Alan Corsie wants to replace his old Honda CRV. On family trips he has three teenage children in the back, and is struggling to find any alternatives that have a decent middle seat and a flat rear floor without a transmission tunnel. The vehicle, preferably with a diesel engine, must have some 4x4 capability for occasional driving on rough tracks and over fields. Reliability is important too, and his budget is £15,000-£20,000.

A car for the head

Alan is right to look for a vehicle with three proper rear seats, which can be hard to find, certainly in smaller models. That may rule out the majority of so called crossover vehicles, which are part-time off-roaders and have the abilities that Alan's family needs without the bulk. The problem with a four-wheel drive car is that you have a transmission tunnel to the rear wheels, meaning that a larger model is essential so that the rear floor is higher and therefore flatter. As reliability is an issue, then according to the latest statistics it really should be Japanese. I would recommend the Nissan Pathfinder on the grounds that it has a proper set of individual three rear seats, bags of room, and is an inherently reliable vehicle. This is a proper five-adult size off-roader, although the middle passenger may find legroom a tad restrictive, so go for a test drive with all the family on board. The Pathfinder is on the large side but the 2.5 dCI diesel engine returns 31.4mpg overall which isn't bad for such a substantial truck. A 2008 Sport, with just 14,000 miles on the clock and with a comprehensive technology pack, is just £17,000 from a dealer.

A car for the heart

I am tempted to recommend that Alan consider an older off-roader in the shape of the Land Rover Discovery 2. I've got one, and the centre rear seat is not an incidental, although it does fold up into an armrest. So far, when fully laden with grown-up bodies, there have been no complaints. The rear floor is flat and the boot remains massive. I would recommend one of these to anyone who wants a 4x4 to do some very tough jobs. The later Discovery 2s are comfortably below £10,000, and a very decent one is just £6,000 to £7,000. Otherwise, the equally middle class, spacious and stylish 4x4 of choice has to be the Volvo XC90 (inset left). I think the rear seats are quite generous and there is also the option of two more seats right at the back, which will only suit children on longer journeys. The D5 engine is very popular and manages to return a reasonable 34mpg overall. Closest in spirit to Alan's softer Honda CRV, it is more comfortable on-road than the harder 4x4s but has enough ability on a muddy field. Alan's £20,000 would buy a 2007 example with around 23,000 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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