Jonathan New has just bought a chalet in the French Alps and requires a 4x4, left-hand drive car. In the winter months the road to the chalet is kept open but compacted snow will be around most of the time. Jonathan's budget is probably between £10,000 and £12,500, but he does not want a "flashy 4x4".

He will need to carry sports gear – such as skis and mountain bikes – on the car, probably on roof racks, and he expects to purchase the vehicle in France.

A car for the head

What Jonathan needs to understand is that the car market in Europe, and France in particular, is quite different. At that budget he will be after a used car, and in France there is not the same range or specification of second-hand cars as in the UK. We are used to having lots of buying options, whereas there are not so many dealers and the number of options fitted as standard in Europe are often much fewer than here. For that reason it is very difficult to talk accurately about prices and what is available. It is possible, though, to buy a left-hand drive car from specialists in the UK and then permanently export the car to France. So, there are loads of dealers and websites in the UK with listings of left-hand drive cars. He could take a look at lhdplace.co.uk, but there are dozens of other options. I'll concentrate on the four-wheel drive vehicle that would be best for the job. The obvious choice would be an Audi Quattro or perhaps a Volkswagen Passat 4 Motion. These are two quite similar large, estate-based cars that will be comfortable, assured under all conditions and ... er, comfortable. The models, though, will be around six or seven years old, with a reasonably high mileage.

A car for the heart

There are plenty of 4x4 vehicles that don't fall into the obscenely-large-and-stupid-looking category, which is what Jonathan wants to avoid. There are some smaller hatches, and other estate options which are worth considering. But it may be luck or chance that a left hand drive model is found on sale. I did find a Volvo XC70 (pictured), which is a four-wheel drive estate car and the best combination of space and practicality with a frugal diesel engine. It has an automatic gearbox, was registered in 2003, comes with a full service history covering its 53,000 miles, and costs £12,995 in the UK. What may be easier to find is a Jaguar X-type estate, which has four-wheel drive as standard and would be worth finding with the 2.0D engine, which returns over 48mpg. This is hardly a full-on 4x4, but is good looking and reasonably spacious, without, however, the sort of luggage room you get inside a Volvo. A Jaguar like this would be a very distinctive way to chase around the Alps and also very affordable. A 2006 example would easily be within the £10,000 budget. I can't think of a more stylish or more appropriate 4 x4.

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.

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