I was surprised that they had ever sold Toyotas, even in limited edition form, with so many extras. My own trade publications made no reference to such a model. But a bit of careful research established that this was indeed the case, which was remarkably lucky for Mr Palmer. In any case, he says he will need a car that is narrower than 5ft 6in (or 1.69m for Europhiles). It would also help if it was shorter than 14ft 1in (4.3m). The problem is that cars, even smaller cars, have got bigger - the new Mini, for instance, is 6ft 4in (1.93m) wide.

These changes have been made for safety's sake (to accommodate crumple zones) and for the simple reason that we ourselves are all getting bigger. That's the first problem, then.

Next, we also need to find an automatic diesel-powered car, of which there have been few examples produced until recently and most will cost well over £5,000. Reliability is also an issue and, as always, buying Japanese is the obvious solution.


Based purely on width, the Smart, at 4ft 9in, and the original Mini, at 4ft 8in, might be contenders, but they're not realistic for Mr Palmer.

There are some very small Hyundais, like the old Amica model at 4ft 9in and the Atoz at 4ft 11in. The Amica has a four-speed automatic gearbox option and the Atoz a three-speed version. Both these cars are well-equipped and easy to drive, although the engines can sound harsh at speed. Some 40mpg is a realistic option and, being Korean-built, they have an impressive reliability record and come with a five-year manufacturer's warranty. Potentially, Mr Palmer could buy a used one with the balance of this warranty.

Around town these cars are great, but on longer journeys Mr Palmer may need to reconsider. These Hyundais are like tiny people-carriers with a usefully high driving position and plenty of space inside; even easier to find on the used market would be a Suzuki Wagon R+, which is also a tad wider and comes with a four-speed automatic gearbox and has a bigger 1.3 engine.


I think that Mr Palmer should forget about a small automatic diesel, because they don't really exist within the £5,000 budget. It is only possible to buy high-miles Mercedes and BMWs for that money, which would be too wide or long.

I would recommend that Mr Palmer stick to the Toyota range in the shape of the Yaris. This car is 11ft 10in long and 5ft 5in wide. The smallest 1.0 litre engine was fitted with something called a Freetronic gearbox, which did without a clutch. However, there was also a fully automatic 1.3GLS that has a larger engine and would probably cope better with longer journeys, especially on the French autoroutes.

Normally, a 1.3 engine returns 47mpg, but even in the worst case scenario the automatic will still return over 40mpg, which would be much better than his old 2.0-litre Corolla and it would also be just as reliable.

Where the Yaris really scores though is with its high driving position and the clever use of interior space, so that it does not feel like a small car.

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