Charlie Bird's 1991 Saab 9000 hatchback is about to expire after seven years' solid service. Charlie plays bass in a band so needs something that will swallow large equipment. He also uses the car for family driving holidays. He wants something that is cheap to run and has plenty of character, and has up to £5,000 to spend.

Space is something that we can never have enough of, and having been in the music business 30 years ago I somehow managed to get guitars, amplifiers and band members inside a 1963 Mini with only a bit of bother. Charlie is keen on Saabs and is prepared to consider another even though he knows that they cost a bit more to run. As I reckon he knows his stuff on Saabs, I won't waste time on those. For the rest of the world, a Saab 9000 is absolutely huge and it is possible to get just about anything inside without a fight. Therefore I reckon we ought to go down the estate car, people carrying and adapted van route.

A car for the head

A compact people carrier is the obvious answer. It doesn't take up much road space, but inside there is more than enough space. In particular, the Vauxhall Zafira is clever because the rear seats fold flat into the floor. So there are no worries about what to do with the spare chairs and all Charlie has to do is hoof his equipment inside. The Zafira is now very affordable and Charlie should be able to get a 2002 or 2003 1.8 Club model for £5,000. The only concern I have is whether it has enough character. It does look a bit dull. Maybe the Citroë*Xsara Picasso would be better. It is egg shaped and has something of the old 2CV about it. There is plenty of head and legroom for the family and the three rear seats all fold and tip. Best of all, compared with some people carriers the seats are actually quite light to pick up. At the moment, £5,000 will buy a 2004 1.6 HDi diesel that will return over 50mpg.

A car for the heart

Characterful cars? That would be the French, because apart from the Xsara Picasso there are also the adapted van options. That is not as grim as it sounds. The Citroë*Berlingo, Renault Kangoo and Peugeot Partner have the spirit of the old Renault 4 and Citroë*2CV about them. The utilitarian looks are a huge part of the appeal, as is the interior, which is cheap and spartan and you either love or loathe it. I'm not sure if after the relative luxury of a Saab Charlie could downsize to an adapted van. Also he needs to find examples with a decent specification, as some were very sparsely equipped. The durability of these vehicles is not an issue and neither is their practicality with a huge rear hatchback door and low loading sill. I'd plump for the Citroë*Berlingo. With £5,000 to spend it is possible to buy an example from as recently as 2005 from a car supermarket with 46,000 miles on the clock. The choice is either petrol or diesel, which can return up to 50mpg.

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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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