Unhappy because your favourite model has been upgraded? James Ruppert suggests some cures for feature fatigue

Susan Solari has always driven a new Ford - basically because she could get staff discount through her company. She changed in 2005 from the old to the new model Focus, a 1.6 petrol Ghia. Susan dislikes the new model because of minor things that spoil the car for her.

She does not like the distant position of the handbrake, wind noise on motorways, the central storage arm, the fact that it is larger than the old Focus and that there are too many features, such as cruise control.

We all know how Susan feels. When the manufacturers update a model we love it isn't always for the better. Most of the criticism directed at the new Focus focused on its dull looks, while its increased size is something we have commented on before.

Cars are getting bigger and packed with more features and that is hard to avoid. I think, though, that I can restrict the search to a physically smaller vehicle, without too many toys and a degree of refinement and solidity that I think Susan is after.

If she does not have a discounted budget to play with then there is no reason why Susan should buy a high-specification vehicle. She mentioned to me that she was considering the Volkswagen Golf.

First of all, let's get the tape measure out. An old Focus was 4,152mm long by 2,007mm wide; the new one is 4,342mm by 1,840mm, so those are the dimensions I'll work within.

Susan tells me that the car is for personal use only, no business and no mention of needing to fit in loads of family or friends. It just needs to be comfortable, not have any annoying controls and not inflict too much in the way of wind noise.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

I agree with Susan that a Golf would be a good place to start. It is only marginally smaller than the latest Focus. In refinement terms Susan could not buy better. On the road it is very quiet, although the 1.6 can sound a little bit noisy unless Susan trades up to the 2.0 petrol.

Then again, she could drop down a size of Volkswagen to the Polo, which is significantly smaller at 3,897mm long by 1,650 mm wide, plus it would save a few thousand pounds although it is not a particularly cheap buy. The Polo is available as a three- and five-door model, but the three-door would probably do for Susan and there is plenty of room in the front of the vehicle. The controls are clear and easy to use while the equipment list is not overly generous.

An E-specification Polo has a CD player and central locking and not too much else. Trading up to an S-model means air-conditioning, which is the very least that most drivers expect these days. The Polo is not a very exciting car to drive, unlike Susan's Focus, but this does not seem to be a particular issue. Susan ought to be aware that there are related Volkswagen products such as the SEAT Ibiza and Skoda Fabia, which are essentially the same as the Polo, but are designed to look quite different, and they are less expensive as well.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

As Susan plans to travel largely alone and because she has been used to the good handling of the Focus, I think she might like to try a new Mini. Indeed, the new Mini is soon to become old itself as a new, almost identical one will soon be available - this is something she needs to bear in mind.

The Mini has also been a vehicle on which customers usually choose their own specification, which may suit Susan better. Standard equipment for the entry-level Mini One includes front electric windows, radio/CD player, height adjustable front seats and steering column, remote locking and electric mirrors.

If she decided to go for the Cooper, then a rev counter and alloy wheels would be added. One slight worry I have is that the stylish interior controls are designed to look good and could be regarded as a bit fiddly, especially the toggle switches. However, that judgement is hers. Rear legroom is fairly marginal and the boot is only big enough for a weekly shop or a weekend away, but hopefully that will do.

The Mini has kept its value extremely well down the years and that looks set to continue, so Susan will always be able to sell the Mini in the future.

A word of warning:b asic specifications can struggle in the used market. Anyway, £10,995 puts a Mini One on the road and £12,395 a more powerful Cooper.

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 telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.

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