Helen Salter is looking to replace her 10-year-old Zafira, which is now too small for fully grown children, but she is confused by what's on offer. Space is a priority, of course, and after last winter she is wondering whether a four-wheel drive might be a good idea. Ideally, she wants a vehicle that will seat more than five adults in some degree of comfort. Oh yes, and it must be economical. The budget is £8,000 to £12,000.
A car for the head
I'm not sure the car that Helen wants actually exists. Up to seven seats, and four-wheel drive, is no recipe for economic motoring, even with a diesel. Unless you live in the countryside, where the ice and snow is at its thickest, you really ought to get by with a front-wheel drive. The one proviso is good tyres and, in particular, winter specific ones. You should put aside around £400, especially because four spare steel wheels are also required. So what to fit them to? The UK's most popular people carrier, the Ford Galaxy, has been the most comfortable, refined and spacious vehicle of its type. The 1.8 or 2.0 TDCi diesel engine will return mid-40s mpg and it will be cheap to insure. Five adults will be very comfortable and only if the rearmost seats are used is luggage a compromise. The boot is very spacious and will, hopefully, answer Helen's need for space – and all it would take is £11,000 to buy a 2008 model in Zetec specification with 50,000 miles on the clock.
A car for the heart
The option for Helen is either to choose a premium off-road brand, which may cost most of her budget, or something that offers better value for money. I would go with the Chevrolet Captiva (inset) which has solid four-wheel drive ability and a suitably massive interior. If the rearmost seats are folded, which is easy to do, it has a huge level load space. The other bonus is that it is superbly well equipped. The LS has air-con, electric windows and an opening tailgate window. It is cheap to buy, but future resale value is poor and Helen will need to keep it for at least a decade to get the full value. The 2.0VCDi engine will return around 37mpg. It is possible to find a sub-30,000 mile 2009 model, in top LT spec and with self-levelling suspension, for about £11,000.