Long trips to Norway are a problem for a couple who need more space. Try these people-carriers, says James Ruppert

Richard Coode and his wife have a Toyota Yaris Verso automatic as their sole car. After just over five years, it has done 67,000 miles and proved very reliable. They would have kept the Yaris for much longer, but twice a year they make long trips to Norway via Newcastle and ferry. The Yaris copes well enough with the journey, but it now feels short of space; it's not big enough to cope with larger groups of visitors, including grandchildren, car seats, luggage etc from the local airport.

They are aiming to buy a car that is two to three years old and automatic. The budget is between £12,000 and £15,000.

f there is a recurring question for Car Choice, it has to be the one where someone wants a decent amount of extra space, but not permanently. It's rather as if it would be nice to be able to bolt on an extra section containing some seats or more space.

Actually, that is exactly what you can do by buying a trailer. First of all, Richard needs to find out if there is a towing hook available for a Yaris. OK, I've already done that. The hook costs £224.30 plus fitting. It will tow 400kg of stuff, but that goes up to 600kg or more if the trailer is linked to the vehicle's braking system. Then, we must find out which trailer would be appropriate. The Yaris is already a clever and spacious little car and, best of all, the rear seats can be rolled back to create extra leg-room. Meanwhile, any extra luggage could be accommodated in a trailer.

A visit to the National Trailer and Towing Association website ( www.ntta.co.uk) gives loads of useful tips. This is an organisation worth joining. Just popping along to Halfords, I found an Erde 102 trailer, which came fully equipped with lights and the potential to carry 300kg, all for £149.99.

Still, three adults in the back of a Yaris may be a squeeze, even if a trailer's taking care of the luggage, so let's look at the options.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

One small people-carrier that sticks to being a five-seater rather than pretending to be a seven-seater - and usually a cramped one at that - is the Ford Focus C-Max. It is as nice to drive as a regular Focus, but has a decent amount of room without being difficult to park. The family will find the C-Max a very refined environment on those long journeys they undertake to Norway. It's quiet on the road, while inside the dashboard is clearly laid out. All-round visibility is excellent.

So there is no problem driving this spacious Focus, especially as it is widely available with an automatic gearbox and also the frugal 1.6 diesel engine. The CVT - constantly variable transmission - may also suit Richard's relaxed driving style. On a practical level, there is lots of room up front and there's certainly room for three adults in the rear.

Those three rear seats can each be lifted out to create more room, although they are on the heavy side. The square- shaped boot is a good size.

And the best thing about being a Ford is that there are lots of them around - and that means affordable prices. I found a 2006 1.6 TDCi LX CVT - how's that for an ultra-long model name? - with the asking price of £13,995 from a Ford dealer.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I reckon Richard should stick to what he knows, and that means a reliable Toyota. The larger Avensis Verso version is no longer made, but it was only discontinued recently. The interior looks pretty good with some classy looking metal-effect inserts. On the outside, it looks a little bit like a people carrier as designed by Lexus, which is of course Toyota's premium brand.

The specification is impressive enough, as the GS models all have air conditioning, a CD player and heated mirrors. The more upmarket GLS has rear vents so the air-con can reach the back-seat passengers. A four-speed automatic gearbox was only available on the petrol model. Average fuel use on the petrol model is just under 33mpg, which is not bad for a people carrier.

Even with all seven seats up, this compact people-carrier still has some room for a bit of luggage. Ultimately, though, the Verso makes most sense as a spacious five-seater. That's because the middle three seats all slide and recline individually, which is nice.

It turned out to be easy enough to find them for sale, and a 2002 model 2.0GS with 44,000 miles on the clock and an automatic gearbox was available for just £8,995. There; loads of money saved for those long journeys to the fjords.

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 telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.

Search for used cars

Comments