Car Choice: Alfa has a role to play in bringing up baby

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Maybe Anne-Marie should not be in such a hurry. Babies are very portable and actually quite tiny, certainly in the first year. Anne-Marie could get away with using the Puma for several months at least.

Admittedly, though, the hassle of squeezing junior into a three-door car, especially something as small as a Puma with only small rear seats, will become rather boring and irritating after a while. Ultimately, then, the Puma will have to go, and there are plenty of characterful hatches in circulation right now.

I know that Anne-Marie has been considering these possibilities - Alfa Romeo 147, Ford Focus, Audi A3, Citroën C4 and Peugeot 307.

The Barchetta, of course, is no one's idea of a baby-friendly vehicle. Obviously the family could keep it as a second car, but if they decide they want to sell it, it may be worth waiting until next spring. They probably won't get any more money for it by waiting until then, but it could be easier to sell at that time as the interest in buying convertibles increases as the warmer months approach.

The real difficulty with the Barchetta is that it is a specialist buy because it is left-hand-drive and a Fiat. It may be pretty, but it does not have the much wider appeal of, say, a Mazda MX-5.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Ideally, Anne-Marie ought to be considering a Volkswagen Golf GTI, but in five-door form it costs more than £20,000. I can't recommend the old model GTI, but there are other older options that are more than acceptable - Audi A3, Skoda Octavia, and most of all the Seat Leon, which has recently been replaced. The Leon is good-looking and spacious enough. The rear seat isn't huge, but more than enough for a bouncing baby or two. Some find the suspension a touch harsh over potholes, but I don't think it will disturb the child too much.

What Anne-Marie gets is a fantastically robust and purposeful performance hatchback. Compared to the Golf it's based on, the Leon is much sharper when tackling corners. Depending on which engine option she chooses, there is strong mid-range performance that makes overtaking a doddle.

There are three Leon Cupra models to choose from in the old range, starting with a 180bhp turbo petrol, an even quicker 225bhp version and an economical and parentally more responsible 1.9TDI diesel. Prices range from just over £15,000 to just over £18,000, and the level of standard equipment is very impressive. Dealers have special offers; we found a 2004-registered Cupra R 225 at £14,995, a 180 at £11,995 and a TDI at £13,995.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

A hatch that Anne-Marie could fall in the love with could be the Citroën C4, but it's smooth rather than sporty. The Peugeot 307 isn't very loveable, just big, while Audi A3s can be on the expensive side. The Alfa Romeo 147, though, is worth considering as an indulgent choice. Even with the smallest 1.6-litre engine it is very lively, although most would go for the even more performance-focused 2.0-litre. It is fun to drive, although not perfect, but it looks very pretty inside and out.

The downsides of Alfas are that they are expensive to service and insure; dealers can be less than attentive; and depreciation is severe. But the specs are impressive even if luggage and rear passenger space are tight. For peace of mind, Anne-Marie should buy through an Alfa dealer on the approved used scheme.

Scanning ads, we found a year-old 1.6 top-spec Lusso for £11,450 and 2.0 versions for £12,950. Build quality in the last few years has been a lot better, but Anne-Marie needs to decide whether she wants the style of an Alfa or the solidity of an older, higher mileage Audi A3.

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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