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Car Choice: Time to hatch a cunning plan

A motorhome is a tough act to follow, but these roomy and frugal diesel hatchbacks fit the bill.

Don Rogerson is selling his Mercedes Sprinter motorhome, and he wants to replace it with something much smaller and diesel-powered.

His only other means of transport is a 200cc Gilera scooter. As winter begins to bite, he needs to be tucked up inside a small diesel car that will be used for local journeys and for an annual excursion to France. His budget is £12,500.

know that Don wants a diesel, and he tells me that he likes them, and that he's especially keen on the low £50 road tax for the smallest and least-polluting models. However, if Don's annual mileage is on the low side, I still think he could consider having a fuel-efficient petrol-powered car. Some can now achieve 40mpg or better quite easily, and the extra money Don would have to stump up for a diesel model might still take a couple of years to recoup.

I can't argue with the fact that it is so much better to ration visits to the service station. On a long journey to France nothing could be better, and Don can take advantage of the much cheaper diesel in Europe (Gordon Brown, please take note).

The cars in Don's sights are all small family hatches, including the Focus, Astra and Peugeot 307. He also mentions Citroëns and Skodas, but is open to any sensible suggestions. He could consider small estate cars, too; and perhaps some Far East models, which are both practical and reliable. Don doesn't mention whether he would consider a used car, but I think a nearly new model would be good value.


One criminally underrated hatchback is the Toyota Corolla. Here is a solidly built, practical and efficient small hatch that is certainly worth taking a look at. Being a Toyota, it will be incredibly reliable if it is looked after and serviced properly. Don will be pleased to hear that there are a couple of turbodiesel engines (badged D-4D) with different outputs, but both of them should return something close to 50mpg on fuel consumption. The Corolla is a nice car to drive, so Don should be very comfortable on his trips to and through France.

The instrumentation is all clearly laid out, and the adjustable steering means it's easy to get your ideal driving position. The boot is a very good size, and the width of the car means that there is lots of elbow room, especially for passengers in the back.

This is not a cheap option if you want to buy a new example, but then the car is well equipped and is built to a high standard. I would recommend that Don consider a model that is at least a year old.

I found a 2004 example with 17,000 miles for sale from a Toyota dealer for £7,990. However, for £10,495 I managed to track down another diesel, also at a Toyota dealership, which had been registered this year and which had also covered 17,000 miles. At least someone will have run it in, and two years still remain on the warranty.


The Seat Altea is an interesting vehicle, and might suit Don perfectly. Seat describes it as an MSV (which, in case you didn't know, stands for multi-sports vehicle). No, I'm not sure what that means either, but in effect this is a tall hatchback. So it doesn't do all the seats-out tricks that many MPVs (that's multi-purpose vehicles), perform, but it is more than practical.

The rear seats split 60/40, and the seat base rolls down as the seatbacks are tipped forward. Not only that; the boot is a split-level affair, so that there is a useful amount of extra storage underneath the floor. I reckon there are more than enough spaces and places to store fine wines and cheeses on Don's annual trips.

This model comes with a 1.9Tdi diesel engine. It returns 51.4mpg overall and is an excellent turbo unit, more affordable than the direct-injection 2.0Tdi model. The specifications are good, and the Reference base-model comes with air-conditioning and CD player. This car really will be all that Don needs.

I found a 2004 example with just 29,000 miles on sale at a dealer for just £7,995, so that would leave Don with lots of spare change. If he really wanted to spend more, a 2005 example with 15,000 miles, from a Seat dealer and still covered by manufacturer's warranty, would be only £9,000. Bargain.


From Belfast Telegraph