Martin Hildyard, a potter who lives in Brighton, has a Peugeot 306 turbo diesel which, he says, runs extemely well but is eight years old. He wants one with a reliable engine and air-conditioning and a sunroof because he drives on the Continent a lot. He is considering a TDi with space to carry two mountain bikes with seats down, and sometimes a quarter-ton of clay, for his job. He says his choice is the SEAT Ibiza, Peugeot 206SW (and it is pug-ugly), Ford Focus CDi, Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic.
FIRST, LET us run through the five models that make up Martin Hildyard's shortlist, although I am concerned the models he is considering are on the small side. I have a lot of time for the Seat Ibiza which is great fun to drive and that TD130 diesel engine is perky. The boot is not a bad size, but the curved roofline is not good news for carrying loads.
The Peugeot 206 SW is ugly, Mr Hildyard says, but most of us find it quite groovy-looking. Like the hatch version, it is fun to drive and the load bay is well shaped, but it is a small car.
The Ford Focus CDi is a much better size although the one-piece rear seat and split backrest is an odd combination that limits practicality. The Honda Civic is a clever hatchback which is surprisingly spacious and has the dimensions of a compact people carrier. Then there is the Toyota Corolla which is fairly ugly, but it has a good boot and there is the option of an estate model. All of these models should have air-conditioning, but it may be hard to find one with a sunroof unless Mr Hildyard special orders a new model and pays £400 extra.
A car for the head
Clay is heavy and bikes are bulky so maybe Mr Hildyard should be looking at more grown-up estate or possibly a compact people carrier. Certainly the most cubic metres for the money is offered by the Citroen C5, which is massive.
Citroen dealers have 2.0 HDi LX models at a year old and loaded with CDs and metallic paint from £10,995. It does have challenging styling.
Prettier and more familiar for Mr Hildyard could be the Peugeot 406 which has the similar excellent HDi engine and for the same price, £10,995, dealers again have year-old, well-equipped examples.
Less massive than those models is yet another French model, the Citroen Xsara estate. Dull styling, but it is spacious and shames many full- sized family estates, and the 2.0 diesel engine pulls enthusiastically. Year-old models are just more than £9,000, which is great value, but, again, getting one with a sunroof may prove to be a challenge. The steering is sharp and fairly sporty and the only let-down is the quality of the interior plastics and trim.
It may look scruffy quickly, but it should easily survive hard use, and all models have air-conditioning.
A car for the heart
The Skoda Octavia Estate. Here is a car which is practical, strong and very affordable and should perfectly fit Mr Hildyard's requirements.
If he has any badge issues, that is his loss because the Skoda is so closely related to Volkswagen models, which means quality and performance is not an issue.
The Octavia is a nicely proportioned vehicle and as manouverable as a smaller hatch. Although the styling may be too staid for some, I think it will grow on Mr Hildyard. More importantly, the rear load-space is huge, with plenty of room for clay and bikes. Under the bonnet, is one of the best diesel engines around, a 2.0 TD 110 which is gutsy yet refined and delivers an overall miles per gallon figure of 54mpg.
The other important ingredient is the combination of air- conditioning and a sunroof. So Mr Hildyard has to aim for the Ambiente models. New, that model costs £13,255 which is good value.
But a year-old example with 10,000 miles on the clock is just £9,500 and that would be at a dealer with the balance of the manufacturer warranty.
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