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I picked one of these up for the GF a couple of months ago and I have nothing but praise for the thing!
The one we got is a 96 P-Reg with the later style front end, metallic paint, alloys with new tyres (massive 13" ones! ), new exhaust, recently serviced, 12 months MOT, only 19,800 genuine miles, one old lady owner from new, FSH, immaculate is an understatement (garaged all its life), this thing looks and drives like new! Got it for £2700, which was a great price in my opinion.
Drives really well, handling is good, nippy performance too, fully specced up with leccy everything (windows, mirrors, sunroof), nice seats and the fuel economy is amazing. Even with me zipping about in the thing I am getting about 40mpg and even better if driven normally and/or on a run, so superb.
So far weve not had any problems with the car, but it is a very low miles, so youd expect it to be ok. Looked at several others and most seemed to be trouble free. Only the odd thing like a leaky sunroof in one, a noisy CV joint in another, then just odd things like broken bits off trim, dinted bodywork, etc... to look out for.
I have a 95M 1.4RT (older shape, but with power steering, airbag etc.). Its up to 106K miles now and still going strong (famous last words).
Problems? The roof lining and sunroof rattle horribly. I think the sunroof rattle is something to do with the retractable blinds, but I think the entire roof trim will need to come out to fix it (big job, so not bothering).
I have noticed that the tracking/wheel balance goes out quite frequently. Both my front lower balljoints wore rapidly with no warning, leading to some alarming handling quirks (ok - to - scary in 2 weeks). Luckily they were cheap to fix.
Alternator failed at just under 100K (but Im not complaining). Brake discs seem to warp every 12 months.
Front tyre wear is quite heavy. Maybe this is something to do with the tyres - I use Dunlop SP10s (steel rims), which give good grip, excellent in the wet.
Headlamp adjuster had seized. Rear wiper packed up (broken wire somewhere in the roof lining), but repaired by a local auto-electrician for not-a-lot.
Good points - ultra-reliable (as I said, famous last words), regular 40 - 45 mpg. Comfy seats, good for 350 mile journeys. Predictable handling means you can chuck it about without worrying too much.
Performance isnt great - you do have to rev it to go anywhere fast (which is strange for an 8v motor). Im sure my engine is getting a little tired now - not surprising at 106K - but it may be because Im used to driving the 172. It gets noisy at 3k, which makes motorway journeys a bit tiresome.
Would I buy another one? Yes, no question. It has been used almost every working day since May 1998 with only the problems listed above, which are nothing considering the mileage. As a day-to-day commuter car its great.