Sandy Williams is 60, and from September her new, part-time post as a Methodist minister means she will be responsible for several rural chapels in south Gloucestershire. She will use her car to go round the churches, visit people in homes and hospitals, and sometimes return in the evenings for meetings. Sandy wants the least expensive, but most reliable car, which is cheap to insure and run. Oh yes, it must also be as green as possible and she has a budget of about £2,000.

A car for the head

It's not easy being green, so the saying goes, and with a budget of just £2,000 it will be even harder. Sandy won't be able to afford all the latest little hatches with hyper efficient engines and ultra low C02 emissions. The thing is though, you can be even greener by recycling an old car. Not just any old car, but a small, frugal one.

Especially one that is Japanese. Without any hesitation I would target the Nissan Micra as the perfect cheap-to-buy and easy-to-own car on a budget. And although there are some very basic three-door models which would be cheaper to insure, I believe that the four-door version would be better for Sandy's new line of work – especially when she has to give a lift to parishioners. I would also recommend the smaller 1.0 litre engine, which is economical, returning 47mpg, and just about adequate for the relatively short journeys that she is going to have. Micras built from 2000 onwards looked and felt better built, although it already had a great reputation for reliability and was a driving school favourite. For £2,000 you should get a 2001 example with 50,000 miles from a dealer. The Micra will easily cover another 50,000 miles without incident – perfect for Sandy.

A car for the heart

I know that Sandy is not the least bit interested in having a cute or even a characterful car, but maybe a slightly more practical vehicle with a more upright driving position could be better for her short journeys. The Suzuki Wagon R (inset, below) is a tiny people carrier with plenty of head and leg room in front and rear and, even more than the Micra, it is excellent for ferry-ing people short distances.

The engine is a 1.3 petrol and it is powerful enough, even if it will be a bit noisy when asked to work hard. I don't think that Sandy will be putting the Wagon R through anything too taxing. It does have a good reputation for reliability and overall it will return a decent 46mpg. The specification is basic but more than acceptable, with power steering and central locking – the two minimal must haves. Over the years the only drawbacks have been the cheap trim inside and the slightly random layout of the dashboard. But none of that even begins to matter because it is a tough little car and good value. Sandy should aim for a 2001 GL model with 60,000 miles on the clock, electric front windows, and front airbags.

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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