Car Choice: Good things really do come in small packages


Alison Thompson is currently driving a Fiat Seicento, which she bought almost seven years ago on entering retirement. She reckons it won't see her out, and she has up to £5,000 to spend on a replacement. Ideally, Alison wants a very small car, and does not wish to pay more than £35 per annum road tax. She hates irritating gadgets so it must be basic. She also lives in a rural area so it must be able to cope with muddy roads just as well as more urban environments.

A car for the head

I know that Alison has mentioned muddy roads, but I would not make too much of this. Rural dwellers don't all need 4x4s and Alison's little Fiat seems to have coped quite well so far. Also, any car she buys will be better than the Seicento, which was only an average city car at the best of times. No, let's concentrate on the low tax band and low frills. The obvious choice would be the Citroen C1, or virtually identical Peugeot 107. Here is motoring at its most minimal. I'll concentrate on the C1 because I think it looks cuter and the entry-level Vibe trim should be basic enough for Alison although it will still have front airbags and a CD player. Alison can also choose between three and five doors, but since she has managed with three doors so far, she may as well go for the slightly cheaper option. Not only is the C1 very affordable to buy, it won't cost much to run. The 1.0 litre petrol engine returns a fairly heroic 61.4mpg. It's also a funky looking car, both inside and out, and Alison will find it a very pleasant place to be, despite the suspension being quite hard. A 2005 example, with 36,000 miles on the clock is around £4,000.

A car for the heart

From what I can gather there is no automotive heart at stake here. Alison merely wants a small car to do a job with the minimum of fuss. If she liked her Seicento, then perhaps the Fiat Panda, pictured, would be worth thinking about. There is a slight catch though. The earlier petrol model won't qualify for the cheaper road tax, but the 1.3TD will. However, the mileage on the diesel is likely to be higher for the same outlay. The diesel will return 66.7mpg compared with the 49.6mpg of the 1.1 petrol engine so Alison may want to consider it as an attractive option. It does have four doors and even the basic Active has electric front windows, central locking and front airbags. So there is a level complication. If, however, Alison still wants two doors and a low tax group then the quite rare Daihatsu Charade is worth finding. Like the Panda it does have a reasonable specification, which includes twin airbags, anti-lock brakes, electric windows, central locking and even a CD player. I can reassure Alison that these Japanese cars are very reliable and so those parts should not break down. Running costs are very low because the tiny 1.0 litre engine returns 58.9mpg. It would be easy to buy a 2004 example for around £4,000, but there are not that many around.

Looking to buy?

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