Car Choice: The Ka's a star for any student on a tight budget

Nabela Shaheen is a student and needs a car just to get her between university and home, which means about 50 miles per week. She would like a hatchback and needs it to be reliable and economical – and she wants a diesel. Nabela has a budget of £3,000 to £5,000. She will listen to all sensible suggestions, apparently.

A car for the head

My first suggestion to Nabela is not to get too hung up on a diesel engine, particularly in a small car and especially if her weekly mileage is so modest. Often, the insurance is in a higher group and the asking price for a small diesel is higher than petrol. Nabela needs to be very mindful of insurance because it can be so high for those in full-time education. The double whammy is being young, so an insurance-friendly car is essential. Thus, my default recommendation is a Ford Ka. It could not be easier to own and yet it has a funkily styled face that makes it a cool, young person's vehicle. The little 1.3-litre petrol engine is slow, so there is no chance of getting into trouble, and the handling is very good. The Ka's Group 2 insurance band and the simple Ford mechanicals mean any bills will be kept to a minimum. Because there are lots of them around, prices are reasonable: £3,000 buys a 2004 car with a warranty from a dealer.

A car for the heart

The Ka would also fit the "car for the heart" brief because it is so well styled and fun to drive. But, if reliability is closer to Nabela's heart, then it has to be the Kia Picanto. This has a friendly front end with an endearing pig-like snout. It's a basic, well-equipped car with plenty of space in the rear and the doors are big and open wide. There are two engines. The smaller 1.0 will probably be more than adequate and will return 55.4mpg overall. It is a bit noisy and unrefined on the motorway, but that hardly matters when low costs are the priority. The Kia also delivers excellent reliability which was backed by a three-year unlimited mileage warranty when new. It has impressive standard equipment; the LX has a CD player and air con. With insurance in mind, go for the basic 1.0S where £3,000 will buy a 2005 model at a dealership with 30,000 miles on the clock.

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.