Jacqueline Tompkins returns to Car Choice after a change of circumstances – her partner Nicholas is now not able to drive. So the choice of car will be Jacqueline's, because she will be the sole driver for the foreseeable future. She is looking at the Toyota RAV4, but would consider any other small 4x4. The budget is £5,000 and the only other requirement is that the car should have four doors.

A car for the head

There is no shortage of so-called "soft roaders" in the used car market. These are vehicles with some off-road ability, which are slightly smaller and lighter than the full size 4x4s, and are tuned for on-road comfort. Effectively these are family estate cars with a tad more practicality. I have an immense amount of time for the Nissan X-Trail. The sophisticated four-wheel drive system and good ground clearance make it really impressive when it's tackling a muddy field. But, it's just as good on tarmac, with decent performance and suspension that combines both a comfortable ride and decent handling. There's a fine driving position and good visibility, enough space for three abreast across the back seat,and a fair sized boot. Diesel power is undoubtedly best, especially the dCi unit from 2004, which has excellent power. Returning 40mpg is good, as is the low insurance group and the reasonable running costs. A 2003 example with the diesel engine and 80,000 miles on the clock is within the budget, but a much lower mileage 2.0 petrol is also an option.

A car for the heart

Jacqueline has set her heart on a Toyota RAV4 – a smart and quite nippy off-roader which is difficult to fault and certainly comfy and nice to drive. As an alternative, though, there is the Honda CR-V (below). Being a Honda, the quality of the build goes without saying and there seems to be a zero niggle quotient among satisfied owners. That is always a good sign, plus the CR-V has tight, car-like handling with virtually no body roll. Inside there is an obviously impressive seating position and much more room than any other compact 4x4. The boot is large and flexible, as the 60/40-split rear seat slides backwards and forwards so that you can have more luggage or more legroom. The 2.0 petrol engine is effective and the 2.2 diesel is certainly strong. You will need a lot more cash to get yourself a diesel, but long term it will be easy to resell. The equipment levels have always been decent enough with air con, electric windows and central locking while an Executive model also has sat nav and leather seats. Some unique touches are the rear seats, which not only split 50/50 but also fully recline. Jacqueline's £5,000 would buy a 2.0 petrol automatic from 2002.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF 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.

Search for used cars