Pauline Blackmore reckons that after seven years of doing her "Mr and Mrs Green" bit by sharing a car, it is now time for her to get her own wheels again.

Her main car, a Nissan Almera, will continue to do long trips and holidays. So what she needs is a small – but not too small – used five-door car to be, in her words, a "supergran-mobile", with space sufficient for a child seat, and with as roomy a boot as possible. Top budget would be £3,500.

A car for the head

The simplest answer is for Pauline to go for a popular model that is affordable to buy and repair. An old model Vauxhall Astra would be a good idea, not least because it has a large boot and very spacious interior. It will also be cheaper to buy than the more obvious and rather more striking Ford Focus, and I think that Pauline would get quite a lot of hatchback for her budget. There is a small 1.4 petrol engine, but actually the 1.6 will return almost identical 40mpg economy, but would be better on longer journeys. In the rear there is space for three adults, which means that there will be more than enough room for grandchildren. It would be worth Pauline finding a better-equipped model, such as a Club or Comfort, which would have air-conditioning and electric windows. The steering on all but the base models adjusts for reach and height, while the driver's seat can also be raised. Pauline won't have a problem finding an Astra, and that means she can afford to be picky. I spotted a 2004 Club with a reasonable 46,000 miles on the clock, and a warranty. It certainly looked tidy in the pictures.

A car for the heart

Another consideration for Pauline is that she has back and neck problems, so seating is an issue. Actually, it sounds like she should buy another Almera as they are durable, economical and practical vehicles. Assuming that Pauline wants a change, my immediate suggestion within this price range would be the Honda Civic. Here is a small family hatchback, which is superbly designed with plenty of space, is easy to drive and, most appropriately for Pauline, is very comfortable. Indeed the 2002 model won several awards for being ergonomically perfect in its class. There is no shortage of usable space for baby seats and all sorts of grandchild related paraphernalia. There is plenty of head and legroom, while the boot is decent and the rear seat splits. On the outside, the Civic seems quite small, but inside there is room for everything. When considering the running costs, the 1.4 model would probably be best, delivering around 45mpg. Within Pauline's budget, a 1.4 from 2001 with 65,000 miles on the clock, with warranty, will cost £3,195 from a dealer. I think that this might be the easiest vehicle for Pauline to live with day to day.

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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