Martin Simon is 64, lives in the hills behind Stroud, in Gloucestershire, and needs a small four-wheel-drive diesel that is fun, sturdy, and comfortable enough for occasional long journeys. Martin also likes gadgets. The budget is £15,000 to £20,000. He does not mind second-hand if it buys extra quality.
A car for the head
Without any hesitation, the best compact 4x4 would be the Honda CR-V. These are excellent vehicles, which are great to drive, spacious, and well equipped. Unlike so many 4x4s, they are not "in your face", just a stylish and refined way to travel. The basic SE model has a reasonable level of kit – from air conditioning through to electric windows front and rear. Upgrading to the ES means dual zone climate control and a few other items for Martin to play with. However, there is a top of the range EX model, but it may well be over the budget. The diesel engine is supposed to return over 40mpg and the engine is strong and keen to overtake if need be. A brand new 2.2 iDTEC would cost more than £22,000, but I found a 2007 EX model at £16,495. To get more protection, Martin should spend £20,000 and get a 2008 EX with 21,000 miles on the clock from a Honda dealer.
A car for the heart
Martin should stick with Japanese models and, because he specified "small", the Suzuki Grand Vitara (pictured) is ideal. This is a rugged and quite stylish vehicle that's well built and well equipped. There is the option of three or five doors, however the diesel engine is only available with the extra doors. Certainly the standard specification is good, with electric front windows, automatic air conditioning and reclining rear seats. The 1.9DDis engine is expected to return around 40mpg overall and is suited to hard work. Inside it is well finished, solid and very pleasantly laid out. Some believe that the ride is too firm, but that's a matter of opinion and Martin will only find out after a test drive. Off-road it's extremely accomplished. Suzuki currently have zero per cent finance offers on new models, but the SZ4 costs £19,375 which is within Martin's budget – and he should be able to get a small discount off that price.
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