Car Choice: How to replace a much-loved and tolerant old estate car

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Donald McKean wants to replace his 1993 Rover Montego Countryman Estate 2.0 automatic, with power steering, which is about to expire due to rust and electrical failures. He needs a vehicle that can transport garden rubbish, to the refuse dump and accommodate two bicycles without the bother of an outside carrier.

In addition to his wife there is a family of five to consider - including three grandchildren. That's why they liked the foldaway seats of the Montego and seven-seat flexibility.

They must have an automatic gearbox and power steering and they cover less than 5,000 miles a year. The family budget is a maximum of £3,000.

The Montego Countryman was a very useful and practical vehicle as Donald well knows and, in an odd way, fairly difficult to replace directly.

The first thought is to consider a compact MPV, like the Vauxhall Zafira but then there is the problem of budget. Few of the current generation of small seven-seaters are that cheap.

However, if Donald were prepared to consider an older and larger people mover there are lot more options. I think that Donald will still need to think estate car first as that is what he is used to, rather than undergo any radical change in vehicle dimensions.

There is also the off-road option as it has been possible to get Land Rover Discoverys and Toyota Landcruisers for some time with plenty of extra seatage.

After owning a relatively lightweight Austin Montego Countryman I doubt that a heavy off-roader would be entirely appropriate. From experience getting bicycles inside any vehicle is always problematic, but if it is just Donald and his wife, then allowing the rear seats to be folded flat should not be a problem in the majority of estate and MPV-type vehicles.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

If Donald wants to seat seven in comfort and safety then it has to be a proper people carrier. The one disadvantage would be having to tug out seats to create more space, although many seats will have backs that fold so that garden rubbish can be piled on top.

With Donald's budget and requirement for an automatic gearbox in mind, I would point him in the direction of a Toyota Previa. This is a popular imported vehicle and can also be found badged as an Estima, which is slightly narrower than an Previa. This is a full-size people carrier which is very comfortable and has up to eight seats.

Many imports have automatic gearboxes as standard and it is even possible to get four-wheel drive and diesel versions. Prices for examples from the mid-1990s are around £2,000.

There are lots of import companies that can supply these. Locally, SR Imports (01603 882244) sells fully serviced and warranted examples below £2,500. I have not used the company, but a glance in the classified ads will turn up more specialists. Companies like that are best because Donald will have some comeback.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I think Donald and his wife would, deep down, prefer another similarly sized estate to their expiring Montego. So I have no hesitation in recommending the excellent Peugeot 406 estate.

Just like the Montego this model was available with optional rear-facing seats which brought the tally to seven. Compared with the Montego, which was a very old car back in 1993, the 406 will feel much more sophisticated, better built and far more comfortable.

At just below £3,000, Donald should be able to pick up a W-registered example, although prices start at around £1,400. Power steering comes as standard and the only difficult thing could be finding an automatic gearbox, although it was an option.

Best of all, the Peugeot is very comfy and has a huge load bay. The 2.0 Hdi engine is very good and reasonably economical, averaging around 36mpg, although the most popular are the diesels. But as Donald only covers a modest mileage each year I don't think he should be bothered about finding one of those.

The trim can feel a bit flimsy, but Donald should not be put off by high-mileage examples, as mechanically they are tough.

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