Dean Robinson pleads: "Please help us, things are getting desperate." His Kia Rio is adequate but, with two Labradors and a baby on the way, space is going to become something of a premium. Ideally, Dean is thinking of a future when the whole Robinson tribe goes on holiday, so any family car must be able to take the usual luggage plus all the baggage you need to look after a baby. The Robinsons' baby is due right about now (we are dealing with a big backlog here), so it really is an emergency.

A car for the head

Dean has a largish budget, up to £25,000, but I know how expensive children are, so I'd advise him to keep some money back for the nipper. The problem here is keeping the child and dogs apart. He will need to fit a dog guard. He also needs a substantial area in the back for the hounds, plus plenty of room for luggage. I'd recommend a traditional estate shape, which should accommodate children, pets and luggage fairly separately. So a big estate car like a Toyota Avensis would be a very good idea. It's a hugely comfortable, refined estate and there are several engine types on offer, either petrol or diesel, so Dean can choose based on his annual mileage. As the family made do with a small Kia Rio, I will assume that the 1.8 petrol engine will be adequate. Brand new it would cost around £16,700 and returns almost 43mpg according to official figures. The level of standard equipment on the T2 is good enough, and far better than an old Kia. In addition to air conditioning, a TR model has electric rear windows, automatic headlamps and wipers. This would be the "no brainer" choice, but not the cheapest.

A car for the heart

Maybe the cheaper option would be better and could well be a bit more lovable. The Skoda Octavia estate (below) is functional, highly efficient and endearingly good value. As everyone knows these days, Skodas are pretty much Volkswagens with a different badge. In this case, the Octavia may have old Golf mechanicals but they are well proven and the body style is undoubtedly handsome. It has a very spacious interior and the rear seats spilt and fold to create a massive area within a compact package. As ever, excellent petrol and diesel options abound, but the 1.4TSI would probably be adequate for Dean. Like the Toyota it should return almost 43mpg and it has a fairly responsive engine. Some owners may find that the boot sill is on the high side; I don't think the dogs would mind but fitting some sort of rear bumper guard or overmat would stop them scratching the paintwork.

Overall the Octavia is a solidly built car, which is excellent value for money. A 1.4 TSI would cost around £13,400. For that, Dean would get an S model, which has climate control air conditioning and electric front windows. It could be the answer to Dean's cry for help, but the whole family, including the dogs, should test drive first.

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Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested, and your budget.

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