Car Choice: 'I'd like something safe, solid, efficient but not too sensible'

Sensible suggestions? Why come over all sensible just because you are 73 years young? I think this ought to be Anne's springboard into a more exciting automotive universe. She can leave years of motoring mediocrity (under the definition of motoring mediocrity, there is a picture of a dreary, old Volvo 440) behind her and get something that is fun. I won't forget that she also needs something reliable, safe and economical too, and one car that fits that description has to be the brilliant Mazda MX5.

Here is a sports car that is incredibly reliable (especially compared with an MGF), certainly safe and reasonably economical to run. What worries me is that the car will be parked outside and that leave the soft roof vulnerable.

One option would be to fit a hard-top roof during the winter months, but maybe the biggest issue when it comes to the MX5 is that it is a low-down sports car. I'm sure that Anne is fit, but after a while slipping behind the wheel, it could become an effort, especially when trying to slip out again. I would like to offer her a compromise.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

There is, I think, one car that manages to tick all of Anne's boxes in the shape of the Smart Fortwo. As the name suggests, it is strictly a two-seater, which should be fine. Even though it is tiny, it has proved to be very safe, with twin, front airbags, electronic stability and anti-lock brakes part of the standard package. Anne has good all-round vision and there is plenty of room up front, and getting in the driver's seat could not be easier. On the economy front, it is good news as, according to the official figures, it will do just over 60mpg, which is pretty impressive, and even just knocking around town on short journeys it will do 40mpg. I hope that Anne can cope with the semi-automatic gearbox, which is easy enough, although some find it a tad jerky, but as she only does a few miles a week, that should not be an issue.

Best of all, though, if Anne wants an open roof, she can have it. There is a cabriolet version and the roof could not be easier to use. The standard Smart does have the option of a see-through roof, but for wind-in-the-hair fun, she should consider the cabriolet.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I suspect that Anne might just prefer to have an open-top, but then again she could also have a proper hard-top too. The knee-jerk reaction is to recommend a Peugeot 206 CC. This is a brilliant little car, which has a clever metal roof that folds into the boot, just like a much more expensive Mercedes SLK.

Trouble is the 206 is not as reliable or as precisely engineered as a Merc, and to be honest, we have had letters at The Independent from 206 CC owners who have complained about the roof not working properly and leaking. Of course, Anne could get lucky and the option is hers. Maybe she could consider the Citroën C3 Pluriel, which has a needlessly complicated roof arrangement. But it does offer the possibility of a completely open roof.

Then again there is the Ford StreetKa, which is basically a Ford Fiesta with an open-top roof. It has a fabric roof, but it could not be easier to live with: the roof is simple to use and there is plenty of room in the cockpit, and driving a Ka is easy.

If you would like help in choosing a car, write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@indepen dent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested in.

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