Marion Charles is a first-time car buyer. She needs a super-mini or a small hatchback for herself and husband Robert. They will use it mainly for city driving and the occasional country trip. She wants something that needs little maintenance, is comfortable to drive, and has a petrol engine. She has £2,000 to spend.

A car for the head

Should a city car be a small car? Not necessarily. Parking spaces are a standard size and it only becomes an issue when you try to park as near to your front door as possible. When parking wasn't so regimented an old Mini was a good thing, these days you may as well be comfortable in a bigger car if you are going to be in a traffic jam anyway. A small family car is the best compromise. That way Marion will be able to pick up friends and bulky luggage and shopping and feel comfy on longer journeys. For that reason it has to be the previous generation Vauxhall Astra. This model was built until 2004. It's more spacious than a Volkswagen Golf, but much cheaper to buy, and it costs far less to run. The smaller petrol engines should be perfect as the 1.4 or 1.6 should return almost 40mpg overall. The boot is big and three adults can fit in the back seat easily enough. On the open road it is nice to drive and for £2,000 Marion can get herself a very clean 2001 1.6 Club.

A car for the heart

In theory Marion could get away with a two-seat Smart, but I do feel that relying on a two-seater could be a mistake. The versatility of the extra rear doors make all the difference on a day-to-day basis. I am inclined towards something tiny but practical like the Daewoo Matiz, or even the less pretty Suzuki Wagon R. The Suzuki has the larger engine and should be slightly happier on a motorway. What Marion gets here is a tiny MPV. The 1.3 engine is certainly lively, although out of town it could be rather harsh. Economically it manages 46 mpg overall. Quality wise, these cars all have cheap plastic inside but the quality is in the important oily parts and Suzukis don't break down. It's perfect for the cut and thrust of the city. For £2,000 you can buy a lower mileage 2001 to 2002 GL model from a dealer.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 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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