Car Choice: Safe, sturdy, and room for growing a cello

Christine Farris has written her Vauxhall Agila off in the recent cold snap. Not her fault – she hit some black ice and could not stop, until she made contact with some dustbins and then a gate. Safety is now a priority, as is more room, because she needs space for two growing daughters and a cello. Her budget is £4,000 to £5,000, and Car Choice has agreed to be on call for 24 hours to help get Christine sorted out.

A car for the head

With school runs, a job, and a life to keep on track, Christine is in a hurry. The clock really is ticking, but I do not want her to rush into this. Buying a car in a hurry is always a bad thing because subsequently you have a lot of time to realise just how uncomfortable the seats are on a long journey, how much you hate the colour and the funny noise the brakes make. Ideally, the process should take months, but we don't have that time. Christine thinks a four-wheel drive would be a really good idea. Not only would it give her confidence in poor weather conditions, but her passion for camping would be enhanced when parking in those sodden fields. For a while, then, we look at Honda CRVs, Toyota RAV4s and Land Rover Freelanders. The small Land Rover seems to fit the bill, and luckily a neighbour has one, so we go for a closer look. There is no way a cello would fit in there. However, a Volvo V70 estate does have the room and Christine reckons that four-wheel drive is not essential. A well-known auction site has one but the local owner does not answer our questions clearly and the mobile-only contact made me suspicious. So no car for the head.

A car for the heart

Christine has been borrowing an old Saab 9000 that I managed to secure and she has fallen in love with its sheer size, smoothness and the hugeness of the boot. There is more than enough room for a cello, but the real problem is that Saab stopped making this large hatchback more than a decade ago. Indeed, up until recently, Saab almost stopped making cars, but fortunately they did not close. Their 9-5 model was based on the 9000 and the estate model (pictured below) offers all the room that Christine needs for cellos and camping equipment. Saabs are wonderfully comfortable, spacious cars, but it is crucial that the maintenance schedule has been followed closely. Although I find plenty of 9-5 estates, one stands out from the rest: a 2001 2.0T SE with 81,000 miles on the clock, advertised at £3,995 and, crucially, at a Saab dealer. A phone call reveals they sold it originally and have since serviced it every year with recent suspension work. Christine goes for a test drive, then phones me. I tell her that if she wants to buy she should ask for a full MOT, a service and extended warranty. Deal done. If you need help – though not always so one-to-one – please let me know.

Looking to buy?

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