Sandy Wheeler has recently retired after a career in publishing. She used to drive a company Audi A4 but has had to give this up. She would like a replacement, and has two main concerns: first that it should be a diesel, because she will be travelling cross-country a good deal; and she very much wants an automatic, which she prefers and is used to. She likes the Peugeot range, and her family have run diesel Peugeots in the past, but she would consider other makes. What would be the best buy at £10,000 to £13,000?

Traditionally, automatic gearboxes and diesel engines have not gone together. What were originally basic, industrial engines were better suited to manual gearboxes allowing drivers to marshal the power better.

However, diesel engines have changed dramatically over the last few decades and are now highly sophisticated and refined, no longer being smelly or noisy. In addition, a diesel engine will comfortably outlast a petrol version.

The adoption of common rail diesel engines by company car fleets in general and executive class cars in particular has meant that an automatic gearbox has become an option.

However, the availability has been limited to larger and more prestigious cars. However, as she is planning to travel longer distances, a larger car will be more comfortable and practical.

An automatic gearbox is an expensive option though, and rarely costs less than £1,000 -- and that may test Sandy's budget.

It will also be more difficult to buy a brand new model and she will have to consider one that is at least a year old, or be content with a model that is about to be replaced. Indeed, by shopping around at car supermarkets for nearly new cars Sandy might just find the diesel of her dreams.

A car for the heart

Sandy is right to rate Peugeots. For many years they have been one of the leading manufacturers of diesel cars and their engines have been among the very best and most frugal, but she should realise that these engines are also shared with Citroen.

When it comes to automatic Peugeot diesels, Sandy is restricted to the 406 range. These are saloons and estates which are a similar size to the A4. The 406 is also a range at the end of its life so prices should be dropping.

An automatic gearbox has only recently been available as an £1,100 option on the 2.0 and 2.2 Hdi models, so there are not many to choose from. The same is true of the Citroen C5. This isn't that pretty, but it is well equipped and has the same frugal and effective engines as the Peugeot.

Even when heavily discounted, it is still difficult to find diesel automatics which would have cost almost £20,000 purchased new.

The good news is that discounts and depreciation will have taken their toll and over the coming months Sandy should keep looking and not rush into buying a car until she finds exactly what she wants.

A car for the head

It is a pain to find exactly what Sandy wants all wrapped up in a French body, but there are a lot more options by shopping for slightly used executive models that will be within her budget. If she is used to running an Audi, couldn't she buy her old company car?

Then again, she could always consider a Rover 75 Diesel Tourer with a strong 2.0 CDT engine that delivers excellent levels of refinement.

It isn't the largest of estates, but there should be enough room for Sandy. A Connoisseur model registered in 2001 with around 40,000 miles will be around £9,000.

At the executive end of this market in the classified ads we found a Volvo S80 D registered in 2000 at £8,995 with every possible extra. Leather, air conditioning, a full service history, the all-important automatic gearbox and also a warranty.

If Sandy does not want anything as big as that then it has been possible to find a Volkswagen Golf GT Tdi PD 130, with an automatic gearbox. A year-old example may be just within budget depending on the mileage, but it will be a challenge to find.

Again Sandy will have to take her time with this search.

If you would like to take part, please write to The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your age, address and contact telephone number, and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence

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