Car Choice: Keep the home fires burning – if you can fit in the logs

Patrick Elsdale loved his Subaru Forester, which has just been sold, and he wants to replace it with something that feels just as indestructible and roomy. Patrick needs to get a bike inside as well as logs for his wood burner. Ideally it needs to be much greener and more economical than the old Forester. He has £3,000 to £4,000 to spend and is looking forward to owning a vehicle that is not only comfortable and roomy but also feels solid.

A car for the head

Carrying bikes is a notoriously difficult thing to do easily and often a van is the simplest answer. It also explains why so many opt for racks on the roof or boot. So I hope that Patrick will consider that option – the rack, not a van. Luckily I have direct experience of both putting a bike and logs on board a vehicle recently. Yes, I own a Volvo V70, which I reckon, ticks the majority of Patrick's boxes. First and foremost, it has the sort of robust build quality that Patrick will find reassuring after the Forester. The interior is very solid and takes loads of abuse, yet a quick brush and mop-up soon returns the showroom shine. I would add that Patrick really ought to put some plastic sheeting or a blanket in the load bay before bringing on the logs. Also a full-sized bike will fit at the back with half the rear seats folded. It is a challenge: even the rear is huge and removing a wheel helps, but I still feel a rack would be best. A diesel engine would boost the miles per gallon for Patrick and, of course, diesels emit less CO2 although there is still a particulate issue. For £4,000 you can get a 2001 V70 with 80,000 miles with a warranty from a dealer.

A car for the heart

I would certainly like to recommend something Subaruish for Patrick, but I don't think that anything actually fits the bill at the moment. So we are back to estate cars. Much as I would like to recommend a Mercedes E Class, which is pretty huge, the level of complication and the compromise on build quality that a car within this budget would bring means that I would urge him to consider a Vauxhall. No, really, the last-generation Vectra in estate car form is a quite astounding load-shifter. The rear seats fold easily and that opens up a huge number of luggage options. I would also say that the quality of the fit and finish is a revelation to do those who haven't been near a mid-size Vauxhall since they were called Cavaliers. The turbo diesel engines are very flexible and deliver 47mpg, which is decent going for a hard working practical car. For £4,000 you can buy a 2004 example with LS trim, air conditioning and remote locking. For the money Patrick is likely to get much better value and a far wider choice because there are many more examples in circulation. This is a reliable, high-quality and well-equipped estate car that does not deserve to be overlooked.

Looking to buy?

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