Molly Storck is 78 and lives in London. Most of her driving is in town, although she does have a major annual trip to France and back of about 1,000 miles.

She has recently undergone a double knee replacement, so she needs an automatic gearbox and adequate leg room. She also needs a five-door vehicle to cope with two growing grandchildren. Low maintenance costs, reliability, and economy must be part of the package. Her budget is £5,000.

A car for the head

Molly might like to consider the Toyota Prius, which has a tremendous advantage when it comes to the London congestion charge – it's free. It has a hybrid engine, which means a conventional petrol engine and a unique electrical motor combine to optimise fuel consumption. This is ideally suited to stop-start traffic in London, and for the sort of short journeys that Molly has to endure. It is quick to accelerate and with smoothly delivered power it is similar to a turbo-diesel in performance terms – but the fuel consumption is even better. Almost 66mpg is impressive, and in theory it will return 50mpg around town. Five can sit comfortably, although the boot is on the small side. Noise levels are minimal and the ride is very smooth. Toyota's usual high build-quality inspires confidence – even if the dashboard needs some getting used to. Molly's £5,000 will buy a 2005 example with around 75,000 miles on the clock.

A car for the heart

The Mazda 2 is often overlooked but is one of the most spacious, practical and reliable super-minis. An automatic gearbox is available with a 1.4 litre engine. Official fuel consumption is 43.5mpg, but with the automatic gearbox and London traffic it will probably be nearer 30mpg. That's the reality of running a car in a city. The Mazda 2 is related to the Ford Fiesta, which is good news for those who want sharp responses, but Molly will appreciate the refinement that this model has. As well as being quieter, this Mazda has been voted by several magazines (including What Car?) as one of the most comfortable vehicles. The excellent access and easy adjustment of the seat, which is high-set anyway, may well be a huge factor for Molly in view of her recent operation. The basic S model has power steering, which was an essential requirement, and £5,000 would buy a 2007 model with around 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.

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