Car Choice: Lights, cameras, action – but carrying the gear is another matter

For Car Choice regulars it now seems as though those asking which is the greenest car they could buy has slipped behind the best vehicle for bad backs, leaving the "I must have an economical car at all costs" inquiry as a very clear No 1.

Elenor Woodhouse is looking for a car that is good value for money and particularly spacious because she is a photographer and therefore needs to cart atound huge amounts of camera equipment. She also wants a vehicle that is as economical to run as possible, as she racks up long journeys each week. Despite that, she would still appreciate a car that is fun to drive, and all that on a budget of between £2,000 and £4,000.

Elenor's certainly falls into the latter category, with the added twist that she also wants something that is fun to drive. That isn't always completely compatible with an economical car, but we will try to do our best.

What does not help much is that Elenor has to lug a load of cameras, tripods and lights and things. Now, we are always being told to take out anything from the boot area that isn't being used as that dramatically affects economy. As Elenor actually needs all that stuff for her work, a weight loss programme is not an option. It sounds to me as though she needs a diesel van, but that could be a bit too basic, although van drivers seem to be having a great time when they overtake me on the M4. At the least, a spacious estate then, but that precious camera equipment needs to be protected, so a boot might be a good idea.

A car for the head

A spacious and economical estate that is nice to drive? That's the Peugeot 406 2.0 HDi. With both the 90 or 110 engine, a combined fuel consumption figure of 50mpg is on the cards. There is a saloon version that Elenor should take a look at just to see if everything would possibly fit inside, the reason being that a saloon would be a slightly cheaper option than the far more popular estate.

What this Peugeot delivers, apart from a significant amount of rear deck area for camera equipment, is a superlative drive. If Elenor truly enjoys her motoring then she will appreciate the superbly sporty handling, which belies the large car look and feel of the 406. The very responsive HDi engines also help and, on long motorway slogs, I reckon Elenor won't feel as tired and frazzled as she probably does now. It is a supremely comfortable vehicle with the smoothest of rides.

I do think that Elenor should spend at the top end of her budget to get a well-looked after example. Indeed a well-equipped 2001 2.0 GTX HDi with just 64,000 miles with a full history being offered for £3,295.

A car for the heart

Now, I was very tempted to suggest an adapted van, such as a Peugeot Partner or Renault Kangoo, but although those vehicles undoubtedly have the practicality and flexible seating arrangements that would be useful, I think Elenor would have cause to moan on a longer journey.

I think that after a hard day's snapping she deserves a decent and refined driving environment and I truly believe that the Audi A4 might be able to provide that.

The interiors of even decade- old cars are more solid and better-finished than many contemporary models. The diesel 1.9 110 certainly can deliver some impressive stats, at 56mpg overall. It has a suitably sporty and direct drive too, with quite light steering, lots of grip in the corners and impressive stability. Not the biggest boot of all, but it is well designed and I am sure that Elenor could get everything in. We quickly found a year 2000 1.9 115 at a dealer with just 89,000 miles which had two previous owners and a service history. It was just £3,550.

It also had the firmer Sport suspension which should mean more fun for Elenor and a six-CD autochanger, perfect for those long journeys.

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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