Clare Varley is 58, and admits she is beginning to wish for a bit more motoring comfort – especially on long journeys. She says that after her regular trips to visit her elderly mother, she gets out of her X-reg Fiesta feeling stiff and achey. Also, as a health visitor, she has to make a lot of short journeys. Clare wants something that is a bit more spacious and costs around £3,000 to £4,000.

A car for the head

I think we can do a lot better than an old Fiesta, especially because Clare wants something larger. She won't need lots of seats, just plenty of space, and a vehicle that is more comfortable, especially on longer journeys. The obvious answer would be a C-Max Ford Focus. It's a practical car, that is not too overwhelming, and it has more than ample space for Clare, her mother, and for her work as a carer. The rear centre seat can fold forward to make a table or even be pushed back completely – which allows the two rear outer seats to slide inwards, making a great big four seater. Up front, Clare will like the high driving position, especially as the seat can be pumped up while the steering wheel will adjust for both rake and reach. The C-Max is a refined and quiet car on the motorway, and around town it soaks up the bumps easily. Clare can choose between petrol or diesel power, and the 2.0TD could potentially deliver 50mpg overall. I found a 2005 2.0TDCi Zetec with just 34,000 miles on the clock at a dealer for £5,000. Getting closer to the £3,000 budget, a 2004 1.6TDCi with 57,000 miles on the clock (and 57.6mpg) is the next best option.

A car for the heart

Another ideal five-seat compact people carrier would be the Toyota Corolla Verso. It's a handsome vehicle, but this spacious, practical and easy-to-drive model scores where it matters. As a new vehicle, the Corolla was always a bit pricey compared to the opposition, but Clare will get excellent levels of equipment and a car built to impressively high standards. Inside, the Corolla provides a decent amount of room for everyone. Drivers have a clear dashboard, and it is all put together with some very high quality materials. On the road, the petrol and diesel engines are all strong and effective, working well with the light and precise gear change. It corners with lots of grip, and has very positive brakes. What the occupants will like the most, though, is that all outside noises have been cleverly subdued and the overall ride is seductively smooth. Clare's £4,000 buys a 2002 1.8 T3, with air conditioning, alloy wheels, and an electrically adjustable driver's seat. The 1.8 engine returns 37.2mpg. At the other end of the budget, Clare's £3,000 would still get a 2002 1.8 T3s – but with higher mileage, at around 75,000 miles on the clock.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, 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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