Car Choice: Wanted: Quirky, reliable, economical Transformer

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Rosanna Dixon is 44, and currently drives a Chrysler PT Cruiser, which she loves, despite having lots of problems with it. Notwithstanding the high fuel bills and cost of parts – and the fact that it is now broken – she thinks that it is classy, has a comfortable interior, and makes her feel safe. She is at a loss as to how to replace it, and wants a combination of quirkiness and reliability, along with some economy for her daily 60-mile commute.

A car for the head

Rosanna has mentioned the new Fiat 500 to me, which means that her replacement does not have to be as big as the PT Cruiser. Indeed a mini-sized van may well be the answer. For a vehicle that will be every bit as head turning as the Chrysler, but cost a marginal amount to run and be far more reliable, the Daihatsu Materia is certainly worth considering. It looks like a box on wheels, but with a distinctive front end that makes it look like a mini-Transformer. It might just turn into a pocket robot at any time and I think Rosanna will love that. Because of its boxy design there is plenty of head and legroom. Getting items into the boot is easy because of the low loading lip. But Rosanna may have to get used to the smaller-than-average rear window and thick windscreen pillars, and it may not be as refined as her old Cruiser. I think those will be minor irritations because one of the major upsides is reliability. Daihatsu has a brilliant record of making small and durable cars. Plus, although there is just the one 1.5 petrol engine, it should return 39mpg, which is comfortably better than Rosanna's previous car. There is also a good level of standard equipment, and it will cost Rosanna £10,770 brand new.

A car for the heart

As usual I would like to think that the car for the head would also qualify as a car for the heart and I reckon the Materia does it. Alternatively though, if Rosanna fancies a Fiat 500 that is certainly pretty, but becoming just a bit ubiquitous, the Alfa Romeo Mito (inset) might be the answer. Here is one of the most distinctive small cars that anyone could buy. Compared to the Cruiser it is going to feel cramped, especially if Rosanna puts anyone in the back against their will. The boot is small with a high loading lip, so it may not feel as practical. Not only that, Alfas have not been the most generally reliable of marques, although the Mito will be under manufacturer's warranty for the next three years. The basic Turismo model has electric windows and air-conditioning, central locking and a CD player. The 1.3 JTD promises an overall figure of 62.8mpg. Also, the Mito with the JTD engine costs £11,917, which isn't too bad at all, but then, I almost forgot, take the old, and slightly broken, Chrysler down to the Alfa Romeo dealer and, provided it has a current MOT, Rosanna can look forward to getting £2,000 off that price.

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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