Harry Barton, 22, is a student in Dundee who works part time. He wants a three-door hatchback that's diesel powered, cheap to run and to buy.

This is what every motorist wants these days: a small, economical car that costs buttons to run. So we will do our best to recommend small and cheap vehicles, but I do have an issue with the fact that the car must be diesel. There are some tiny petrol engines that are almost as economical and, significantly, will be cheaper to buy than a diesel. Some of the older diesels which have the old technology can be very sluggish and may need more servicing than a well-looked-after petrol, so Harry should bear this in mind. As Harry is a student, insurance is always going to be an issue, never mind the cost of servicing and repairs. Ideally, £1,000 should be put to one side, and the only way to reduce such a high sum is to find a car in a low insurance group which is cheap to buy in the first place. Trouble is that everyone is after these sorts of vehicles, which means that values have been on the rise, especially if Harry is buying in and around Dundee where there are not as many cars around as in the South-east.

A car for the head

Keeping it simple and basic is the key here, and ideally Harry should find himself a 1.0 litre Vauxhall Corsa. Here is a tiny engine that can return pretty much 50mpg, provided Harry drives sensibly. Best of all, the most basic versions will fall comfortably into the lowest insurance group, number one. Although this would be the old Corsa, it is still good to drive and does not feel out of place on the motorway.

Inside, the driving position is very good, with a good view out and plenty of storage options and a very large boot. There won't be many extras on the Corsa, but I doubt that will bother Harry because power steering means he will finding parking a doddle. Here is the driving school favourite that is easy to live with and cheap to run.

However, Harry now has to go out and find one, for, say, £1,500 or so. I searched in a 30-mile radius of Dundee and found just six Corsas that answered the basic description, which included examples from 2006, which may not be in Harry's budget. The cheapest was an 80,000-mile, year 2000 example for £895. The next cheapest was £2,650.

A car for the heart

I know that Harry is not much bothered by whether the car makes his heart beat just that bit quicker. However, there is an alternative to the Corsa, which is made by Ford and isn't a Fiesta. Actually it is even better and smaller than that: it is a Ka. This model has recently been discontinued, but it still looks very contemporary and it has always been interesting to drive and cheap to run.

However, the fuel consumption is good rather than great, but 42.2mpg overall is not too bad. The most basic Ka will certainly be perfect for Harry, but he should be aware that the early versions did not have power steering as standard. Otherwise around town the Ka is easy to live with, and on the open road – and there are plenty of open roads around Dundee – this model is very much at home. It feels sporty and sharp, and for such a small car it is surprisingly refined.

The great news is that there are more than 30 Kas available in Harry's area, but the problem is that the starting price is £1,995. That buys a 2001 with 93,000 miles.

Looking to buy: Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.

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