Car Choice: A Smart choice for the long haul

For good fuel economy on a low budget and motorway comfort, James Ruppert recommends some fine diesel hatchbacks. Or there's the nippy and stylish Smart forfour - oh, that's available as a diesel too
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Beverley Gray, 40, is currently driving an old but low-mileage Vauxhall Corsa, which she is very happy with and is great for running around town. However, after being based in France she is now returning to the UK and her commute involves a journey from Cardiff to Heathrow airport, where she's working as air crew.

Beverley would like something that's economical on fuel and is considering an LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) model. She does not need a large car and has a limited budget.

The important thing to remember about LPG is that it is mostly about paying less for your fuel. It is roughly half the cost of petrol, and there are now plenty of stations that have LPG pumps.

It would not be worth Beverley paying to have a car converted to run on LPG, which could cost up to £2,000. It would take a while to get her money back, even with her long commute.

Better to buy an already converted car, but there are some less-than-competent conversions in circulation. Manufacturers, particularly Volvo, Ford and Vauxhall, have offered factory-engineered LPG cars, which are the safest buys.

Gordon Brown guaranteed in the last Budget that LPG duties would remain low until 2008. That's good news, but I think Beverley will have a wider choice of cars and make real longer-term fuel savings by going diesel. Soon, diesel cars bought in the UK will easily exceed the number of petrol-powered vehicles - for many very good reasons.

Modern diesels are highly efficient and sophisticated, routinely returning 50mpg and better at delivering plenty of power, especially on a long commute such as Beverley's. A diesel car would be perfect for her.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Beverly has a small budget and only needs a smallish vehicle, so I'd point her in the direction of the Seat Ibiza. This is a great little car, related to the Volkswagen Polo, but much cheaper. When fitted with Volkswagen's excellent 1.4 -litre TDI engine, fuel consumption is 61.4mpg. It has a firm ride, so it's comfy on the motorway and very refined, unless exposed to rough roads.

The diesel can be noisy when pushed, but overall it is no problem. Beverley should find the driver's seat very comfy with lots of support and height adjustment. There's plenty of headroom, the instruments are clear and controls are easy to use. Ideally, Beverley should go for the best specification she can afford, and in the past few years all but the base models had air conditioning. This is a well-built, tough contender. She should go for the revised 2002 model; one with 50,000 miles should be just under £5,000 from a dealer.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Beverley could upgrade to a later Corsa, which is more comfy and grown-up than the early model and will return 62.8mpg with diesel.

I am tempted to tell her to consider the Smart forfour, which secondhand is becoming quite good value now and has striking looks. The 1.5 diesel will return 61mpg. Beverley should consider the Smart as some dealers are keen to sell what is now an obsolete model.

Ultimately, it would be hard to go wrong with a Fiat Panda. It offers big-car refinement and is great around town or on the motorway. It is hugely practical and loveable and, most important, the 1.3 Multijet diesel will return 65mpg.

The Eleganza is top of the range, boasting climate control, alloy wheels and a CD player. The seating position is high, which is good, and the dashboard with the gear lever is clear and easy to understand. A 2003 Eleganza should cost about £5,000.

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 you are interested in and your budget.

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