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Big Mike: Today’s used cars are better than ever before but no easier to sell

Time 8 years ago

Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 17.18.04TRENDS are funny things… In every aspect of life, it seems that human beings like to keep up with the Joneses and that means that, very often, certain things are hot to trot, while others fall completely out of favour.

I was reminded of this the other week, when I had not just one, nor two, but three MkIV VW Golf GTIs on my forecourt.

A decade ago, these well-made, stylish cars were good news. And right up until a few months ago, they were still tremendous to have on your forecourt — with a vast choice below the magic 2k figure, where most of my customers spend their pennies, the MkIV was always a class above the contemporary Ford, Vauxhall and Japanese rivals.

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Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 17.17.23But something strange has happened. A few years ago, VW changed its marketing strategy for the GTI, after complaints from the world’s motoring journalists that the MkIV simply wasn’t ‘GTI’ enough.

It had, they said, evolved from an edgy performance hatch that drivers loved into a somewhat dull, anodyne and average-to-drive trim level, beloved of estate agents and suburban mums.

They were, of course, right. So the MkV GTI and beyond have been reset. They’re ‘edgy’ drivers’ cars in every respect, they glue themselves to the road, make all the right noises and are tremendously good fun to drive. Which is wonderful news for car enthusiasts, but not so great for us dealers, because the posh Golf so beloved of estate agents was always a cracking used car.

They were more often than not owned by relatively wealthy folk who looked after them, serviced them with all the right bits and kept them in lovely condition until the Joneses decided a BMW X3 was essential for entering into the urban traffic battle.

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So now, estate agents drive German SUVs, or massacre the beloved Land Rover DNA by buying one with front-wheel drive. Late-model Golf GTIs are for committed petrolheads (and sell far fewer in the UK as a result) and there are several cast-off Freelanders in the circa 10-year age bracket that can no longer find homes.

The enthusiasts don’t want them, because the revhead mags tell them they’re a bit boring. The aspirational young things don’t want them either, because they can once again get a palatable finance rate on a nearly new X3 or Freelander, and as a result the MkIV Golf GTI has found itself as just a classy banger, a few sovs more expensive than the equivalent 1.4 or 1.6 models with their bin lid hubcaps and Velcro seat fabric. I know which one I’d rather drive.

But that’s the rub. The standard MkIV Golf remains a popular car with younger drivers because in low power form it’s cheap to run, relatively inexpensive to insure and, well, it’s a Volkswagen, which means it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart next week, and it has those funky blue dashboard lights which are one of the best-ever car company marketing ploys. Often copied, never bettered and, for some reason, extremely popular with the girls…

Conversely, the GTI has those three plastic letters glued to its tailgate. It doesn’t matter that the 2.0-litre performed about as well as an asthmatic athlete with holes in his trainers and that the 1.8 turbo was quicker, but all that did was expose the limitations of the chassis (if you drove it like a tool — but to most people it was perfectly fine).

No, those three letters mean ridiculous insurance premiums, especially for anyone aged under 25 and male, who are the people to whom a cheap GTI appeals. Of the three cars on my lot, all have attracted interest from those very individuals.

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They make all the right noises, fall dutifully in love with the car, and then call me back the following day, crestfallen, because their annual premium is more than the sticker price…

Right now, then, the MkIV Golf GTI gets my vote as one of the best cheap used cars that not a lot of money can buy. For little more than a grand, you’ll get a corker. And much like my Audi column last month, it goes to show that today’s generation of older used cars is better than ever before, even if it doesn’t make them any easier to sell…

Meantime, if you want a MkIV GTI, give me 15 hundred quid and take your pick — black, silver or green…

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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