Car Choice: Something to put the Sunny in the shade

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Ross Hendry has a high mileage Nissan Sunny, which is used around London and for the odd trip to Wales.

Ross Hendry has a high mileage Nissan Sunny, which is used around London and for the odd trip to Wales. His wife insists the car is too heavy for nimble parking, so they need something a little more comfortable, refined, and possibly reliable in the long-run. They have a £10,000 to £12,000 budget but need something no bigger than the Fiat Stilo that belongs to Ross's mum, and which will fit in the garage. Ross says he is undecided whether to go for new or used, diesel or petrol, but definitely wants something more stylish.

Well it isn't difficult to find a car more stylish than a tired old Nissan Sunny, but in sheer value-for-money terms the Sunny has cost buttons to run. At Car Choice we are obsessed by depreciation and believe that Ross should be thinking about a used model. He needs to make a compromise between a small shopping hatch and something a little larger, which will be more comfortable for those long runs to Wales.

All the time, though, Ross needs to keep in mind that what he is mostly buying is a town centre assault vehicle. However, I don't think he has to compromise when it comes to driving enjoyment and keeping within the actually quite generous dimensions of a Fiat Stilo, which I won't be recommending. Style of course is always subjective and the obvious candidate is something like the new Mini. There are, though, some other badges that are quite groovy, Audi's four rings of confidence have never been more attractive. You can't rule out Alfa Romeo in the shape of a 147 and it is hard to go wrong by choosing a Volkswagen such a Golf or a Polo.

A car for the head

The sensible choice is, I believe, Audi. Overall reliability is very good and build quality is beyond question. The image and styling are spot on. I am tempted to suggest an A3. These are affordable but possibly a bit too numerous, or, as some might say, "common" on the capital's streets. Less numerous but much more able to turn the heads of the sophisticates is the A2. It is small, eye-catching and fabulously well built, but it isn't the ideal town car. The limited rear seat space may not bother Ross but the thickness of the screen pillars and even the unusual split rear screen could cause in town manoeuvrability issues. It is also significant that there is no rear wash/wipe either, but those are minor details. The high driving position is a boon.

Overall, what Ross will get is a superbly finished vehicle, which returns 47mpg whilst the diesel delivers an astounding 67mpg. Prices start at around £7,000, but a two-year-old 1.4 Tdi SE should be below £10,000. The A2 should take longer journeys in its stride and all engines operate well on the open road and there is the added practicality of four doors.

A car for the heart

Since it arrived in 2001, the obvious choice is Mini for style and classless appeal. The problem is that however good the car is the price of success is ubiquity. Provided Ross and his wife don't mind being occasionally mistaken for city centre estate agents and, as there are just the two of them, the Mini should be fine.

Rear passengers can feel cramped and the boot really isn't much bigger than the original Mini. Buying new is certainly possible as the Mini One starts at £10,000, and the diesel at £10,995. Coopers are over £11,000 and once you start adding any extras the price rises rapidly.

Depreciation is minimal though and there seems be no end to the demand, which also keeps values high.

Indeed it is difficult to find them much below £10,000 on the used car market although in the London area I did come across two Mini Ones with private sellers at around £7,500.

If Ross wanted cheeky looks and lower prices and even less exclusivity there is the Nissan Micra, (above) which is great around town with a useful amount of space and even rear seats that slide to increase boot space. At under £7,000 a 1.2SE is a lot more stylish than an old Sunny.

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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