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Top 3 used economical hatchbacks for £5,000 – Volkswagen Golf, Renault Clio and Peugeot 208

"Dear Carbuyer, I need a learner-friendly hatchback that’s easy to drive and frugal on fuel. What can I get for £5,000?"

Although other models might grab headlines, economical hatchbacks are the bread and butter products of most major carmakers – and with good reason. Cars like the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa and Skoda Fabia satisfy the everyday motoring needs of a huge range of customers, while sporty choices like the SEAT Ibiza mean there's a supermini to meet most tastes.

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Best hatchbacks you can buy today.

The second-hand choice of hatchbacks has never been so broad, either; £5,000 is enough to score a well-cared-for car that'll continue to give good service for many years to come. We've chosen three compact, economical hatchbacks that excel on comfort and driving ease while offering a special extra something, too.

Volkswagen Golf – the grown up choice

For: Spacious cabin, reassuring quality and feelAgainst: In-budget S models are very basic

Up against the Clio and the 208, the Volkswagen Golf is a bit of a wild-card choice, but a very sensible one. £5,000 will buy a 1.2-litre TSI petrol S in Golf Mk6 form, wearing a 2010 10-plate. That means it's a little bit older than the other two cars here, and 'S' specification means it's not especially well equipped. However, the Golf is a car from the next size bracket up, with the Renault Megane and Peugeot 308 its natural rivals.

It really does feel a class above, too. Few hatchbacks can match the Golf for interior quality or classy design, while its extra size brings more interior space than the models above, along with a 350-litre boot. This doesn't come at the expense of economy, either – the 1.2-litre petrol promises 51.4mpg. Its 85bhp is plenty for the open road and makes it a good choice for less experienced drivers. Although larger TSI engines have a mixed reputation for reliability, the unstressed 1.2 should be dependable.

Renault Clio – the high spec choice

For:Second-hand examples are great valueAgainst: Not the most economical of our three

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The Renault Clio is always a popular choice among younger buyers – it's a stylish car with a fun personality. £5,000 will just about secure an example of the latest model, but the previous generation offers a whole lot more metal for the money. We found a well equipped Clio 1.2 petrol Dynamique with 37,000 miles, plus cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and sat nav fitted as standard.

It's easy and fun to drive, too, while its 288-litre boot is reasonably spacious. On the minus side, 48.7mpg from the 1.2-litre means it trails our two other choices for fuel economy and the interior design is beginning to look its age. This generation of Renault Clio wasn't quite as solidly put together as some rivals, though, and electrical gremlins can surface. Low-mileage cars are less prone to rattles.

Peugeot 208 – the efficient choice

For: HDi diesels return impressive fuel economyAgainst: Firm suspension, cabin not to all taste

£5,000 will comfortably secure a 13-plate Peugeot 208, making it by far the newest car in our trio. The 208 also boasts a 1.4-litre diesel HDi FAP engine which will return up to 74.3mpg, along with 98g/km CO2 emissions that make it exempt from road tax (though remember examples registered after 1 April 2017 face a £140 annual charge). Bear in mind that the small diesel engine isn't as spritely as the petrol alternative.

The Access+ trim level is pretty generous, with air conditioning and cruise control, while the interior’s design is modern and pleasing to look at; you'll even find examples with the impressive i-Cockpit digital instrument cluster within our budget. Not everybody gets on with the Peugeot 208's driving position, though. Electrical faults aren't unknown, particularly with the infotainment system, but the 208 is otherwise a solid-feeling car.

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Richard is a former editor of Carbuyer, as well as sister site DrivingElectric.com, and he's now Deputy Editor at Auto Express. Having spent a decade working in the automotive industry, he understands exactly what makes new car buyers tick.

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