Wendy and Patrick Caseley have submitted what should be a simple enough request. They want a Ford-Focus-sized hatchback for £7,000. That sounds simple, but they also need it to meet a few perfectly reasonable requirements.
Firstly, the driver's seat must be height adjustable and the steering wheel equally movable. Ideally they want no "lip" on the boot, otherwise they are always lifting things over it. They also want a large rear window so that shorter drivers (like Wendy) can see clearly when reversing.
agree with the Caseleys that it really ought to be easy to find a comfy and practical car. There has never been a wider choice of models and specifications, and manufacturers continually tell us just how much they spend on research and development. So the perfect vehicle must be out here somewhere.
Certainly, practicality is more important than styling, top speed and interior décor. Manufacturers, however, have to appeal to the widest possible audience and one reason why cars are no longer ideal for people who are shorter than average is the statistic that we are all getting longer and heavier.
That is used as an excuse to make cars even bigger, clumsier and ultimately more expensive. The purity of an original Mini, the Citroën 2CV or a Renault 4 is a thing of the past - although some adapted commercial vehicles, with their lean functionality, can fit into civilian life surprisingly easily.
Being comfortable is crucial, but the Caseleys may be able to have a driver seat modified by a dealer, or even a local engineering firm. Sitting on a cushion is not always ideal, but it does still work, as the vertically challenged Mrs Ruppert proves when she drives anything but her beloved Saab. However, it is possible to find a vehicle that will tick a lot more of the Caseleys boxes.
A CAR FOR THE HEAD
In their hunt for high seats, huge windows and a low loading lip, therefore, Wendy and Patrick will be needing to test drive either a Citroën Berlingo Multispace, Peugeot Partner or a Renault Kangoo.
Here is a group of adapted vans that have lots of space and are very practical to live with. There is a sacrifice to make in that these vehicles sound noisier on the move (because of the boomy, but spacious interiors) and do not have as much equipment as a conventional car. Oh, and they do look a bit like the vans they are based on.
The Caseleys will need to get used to the upright driving position and the fact that the seats are not height-adjustable. However, as these vehicles are regularly modified to carry wheelchairs, specialist companies such as Brotherwood may be able to help by making the driving seat higher.
For £7,000 they will have the pick of 2004 and even 2005 cars, especially with the excellent 2.0Hdi 90 engine in the Berlingo Desire. There are petrol engines and if the Caseleys don't do many miles, then a 1.6 Desire would be very affordable and would be no more than two years old.
The Peugeot and Citroën are different versions of the same model and the Renault is not always as well equipped, but ultimately it is down to what suits Wendy and Patrick the best.
A CAR FOR THE HEART
Maybe Wendy and Patrick don't want a slightly civilised van, and I can understand that. So they could go down the compact people carrier route.
I am surprised that having mentioned the Focus they did not go further and consider the C-Max model. It has a large, well-shaped boot and usefully benefits from a much deeper tailgate, which means less of a lip at the back.
I will admit that the rear window isn't huge and that the roofline slopes downwards, but the rear pillars are fairly slim and I reckon Wendy will have a decent view out of the back. This is mainly because the steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach, while the driver's seat moves upwards.
All the important controls are within easy reach, as the gear lever is in the dashboard. Compared with vans, the C-Max is wonderfully refined, quiet and, being a Focus, it handles very well and tackles rough road surfaces with ease.
There is a choice of several engines and the 1.6 petrol is more than adequate if Wendy and Patrick are not doing high mileage. An LX model means CD player, air conditioning and central locking.
A tidy 2005 example with 30,000 miles would be around £7000.
Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at email@example.com, giving your age, address and contact telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.