Stephen wants it all and quite right, too. Commuting is something that many of us have to endure and ideally we want to do it as economically and comfortably as possible. Thinking small is a good start, but I don't think Stephen wants a car that is going to register every bump. He should be able to relax and sometimes that can be difficult in a smaller car.
The petrol/diesel debate is always an interesting one. Diesels are popular at the moment and that always pushes up prices. Diesel either costs the same or more than petrol, but has better fuel consumption.
A small petrol car can be very economical, however, and can better value than a diesel because it has higher specification and a much lower mileage for the same price. Certainly, a lot of sellers are raising the prices of diesels just because they seem to be the "in" thing, so Stephen should shop around and always look at the individual car and what it offers him.
A CAR FOR THE HEAD
Stephen is right that the Ford Fiesta is a sensible buy. There are loads around and running costs are very low indeed. However, it is important to choose your Fiesta carefully. The previous generation is a great little car with decent crash-protection and driver's airbag. These models were built from 1999 to 2002, but need the right engine. For instance, a 1.25-litre petrol Fiesta should return almost 41mpg, whereas the frankly awful 1.8D version manages 46mpg in a very unrefined fashion. The later Tdi version was better, however, and managed a creditable 53mpg, but in petrol terms the 1.4 would be the pick of the bunch. This returns 40mpg as well but would be better on these longer commutes. It would be hard to pay more than £3,600.
I also believe that the Fiat Punto is a good choice, especially in diesel JTD form, which returns 57mpg, but it is insurance-group six and parts are more expensive than for a Ford. In comfort terms, though, there is a decent amount of head and legroom with good, supportive seats and a steering wheel that adjusts for reach. The specification is generally very good and prices low - a low-mileage 2002 example will be no more than £4,500.
A CAR FOR THE HEART
I'd also recommend that Stephen consider a smaller Fiesta in the shape of the Ka. It's all the car Stephen should need - it should be even cheaper to run than a Fiesta and the old 1.3 engine returns up to 43 mpg, has an even lower insurance group and is nice to drive.
The Ka really is a car that you can fall in love with. We may have got used to it now, but it still looks unique. The interior is almost as interesting as the exterior and is well screwed together. On longer journeys the Ka may be small, but it is surprisingly refined. Wind and road noise is kept to a minimum and all the controls shift in a solid and stable manner. Basically, it feels like a big, grown-up, full-sized car and Stephen should really appreciate this on his long daily drive.
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