With two children approaching university age, Ginny Curry and her husband are looking for their last "big" car. They envisage a few years of university mileage up and down the motorways. They have a 10-year-old Saab 9000 CSE with about 65,000 miles on the clock. It play ups electrically and bits of interior trim are falling off. This is the family's second Saab, so Ginny feels a third would suggest they lack imagination. She has a budget of about £20,000. The car needn't be new, but it mustlast another 10 years.

I'm sorry that Ginny has fallen out of love with the Saab 9000. We've got one with almost double the mileage, and it's still going strong. My instant response would be to trade it in for a Saab 9-5. It is little more than a reworking of the 9000, but that's a good thing. The 9-5 is one of the safest cars you can drive, and one of the most comfortable and refined. It also depreciates with a ferocity that means it is quickly affordable.

But Ginny and family may well want a change, and I agree that a large car for large kids is a good way to go. For me, the executive car has lots going for it in terms of affordability, equipment and comfort. There are no small-car compromises, and larger vehicles eat up longer journeys and luggage with ease. Reliability is generally good, but I'm afraid that many cars suffer from the sort of strange electrical glitches Ginny has come across with hers. All the computer chips and extra motors these days add to the complication, although the mechanical core of modern cars is pretty tough.

A car for the head

One thing about the Saab 9000 is that it is a hatchback with a massive boot. Ginny may miss this, although the Audi A6 that I would recommend comes both as a saloon and an estate. Here is a good-looking, very well-built, spacious car that isn't a Mercedes or a BMW. Subtle is the only way to describe the A6, and for many buyers that has to be an advantage.

What you get is an understated, high-quality package. Buyers also get a wide choice of petrol and turbodiesel engines, front-wheel-drive or Quattro four-wheel-drive, all wrapped up in either a saloon or estate (the Avant) body. What they have in common, though, is a very spacious interior and a well laid-out dashboard.

The pick of the engine range is the 2.5 V6 turbodiesel, which is smooth and strong and more powerful than the petrol V6, while also delivering excellent 40mpg economy. It is possible to criticise the firm suspension at low speeds and the less than direct steering. A year-old 1.9 diesel example from a dealer will be within £20,000, but a 2002 model with 40,000 miles is £14,995.

A car for the heart

If Ginny truly wants to be a bit different, there's always the Renault Vel Satis. She should be aware that it is not the toughest of vehicles and won't wear as well as the Saab, and the horrendous depreciation will continue until it's worth about 20p in 10 years' time. Then again, it could become an avant-garde classic. Of course, a Volvo S80, Toyota Camry, or maybe a Lexus GS300 would all be very good indeed.

Sales of the Vel Satis have been marginal, and there are very few around. About £12,000 buys a 2002/03 example with the top specification, although the 3.5 V6 petrol engine would be uneconomical, the 2.0 petrol would be OK and the 2.2 diesel just about perfect. The Vel Satis looks like no other car on the road. Rather than a "me, too" Merc or BMW, this was meant to break the executive-car mould, which it did, although few buyers took the bait. What it does have is a people-carrier shape that means bags of interior room and high refinement levels, and the Vel Satis scores very well when it comes to safety and standard equipment.

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