Doctor Tess Guilding loves her old Saab 900, but it has been breaking down more frequently and is costing a lot to run.

Doctor Tess Guilding loves her old Saab 900, but it has been breaking down more frequently and is costing a lot to run. She needs a car that will take a gentle cross-Bristol commute and runs up the M5 to visit her daughter. Parking is tight at home so the car can't be too big and she rarely has passengers and odd loads. But she would like some flexibilty and thinks that the MINI might be too much of a compromise. Also the right badge is important along with an automatic gearbox and air conditioning.

The Saab 900 was never a small car and Tess seems to have managed very well with it. If she loves it so much - which is easy to understand as it is unique to look at, solid to sit in and interesting to drive - why not refurbish it a bit?

For considerably less than the cost of a new or nearly new car Tess could get a Saab specialist to completely renew the electrics and other components to stop those embarrassing breakdowns.

Then again she could go for a more modern Saab. Tess says the new Saabs leave her a bit cold, which is understandable but I would still argue that the subsequent 900 and 9-3 might fit the bill. Purists claim they had too much Vauxhall Cavalier in them, but they still look quirky and properly maintained are fantastically reliable.

The three-door coupé shape is also much more stylish then the five door and looks satisfyingly different. Being a Saab it will also be good value against depreciation.

A 9-3 model from the late 1990s with the economical 2.3, or 2.0 litre petrol engine will be around the £5,000 mark in perfect condition.

A car for the head

Tess wants a coupé and one with a badge so really there is just one option, a BMW. The 3 series coupé in the 1990s looked like a saloon except with two doors, and yes it does have four decent seats that Tess needs.

Compared with the saloon, though, it was much more distinctive with a steeper rake to the front and rear screens, the doors were larger, front wings were longer and the bonnet reprofiled.

Launched in 1993 there was a choice of three engines, 318is, 320i and 325i. The really cool detail was the frameless doors. All- round visibility was excellent and the party trick was the windows that sank automatically when the door was opened, which improved sealing.

It was hardly surprising that the coupé went on to become the UK's best selling two-door. There is a wide choice for Tess and a 1999 318i automatic with 50,000 miles at a dealer should be no more than £7,700.

If she wants to save up for the new improved 3 series from 1998 on then a year 2000 with a Steptronic automatic gearbox is £12,000. However the hatchbacked 3 series Compact is the budget choice as a 1999 316 automatic would be just under £6,000.

A car for the heart

Maybe Tess should look beyond image and more closely at what she can get for not much money. The Hyundai Coupé has been a consistently surprising model that just got better and better.

Like any good coupé it looks the part with a sexy shape which brings to mind more expensive cars usually from Italy.

There was a dodgy period from 2000 to 2002 where the model was thumped with an ugly stick, but from 2002 on is a return to form. Tess ought to like the look of it and I bet few others would care what badge it wears - it looks like a sports car. It also drives like one, but is safe and quite refined.

The 2.0 litre engine makes the most sense and is available with an automatic gearbox. A 2003 model with 10,000 miles will sell for around £12,000. The great thing about that Hyundai badge is that it stands for reliability. The company are confident enough to provide from August 2002 onwards a five-year warranty. Now, that must be worth more to Tess than any fancy badge.

* CAR CHOICE: 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 contact number, and details of the type of vehicle you are interested in.

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