Simon Scott is 37 and does a lot of commuting – around 20,000 miles a year – most of which seems to be spent in slow-moving traffic. For the last few years a Honda Civic 1.7 CTDi has been incredibly reliable, but is not that comfortable or prestigious. Simon wants upmarket, comfy, economical, and distinctive. His budget is up to £13,000 and ideally he wants a car with less than 20,000 miles on the clock and which is no more than two years old.

A car for the head

This is a difficult position for Simon to be in, as he wants proper management credibility, combined with frugality. He will, though, encounter some steepish service costs, and I recommend that he find a marque specialist who will have a friendlier labour rate. So not just any old garage, but one that knows the cars and has the experience and equipment. Suddenly, then, an Audi A4 diesel becomes a realistic option.

When it comes to style, build quality, and feelgood factor, the A4 still has it, despite the fact that the nation's roads are becoming clogged with them. At least there are fewer around than the BMW 3 Series. Although there are some critics who do not rate the Audi's ride – considering it harsh and uncomfortable – that's often just a repetition of someone else's prejudice. Simon should test drive a 2.0 TDi and will find it refined and relaxing. Certainly the overall fuel consumption, that just nudges 50mpg, would be a reassurance. Within Simon's budget there are examples out there, and at Audi main agents too. I found a 2007 example in SE specification with 20,000 miles on the clock and with an automatic gearbox – all the better for those long slogs home in heavy traffic.

A car for the heart

What I am about to do is potentially dangerous, but also quite wonderful – and that is recommend that Simon seriously consider an Alfa Romeo. Traditionally, lazy motoring journalists have done this when faced with endorsing something characterful. Obviously they would not dare buy one with their own money but for this problem it was a quick fix and absolutely right. In a world of me-too executive cars, usually from Germany, the Alfa 159 is different – it's Italian.

That means it looks good and so very different from the crowd – very good reasons for having one. It is also quite spacious, and the diesel engine that Simon wants is not that noisy. The 2.4 model will return more than 20mpg while the smaller 1.9 diesel will get within a whisker of 50mpg – officially anyway. So the Alfa does everything pretty much right though there is always the underlying concern about reliability where, historically, Alfas have not scored high. Buy with at least a year of warranty to run and you should be safe, then purchase your own private cover for the big bills. Simon's budget buys a 1.9JTD from 2007 with 17,000 miles on the clock. Worth a risk, I'd say.

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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