Car Choice: Hatchback options for a softer ride

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Anthony North has owned a Seat Leon 1.9 TDi for almost six years and has been pleased with its excellent engine, economy and build quality. He has been somewhat less pleased with the hard ride and the low height of the car, which makes it hard to get in and out of, because, as Anthony puts it, he and his wife are now "stiffening up".

Most journeys are now short although they occasionally tow a small caravan. They want to stick with four doors and a hatchback and have an aversion to off-roaders. Anthony's budget is £15,000, excluding trade-in on the Leon.

t sounds as if all Anthony needs is a high-rise Leon. If access is the only problem then there are plenty of compact people carriers and a new generation of hatchbacks and there is no reason to go down the off-roader route that Anthony fears.

Certainly he wants fuel economy, even though the mix of driving is start-stop and towing. Luckily the caravan is a fairly modest Eriba, which needs a towball that would take just 70 to 75kg in total.

Anthony could stick with the Seat range but he finds the Altea odd-looking, and although he has considered the Renault Mégane Scénic he is worried about quality.

The problem is that although Anthony wants to have four-door flexibility to accommodate friends, he will also end up with several extra seats that he won't ever use and often are only suitable for small children.

What Anthony doesn't need is a vehicle that is too small for towing, and the pulling power of a diesel engine would definitely help, but that should not dominate Anthony's choice. He certainly has a very generous budget, but there is no need to spend too much. (After all, Anthony invested into a good-value brand in the shape of the Seat).

So what are the options?

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The Toyota Corolla Verso. If Anthony wants a quality vehicle, here it is. Essentially it is a people-carrying Toyota Avensis, which is no bad thing because the level of finish is high and it is never anything else but well put together.

This should be an easy vehicle for Anthony and his wife to get in and out of. Once there, getting comfy is pretty easy, too. For the driver, the rake and reach adjustable steering combines with a multi-way adjustable seat to create countless positional combinations. The dashboard is clear and the controls are easy to use. It is also possible to order steering wheel-mounted controls for the music system and for the cruise control.

What is also important to Anthony is the power units available. The petrol 1.6 probably is too weedy; the 1.8 is better, but ultimately the 2.0 D-4D is a powerful unit that should return up to 45mpg overall.

Space is not an issue, and the seven-seat system means that the middle seats and rear-most ones can be folded flat, while the middle seats can also slide when raised. Designed to be economical to run, it is also safe, well-equipped and well-built. What more could Anthony want?

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I think that the Ford Focus C-Max gets a hard time from many motoring journalists, and is often overlooked when for some people, like Anthony, it is absolutely perfect.

Being a Ford it should be cheap to run, and most importantly cheap to buy, as many UK brokers can get discounts of up to £2,000 on most models. Being based on the Focus, it should also be pleasant to drive.

One thing Anthony will have plenty of is space, although he won't have more seats than he really needs. This is essentially a five-seater, although it excels when there are just four passengers on board. The boot is large and well-shaped, and can get even bigger if Anthony wanted to tug out the rear seats.

At the front, getting in is easy, due to the slightly higher seat position. The driver's seat is certainly very adjustable for height, and the steering wheel, too, for rake and reach.

What also helps to make driving less stressful and more comfy is a clear and easy-to-use dashboard layout. The C-Max has this, and a useful raised gear lever in addition.

To top it all off is a nice quality feel to the interior, which should reassure Anthony. Under the bonnet he can go for the 2.0 TDCi diesel engine, which should return around 50mpg. www.jamesrup pert.com

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 and your budget.

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