<preform>Car Choice: From the local shops to Pyrenean heights</b></preform>

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Richard Gregory is retired and has a four-year-old Rover 200 diesel that has covered 59,000 miles.

Richard Gregory is retired and has a four-year-old Rover 200 diesel that has covered 59,000 miles. He bought the car when it was a year old to save on depreciation. The Rover does mainly local journeys, the odd 130-mile round trip, plus an annual 1,000-mile jaunt to the Pyrenees. Richard has been unimpressed by the overall 44mpg. After some niggly problems, he wants a change, something of a similar size and with a diesel engine. He likes the sound of the Skoda Fabia.

In his letter, Richard said that he could have bought his and hers Rover 200s, but preferred to share a car with his wife. He also believes that he should not waste money on a brand new car, although he is considering buying a new Skoda Fabia. I think that he should again buy used and save the first year's depreciation. I also believe that he should not get too hung up on buying a diesel car. They mostly cost more money, and as Richard's mileage is fairly modest, is it really worth paying extra?

It is certainly possible to get a petrol car that delivers very decent mpg figures. For instance, a Vauxhall Corsa 1.0 ECO Easytronic will deliver 59mpg. The trouble is that the Corsa may be a little on the small side, even though the Rover 25 is not that big inside. Slightly better could be a Toyota Yaris since the basic 1.0 model manages 50mpg. Richard should look at the micro MPV vehicles that have small engines and lots of space inside. However, they could struggle on that annual trip to the Pyrenees. Maybe he could have a smaller runaround for local journeys, and hire a more appropriate car for that longer journey, or take a train, coach or plane? Just a suggestion.

A car for the head

I agree that the Skoda Fabia is a great little car, but I also think that Richard should look at the SEAT Ibiza, which is quite closely related to it. However, the Ibiza is a little more stylish and is also more fun to drive, which may be important on those Pyrenean passes. What buyers get is a very efficient three- and five-door hatchback that has decent room at the front but compromised head- and legroom at the rear. At least the Ibiza is reasonably refined, keeping outside noise down under most conditions. However, the firm suspension, which delivers such a sporty drive, may cause problems as it bounces over rough road surfaces.

Drivers will be comfortable and they have a simple, clear dashboard to use. The build quality is high while the running costs are reassuringly low. From decent fuel consumption to low company-car tax bands and reasonable servicing, the Ibiza could not be easier to own. The 1.2 petrol model will do 47mpg, whereas the 1.4 Tdi diesel manages over 61mpg. If Richard could find some 2003 examples with a warranty at a dealer, the diesel with 30,000 miles would sell for £6,200 and the petrol for £5,100.

A car for the heart

If Richard wants 100 per cent reliability, he has to consider a Japanese car. That brings me back to the Toyota Yaris, because it has been around for a few years and there is lots of choice, some better specifications and prices are slightly lower compared with an equally accomplished Honda Jazz.

There is also an extra spacious Yaris in the curious shape of the Verso, which looks a bit like a van. The standard Yaris is fine, and the high driving position is great, while the petrol and diesel engines are enthusiastic and economical. In particular, the diesel engine will deliver 64mpg. The suspension is firm and it can feel fidgety at speed, while the noise levels from the engine and road are noticeable. Those who want to drive hard find that the vehicle's tallness means that it leans a little in corners, but that does miss the point.

A Yaris should be viewed as a practical hatchback. Inside, the amount of usable room is quite incredible. The key is the sliding rear seats, which allow decisions to be made between passenger and luggage space. So, the boot may be small, but it can be optimised.

* 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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