Car Choice: Ready for battle on the busy streets of south London

Mike Bull wants to know what car would be best for his 25-year-old daughter. She passed her test in an automatic, and drove Mike's old Vauxhall Carlton for a while, then moved to south London and has not driven for nearly two years. Which means she now needs a small, inexpensive, safe, and reliable automatic to get around the city. The budget would be just a few thousand pounds. He also wonders whether she could take the advanced driving course in an automatic.
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A car for the head

Driving skill has nothing to do with whether you drive an automatic or a manual, as road sense is by far the most important ability any driver can have. So if Mike's daughter wants to go on a course, that would be good. The charitable Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has a Skill for Life package that costs £139, and means cheaper insurance too. Find the institute online or call direct on 0845 126 8600. Also, it would not hurt to have refresher driving lessons, and perhaps even learn in a manual, which would mean that in future Mike's daughter would have more options. But an IAM course is the responsible way to go after a couple of years without driving. With ease of driving in mind, the most obvious and most reliable suggestion would be a Nissan Micra. A perennial driving school favourite, the Micra is regarded as easy to operate and difficult to break. Not only that, but running costs for a Micra are suitably microscopic, being just group three for insurance purposes and returning a decent 40mpg-plus, even with a slightly more thirsty automatic gearbox. There are plenty about, and I managed to find a 2001 example with 80,000 miles and a full service history for just £1,395.

A car for the heart

I'm sure Mike's daughter is not bothered by how her new car looks, so long as it gets her safely and easily around the crowded, narrow streets of south London. But she might appreciate a model with a bit of class – and they don't come better than a Volkswagen Polo (pictured). Polos from a few generations ago were solid, dependable and understated. I think Mike's daughter will appreciate those qualities, and the larger 1.4 engine, which won't be as stressed as the Micra's. It should still manage 40mpg bumping around town, provided there's the odd long run which is always good for a small car's well-being. I found a 1999 Polo in the classifieds which had 75,000 miles on the clock, and, most importantly, a full year's MoT and six months' tax. Also, the crucial cambelt service had been carried out in the past 500 miles. Here was a two-owner car, with good service history, and ready to do battle on the South Circular, for the fairly marginal price of £1,200. Just in case you wondered why I steered clear of the very obvious Smart – she absolutely hates them!



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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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