9th April 2024

Trend spotting: Classics due to rise in popularity this year 

Hindsight is an exact science, which many of us wished we could study. It might have helped us hang on to some of the cars we all wish we’d kept – the mythical ones that got away, that are now super rare, desirable, and expensive. Sadly, there’s no university offering this kind of knowledge, but we can help you spot the cars that we reckon will be classics in the near future. 

Getting in on the ground floor when a car has hit the bottom of its depreciation curve and is starting to be fancied again by enthusiasts is always the smartest time to move. Not only does it allow you to own a car that might otherwise have been too costly when new or soon will be, but a gentle rise in values can also help offset the running costs and maintenance incurred with any classic vehicle. 

We must put in a huge caveat emptor here, however. Do not buy a classic car thinking it will shoot up in value and make you a wealthy speculator. For starters, the number of people who have made money in this way are vastly outnumbered by those with tales of losing small fortunes. If you want to invest in something, stick to stocks and shares. If you want to drive a fantastic piece of history and have a ball while doing it, then welcome to the cars we’re tipping to be the next generation of classic cars. 

Choosing these cars is based on a number of influences. To grab our attention, a car needs to have been eye-catching when new and stood out from the crowd. It helps if the car set new standards or was the benchmark in its class and, of course, performance is always a handy string to its bow. Also, if you look at the demographic of those new owners coming into the classic car market now, you just need to assess what cars they are looking for. On this basis, it’s cars from the late 1990s and 2000s that are catching on as classics because there are plenty of buyers who remember them from their youth. Sadly for us, the days of cheap Subaru Impreza WRXs and Mitsubishi Evos have long gone, but there are plenty of others out there to tempt. 

Let’s start with hot hatches, which enjoyed varying fortunes in the 1990s. By the start of the millennium, however, they were back in favour and better than ever, which is exemplified by the 2002 MINI Cooper S. This supercharged bundle of energy had all the charm of its ancestor mixed with modern quality and reliability. There are plenty around today, offering rapid transport and big smiles from as little as £2,500 for a decent example. 

If you want something a bit bigger than the MINI, SEAT’s Leon Cupra came with up to 210bhp and 0-60mph in a nifty 6.8 seconds. Similar to a Volkswagen Golf GTI underneath, the Leon wore a sharper suit and handled more nimbly. It gave the Ford Focus ST, which used a Volvo-sourced five-cylinder engine in the second-generation version, a tough run for its money. That same Focus ST is also a car we’d say is worth snapping up now before the usual fast Ford spiral of price rises takes effect. Buy now and you’ll have one of the best sounding hot hatches ever built. 

Other fast hatches to consider are the original Skoda Octavia vRS as a left-field option, while the Audi S3 brings four-wheel drive to the mix. Another unusual option could be the Mazda 3 MPS, or its 5 MPS big sister that also had four-wheel drive. We’re also fans of the Volvo S60 R, which had an up-rated version of the Focus ST’s five pot motor, that delivers serious pace in an understated manner. 

If you fancy something more laid back, you don’t get more velvet smooth than a Jaguar XJ saloon. Whether you prefer the lower, more lithe looks of the X300 and X308 models, or the 2003-2010 X350, you’ll be cocooned in a world of wood, leather and luxury that feels every inch a classic car from the moment you close the door. 

A more Teutonic take on this type of car comes in the shape of the C215 generation of Mercedes CL coupe or the first CLS. Either offers a massive slice of comfort and opulence mixed with superb driving dynamics. Like all the cars here, just make sure you do your checks and have the car properly inspected before handing over any money so you know you’ve bagged a good one. 

Sticking with coupes for a moment, the Audi TT in Mk1 and Mk2 forms is a great car and making the transition into classic territory very well. The same applies to the 2008 Volkswagen Scirocco, which remained in production until 2017 virtually unchanged thanks to its blend of style, performance, handling, and decent cabin space. 

The first BMW Z4 warrants attention, where its once controversial looks now have a chiselled appeal. Porsche’s 986 Boxster is ripe for buying and enjoying right now, along with the Honda S2000. Another roadster option is the Mazda MX-5 Mk3, which was seen as the poor relation of the breed for too long but is now being appreciated for the brilliant roadster it is. The same applies to the Mk3 Toyota MR-2, while the MGF was a far more revolutionary car that many gave it credit for when new. Pick up an MGF now and you’ll enjoy sharp responses and a rev-happy engine. 

Where else should you look for classics on the cusp? How about the Volvo XC90? Big, comfy and it set new standards for versatility and downright brilliance in the SUV sector, it’s also brimming with laid-back Scandi cool. One more Swede to consider is the Saab 9-3 Convertible, or indeed its hatchback siblings. Handsome, well made and offering four-seat open-top motoring, the 9-3 is a timeless, classless drop-top. 

If this lot doesn’t appeal, how about an early smart fortwo as a perfect time capsule of tiny brilliance? Maybe you’d rather have the elegance of a Citroen C6, or the sharp Italian looks of an Alfa Romeo 156, while a Fiat Barchetta is an endearingly different kind of roadster. We also wouldn’t overlook the Vauxhall Omega, which was the last of its type yet sports rear-wheel drive and lusty engines. 

Whichever burgeoning classic car hits the mark for you, buy with your heart. You’ll never be disappointed, and you’ll never look back with regret. Which of these stands out to you? Let us know in the comments below.