Which Car? 'You can't go wrong with a Mercedes'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Denise Tobias, 50, a secretary from Ongar, Essex, says: "My 57,000-mile R-reg VW Golf convertible has just cost me £650 on its MOT at a dealer. I don't want a Ford StreetKa, I hate the Beetle shape and don't rate BMWs. My next convertible must must be good on icy country roads in January. I have up to £20k to spend."

First of all, I have to take issue with Ms Tobias about wanting to buy a new car because the old one is proving costly to run. At 57,000 miles, most cars are barely run in and for a professor of bangernomics like me the car is still a baby with plenty of life left in it.

Certainly some parts may be becoming up for renewal, possibly brake discs, a clutch, but the big-ticket items such as engines and gearboxes will easily take another 57,000 miles without breaking. The telling phrase in Ms Tobias's letter is "MOT at a dealer".

Warranty Direct has revealed figures which proved that servicing costs at main agents, have spiralled out of control. Volkswagen dealers in the London area are charging £110 an hour. At those levels running a people's car is prohibitive. Finding a good local independent garage or Volkswagen specialist is the answer. I have run several older Golfs this way without suffering crippling bills.

Ms Tobias can afford to run her beloved convertible. Secretly, she may be looking for an excuse to change and who can blame her? We all fancy a change sometimes, but is there an open-top to fit her challenging requirements?

A car for the head

So Ms Tobias cannot stand the thought of driving around in an open-top with a "common" badge. Well, Pininfarina is a glam badge and belongs to the legendary Italian styling house, the one that has styled a generation of awesomely pretty Ferraris. They have also designed stunning Peugeots, no really, they have.

A 306 is, give or take the odd inch the same size as the Golf which I know is important to Ms Tobias because of parking restrictions. It is a full four-seater with a decent-sized boot. The 2.0 litre version had a reasonable turn of speed and is more interesting to drive than the staid Golf.

The only problem is that they stopped making it in 2000. Immediately though this means that after Ms tobias has fallen in love with the sophisticated styling she will not pay more than £9,900 for a top specification 2.0 SE in immaculate condition with 30k miles on the clock.

But if she waits until October Peugeot are bring out a replacement, the 307CC. Prices are expected to be £17,000 and it has a clever folding metal roof, much better for those icy January mornings to keep nice and snug.

A car for the heart

If Ms Tobias wants a posh badge, the three-pointed star of Mercedes is a winner. OK, so it will not be a brand-new one, but having an up-market quality car always comes at a price. Not only that, a Mercedes SLK is exactly the same length as a Golf, if just a tiny bit wider. The SLK was also the first of a new breed of convertible to pioneer a fantastically clever electric folding roof. At the push of button the car changes from a hard top into a full pose convertible.

Although there are V6 engines the supercharged four cylinders have plenty of power, especially when compared to an underwhelming Golf. Never intended as a sports car, UK cars only came with automatic gearboxes and are very relaxing to drive. So what does this all cost? An early 230K is about £14,000 for a 1996 example. If Ms Tobias wants something more recent then a 2001 200K might just be in budget.

But the SLK is also a more selfish car than the Golf, so there is room for just two. That also means many more trips to the dump, but what a brilliant way to show off.

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