One for the road: In search of the rare compact saloon

 

Ken McNaull keeps it simple. He's 61, lives in Northern Ireland and has £4,500 to spend on car. And what sort of car? Well, Ken just wrote this: Volvo S40.

A Car for the Head

So Ken wants a compact saloon. This is an increasingly rare breed and though the S40 is an option, there are better choices he could make. It just depends on whether he wants character or reliability. If it is the latter, let's start looking at Japanese cars. The Honda Accord would be perfect: enjoyable to drive while being utterly dependable. Inside, the Accord has a high-quality executive feel, as Honda uses first-class materials. The instrumentation is clear and all the controls are easy to use while the driving position is almost perfect. The petrol engines are very sporty, the 2.0 litre is adequate but the 2.4 litre delivers very brisk performance, because the manual gearboxes are so slick and easy to use. There is also a 2.2 litre I-CTDi diesel which manages to be refined, frugal and quick: £4,000 will buy a 2004 example with 70,000 miles.

A Car for the Heart

If Ken enjoys driving, then a BMW 3 Series is the obvious answer. As well as the famed engines, both four- and six-cylinder with diesel options, there is the sporty handling. That means a firm ride around town, but it is smooth enough on the motorway and revisions from 2001 made the 3 Series even sharper. The Sport models are set up for even more focused handling. And the driver can concentrate on driving because the interior is so well thought out. The instrument panel is simple and ergonomically spot on, although the sausage-fingered could find some buttons on the small side. The budget buys a 2003 320D diesel if Ken wants frugality, or a 2002 325i SE six-cylinder petrol for fun.

Looking to buy?

Email James Ruppert at onefortheroad@independent.co.uk, 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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