Car Choice: 'I need a high seat - or one that doesn't slope'

Jill Theis wants to get rid of an aged Citroen BX before it falls apart. The low, sloping front seat is uncomfortable and she needs a second-hand car with an upright, high driver's seat, with good headroom to clear her six-foot frame.

Jill Theis wants to get rid of an aged Citroen BX before it falls apart. The low, sloping front seat is uncomfortable and she needs a second-hand car with an upright, high driver's seat, with good headroom to clear her six-foot frame. She admits that her back and posture are poor and is attracted to the Citroen Berlingo Multispace. She thinks that may be a bit on the big side as they only need a car for herself, a not-so-tall husband and visiting grandchildren. She has found some small cars too small, however, and would consider an automatic for an easier life.

Our most frequently asked question is a request for a more comfortable car. Certainly the high-rise compact people carriers and multi-purpose vehicles can feel more comfy for the taller person. There is no substitute, though, for Jill trying a few simple tests.

First, with the seat in the normal driving position (i.e. where the clutch can be fully depressed without stretching and the hips are well back into the seat), make a fist with the left hand keeping the thumb to the side of the index finger. The depth of such a fist will measure about 50mm and it should be possible to place the fist on the crown of the head. If it is only possible to insert the flat of the hand between the roof and head then there is insufficient headroom.

Then she should swing her right leg out of the car as though getting out, and place the right foot on the ground. Try to ensure the lower leg is in a vertical position. Now look at the surface of the right thigh. It should be sloping down towards the knee. If it is sloping upwards (i.e. if the knee is higher than the hip) you will have difficulty when exiting this vehicle.

A car for the head

The Renault Scenic is a real multi-purpose vehicle, part hatchback, part people carrier, and mostly very useful. The Scenic became much better to drive after being revised in 1999 and these models are now great value. Where it matters, inside, the Scenic could not be more versatile - it only accommodates five but it does so in comfort, style and with room to spare because of its versatile lift out seats.

There is a double floor, which raises the cabin, allowing a flat floor which contains lots of useful underfloor storage compartments. However, those five individual seats are the key to the Scenic's appeal. Take out the middle one, set the other one back and suddenly owners have a luxury car environment, but estate car practicality. Just a point though: the upright driving position may be too upright for some but the driving position is brilliantly panoramic. You can see well ahead to the sides and rear. Even better the Scenic does not drive like a large people carrier. Prices start at £2,000 to £2,500 which gets a basic 1.6 RT in decent condition.

A car for the heart

Jill mentioned some of the smaller super minis, but those do not always suit taller drivers or have the space required for growing grandchildren. I think she might enjoy driving a Toyota RAV 4. It has safe, predictable and very car-like handling and would suit her country location. This is of course helped by the permanent four-wheel drive system. There is no jiggery-pokery potholey nonsense that seems to defeat most 4x4s in the urban jungle. To top it all the RAV 4 is stable at motorway speeds.

On a practical level there is lots of room up front, but in both the three and five door, space is tight at the back but fine for grandchildren over short periods. Toyota has installed cheerful interiors and an interesting dashboard. The boot is big, especially with the rear seats folded, but the sill is very high. An automatic gearbox was available on the 2.0 GX and a 1996 example with five doors will be around £4,000 in good condition and around £3,500 if the mileage is over 100,000. Overall performance is lively, only the heavier five door slows it down. Fuel consumption is around 30mpg.

CAR CHOICE: Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle you are interested in.

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