Ralph and Jacqueline Filkins live in rural Cumbria and cover many motorway miles, but their vehicles (a diesel Citroen C5 and old Renault estate) are mainly used at weekends for outings.

Ralph and Jacqueline Filkins live in rural Cumbria and cover many motorway miles, but their vehicles (a diesel Citroen C5 and old Renault estate) are mainly used at weekends for outings. The most regular passengers are their grandchildren, aged five, three and seven months, plus the family dog. They like the comfort of their cars and are worried that moving to a people carrier would be a compromise as they understand these can be noisy on motorways. They have up to £15,000 to spend and would consider a "nearly new" vehicle.

Ralph and Jacqueline are right, great big people carriers can be "boomy" (lots of road noise bouncing around the cabin) at speed although they are not as bad as they used to be. It may not be appropriate or comfortable to have such a large vehicle to themselves most of the time. I am surprised that the Citroen C5 won't do. Even as a hatch, let alone the estate, it is a very spacious and comfortable car.

Maybe they should consider upgrading their C5 which, as we never tire of pointing out at Car Choice, is sensational value for money. I'll presume though that the grandchild count will stay at three for the time being. It is therefore important to have three individual rear seats, which most compact people carriers have. Each child can then be properly belted in. Most of the new family cars are roomy, spacious and not at all van-like.

A car for the head

First stop for Ralph and Jacqueline ought to be their local Citroen dealer. There they can part-exchange the C5 for a Xsara Picasso. Keep the old Renault estate as a spare, and invest in a diesel Picasso. This is a good-value package with a range of engines that are smooth and quiet. The 2.0 Hdi, in particular, is very relaxing yet has enough urge when you need to overtake.

Like their current C5, the ride is soft and supple - which is great whether bumping around a pot-holed town or out on the motorway. They should not have a full length sun-roof if they want to keep wind noise to the bare minimum. It is very roomy inside, especially for the grandparents up front.

The children can sit in three separate rear seats with their own headrests. When required, those seats can be folded and tipped, and are fairly light if they need to be removed. Safety is very important, and it is possible to buy dedicated Isofix child seats that clip straight in. A Citroen dealer ought to be able to offer a tempting part-exchange deal on a new or fully warranted used model.

A car for the heart

As Ralph and Jacqueline enjoy driving and a decent level of refinement, they could consider getting a Ford C-Max. This is another five-seat compact people carrier now available with a 1.6-diesel engine. With prices starting at £15,490, it is out of budget, but there are discounts around now.

In refinement terms, the C-Max is excellent, with very little wind noise and barely any road noise. It also soaks up bumps well and handles very sharply, just like a normal Focus. Compared with the Citroen, the dashboard is better laid out and driver comfort seems to be a priority thanks to a height-adjustable seat and a fully adjustable steering wheel.

As a five-seater it works well and, if required, the rear centre seat can be folded forward to make a picnic tray. There is also the option of having just two rear seats, but that probably won't help Ralph and Jacqueline much. Overall, though, it is a quality product.

Alternatively, there is the new Renault Scenic. Again, the 1.9TD model is just above budget, but discounts are available from UK car brokers though there are not many nearly new cars around. Trouble is, there may be more wind noise than Ralph and Jacqueline can live with.

* 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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