Fiona Cordy, who is 50 years old, wants a vehicle that's very easy on fuel and emissions (like every car buyer at the moment). Not only that, it must also be in a low insurance group because her 18-year-old son wants to learn to drive. The big snag is that she would also like to be able to tow a two-horse trailer occasionally. Her budget is between £7,000 and £10,000 and the vehicle would be mainly for urban use.

Over the years at Car Choice we've had plenty of challenging questions, but somehow we've always managed to come up with a reasonably satisfactory answer. Not this time. The trouble is Fiona's son. If you've tried to get insurance for anyone under 25, you'll know all about the huge premiums being charged, even for vehicles that are in low insurance groups. The other problem is the horsebox. Towing a fully loaded box requires an engine that is at least 2.0 litres in size, and trying to cover a teenager for a vehicle of that engine size means many thousands of pounds or a declaration by Fiona that her son is utterly uninsurable. Factor in the holy grail of low emissions and maximum mpg and it gets even harder to satisfy the brief. There is no multi-purpose vehicle for this job. So either Fiona gets a vehicle or her son does. Let's get her son a good value first car, and Fiona can spend the difference on hiring a vehicle to do the "occasional" towing.

A car for the head

First cars really ought to be cheap, cheerful and not mind too much if they get damaged. Spending up to £10,000 on a first car would be a bit silly when there are so many alternatives out there that have smaller engines, producing lower emissions and achieving more miles to the gallon. The Ford Ka is a very stylish little car that is also very cheap to run with typically low Ford servicing costs. Not much room at the back, but a hoot to drive for the younger car enthusiast and so slow it is completely safe. Also, the Ka was fitted with a driver's airbag from the very beginning, so that's quite reassuring. Low specification and no power steering means rock-bottom prices for the older models. Most will want a few creature comforts, so the later models with power steering and even air conditioning are worth the extra. For Fiona's son the insurance starts at group 2, which should mean something reasonable as a premium. Just £400 buys a 1998 R reg Ka which has led a reasonably hard life, but is still intact with a full MOT. Spending £2,000 gets a 2000 W plate 1.3 with power steering from a dealer with a warranty.

A car for the heart

The Ford Ka may be getting old, but as we have already observed, it still has fairly groovy styling. There are some more contemporary models which may also be a hit with the kids, until they can afford an Aston Martin. It's hard not to smile when there is a Panda parked outside your house. For a start it is easy to drive and is actually quite a spirited little car to pilot. Not only that, there is plenty of room inside for four lanky teenagers front and back. The driving position is high, which is great for easy parking, and the dashboard is particularly funky too. The entry-level Active model has electric front windows, central locking and power steering, but even better than the standard radio cassette is the group 1 insurance group. The fuelling costs are very small as the 1.1 litre petrol engine will manage to return a creditable 49.6 mpg overall. Buying a used Panda is not a problem; even though most models fall well within Fiona's budget she should stick to a second-hand one. A 2004 1.0 Active would cost £2,750 from a dealer, while £4,000 gets a 2005 1.1 Active at a car supermarket, with 16,000 miles on the clock.

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email 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 your budget.

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