Most runs are 20 miles or less but once a year they go to the south of France and need reasonable comfort and stowage for at least ten cases of wine. She discounts the Ford Focus as the pedals are too high, but others she has considered include the Peugeot 307, Honda Jazz, VW Polo, Citroen C3, Mazda 323, Mitsubishi Colt and Skoda Fabia.

anessa has discounted the Skoda as thirsty and the Peugeot as tinny. What she needs then is a solid and spacious car that isn't too large. I know that she is thinking supermini, but perhaps she should consider something a little more adventurous. Running a B&B will mean that Vanessa is bound to have to shift lots of stuff and people - pick-ups from stations, visits to cash and carrys, that sort of thing - so a decent load area is crucial. Indeed would there be any value in Vanessa considering a commercial vehicle such as a van?

I know it would only be a two seater so no good for picking up paying customers, but a very practical proposition for a small business. A 40,000 mile 2003 Vauxhall Combi 1.7 Di diesel will cost around £3995, plus VAT and it is a very spacious and useful vehicle. Although vans are much more sophisticated than they used to be Vanessa may find driving it a bit noisy and tiring. There is of course no reason why a largish hatch could not do the job and the choice of possible vehicles indicates that Vanessa wants something which has a bit of character.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Let's ingnore character for the moment and just focus on practicality and value. The old Vauxhall Astra was never the prettiest or most distinctive car in its class. It is however unpretentious and unashamedly practical. For keen drivers the good news is that extensive work by Lotus has turned the previously dull Astra into an entertaining drive. The steering and handling is nothing short of superb, being usefully direct and great on those drives into France. The ride is smooth and well behaved and that succeeds in making the Astra feel like it is a larger luxury car. There is a large range of engines which deliver power smoothly but can also sound noisy when pressed. On the whole though the 16-valve petrol engines are excellent. The 1.4 and 1.6 are quite perky and should return a useful 38mpg. Most importantly there is plenty of room inside. Longer in the middle, this model provided front and rear passengers with more than enough head and legroom. The boot is also usefully large, plus the seats are comfortable too. For £5,000 Vanessa will get a 2002 1.6 with decent Elegance specification.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Vanessa could go for character in the shape of the Citroen Berlingo Multispace - a 2CV for the new millennium and very loveable indeed. It is an adapted van but that is a good thing, especially when it comes to practicality. There is plenty of room, a great feeling of airiness and easy access, especially through the rear sliding doors. The engines are tuned for economy rather than speed - there is a very slow 1.4-litre petrol which may be adequate, but the 1.6 would be better and it still returns 38mpg.

A slightly revised Berlingo was introduced from 2002 and Vanessa could easily buy most models built before then and that would include the 2.0 Hdi which returns almost 48mpg. For the annual trip to France Vanessa will feel very much at home in the Berlingo and most importantly will have loads of room.

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 in which you are interested.

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