Car Choice: Mobility scooters can wait – there's a funky alternative

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Peter Unsworth is 75, disabled, and needs a vehicle that he can slide into rather than crouch down to enter. With that in mind he has been thinking about some van-based people carriers. As he has breathing difficulties, he needs power steering and also thinks that an automatic would be a help. The car will only be used for short journeys, but Peter wants something more than a mobility scooter. His budget – not a big one – is £2,000.

A car for the head

This is a tough one, finding an automatic car with a high seating position within the £2,000 budget – but then there is the curiously cubular Suzuki Wagon R. It resembles a tiny van, but it is one of my favourite tiddlers. It may look a bit daft, but it has real character and a very enthusiastic 1.3 engine, which means that if you stray out of town it can cope with higher speeds. It is well built and has a decent level of standard equipment. And the revised model from 2000 onwards looks less toy-like. The interior is large for such a small car, with plenty of headroom and legroom for four adults. Tall passengers won't have a problem at all, and there lots of cubbyholes and a small but practical boot which can be boosted by the split/fold rear seat. And it carries the Suzuki badge which guarantees a lack of future breakdowns. What Peter will have is a durable car that is very well equipped, with air conditioning, remote central locking, power steering, CD player, electric front windows and mirrors as standard. A year 2000 example with 54,000 miles on the clock will easily be within budget.

A car for the heart

In reality Peter may only want a two-seat, two-door car with an automatic gearbox. One funky little car comes close and that's the Smart. It has a semi-automatic gearbox, which means there is no clutch to worry about. Also some Passion specification models have a Soft Touch gearbox, which means that it also has a fully automatic mode. Also, if Peter can find an early import model, the steering wheel will be on the left, meaning that access to the pavement is immediate and that could be a huge help. It is also an economical car, as the 600cc turboed Mercedes engine returns around 60mpg. It is safe too, with all those clever electronic devices like electronic traction control and electronic stability control to stop it falling over. Full size driver and passenger airbags, ABS brakes, "Tridion" safety cell-reinforced steel frame, and integrated side impact struts are also reassuring. The Smart is also a "lifestyle" vehicle, which may not even concern Peter. The Smart, though, isn't just a social club with a groovy mascot – it really does deliver as a small car. And as a used small car it is well built and now very affordable. A 2001 Four Two with over 50,000 miles can be picked up for as little as £1,795, and Peter needs to keep a watch out for left-hand drive examples.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF 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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