Car Choice: A comfy Seat with the pride of a Leon

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John Calutis owns a diesel Renault Espace, which he bought nearly new to run himself and his family (partner, two small children) around in. Now he finds it's too big, and he doesn't really need it. He'd like to downsize and downprice to get some money back and pay off a few debts. He's looking at spending £10,000 to £15,000, and has been viewing lightly used Mazda 6 and Mitsubishi Grandis diesels. He prefers diesels for their torque and economy. He's considered the Toyota Avensis and BMW 3-Series, but found them too pricey. He also values reliability. What's the best way for him to dispose of the Espace, and what should he then buy?

I'm sorry that John learnt the hard way that the Espace was not for him. Sometimes it's difficult to know what is the best vehicle until you actually live with it. When test-driving, you need to drive it around your area and on your usual journeys.

At least John bought his Espace when it was nearly new, which will mean that the initial depreciation will have been absorbed elsewhere. But all cars depreciate.

Selling any car is a hassle. Part-exchanging reduces the stress as long as John realises that, however well he negotiates, he will only get the trade value. It is always better to try to sell privately - he will be able to sell nearer to the dealer price. Presumably the Espace is still under warranty and has been serviced by a Renault dealer, which are factors in his favour.

He should look at what similar Espaces sell for in his area and price accordingly, which means less than dealers. The advertisement must be clear, and the vehicle cleanly presented. I don't think eBay would be right; AutoTrader's strong local and internet presence offer the best chance.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Two adults and two children mean that any reasonably sized hatchback will do - so John can save a significant amount of money. The Espace is all about conspicuous people-moving, but I reckon John should go for a more anonymous hatch, like an old-shape Vauxhall Astra. These are cheap to run and - most important - cheap to buy. The old-shape Astra is now very cheap indeed, and they even come with an economical, enthusiastic diesel engine.

I found a 2003 1.7 DTi LS and a higher-specification 2.0 DTi Elegance with just 23,000 miles, both at a car supermarket, for £5,799. On a practical level, there's plenty of room inside - this was the most spacious car in its class when it was launched. It is pretty dull inside, but that should not really matter, as overall the whole family should be very comfy.

It could not be easier to own, because when servicing and repairs are needed they should be cheap. Being a Vauxhall, virtually any garage can cope. I think this is just the sort of everyday car John needs; it should not lose too much more in value over the next few years, especially compared with an Espace.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

If John wants a little more style (he mentioned a BMW), I don't see why he should pay a premium price. He could have a Volkswagen Golf, wrapped up in the sexy shape of the Seat Leon. Examples from 2001, with good specifications and reasonable 50,000 mileages, are now about £5,500, but a Seat dealer will have a 2004 example at just over £9,000 if John wants something a little less used.

It is a handsome car with a very functional interior. It may be a little tight in the back, but John's children are small, and the boot is huge, even if the rear sill is on the high side. Driving a Leon is certainly fun; every model appeals to those who enjoy sporty responses.

It is a comfortable driving environment, with a clear and well-built dashboard. The level of standard equipment is good, also contributing to good crash-test performance and security. Best of all, the 1.9 Tdi engine is one of the best John could hope for - and it does 54mpg or so. It's just a question of whether John is happy with the 90bhp version or wants the sportier 110.

CAR CHOICE Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested.

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