A reader wants to replicate the driving experience and storage space of his old 318 Touring, and to benefit from good fuel economy

Trevor Cooper drives a BMW 318 Touring, which is smart, comfortable and good to drive, and carries bikes in the back. But it is now seven years old and is starting to cost money. He is looking for a car that has the things he likes about the BMW, but is more economical. He will pay up to £15,000 including the value of his BMW and doesn't want anything over three years old. He would consider a diesel.

Incredibly, the 318 has been one of the more fuel-efficient BMW models. Under normal driving conditions, according to the official figures, it should return around 36 mpg. That Trevor expects more is a reflection of our belief these days that fuel economy is not just a good thing but should routinely exceed 40 mpg. Now if he likes the style, image and build quality of BMWs, the easiest option is to go for one of the company's models fitted with its superb diesel engines. He will easily be able to exceed 40 mpg and enjoy the same sporty and responsive driving experience. That would be too easy, of course, as the idea here is to broaden automotive minds. The problem is combining the style of a BMW with the economy of, say, a Citroë*diesel. I might even suggest that Trevor try one. With £15,000 to spend, he could get a top-of-the-range model with all the extra comforts that were not even standard on his BMW, as part of the French package. The depreciation, though, will be sharper and the Citroë*may not feel as solid, so we'll think again.

A car for the head

The obvious choices may have BMW, Mercedes or Volkswagen badges on them, but I believe the 1 Series, A Class and Golf are too pricey and may not do the job. An alternative would be the Mazda 3, which has the advantage of being different and also exclusive with smart if rather safe styling. On the economy front, the 1.6 diesel engine will return a creditable 56.5 mpg overall, according to the official figures. There is plenty of room inside the hatchback and the 60/40 split rear seats will fold down to make a virtually flat floor, so getting bikes inside should be easy. Now as Trevor has enjoyed the BMW experience, he will find that pressing inside a Mazda 3 is a joy. Related to the Ford Focus, which has an excellent reputation for on-road behaviour, this car is just as good with the added benefit of a classy badge and styling. Trevor should also appreciate the comfortable driving position and Mazda's deserved reputation for reliability. A £15,000 budget is more than enough to buy a brand new one, but going for a year-old example will save the first year's depreciation. Indeed £12,000 buys a 2007 with around 10,000 miles.

A car for the heart

I was tempted to suggest an Audi A3 but the practicality is a bit scant. If you want to transport bikes, get good fuel economy and not pay a fortune – oh, and want something that stands out from the crowd – maybe a Nissan Qashqai will do. As a driving experience, it is not nearly as sharp as a BMW, but with its large, bike-friendly boot, that should not matter. Here is a grown-up hatchback which is not as bulky as a people carrier and still new enough to be distinctive. A 1.5dCi engine will return just over 52 mpg, and there is also a stronger 2.0 version that manages just over 42. It is possible to buy a new model with a discount inside the budget, or you could go for a nearly new from a Nissan dealer. A 2007 with either of the diesel engines and a minimal 5,000 miles can be picked up for around £13,000.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 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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