Car Choice: Family in need of pony express

Economic, green... and a 4x4! James Ruppert does his best to find a solid and spacious solution to an equine problem
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Kate writes on behalf of her family and calls this the Rudgard Family Conundrum. They are a family of five (three children aged 16, 12 and seven) and a dog. Three times a week they visit their pony that they share down a rough track. But this journey could be much shorter down a byway, but they would need a four-wheel drive for that.

Currently, they have a faithful R-registration Volvo V70 automatic. Like many, they can't stand the Chelsea Tractor image. What they want is an economy 4x4, ideally with seven seats so that it can cope with camping holidays and day-to-day commutes. Oh yes, and ideally it should be a low-pollution vehicle.

ate wants it all and that is no bad thing, but I would like to do some myth-busting here. We are constantly asked at Car Choice for the most economical and environmentally friendly vehicle. Now, if you want a two-door hatch, that's pretty easy. When you want four-wheel drive and seven seats, I am going to struggle.

You see, adding space and the machinery involved in four-wheel systems - which adds weight - means low miles per gallon and more pollution. In theory, a diesel 4x4 is the answer but in economy terms many struggle to make the middle 20mpg. And when fully laden and used hard, you might as well save some money and buy a cheaper petrol version.

So that's the reality, Rudgards, although I will do my best. But Kate does make one brilliant suggestion, which is to buy an ancient, small Land Rover for that weekly pony visit.

Environmentally, the impact of having an old 4x4 that will last for ever is very sound and is one of the reasons why I have one. Going camping, though, often requires some off-road ability, so let's buy one vehicle that will do everything.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Kate does have a huge problem here in that finding a combination of space and off-road ability usually results in something that looks alarmingly like an agricultural vehicle from the SW3 postal district.

In that case, Kate ought to think Volvo. She knows the marque as a very satisfied V70 owner, so maybe she should upgrade to the XC90. It's a practical family car, which is also a very comfortable, refined long-distance motor. Get inside and you find a well-built cabin, which provides seating for seven.

The rearmost pair is tight for space - kids only, really - although the remaining five offers stacks of room. The middle row has three individual seats that slide and adjust independently, whilst the back two fold into the floor to create a large boot. In the driving seat, you get a decent view out.

The 2.4 Diesel is efficient and probably the best all-round choice, offering 34mpg overall. During the past few years, it has also maintained much of its value and the depreciation curve has been very slow, which explains why they are not cheap - a 2003 SE example with 60,000 miles is just over £19,000.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

If money is no object, then the Mercedes Benz R-Class fits the bill. This is fairly unique in that it is a luxury people-carrier with four-wheel and the ability to seat up to seven. Plus, there is a long wheelbase version with even more space inside. The trouble is, the R-Class is furiously expensive, with prices starting at more than £38,000.

This is the point when we have to invoke Kate's Plan B: buying a second-hand Land Rover for £1,500. Classic insurance means just £100 a year and running costs are marginal, with basic servicing required. Fuel costs are high but then it won't be used all the time.

Then Kate has to find a minimum of £16,995 to buy a Ford S-Max. No four-wheel drive, just a cleverly thought-out vehicle that will seat up to seven. It is nice to drive and good value compared with most people-movers. For five people, they can sit in a good degree of comfort in what is a stylish and solidly built interior.

The 2.0 TDCI should return up to 44.1mpg overall, which is pretty good going for a multi-purpose vehicle, and is exactly what the Rudgards need. Along with an old Land Rover.

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 phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and budget.

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