Car Choice: 'I want an automatic with room in the boot'

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Pauline Wadsworth is retired and looking for a small automatic four-door car. Air conditioning and central locking are the minimum requirements. Pauline needs space for shopping and suitcases but is free from pets and grandchildren.

Pauline Wadsworth is retired and looking for a small automatic four-door car. Air conditioning and central locking are the minimum requirements. Pauline needs space for shopping and suitcases but is free from pets and grandchildren.

If Pauline does not need to accommodate pets, children or anyone else, there is no reason why she needs four doors.

However, we never know how we may want to use our case in the future and the practicality of extra doors is undeniable. Small five-door cars usually easier to sell than three doors is one reason, for example. I know Pauline does not want speed, as the only requirements are air conditioning and an automatic gearbox. The good news is that specifications have greatly improved in recent years.

However automatic gearboxes are still expensive options and add about £1,000 to the cost new and can add a premium of about £500 to a used model.

It depends whether Pauline wants to buy a brand new car or is happy to go for a nearly new example.

More good news is that it is possible to make good savings on both. As this is a car for retirement, I presume she wants to hold on to it for a good few years, so durability and low running costs have to be a priority. There are some great small cars around at the moment.

A car for the head

The Nissan Micra is a great little car and the 1.2SE is the first five door with air conditioning at £9,195 but an automatic gearbox costs £900 extra, which means it will cost £10,095. Most UK Car brokers can save about £600 on this price.

The interior is very well finished and distinctive and Pauline may find that the keyless entry on the SE model (the doors open when you are in the proximity) is useful when loaded with shopping. It is a very solid car with a high quality feel. One word of caution though, the Micra looks very different and if Pauline does not like attention-seeking looks then she should go for something more conventional. Roll forward the Ford Fiesta.

The cheapest option is the 1.25LX five door with optional automatic and air conditioning at £11,245. It is a very spacious car with a well-built interior, which is several notches up from the previous Fiesta in terms of quality. ABS brakes are standard and it has Ford's Intelligent Protection System, which means there are dual-stage front airbags, which can assess the severity of any impact.

A car for the heart

It would be easy to recommend the Fiat Panda, yet again. The 1.2 Dynamic model with air conditioning and an optional automatic gearbox at £650, comes to £8,145. It is possible to get about £800 through UK car brokers and we think Pauline should investigate the Panda because it is spacious and nice to drive.

We also like the Daihatsu Charade, which is a small car but it is well-equipped and great value.

The 1.0SL five-door is £8,020 with an automatic gearbox and air conditioning. Pauline should be pleased about the safety aspect because ABS brakes that stop the car skidding under braking, EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution) which helps out under emergency braking and twin airbags all come as standard.

The SL model also has side airbags as standard too. Daihatsu build very robust cars and there should not be any reliability issues and in pure economy terms the small three-cylinder engine returns an impressive 58.9mpg. The Charade has a very spacious interior and Pauline will sit comfortably high.

The boot is a little on the small side but Pauline will have to see for herself whether she will be able to fit all of her bags of shopping or suitcases.

Car Choice: 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 you are interested in.

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