Michael Simmon has a 1998 Volkswagen Polo 1.4-litre three-door with 50,000 miles on the clock. It is not garaged, is a bit battered and he wants to exchange it for something with five doors, creature comforts such as air conditioning and leather, more power and possibly an automatic. Michael's children, who often stay with him at weekends in Paris, want him to buy a Mini Cooper.

Michael Simmon has a 1998 Volkswagen Polo 1.4-litre three-door with 50,000 miles on the clock. It is not garaged, is a bit battered and he wants to exchange it for something with five doors, creature comforts such as air conditioning and leather, more power and possibly an automatic. Michael's children, who often stay with him at weekends in Paris, want him to buy a Mini Cooper.

Presumably, Michael, who lives in Paris, wants a left-hand drive car bought in France. However, there is an argument for buying a right-hand drive car from Britain. If he wants to take the used route, he will have a wider choice of higher-specification vehicles. The UK used-car market is one of the largest and most fluid because British people change their cars more often. They also prefer higher-specification cars compared with other Europeans.

There is also a good argument for running a good right-hand drive car in a predominately left-hand drive country; when Michael parks, he can step directly on to the pavement, provided he parks on the side of the road he is driving along. Having seen first hand how often Parisians park on the pavement, that would be a big advantage. Having a tough car to cope with the road conditions is also a good idea. He does not want anything bigger than his Polo, so that restricts his choice to cars up to 13ft 7in long, which is quite generous. The Mini is 11ft 9in long but, as Michael's children can only get bigger, they would find it a squeeze.

A car for the head

Measuring in at just 11ft 9in, the Mercedes A-class is a usefully compact vehicle. Even the stretched one is only 12ft 5in. Both models have lots of room and much has been made of the fact that the interior space is the equivalent of the larger E-class in this distinctive model. Mercedes decided to fit a 1.9-litre petrol engine into the A190 model and a 2.1-litre into the A210 model, which proved to be unexpectedly powerful - so powerful, in fact (both models could reach 60mph in less than nine seconds yet still return a respectable 36mpg) that Mercedes discontinued them.

These models are often fitted with automatic gear boxes and they have high specifications, including air conditioning. The A210 Evolution, for instance, has attention-seeking 17in alloys, sports suspension, leather seats, and twin exhausts. Michael would pay about £8,000 for a A190 Elegance automatic from 2001, whether he were to buy it in Britain or in France. Although the used-car markets in the UK and France are very different, he should fairly easily be able to part exchange his Polo for an A-class of this kind.

A car for the heart

Perhaps Michael should go for an indigenous product such as the Renault Clio. The Earlier 172 and the latest 182 types are certainly fun and match the Mini Cooper S for outright performance. One drawback is that they are three-door cars. At the lower end of the range is the 1.6 16V valve, which gets to 60mph in less than 10 seconds, taking it into Mini Cooper territory. But the room in the back is very tight and it may be difficult to find a model with an automatic gearbox, which would cost an extra £1,000.

An outside choice might be a Daihatsu YRV, which is 12ft 3in long. There is a revised model on the market, but the original has a responsive and lively small engine, though it may not be a smooth enough drive for Michael if he is travelling long distances. It is great for town driving and the sliding rear seat allows passengers in the back to have more legroom. In case Michael needs more space, the rear seat also folds flat and the large opening boot means there is plenty of space despite the car being narrow. In Paris that would be a boon.

* 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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