Car Choice: A workhorse that doesn't mind a bit of ill-treatment

Richard Pring wants to replace his loyal Audi diesel, which, after 212,000 miles, is reaching the end of its life. He wants a five-door car, which is economical (up to 50mpg), and which has a high driving position to help his bad back. It should be a solid workhorse and will be used for towing a small caravan, and carrying a boat and garden equipment, and will generally be ill-treated. Richard is not bothered about style, he just wants a reliable vehicle, and he has £4,000 to spend.

A car for the head

Richard definitely needs a diesel if he is used to getting almost 50mpg. One problem, though, is that a high-rise car (for a more comfy seat) has a worse drag coefficient, and that means lower mpg. And his budget of £4,000 won't necessarily buy a state-of-the-art vehicle. I know that Richard has considered the smaller 4x4s, but the tight budget means a high-mileage example, which is when some vehicles start to get expensive – and these lighter 4x4s will struggle to get above 40mpg. I would point Richard towards a Mercedes A-Class, which is not known as a towing vehicle, but it should be up to the job. The 1.7TD engine officially returns almost 58mpg. It is a small car but with a massive amount of interior space and the driving position Richard needs. His £4,000 will buy a 2002 example in Avantgarde trim, which has covered around 75,000 miles. Richard would have to pay for a towing hook.

A car for the heart

I believe that the compact people carrier would be the best way to go, and I would suggest a fairly rare model which will last at least as long as Richard's current Audi. The Mazda Premacy is very underrated, and has a great reputation for reliability. One downside would be that the diesel engine, a 2.0TD, is fairly slow and a bit noisy. I don't think that this will matter much to Richard, as he says: "A car is just a metal box." Indeed, the Mazda is a metal box with plenty of room, although there was always criticism that there were never nearly enough stowage options. Most models were five seaters, but could be ordered with seven. Not something that Richard needs and he could simply remove them. Importantly, the fuel economy for the diesel version is officially 49.6mpg. This is an undemanding vehicle. There are not many on sale, but I did find a 2004 example that had covered 43,000 miles, in top GXE specification, at just £4,699.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at carchoice@, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.