Simon White would like to replace his ageing Honda Jazz, which also lacks the space to cope with a growing 12 year old and the family's golden retriever, Rosie.

Simon also points out that he has a dodgy knee and so would like to drive an automatic. Simon's wife likes the idea of the higher driving position that a sport utility vehicle (SUV) would give, but certainly wants the practicality of an estate. They cover around 13,000 miles a year.

A car for the head

No budget is mentioned, but these are tough times and I don't think that Simon has to spend a fortune to get the right vehicle. Increasingly, people carriers are proving to be, whether full size or compact, the ideal family vehicle. The added benefits are increased levels of comfort, roominess, and the raised driving position in particular helps everyone get in and out much more easily, whether they have a dodgy knee or not. Having owned a Honda Jazz, Simon would have enjoyed exceptional reliability and that is something that needs to be maintained. I am also mindful that there is a dog, which will be part of the selection process, and they do need a designated boot area which only an estate can provide. I would, though, be inclined to point Simon's family towards the Honda FR-V, which is often overlooked as a people carrier and seats three upfront so they can all sit together, with plenty of room left for the dog. It is a very well-built vehicle and has a high level of standard equipment, with air conditioning, electric windows and central locking. It is reasonably economical as the 1.8 VTec petrol engine returns around 37mpg. The good news is that it is available with an automatic gearbox, and a 2007-to-2008 example in SE specification from a dealer, with just 11,000 mileage, will be just under £13,000.

A car for the heart

Although the FR-V would be interesting, I do think that the Nissan Qashqai, pictured below, might be even better. First, it is a British-built Nissan, which is good news when it comes to reliability and overall quality. It looks like an off-roader, but it isn't. There is no four-wheel-drive system, effectively this is a high-rise hatchback. Just like a Ford Focus, or Volkswagen Golf, but much more funky looking. It is also hugely practical. There's plenty of head and legroom, certainly for three people and a dog and the boot is large, with a usefully wide opening. The specification has always been comprehensive, with every model having alloy wheels, air conditioning and electric windows all round. Moving up to the Acenta model brings climate control and parking sensors, and above that there is leather – if you really want it. Unlike the 4x4s it resembles, the Qashqai is much lighter and is also nicer to drive. Getting comfortable is easy for the driver as the steering wheel adjusts for height and reach while the seats are suitably supportive, and I think Simon should test one to find out. An automatic model – with 40,000 miles, Visia trim and 2.0-litre petrol engine – will be just less than £11,000.

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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