Mark Nettingham, 32, drives a Seat Leon Cupra R, which he has owned since new. He has clocked up nearly 90,000 relatively hassle-free miles. However, he has just re-taxed (£240) and re-insured (£800), and has noticed it's costing £70 to fill up, which, at about 25mpg, happens quite often. He would like to swap (his car is worth about £6,000) for a five-door, manual runabout that can cruise happily on the motorway. But cost of ownership is the most important thing.

Mark is not alone is he? We are all feeling the pinch, and the cheapest and simplest way to cut your motoring costs is to buy a smaller, more economical car. This is especially the case if you use the car a lot. If your mileage is low, just a few thousand, then there probably isn't much point and all you can do is follow those clever fuel-saving tips such as driving more smoothly and taking junk out of the boot. But as Mark points out, it isn't just the outrageous cost of fuel that is affecting motorists, it is also those other fixed costs such as vehicle excise duty and insurance that never stop going up. So Mark has realised that he must do something to cut costs. It is a shame because the Seat Leon Cupra is a charming sporting hatchback, but it is becoming harder to enjoy fun cars. We will try, though, not to recommend anything too grim simply on the grounds that it is cheap to run. We will try to find something practical but interesting and quite possibly slightly cool too.

A car for the head

A quick fix would be a Renault Clio 1.5 dCi 65 which has been one of the most economical cars on sale. Forget the Toyota Prius, here is an everyday, usable car that is easy and cheap to own and can deliver up to 65.7mpg. For that, it is possible to put up with a few shortfalls. The diesel engine, as well as being economical, is very responsive and will be perfect for when Mark gets on to the motorway. The car also has quite sporty handling, if Mark ever decides to push it a bit. The down sides of the Clio are niggly, but could be the difference between Mark buying and not buying. Firstly the rear legroom isn't absolutely massive, so if adults or teenagers are going to be in the back they might complain on a longer journey. Actually, Mark might also start moaning, because the driver's seat can be a pain to get comfy. It's a soft seat and the steering wheel only adjusts for height. Otherwise a five-door 2005 example with just over 16,000 miles at a Renault dealer for £5,989 seems like great value for money for Mark.

A car for the heart

If Mark wants a car that is not just economical, but also stylish then the Smart Forfour may be just the car. It is no longer built, for the simple reason that it didn't sell enough, but that doesn't make it a bad car at all. Here is a supermini which was fairly pricey when brand new, but which is still funky to look at, decent to drive and very flexible. The 1.5 CDi model should return around 61.4mpg which is an attractive enough feature in itself. Personally, I like the sliding rear seats, which mean that you can decide on whether legroom or boot space is more important. You get 150mm of extra space, plus the rear seats fold forward, as do the front seats, so getting planks of wood inside is not a problem. Very good around town, or on the motorway with the diesel engine, these models are now looking very good value. A 2004 example in Pulse trim that has covered just over 25,000 miles would be an affordable £5,295 for Mark. Another option would be the 1.1 litre model, which returns 48mpg, but I think that would feel underpowered for Mark and not offer the versatility he needs on his commute.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at 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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