Car Choice: There's a case for an SUV

You don't have to feel bad about owning an off-road vehicle - as long as it suits your needs, says James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Duncan Barnes, 36,is replacing his trusty company car, a Honda Accord Tourer 2.2 diesel, and taking the money when it goes back. Duncan reckons that the car has been his friend and a great workhorse but he wants something a bit bigger.

He needs a car that has long legs for motorway driving, cruise control and, this time around, he wants an automatic. Duncan has a long list of possible buys, but is confused.

He is unsure whether to get a sensible car or enjoy himself for a while; and if it would be beneficial for him to buy a petrol 4x4 and get an LPG conversion. Duncan's maximum budget is £25,000.

What Duncan needs to bear in mind is that as a private motorist he is now completely responsible for every motoring expense.

As I understand the situation, he is not self-employed so will not be able to claim back any VAT on the purchase or running costs. Presumably he can claim for legitimate business mileage from his company so miles per gallon is not the biggest issue.

However, Duncan needs a reliable and cost-effective vehicle which is suitably large and may need some off-road ability because that is where his work sometimes takes him.

The subtext to Duncan's question is that secretly he really wants an off-roader, but feels bad about it. Well, he shouldn't, provided the vehicle fits his needs.

Diesels are obviously much more frugal than petrol, but the sheer weight of some 4x4s means that the mpg is only marginally better than a petrol version.

Indeed, large petrol engines work better in many 4x4s. There is obviously the chance to convert to LPG (liquid petroleum gas) which is generally around half the cost of regular petrol.

But LPG is only cheap so long as Chancellor Gordon Brown wants it to be, and anyway, conversion will cost up to £2,000. So there is a lot to consider.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The Honda Accord is a brilliant car as Duncan knows, but I think he can replace it with a workmanlike, spacious, practical and fairly frugal off-roader. Even better, he won't have to spend his whole budget.

I have considered other large estate cars and the only real option is the Volvo V70. Fitted with a diesel engine it should return around 40mpg.

Brand new, Duncan will blow his budget, but I say wait a year, save a good few thousand pounds and still have a manufacturer's warranty. You can never fault the V70's boot space or accessibility.

When it comes to four-wheel-driveability, though, I reckon the Nissan X-Trail is a great buy. It has a large boot which is plastic-lined. Also, when it comes to squeezing in bodies, three adults will certainly fit comfortably enough.

Unfortunately, Duncan can't go diesel as that is currently not an option, so the 2.5-litre petrol will have to do, although overall he should still get 30mpg. Cruise control is part of the Columbia model's specification. The retail price is £20,000, but through a car broker Duncan should pay around £1,200 less.

Style isn't the X-Trail's strong point, but practicality is, and it holds value pretty well - always good news for a private buyer.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

I reckon Duncan would love a BMW X5, and quite right too. For a start it drives superbly, effectively being a high-rise 5 Series which is a great start anyway.

The off-road ability is there, but this is no mud-plugger like a Land Rover, and that means its on-road manners are excellent.

Few other off or even soft-roaders come close to where Duncan will be spending most of his time. As an enthusiastic driver he will enjoy the sharp steering and the composed way this tall vehicle deals with corners.

An automatic gearbox is standard on the larger V8 engines, although there is also a diesel model. BMW is launching a brand new version soon, so the outgoing model may see its prices a little depressed.

A 2001 example of the vehicle will set Duncan back around £20,000 and is definitely worth considering, as it should return just over 30mpg.

The V8 struggles to 20mpg overall and £15,995 buys an X-registered 4.4 V8 with a fairly high 70,000 mileage, but Duncan would probably want to consider halving the running costs by paying £2,000 for an LPG conversion.

I did find an X-registered X5 which had already been converted to LPG fuel. It had a 4.4 V8 engine, and a high specification where just about everything normally comes as standard.

The previous owner had spared no expense on maintenance. It was on sale at £22,794.

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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