Car Choice: Impressive...a student who can afford a Volvo

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Matt Francis, 20, has been driving an old Ford Escort for two years. But he now needs something bigger and safer. He has a thing about Volvo V40s, as he has seen several around for less than £3,000, with under 90,000 miles on the clock. Insurance, he says, is reasonable, considering he was paying £2,200 for his first-year , then £1,800 on his second. His quote for a 2002 V40 1.6 is £1,550.

A car for the head

So, even before I can leap in and lecture Matt about the implications of insurance for anyone under 25, Matt lays the facts, and what he afford, on the table. I'm impressed that a student can find such a large sum. I like the V40, but it is not exactly a load-lugger, and just buying one for the badge would be wrong. I do think Matt could buy a smaller estate car that would be just as spacious and safe, but far cheaper to insure. I would steer Matt towards a Vauxhall Astra estate. First of all, it is nice to drive – certainly better than the Volvo. As for load space, there is a very practical boot area, which is helped by a wide hatch door and a low sill. The rear seat obviously splits and folds too, to take those larger items. Meanwhile, Matt's mates will find that rear bench quite big and it will sit three across. There is a 1.4 engine which, to be honest, struggles with heavy loads, so the 1.6 would be better. For, say £2,000, a 1.6 model from 2000 with a lowish 51,000 miles on the clock would be worth considering.

A car for the heart

If the Astra has one drawback it would be that the styling is terminally dull. Both inside and out, it is not very inspiring at all. The upside, though, is practicality and low prices. However, there is another small estate car which does have rather more character. That would be the Ford Focus estate. It still looks different on the outside, and has a stylish interior too. Most of all, it is sporty to drive even with the smallest of engines. The 1.6 petrol would be the best all-rounder, returning up to 40mpg overall. The Astra probably has the edge in terms of spaciousness, but again five adults does not present a problem at all. Matt will find the boot a good size, perfect for a student's boxes and rucksacks. Depreciation may not have been as heavy on the Focus compared with the Astra, but it is still significant and that means that if Matt has £2,000 to spare then there is plenty of choice out there. A 2001 1.6 Zetec in gold paint from a dealer, with just 73,000 miles, seemed nice. But the fact that it had alloy wheels – and it was finished in attention grabbing gold – could affect the insurance. So Matt, don't just think Volvo when you want an estate.

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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