Liam McGarry, 31, is a self-employed consultant based in Belfast. He drives more than 1,000 miles a month in his 1998 Renault Clio 1.2 Grande, and that amount is set to increase. Liam would prefer a hatchback that is easy to manoeuvre and has more boot space. He is unsure whether to buy petrol or diesel but the priority is that the car is great to drive, reliable, economical and has the power to overtake. Liam believes that as he will be meeting more clients, a smart car is important. His budget is around £7,000.

As Liam is in business he might want to consider some alternative finance plan that would allow him to keep money in the business while paying a monthly amount to fund the car on a lease or contract hire arrangement. Liam needs to talk to an accountant to find out what is the best option for him because it is a fantastically complicated area. Essentially, Liam won't end up owning a car, at the end of the hire or lease period he simply signs up for another car. This is supposed to be an efficient way to use company money and it may well fit in with Liam's desire to have a car that won't embarrass him in front of clients. This also means that Liam could pick the sort of car that he really fancies, such as an Audi A3 or BMW 1 series, rather than letting me recommend something that is old and great value, but not so sparkly. As a result, this gives us lots of options and both petrol and diesel. Certainly for business users diesel has been the way to go when it comes to company car tax and overall running costs.

A car for the head

Liam has admitted to me that a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf would probably do what he wants, but there was an underlying suggestion that these might be a bit predictable. With that in mind, I would like to heartily recommend a Mazda 3. Liam wanted a car that was interesting and fun to drive and this is it. There are several petrol options but it is probably the 1.6 and particularly the more lively 2.0 diesel that would interest Liam. The bigger diesel should deliver the responsiveness that he wants for overtaking and the economy that will deliver at least 50mpg. Underneath, the Mazda 3 is pretty much a Ford Focus which means the handling is fairly sporty, something else that Liam requested. What the Mazda, pictured below, brings is a rarity that still turns heads, without alienating customers. Mazda's deserved reputation for quality means this will be a stress-free car with a good-sized boot and split rear seats. Looking around, there are plenty of finance packages available and a 1.6D with Takara trim is available at £183 a month plus VAT over a three-year period from one specialist.

A car for the heart

I honestly don't know whether Liam would get a better car than a Mazda 3 by simply going for a more prestigious badge. Personally I don't like the styling of the BMW 1 series and it may not be the practical car that he expects with limited boot space and access to it. An Audi A3 would be a bit better in those respects, but perhaps the Mercedes A-Class could offer the best of all worlds. When Liam is driving around Belfast and he needs to park quickly the compact A-Class may be perfect. A 180 CDI model returns 54mpg overall which is good, and is fairly responsive. The boot is pretty big and the split seats can also be taken out if there are larger loads to be carried. The A-Class is no sports car, but it is much better than it used to be, though it can't exactly be described as fun. So, maybe Liam should get a BMW. I think practicality for a business vehicle should be paramount. Plus a Mercedes A is fairly ubiquitous now so it doesn't look too flash, but the badge still commands respect. A 180CDi Classic covering 10,000 miles a year over three years could be had for £299 plus VAT.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or email James Ruppert at uk, giving your age, address and telephone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and your budget.

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