Robert Stern has a Renault Megane with 122,000 miles on the clock.

It has served him well for the past five years and only cost him £1,600. Now he wants a replacement which will cover 8,000 miles a year over varying road conditions. He would like an automatic, which is kinder on his legs and back. He wants some decent power, air conditioning, the practicality of a hatchback, and good head and leg clearance. He has a budget of £5,000 to £8,000.

A car for the head

Well done to Robert for squeezing the maximum out of his old Megane in true Bangernomics fashion. For that reason, I think we should stick to the lower end of the budget. Probably the most logical choice would be a Ford Focus which delivers a sporty drive and is easy to live with. However, the compact people-carrier version, badged as the C-Max, offers even more space. This is essentially a five seater, although it excels when there are just four on board. That's because the centre seat pushes back into the load space and locks in the vertical position. But they all spilt-fold, tumble, and come out if required. The boot is large and can get even bigger if you tug out the rear seats. At the front, getting in is easy due to the slightly higher seat position, the driver's seat is very adjustable for height, and the steering wheel for rake and reach. A clear and practical dashboard layout helps make driving less stressful. Around £5,000 will get you a 2005 1.6TDCi with around 45,000 miles, comprehensive Ghia specification and automatic gearbox.

A car for the heart

Robert should consider the Skoda Octavia which is extremely well built and, though classed as a small family car, has masses of room. It is based on the Volkswagen Golf, but has a big car style with an excellent engine, whether diesel or petrol. If Robert wants a diesel, the 1.9 or 2.0 turbodiesels will do and promise to deliver more than 50mpg. It's no sports car but is agile enough and is a smooth ride when not being pushed hard. If Robert wants air conditioning he should avoid the Classic model and go for the Ambiente, while the Elegance has everything as standard, even cruise control. The driver's seat and steering are very adjustable and the large cabin should be perfect. It is possible to get a 2005 Skoda Octavia TDi at Elegance or Ambiente levels with 60,000 miles for just over £5,000.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, 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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