Pauline Clark, 69, is retired and lives in Cheshire. She wrote to tell us that at last she has some spare cash to buy a new or second hand car to replace her "excellent" Skoda.

Pauline Clark, 69, is retired and lives in Cheshire. She wrote to tell us that at last she has some spare cash to buy a new or second hand car to replace her "excellent" Skoda. She has what she calls "dodgy knees" and so needs easy access. And with three young grandsons to collect from school and a Boxer dog, five doors is a must. However, the school car park is full of potholes, and she doesn't want a 4x4 or a car for long journeys or motorways.

What Pauline deserves and what we should all aim to have is a comfortable car. Pauline does not mention whether or not her old Skoda was an automatic, but if she does not have one she should switch now. Power steering and an automatic gearbox are the minimum requirements for a stress free driving experience. Certainly a self-shifting box will help save Pauline's knees, but if they are giving her trouble then hand controls would be one answer. I don't want Pauline to spend a fortune on a new car, especially if she only does a small mileage and local trips. I would rather she spent it on her grandsons and her dog.

The problem with buying a car with a higher ground clearance is that she will have to climb into the driving seat, so we have to be careful about choosing a high rise car. That's another reason for not choosing a 4x4, although they are now more comfortable than ever. I think a bigger, more comfortable car might be the answer and its larger wheels won't bump into the craters as much. A luxury car will be cheap to buy and running costs, because of the low miles covered, will be reasonable.

A car for the head

First, there is only one truly clever car that could help Pauline in rough terrain, and it is a model we have mentioned before: the Citroën Xantia. This is a spacious, practical and comfortable car with an undeservedly poor reputation. Its big trick is that the ride height can be altered by the simple press of a button. So when fully loaded with grandchildren and dog it won't bottom out. In effect, the Xantia's body won't hit the road. The other great thing about the Xantia is that it is a great value buy, and for just a few thousand pounds Pauline can get herself a very tidy example.

The hatchback and estate, better for the dog, was built up until 2001 so the chances of buying one in good condition are quite good. What Pauline must do though is buy wisely, and ideally from one caring owner. Even better, she should buy from a Citroën specialist or dealer with a comprehensive warranty. It is the hydraulics that may cause problems if neglected. Fluid leaks are bad and the hydraulic oil should be a clear bright green, not brown or black. Even an example in brilliant condition is unlikely to cost more than £5,000.

A car for the heart

A big, comfortable, tough and great value vehicle for Pauline is a Volvo V70 estate. In practical terms, what you have here is the largest estate car in its class. Inside it is always comfy, with plenty of head and leg room. Good seats and a neat, built-in rear child seat are a nice touch. Some say the whole point of the V70 is what is inside the tailgate. Lift it and you don't need a tape measure to tell that it has probably one of the longest, widest and flattest load bays you will ever see. That boxy rear may not be pretty, but it is very spacious.

The sill is low, the seats split 60/40 and you can fold each seat back without having to remove the head restraints. Pauline certainly has plenty of room in a Volvo and the 2.5 engine has enough power. A late 1990s automatic from a Volvo specialist in high specification CD trim will be £8,000 to £9,000. However, if Pauline feels she wants more ground clearance, there is a 2.5 XC model that is a four-wheel drive V70, which is more of a soft than hard off-roader and could be the perfect compromise.

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