Car Choice: What to get for the driver with a bit of excess baggage

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Here's an odd one, but we don't mind. Mr H Chandler, from Canterbury, Kent, is asking me to recommend a car which he can then help someone else to buy. So he wants a reliable vehicle that is cheap to tax, insure and run, for about £3,000. It is for a newly qualified female driver, who is 25 and has some baggage – specifically two dogs and a pram, which have to be squeezed into the back of whatever vehicle is finally chosen.

A car for the head

When there are dogs and children involved it is vital to keep them apart. So we need to find a car with good access to the rear seats and a separate area for the dogs in the boot. My first thoughts are that are a small estate car would do the job. These will be practical workhorses with a large rear door to get the dogs in and out, though I would recommend that a guard is fitted between the boot and seats. Two obvious candidates are the Ford Focus and the old shape Vauxhall Astra estates. The more logical choice would be the Astra, which will be cheaper than the Focus and has a spacious interior. Buying a Vauxhall means cheap parts and servicing, and a low insurance group. It also has a decent reputation for reliability. Here is a sturdy car, which was available with a small 1.4 litre engine, which will feel far too sluggish. Better to go for a slightly larger 1.6 which will cope far better when laden with children, pushchair and dogs. The basic Envoy model is cheaper to insure and it is possible to buy a 2002 model with a reasonable 60,000 miles for £3,000 with a warranty.

A car for the heart

First cars and practical cars don't have to win your heart, they just have to work and do their job. I do think that a Citroë*Xsara estate (below) has more style than a Vauxhall Astra and also one of the largest boots in the small-car class. Indeed, the spacious boot outdoes many contemporary family sized estate cars. This is a tough car, which will cover a large mileage without too much drama. The only criticisms that can be made are about the fit, finish and lack of quality inside. However, a few rattles won't bother anyone and at some point the dogs are going to chew and scratch at the trim and generally make a mess of the boot so it really should not be an issue. The driver though will find that the dashboard is clearly laid out and the steering wheel is adjustable for a very comfortable driving position. Most buyers over the years opted for the excellent diesel, but subject to how this car is going to be used, the 1.6 petrol is an economical and efficient engine. There is a good level of standard specification, which usually includes air conditioning, plus the safety features are reasonable too. For £3,000, a 2003 1.6LX is available through independent dealers with a warranty and mileage of just under 70,000 miles.

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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