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Car Choice: 'Our car drinks too much but we don't want to downsize'

Eileen and Volker Stiens have a Saab 9-3 automatic which is spacious and has been solid, reliable and a great car for them. However, it drinks too much. The fuel consumption is near to 23mpg and the Stienses want around double this, but they don't want to downsize. They would prefer to have an estate car or something just as spacious because there are always toys and bikes to heave around. Ideally, they want an easy, cheap-maintenance car, but the big catch is their buying budget of £500 to £1,000.

A car for the head

No one ever said Bangernomics was easy. Well, actually it could be very easy in this case. Buying a large, cheap car is not very difficult, I do it all the time. However, buying a large, economical car is certainly a challenge.

I know that the Stienses travel 300 to 400 miles a week, which is why they want economy. Perhaps a manual transmission petrol car would be a good bet. It would get at least a tank's worth of mileage each week. You see, high-mileage petrol cars, especially with large engines, are better buys than diesel, especially at the cheaper end of the price spectrum. Instinctively, I would go for a Volvo V70 TDi (right), but the cheapest one I could find had covered more than 200,000 miles and was £1,500. Alternatively, there's the Volkswagen Passat. Although a saloon would be cheaper, an estate would be ideal for Eileen and Volker's lugging requirements. It would be nice to get one of the later-generation models from 1996, but I did stumble across a 1995 old-shape example, with a diesel engine, which had 150,000 miles and a long list of recently fitted new parts. That was advertised for £600. It would be a lot less comfy than a Saab, but it would return 45.3mpg.

A car for the heart

This is difficult because Eileen and Volker only need a car with low fuel consumption and not costing more than £1,000. Certainly there are some options out there that could be prettier than the old Passat. For reliability, a Japanese vehicle might be worth finding, though a Toyota Avensis estate with a diesel engine started at £1,500. However, the Mazda 626 diesel estate, which will manage 54.3mpg, is worth investigating because it is so reliable and can be bought for around £995. I found a 1999 example with 124,000 miles on the clock and a good level of specification – a GXi which had electric windows, sunroof and air conditioning. It was at a dealer and came with a warranty too. Alternatively, I might consider a Nissan Primera diesel but the price for late-Nineties cars started at £1,200. I would go for the Mazda, but the Skoda Octavia estate, with the SDi diesel engine and basic Classic specification would be worth considering. However, the fuel consumption on that model struggles to reach 40mpg and there would be less room inside. Yes, it has to be the Mazda for reliability and reasonable running costs.

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