Best British modern classic cars you can afford

Britain has its fair share of automotive icons but the best modern British classic cars needn’t put a king-sized dent in your bank balance

If you're looking for a modern classic from Britain, then you're pretty well-catered for. We managed to find mid-engined sports cars, luxury limousines, practical hatchbacks and off-roaders which could all prove to be a savvy investment for years to come. 

Investing in a modern classic isn't just for the wealthy either. We've included a wide variety of cars for all budgets, from the relatively cheap but still appealing MG ZR hot hatch to premium models like the Bentley Continental GT

There's always an element of risk in predicting which cars will become collectable in future and what mechanical demons can surface during your ownership, but we’ve done our best to get you ahead of the curve with our list of the best British classic cars you can afford.

Land Rover Discovery 1

  • Years produced: 1989-1998 
  • Typical price: £4,000
  • Engine: Various, up to 154bhp
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★☆☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

The original Land Rover Discovery, often known as the Discovery 1, is starting to become a rarity. At one time there were plenty about, and at low prices, but rust and mechanical problems have sent many to an early grave, so it’s now becoming an interesting and sought-after modern classic for its handsome styling, and its seven-seat usability. 

The V8 model is probably the best – if you can stomach the running costs – but the diesel is rugged, and thanks to low-range gears, four-wheel drive and a locking centre differential, the Discovery is still an off-roading legend.

Jaguar XJ

  • Years produced: 2002-2009
  • Typical price: £6,000
  • Engine: Various, up to 296bhp
  • Rarity: ★★☆☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★☆☆
  • Investment: ★★☆☆☆

Despite its slightly old-fashioned styling and interior, the aluminium bodied, mid-2000s Jaguar XJ is an interesting choice of modern classic if you want something that’s comfortable, relaxing and powerful. 

There are plenty of engines, including a V6 petrol and 3.5 and 4.2-litre V8s, plus a 2.7-litre diesel, and lots of cars for sale around £6,000 – even the most powerful 4.2-litre V8 version with nearly 300bhp. The ride quality is the XJ’s best feature, but it was great in so many other ways too; it just never found its feet thanks to its very traditional looks.

MG ZR

  • Years produced: 2001-2005
  • Typical price: £1,500
  • Engine: Various, up to 158bhp
  • Rarity: ★★★☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★☆☆☆
  • Investment: ★★☆☆☆

The MG ZR is an early-2000s hot hatch that must be feeling left behind these days, as contemporary rivals such as the Clio enjoy rising values and cherished status. You can still easily find MG ZRs under £2,500, which is starting to look like a bargain for one of these analogue-feeling sporty hatchbacks. 

The one you want is the ZR 160, which has a 158bhp K-Series engine for zingy power delivery and the best brakes of the range. The 1.4-litre version is cheap, and there were even diesel models, but the top model is the most desirable and fun to drive. 

Lotus Evora

  • Years produced: 2007-2014
  • Typical price: £27,500
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V6, up to 430bhp
  • Rarity: ★★★★☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★★☆
  • Investment: ★★★★☆

If you love the idea of owning a Lotus sports car, but need a bit more practicality or comfort on longer trips, there’s always the Evora to consider. It was available as both a two-seater, or as a 2+2 with a pair of tiny perches in the back, but its real appeal lies in the fact that it’s much more usable than an Elise on long trips thanks to the large, torquey V6 engine and better soundproofing. 

Yet it’s still a Lotus at heart, delivering thrills like little else. Early Evoras are the most affordable, but later models had much more power.

Bentley Continental GT

  • Years produced: 2003-2011
  • Typical price: £20,000
  • Engine: 6.0-litre W12, 552bhp
  • Rarity: ★★★☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★☆☆☆☆
  • Investment: ★★★☆☆

Are you feeling brave? If you can stomach the potentially sky-high bills to maintain and run a Bentley Continental GT, the cheapest models could offer incredible value for money at the moment. 

It’s on a different level to most cars you can buy for less than £20,000, featuring an astonishing 6.0-litre W12 engine with over 500bhp and a sublime driving experience. It would be perfect for owners who love doing long trips, because it’s an excellent cruiser. Its high-quality interior is very roomy, and with styling that hardly seems to have aged, it makes a compelling case for itself – if you have the cash to run it.

Lotus Elise

  • Years produced: 2001-2011
  • Typical price: £19,000
  • Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, up to 217bhp
  • Rarity: ★★★☆☆
  • Maintenance: ★★★☆☆
  • Investment: ★★★★☆

Lotus ended production of the Elise this year, but never fear – there’s a plentiful supply of second-hand models, especially the Series 2. This version has a wide range of configurations, from early Rover K-Series-engined models to the later Toyota-powered versions that are more powerful and reliable.

Values are rock-solid and the Elise is one of the most exciting driver’s cars ever built, with ultra-low weight, huge performance and near-perfect steering and control weights. It’s one for track days and Sunday drives rather than everyday use, but as a pure driver’s car, very little comes close.

What does the Auto Express team drive? Find out here...

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