48 months)

Mileage limit: 8000 miles per year

The latest Evoque is our favourite family SUV, dethroning the excellent Volvo XC40. The Evoque is well equipped, even in entry-level form, offers a great driving position and will hold its value well. It's also great to drive, and this diesel version has plenty of pulling power.

BMW 3 Series 320d SE auto

BMW 3 Series 320d SE auto

The deal: £372 per month, with a deposit of £2232

Duration: Four years (48 months)

Mileage limit: 8000 miles per year

For many, the 3 Series is still the default choice in the executive saloon market, and it's easy to see why. The latest version offers fun handling, a strong yet efficient range of engines and one of the best infotainment systems you'll find in any car. It's spacious for your family, too.

Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo Match 5dr

Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo Match 5dr

The deal: £258 per month, with a deposit of £1550

Duration: Three years (36 months)

Mileage limit: 8000 miles per year

Ask 10 people to name a family car and chances are most of them will mention the Volkswagen Golf. It's consistently among the most popular new cars sold in the UK, and with good reason: with such a wide range of engines and versions on offer, from frugal petrols through to diesels and even electric versions, there's a model to suit everyone. It's also brilliant to drive and competitively priced.

If personal leasing doesn't appeal to you, then you might be more tempted by PCP deals. Over the next slides we've collected three of the best for commuters.

PCP deals for the price of the train

Woman browsing

A personal contract purchase deal, more commonly referred to as PCP, is one of the most popular ways of buying a new car in the UK. It's similar to other finance deals in that there's a deposit to pay and a monthly rate thereafter, and the deals typically last for three years.

Where a PCP differs, though, is that at the end of your contract you have three options. You can return the car to the dealer, or trade it in and use its remaining value towards a replacement car, or pay a final lump sum and own the car outright.

As with the leasing deals on the previous page, we're working to a maximum budget of £500 per month here, leaving you with plenty left to spend on insurance, servicing or perhaps a few choice options. And for this money you can drive some of the best cars on sale today.

For these deals, we've used our Target Price research, which reveals the most you should pay for a new car. Each deal is based on 15% of the value of the car, combined with the manufacturer's finance discount allowance. All are for three years, with a total mileage limit of 30,000.

Peugeot 5008 Puretech 130 Allure

Peugeot 5008 Puretech 130 Allure

Target Price cost per month: £341

Target Price (on the road): £27,133

The deal: 3 years on a PCP finance deal at 5.9% APR

Peugeot is on a roll at the moment, having successfully reinvented both the 5008 and the smaller 3008 into muscular SUVs while also adding more tech and practicality.

The 5008 is our reigning Large SUV of the Year, in fact, thanks to its spacious interior, flexible seating and competitive CO2 emissions.

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE

Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE

Target Price cost per month: £194

Target Price (on the road): £14,490

The deal: 3 years on a PCP finance deal at 5.2% APR and with £750 finance contribution

The Polo is the best small car you can buy right now, offering a superb interior that's surprisingly spacious, a peppy range of engines and impressive refinement.

This 1.0-litre engine doesn't feel out of place on the motorway, while even SE models come with equipment including electric rear windows and an upgraded infotainment system.

Citroën Berlingo Puretech 110 Feel M

Citroën Berlingo Puretech 110 Feel M

Target Price cost per month: £279

Target Price (on the road): £18,151

The deal: 3 years on a PCP finance deal at 4.9% APR and with £750 finance contribution

If you regularly need to travel with lots of people and their luggage, the Citroën Berlingo deserves a place on your shortlist. It's practically a train in its own right, with plenty of space inside, a peppy yet frugal 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine and a relaxing ride. We think it represents great value for money, which is why we named it our MPV of the Year.

So far, our finance deals have shown how you can drive a new car for far less than the cost of commuting on the train, but what if you want to buy your car outright? If that's the case, the used car deals over the next few slides are just what you're looking for.

Used cars for the price of the train

Used car lot image

Used cars can net you a bargain because they've already suffered the worst of their depreciation. That means you can get a more luxurious car that would have been out of your budget when it was new. Remember, our budget here is the £12,568 you would otherwise have spent on a train season ticket.

Here are three of our used favourites along with links to our used reviews of them, giving you all the information you'll need to save you the bother of any potentially tedious research.

Seat Leon (2013-present)

Seat Leon

The Seat Leon is a long-standing favourite of ours, especially because it was our overall What Car? Used Car of the Year back in 2017. The 1.4-litre petrol engine we recommend is really strong because of its flexible power and remarkable economy figures in the real world, thanks to clever,  fuel-saving cylinder deactivation technology.

The Leon is often better value than its Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 counterparts, too, and if you look at the high-end FR Technology model, you'll have plenty of kit to play with. It's also rather good fun to drive, with quick and well-weighted steering, pleasing handling with limited body lean and a ride that's firm yet always supple enough over the bigger bumps.

One we found: 2017 Seat Leon 1.4 EcoTSI 150 FR Technology, 19,097 miles, £12,497

Kia Sportage (2016-present)

Kia Sportage

If you've got a growing family, it's likely you'll be looking at an SUV, and the good news is that you can afford a well-specced example of the current Kia Sportage for our season ticket budget. The Sportage is a spacious five-seater with a decent-sized boot, and there are plenty of examples out there with the economical 1.7-litre diesel engine.

It's comfortable, too, and even though 2 trim is a mid-range one in the Sportage, you still get dual-zone climate control, cruise control and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with sat-nav and smartphone integration, as well as rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Best of all is the fact that even if you go for an early 2016 car, it'll still have four years of manufacturer's warranty left. 

One we found: 2016 Kia Sportage 2 1.7 CRDI , 29,505 miles, £12,495

BMW 5 Series (2010-2017)

BMW 5 Series

If you want something luxurious to commute in, few cars will suit you better than BMW's 5 Series saloon. The economical 2.0-litre diesel engine is pretty smooth, and as long as you go for a 2014 onwards example (as we've done), you won't suffer the timing chain issues of earlier cars. The big BMW is fantastic for chewing up motorway miles, but it'll be highly rewarding to drive on twisty B-road.

One we found: 2015 BMW 5 Series 520d SE, 34,176 miles, £12,600