Car choice: We need to get off-road, but don't want a 4x4

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Philippa Roberts is a Prius owner and environmentalist, who loves her car's fuel efficiency and the lower road tax. However, she lives at the bottom of a dirt track and her partner works as a warden, regularly using unmade roads.

They both hate 4x4s but want an estate which has some off-road ability – but it also needs to cope with motorway driving in the broad mix of the 20,000 miles they cover each year. Philippa's budget is £5,000, plus what she can get for the Prius.

A car for the head

Sales and values of used off-roaders have actually shot up in the past year after we had that proper dose of winter weather. Actually, an old Land Rover can be an incredibly green vehicle, not least because it is still working hard after 25 years instead of being replaced every few years by something new. That's how I justify owning a 4x4 – but then I am also in a rural area and don't actually feel the need to apologise for it. I don't think Philippa should either, but there is much that can be done by fitting the right tyres, having a light car, and driving intelligently. There are, though, some less in-your-face 4x4s such as the Skoda Octavia – although that has a 1.8 turbo engine, which is not that economical. Better to find a four-wheel-drive Audi Quattro with a diesel engine and likely to get up to 40mpg. Pricey though, as an A4 Avant estate model from 2002 with 130,000 miles on the clock will only just be in budget .

A car for the heart

I believe that the French vans, as represented by the Peugeot Partner Combi, Renault Kangoo (pictured), and Citroë*Berlingo would be the sort of vehicle which is perfect for Philippa and her partner. These are extremely practical vehicles with lots of useful space inside and a decent amount of ground clearance. This is crucial when negotiating unmade roads. Being fairly light, especially when compared to any 4x4, means that it will be reasonably agile. Narrow wheels help too, as does the fact that these are front-wheel drive models. Being pulled along through snow, ice and mud is much better than being pushed along, and gives the driver more control. A Peugeot Partner with a 2.0HDi diesel engine would return almost 50mpg. Philippa also has a dilemma because there is a four-wheel-drive version – the Renault Kangoo Trekka (inset) – which has a 1.9Dci diesel or 1.6 petrol engine. A 2004 model would easily be within budget and offer practicality and rough road ability.

Looking to buy? 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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