A bigger car will feel more expensive but it's as much an illusion as buying a small one. Unless you head on up to 1.8/ 2.0 litre country, they're all there or there abouts.
For me, it's a no brainer, value
is the key IMO, yes, you can save a little by slashing your expectations but I know what car I'd be looking for if I were on a budget.
Like I say a 1.6 vectra is not a big car in the grand scheme of things and it is only marginally more commitment. A 2.0 is a probably different story.
But I'm repeating myself.
The key thing is to look at carzone.ie- it's definitely the most consulted search site on Boards. Limit your search to a little more than you want to spend (you can always haggle down a bit).
Limit the search to 1.8. Though no matter what car you get, you'll probably
have to get the smallest engine in the range if there's a 1.6 or a 1.8, they probably wouldnt quote for the 1.8. Ditto if the engines in the range are 1.8 or 2.0 like a mazda 626 for example.
1.8s are probably
not automatically out and 1.8s will be cheaper to buy, if you found one you fancied. Have a look and see what cars show up that you'd like and get a feel for the pricing- get some quotes.
Insurance will be your biggest factor since you're starting out on your own policy. Choose some potential cars and get some quotes for them.
I imagine if you are spending a couple of grand or less you will end up buying privately because a dealer car for this money will cost more and only have a begrudging and half-assed waranty (eg, engine and gearbox only which he probably wouldn't fully stand over).
MAKE SURE the car is as honest as possible whether buying from a dealer or privately by using a reputable mechanic- that's the key.
If you see something you like and you can insure it, you can then bring someone who knows about cars for a look like a friend or relative. If it seems okay, you MUST then get a mechanic to see it. Any local mechanic in the phone book will see it for you but use someone recommended locally (ask here for recommendations when the time comes) make sure he doesn't have to travel 20 kms cos he will charge you.
Must have decent amount of NCT, must be recently or just serviced and have impending work like timing belt etc, cos these are expensive. No obvios damage like cracks in the windscreen or doors not opening, electrcis all work etc. etc.
Keep asking if there's anything else you want to know