Car Choice: 'We need a cheap weekend car'

When it comes to saving money, a cheap petrol is much better than an old diesel explains James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Hans Henrik Samuelsen is Danish and, in his own words, feels "a bit lost on the left side of the road". Hans and his partner are looking for a small car and are ready to spend £1,500 to £2,000. It will only be used on weekends and holidays, as they bike to work and everywhere else. Danes do that!

They have been looking at a Rover 200 and 25 and thought diesel would be good for the longer trips since they are not going to use it in town.

Let's get one thing straight, buying a diesel car does not mean minimal running costs and squeaky-clean emissions. Diesel cars cost more so you will need to get that money back by travelling longer distances anyway, so I would not write off the petrol engine just yet.

Some petrol cars are very economical and a reasonably small one will achieve 35 to 40mpg without trying too hard. Also, emissions-wise, although the CO2 count is lower there are more particulates, which can be carcinogenic. So a cheap petrol vehicle is better than an old diesel which may have covered some high mileage and won't adjust well to being parked for weeks at a time.

I agree that Hans should go for a mainstream good value vehicle such as a Rover - these cars have never been cheaper. For under £1,000 it is possible to get a very tidy one-owner 1.4 petrol model that will be very reliable and should only need a service once a year. The insurance will be cheap with only third-party cover required and it should remain unmolested as it sits outside Hans's house.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

The old-shape Astra is not the most distinctive car. It is, however, unpretentious and unashamedly practical. The steering and handling is nothing short of superb. More importantly, the ride is smooth and that succeeds in making the Astra feel like it is a larger luxury car.

There is plenty of room inside the Astra. When launched it had the largest amount of interior space in its class, never mind the drab colours. Longer in the middle, this model provided front and rear passengers with more than enough head and legroom.

The equipment levels are pretty comprehensive, as all Astras always had a driver airbag and also a third three-point rear seat belt. On the safety issue it scored top marks in the Euro NCAP tests.

So here is a very modern car with a lively 1.4 petrol engine that is usually sensational value. Like the Rover it won't attract attention, but being a Vauxhall, it will always be cheap to run and should deliver excellent economy.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Hans isn't all that bothered about what his new car looks like, but I reckon he will quite like the basic charm and funky looks of the old Ford Ka.

Launched in 1996 the Ka originally came in just two flavours. The basic Ka had an old 1,299cc fuel-injected petrol engine producing an adequate 59bhp.

Other than that there wasn't much else on the standard fittings list. The plastic bumpers were painted blue, it had tinted glass, a radio/cassette and a driver's airbag. Insurance was a measly group 2E. Also on the price lists was the Ka 2. This came with power-steering, central locking, driver's seat-height adjustment, front-seat stowage nets, rear head restraints and electric front windows.

Then came the, yes you guessed it, Ka 3 which had air conditioning, alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and gear knob, plus a CD player. In the meantime ABS brakes had become a cost option, while on the basic Ka power-steering was standardised in June 1997. Prices are now down to around £1,000 and it makes the perfect small car that is fun to drive on the open road and cheap to run.

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 in which you are interested and your budget.

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