Car Choice: The upsides to downsizing

Small and practical doesn't mean skimping on comfort or space - for you or your dog, says James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Phil Hockley and his wife have a Rover 75 V6 touring car for general domestic use, carting the dog around, shopping etc, and weekends away and holidays. Phil also admits to being a fan of Bangernomics which explains his (older and cheaper) Citroën Xantia station car.

However, the Rover is too big for everyday use, plus a new job and company car means there is no point in having two large vehicles. So his plan is to sell both the Rover and Citroën and get something smaller which will take a dog, is well equipped and economical. Phil reckons he will have £4,000 to £5,000 to spend. What should he buy?

As ever, I am reassured to hear that Phil sets a lot of value by the principles of Bangernomics and has indeed practised them with his old Xantia.

Now the Xantia isn't too big a vehicle and perhaps Phil could save a small fortune by selling the Rover and just keeping that. However, I know that Phil and his wife got used to the Rover's comfort and air conditioning so would like a decently equipped small, but practical, car.

Economy is important but, as I often point out, it isn't always essential to go for the diesel option when there are so many efficient small petrol engines to consider. Phil indicated to me that the comfort of the family dog was important and he wanted a decent-sized square boot.

I know that Phil has looked at a Skoda Fabia and he expected it to be much more spacious and practical than it was - he found it quite disappointing. However, one vehicle he did mention was the old Volkswagen Polo, which would probably fit the bill.

In that case I would be inclined to look at the breed of smallish estates which often get overlooked because of the popularity of compact people carriers, yet are supremely practical and roomy.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The logical choice would be a newer Volkswagen Polo estate, but they can be quite pricey and the specifications are not always that generous. Within the Volkswagen group there are similar models, with different badges but, ultimately, the same engines.

So it is always worth considering a Skoda Fabia estate, which I think Phil might find has better boot accommodation than the hatch version.

A 2001 1.4 Comfort with 50,000 miles will be around £3,495. Even better would be the utterly underrated - but equally Polo-based - Seat Cordoba Vario. The 1.6 engine is more than adequate, it would return almost 40mpg and it is smart looking too.

The equipment levels were very good and I came across several 1999 examples that had air conditioning (there was a cool model) and cost significantly less than £2,000. A year 2000 X-plated example with the diesel TDI engine should return 57mpg, though it will be around £3,000, provided Phil does not mind a diesel-like mileage.

Being a Volkswagen, but with a different badge, this generation of car is very reliable. Driving an Ibiza is pretty good fun too, with agile, predictable and very safe handling. It has a traditionally square rear end which I know is something that Phil and his dog will like.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

One model that Phil may not have considered is the Peugeot 206, which is a handy-sized estate with a big, well-shaped boot.

There are plenty of engine options and logically the diesels are best for load-lugging ability, but I get the impression that Phil and his wife really only use their estate for light duties.

With that in mind, the smaller petrols should be fine. Avoid the far-too-small 1.1 and go for the 1.4 which returns around 44mpg - this would be miles better than a Rover V6.

When it comes to standard kit, the early models are poor, whereas XT trim will give everything you need - including air-conditioning, electric front windows and a CD player.

I found a 2004 example with only 18,000 miles for £4,595, including a warranty, from a dealer. One thing that Phil and his wife have to do, however, is take a test drive as not everyone likes this car's driving position. The boot, though, should keep their dog very comfy indeed.

The Peugeot has a bit more character than most with slightly odd styling (though as a Citroën owner this shouldn't give Phil any sleepless nights), but compared with many small estates, its major attraction is excellent value for money.

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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