Car Choice: You can combine space and economy, especially with the right tyre pressure

Andy is starting a new job that requires him to spend long hours on the road. He also needs a fair amount of space. Andy is concerned about economy and he does not want his car to produce needless emissions. With a budget of £4,000 Andy knows that the car will have to be around five or more years old, and worries that it may not be reliable. In any case, it must be cheap to fix. Andy says he would be happy with an estate car.

I know that Andy says he does not want his car to produce too many emissions, but they are a by-product of going places and doing things, like a job. It is laudable to want to cut them but they are a necessary evil and the best way of looking at the situation is to turn it into a positive. So if Andy uses less fuel, that will save him money. He can save money not just by choosing the right car, but also by driving slightly differently. So this is as good a time as any for Car Choice to provide some vital public information. Without trying too hard you can increase your mpg by just one mile and it is certainly worth the effort. Covering 31, rather than 30 miles to a gallon means that after 300 miles you have saved one gallon. Over an average motoring year (12,000 miles) that translates into 40 gallons, which, multiplied by whatever the horrendous cost of petrol is, means a substantial saving. So check your tyre pressures. Clear out the boot and interior of unwanted clutter. You will get 30 per cent less mpg with a fully loaded roof rack. Also, adopt a smoother driving style.

A car for the head

Space and economy – that's not difficult is it? Not really, there are lots of load-luggers out there and all for under £4,000. It could be worth thinking along the lines of the most ubiquitous small estate cars around. I am always inclined to recommend the Vauxhall Astra, which is dull to look at but spacious and worthy. However, the Ford Focus estate is just as practical and at the very least looks just a little bit more interesting. I think Andy might appreciate the thoughtful interior layout as he is due to spend a lot of time inside. Actually the Focus is a very refined estate car which is again something that Andy should appreciate when he is on the road as it will be much more relaxing.

There is a very large boot area, although the split rear seat with single rear-seat cushion can limit its versatility when carrying people and loads. The 1.8 TDdi diesel engine is good and, driven carefully, can manage up to 55mpg, which is quite remarkable. In the used-car market Andy should be able to find 2004 LX or Zetec specification models with around 70,000 miles. They are still smart-looking cars and, best of all, they drive as good as they look.

A car for the heart

Estate cars are fine, but compact MPVs can be just that bit more versatile, which is why a Citroë*Xsara Picasso makes sense – and it is a tad more stylish. It is certainly spacious and was always good value when new. It just becomes even better value when used. It is rather egg-shaped which helps it to be especially roomy, with excellent head-room.

Andy may not need all three rear seats but they can be folded and tipped. Most of all they are light enough to be removed easily so that there is more room for, say, camping equipment. So in the space department Andy can't have any complaints with the Citroë*Xsara Picasso.

He can also win when it comes to fuel economy. By going for the 2.0 HDi diesel-engine version he should normally return more than 50mpg.

With £4,000 to spend, Andy can easily afford a 2001 to 2002 example in SX trim with 60,000 to 70,000 miles on the clock. I found several at dealers and they seemed in very tidy condition. In fact for a few hundred over the budget it was possible to get 2004/5 models, with revised styling and equipment, so I think the Xsara is worth a good look.


Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent, 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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