Car Choice: Skoda has the key to cheap and cheerful motoring

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Satish Barot is a 55-year-old nurse who is about to retire from the NHS and now needs a car. He has been thinking of getting a diesel because that's what he is familiar with. It was the engine fitted to all the cars he used when he was working as a community psychiatric nurse. Satish wants a frugal automatic and I know he is looking at various Golf-sized options. He is also looking to buy brand new at the best possible price.

A car for the head

The problem here could be the automatic gearbox, which is not always available on the latest generation of frugal diesels. Changing the gearbox manually is still regarded as the most efficient way of making the most of a diesel engine. So, although a Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion and a Ford Focus ECOnetic are the greenest and most frugal cars on sale, there is no automatic option. There is a Golf TDi Match, which costs £16,235 and for £1,485 extra it can be fitted with an automatic gearbox. Alternatively a Skoda will come with an identical engine and other mechanicals, but at a lower price with a different body. So, a Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDi Classic at £13,745 will cost £1,125 extra with an automatic gearbox.

This model will return 57.6 mpg, which compares with 56.5mpg for the Golf, though it is always worth reducing that figure slightly for an automatic gearbox which will use more fuel. It is possible to get deals – which should be around £1,100 – on Skodas. Ideally, Satish should use a broker who will put him in touch with a dealer who will supply a UK car with a full warranty and pay the broker direct. The Octavia, below, is a spacious and comfortable car which is great value.

A car for the heart

Now I know that Satish has asked for a diesel, but perhaps he should also consider a hybrid, petrol-electric car. At the moment there is a limited number to choose from but, although I do not think these cars are the answer in many situations, they may suit Satish. In retirement I would expect to have many short, stop-start type journeys to which a hybrid is ideally suited. Recently I've driven both of the leading hybrids, the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. Both have automatic gearboxes as standard and the Honda has recently become Japan's best-selling car, the first hybrid to win that accolade.

Personally, I found the Honda easier to drive, with a more intuitive set of controls, even if from the outside there isn't much visual difference between it and Toyota's Prius. It is also more competitively priced at £15,490 on the road for a 1.3 IMA SE, and it only attracts £15 in annual road fund duty. In normal driving, without trying too hard, it is possible to get more than 50mpg, and much higher if you really concentrate. Officially, though, it is 64.2 mpg. Through a broker it may be possible to get £800 or so off, but Satish will need to shop around for the best deal.

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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