Judith Lavender and her husband are retired and love their Volkswagen Polo - they enjoy the fresh air provided by the huge sunroof.

Judith Lavender and her husband are retired and love their Volkswagen Polo - they enjoy the fresh air provided by the huge sunroof. But an automatic gearbox is recommended by their friends, they believe air conditioning would be good and they also need a vehicle that can accommodate grandchildren. Although the Citroën C3 would be ideal, Judith thinks it would be too small, as they need four doors. For budgetary reasons, they would prefer a good, used example, so what are the options?

It has been an interesting time when it comes to car roofs. Just a few years ago, the must-have accessory was the sunroof. Indeed, DIY kits - known as moon roofs - only required you to have a hacksaw, some glue and bags of confidence. Then electric roofs became an essential and few could argue that looking at the sky was better then staring at cigarette-stained headlining.

But the growing popularity of air conditioning meant that the whole point of having fresh air through a roof was just a bit pointless. As a result, there has been a return to all-steel roofs, not least because it is cheaper to produce.

That means finding a solution for Judith has become increasingly harder. Manufacturers, though, have realised that, despite the benefits of air conditioning, we still crave to see the sky like Judith, hence the option of panoramic roofs. Instead of a completely open roof, there is a glass section covering the cabin area. It is available on affordable models, such as the Peugeot 307 and Smart Four-Four, and the more expensive Renault Espace. These models may still be out of budget, but there are some open-roofed and double-sunroofed models out there that could fit the bill.

A car for the head

What Judith needs is practicality and their old Polo was probably on the small side. What they need is a compact people-carrier and there are several options. The Citroën Xsara Picasso is a favourite in this group, not least because it is such great value and can be bought for less than £5,000.

It has also been possible to buy one with a full-canvas, electric sunroof that rolls all the way back. Judith would probably love that, along with the spacious interior, smooth and quiet engine, plus a very comfortable ride. The trouble is that there are few models on the used market and Judith will need to look hard. But she should also consider double sunroofs, which also let in a lot more light and she can find these on a number of alternative people-carriers.

There is the unusual-looking and certainly characterful Fiat Multipla with unique three-abreast seating, which means that Judith and her husband can have a grandchild up front with them. Then there is the Renault Scenic, which is becoming increasingly good value. At £5,000, she would be spoilt for choice.

A car for the heart

What I believe that Judith needs is a Citroën Berlingo Multispace. It is an adapted van, but that is a good thing, especially when it comes to practicality. There is lots of room, a great feeling of airiness and easy access, especially through the rear sliding doors. The best news is that the vehicle comes in both fully opening roof and glass-panelled roof versions.

The fully opening roof is rare, but it is possible to find plenty of the see-through roof vehicles at about £5,000. Indeed, there are also aircraft-style air vents which deliver a blast of fresh air so that you can at least pretend that the roof is open. The engines are tuned for economy, rather than speed - a bit like Judith's Polo, really.

There is a very slow 1.4-litre petrol, but the more powerful 1.8 is certainly better. The ultimate 40mpg-plus economy is delivered by the noisy 1.9 diesel. Here is a 2CV for the new millennium and it is very loveable indeed. It is worth pointing out that the virtually identical Peugeot Partner Combi is also available.

Unless Judith is planning on lots of long-distance motorway journeys (it will be noisy), the Multispace is perfect.

* 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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