Mark Wilkinson already owns his ideal car – a 1996 Porsche 911 Targa. He is now worried about the toll that two consecutive hard winters have taken – and that the Porsche is hopeless once there is snow on the ground. So he is looking for a car to use in the countryside during winter, for runs to the tip and other occasions when the Porsche is not the best option. His budget is flexible and in the £5,000 to £10,000 region.

A car for the head

Mark is not alone in considering the winter/summer vehicle option. Winter tyres may help a bit, but a 911 is not ideal. I drive a large, rear-wheel-drive Jaguar that requires extreme caution in icy weather. But luckily I also have an old Land Rover, which came in very handy during the cold spell. I know that Mark is also thinking along the lines of a Land Rover, which is certainly versatile when it comes to the dump run and operating in a rural setting. For just a few thousand pounds a very basic model would be ideal, but it is a huge contrast to a modern sports car. I know that Mark is willing to accept that, and frankly, a Land Rover Defender would be the obvious choice. I would recommend that he go shopping for a model at a specialist. It will cost more, but should be well prepared – and that is the key to successful Land Rover ownership. Examples from the 1990s are not complicated, but if neglected – and if there is rust or damage to the chassis – it will cost a lot to sort out. A short wheelbase model seats three and is relatively easy to park and live with. With £5,000 to spend, I found 1991 diesel 90 at a specialist with a full history and ready for work.

A car for the heart

I love Land Rovers, but there are other rugged, reliable, and characterful options. The Daihatsu Fourtrak is small, reassuringly basic, and has the same workhorse ethic as the Defender. On the road it is just about bearable, but off-road it is brilliant. Not a huge amount of load space though, and maybe it can be a tad uncomfortable. So perhaps a compromise vehicle would be better, one which could be safe and sensible in the snow, but better on-road for longer journeys. For that reason I would suggest that a Suzuki Grand Vitara (inset) would be worth investigating. Mark's £5,000 would certainly buy a very tidy and relatively recent model. Admittedly it is not as quirky as a Fourtrak, but it will be easier to live with. I would also say that the Vitara is no longer a mainstream off-roader, as the school runs are full of Honda CRVs and Land Rover Discoveries. Not everyone will know or care what it is, but I would be tempted to buy a really cheap one, paint it khaki and put military stencils all over it. On a more serious note, the Suzuki is very reliable, with tough engines and running gear. A 2003 example, with 60,000 miles on the clock and in very tidy condition, can be had for £5,000.

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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