Robin Lawrence is 42, married, with three young children. He needs to replace his 1999 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T and has £2,000 to spend on a family runaround that will also cope with longer trips to visit relatives.

A car for the head

With three growing children, Robin is going to need a sizeable car, but £2,000 is not the biggest budget. The choice is going to be between a conventional estate and a more flexible people carrier. Let's go with convention first. As much as I'd like to suggest a Citroën C5 estate, a safer buy in this price range would be a Vauxhall Vectra. In terms of space, comfort and equipment, it would be hard to think of a better buy. The rear seats in particular are very accommodating. The estate also has a massive boot and is very safe, with plenty of airbags and ABS brakes. There is a wide choice of engines and the 1.8 petrol is quite economical. Diesel engines are worth considering provided the mileage isn't too high, as repairs can be expensive. A 2004 1.8i LS with air conditioning and even cruise control will cost £2,000 from a dealer.

A car for the heart

The Citroën Xsara Picasso is the cheapest way to buy some space and plenty of comfort: its big boot and roomy interior should keep everyone happy. There are more versatile compact people carriers, but few offer similar space or such competitive used prices. The ride is supple and it goes round corners tidily. Robin will have five individual seats, great for the children. Not only that, the seats fold and are light enough to be removed altogether. The diesel engines are excellent and return about 50mpg, although the 1.8 petrol may be perfect for the shorter journeys they mainly cover. All models have a CD player, remote locking, twin front and side airbags, ABS brakes and electric front windows. A 2003 1.6i Desire with 60,000 miles is within budget.

Looking to buy?

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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