Ann Mills is 73 and has very simple requirements. All she wants is a small car, with five doors, which absolutely must have power steering. Apparently, electric windows would be nice, too. Mrs Mills says she only travels 5,000 to 6,000 miles a year for social and domestic reasons and has up to £2,500 to spend.

A car for the head

A simple, uncomplicated solution would be a Volkswagen Polo. The last of the old shape models from 2001 would be perfect. Volkswagen reinvented the super-mini and made sure that it was high quality, refined and stylish. There is a roomy interior, strong engines, and a wide choice of body styles and models. They are easy to look after, with relatively low running costs, and fuel consumption that is over 40mpg for the smallest petrol engines. Ann will find the Polo comfy and well laid out. Road noise is minimal and the ride is supple and smooth, while the handling is safe and predictable. Wherever Ann is, the Polo will be a faithful companion. Light controls make it easy to drive and there are plenty to choose from. A basic, Polo 1.0E five-door with 59,000 miles on the clock, and power steering, is the perfect option at £2,000.

A car for the heart

Alternatively, she could go for a slightly larger, even more comfortable model – and that would be an old Honda Civic from 2000. Build quality is generally superb, and its reliability is unquestioned by most owners. All-round it's a very safe set of wheels. The great thing for passengers and drivers alike is that they can feel that the Civic is a quality car. The interior is dull, but is reasonably spacious and comfortable. The driving position is just about perfect for most people. In the handling stakes, the Civic is capable, rather than exciting. The steering is pleasant, direct and safe. Strong brakes, slick gear changes, and firm suspension means that it is nice to drive. The old five-door Civic had an impressive Euro NCAP crash rating of three stars (out of four). Driver and passenger airbags were standard throughout the range from the late 1990s, and even ABS brakes were standard on most models. We found a 2000 1.5 example, with air conditioning and 100,000 miles on the clock, for just £2,000.

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.

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