Car Choice: 'I need a family car my son will think is cool'

Yes, David has the most FAQ ever. The big problem is insurance. The fact is, an under- 25-year-old on any policy, however unblemished, instantly adds zeros to the premium. There is no way around that. Keeping an insurance premium to the minimum means agreeing an annual mileage on the lower side, say below 10,000 miles, garaging the vehicle every night, and opting for third-party rather than comprehensive cover.

However, it is the vehicle itself that is the defining factor. Recently, a family friend enquired whether his Vauxhall Astra convertible could be covered for a 17-year-old. There was an enthusiastic "Yes", followed by a quote of £5,000.

One issue here may be the automatic gearbox. One would have thought that that would be seen as seriously uncool for any self-respecting fast-and-furious teenager with a provisional licence. I appreciate the practicalities, and that the main driver prefers an auto box for London commuting, but how will that affect the learner who has to adjust to three pedals and stick and then just two pedals? Maybe it will sharpen up his driving. So, let's look for some cheap automatics.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

A brand new automatic car that is cheap to insure was hard to find, but suddenly there are lots of options. Personally, I'd go for the Kia Picanto, which is arguably the best-value small car around and is proving to be rightly popular. A 1.1 LX model is group-3 insurance and costs £6,495, but an extra £800 is needed to pay for the automatic gearbox.

What should please David's wife and son is the brilliant specification, including all- electric windows, alloy wheels, air conditioning, ABS brakes, CD-player, remote locking and fully adjustable steering-wheel. The trouble is that the Kia badge and image is still a bit blue-rinse. The sort of people of who used to buy Skodas are now buying these.

Equally small, and with a similar appeal, is the Daihatsu Charade, which starts at £5,695, plus £795 for an automatic gearbox. Obviously, David's son will want something more "street". The Citroën C2 should make his son's eyes light up a bit more. OK, so it isn't a VTR or VTS, but as a three-door, it looks suitably youthful. A Sensodrive automatic gearbox is available with the 1.4 engine, and costs £9,595 and rates as insurance group 3.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Cool automatics are thin on the ground. First, let's go for the sensible option of buying slightly used. I recommend this because young people and car will almost inevitably hit something. At the very least, a training car should have an airbag and a reasonably stiff structure rather than being bought solely on price. Staying with Renault, the latest Clio looks quite funky and has some "yoof" appeal. I found a year 2000 1.6 automatic with just 28,000 miles for just £4,395.

The trouble is, the big 1.6 engine pumps up the insurance. Otherwise, try the Peugeot 206, which looks vaguely like the GTI. There's a 1.4 automatic and I found a 2002 1.4 LX auto, group 5 insurance, for £3,800.

Alternatively, there are the mass-market options such as Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa automatics. It was possible to get a pre-1999 Fiesta with CVT, a very smooth automatic option, fitted to the 1.25 engine.

Equally, the Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Envoy automatic, which has a low group 2-3 insurance. Indeed, the Corsa is a favourite of the Max Power generation, but if David's son adds stickers, he must inform the insurance company.

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.

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