Car Choice: MPVs are the gentle option
For someone with back and neck problems, a people carrier offers the best prospect for comfort, says James Ruppert
Rachel Evans is helping her mum to find a car through the Motability scheme. Rachel's mum is not confined to a wheelchair, but needs an automatic which is reasonably high off the ground, with upright seats to counter major neck and back problems. This vehicle will be replacing an ancient and much loved Volvo 240. Rachel reckons that an MPV-type vehicle would be perfect as this is the sort of vehicle her mum now seems to be the most comfortable in. Apparently, the cheaper the car, the better!
For those that don't know, Motability is open to anyone who receives one of the following benefits, either higher rate mobility component of disability living allowance, or war pensioners' mobility supplement. You don't need to drive, but can nominate up to two friends or relatives as drivers instead. Parents and carers can also apply on behalf of a child.
Most users of the subsidised scheme go for contract hire. That should mean trouble-free motoring for three years with insurance, servicing, tyres and breakdown cover all included. A wide range of adaptations, such as hand controls and wheelchair accessible vehicles are also available within the scheme.
Obviously, Motability is not the only option for Rachel's mum. She could just buy a used car that will be a lot cheaper to run and more comfy to sit in than the old Volvo. It would also be possible to modify the exiting seat by changing the mounts or even by buying an orthopaedic seat cushion. At DisabledAccessories.com there were plenty of options such as seat wedges, which essentially flatten out the seat cushion, and ones that support the spine at the back. All of these items are under £40 and much better than a very expensive bespoke seat.
A car for the head
First of all, it is a question of size. An awful lot of smaller hatchbacks now have quite high seating positions. That also includes some of the compact and micro people carriers, so Rachel's mum does not have to trade up to a huge car. Even so the Volvo 240 was not a small vehicle.
However, starting smallish, a Toyota Yaris has a high-set driving position and the higher specification models also have seat height adjustment. An automatic gearbox is available as an option on the 1.3 SR models, taking the cost to around £10,700.
Moving up a size then, it has to be something like the Renault Scénic. Here is a refined compact people carrier that hasn't got more seats than Rachel's mum realistically needs. Most importantly, the driver's seat has plenty of height adjustment, but even in its lowest position it is on the high side. That means it should be perfect, plus it has a boot that is almost as big as an old Volvo. Running costs are low, though, with excellent fuel economy and low insurance. A 1.6 with a £1,000 optional automatic gearbox will be almost £17,000, but there are discounts available and it will be affordable under the Motability scheme.
A car for the heart
Difficult one, as all Rachel's mum wants is a car that she is comfortable in, so style doesn't really matter, not after a Volvo 240 anyway. There isn't a contemporary Volvo that fits the bill apart from the wholly inappropriate XC90 off-roader. A brilliant vehicle, but not really what is needed.
A Skoda Roomster, though, is potentially perfect. Here is a spacious and comfortable vehicle that isn't too big and looks very different from most other cars on the road.
Essentially, it is a compact people carrier which has a large boot that is nice and square. The driving position is, of course, crucial and the steering wheel can be easily adjusted, while the seat can be raised and lowered. At the back, the seats can be folded and/ or removed, but I'm sure this doesn't really matter much.
More important is the automatic gearbox, which costs an extra £700 as an option on the 1.6 model in 2 or 3 trim. That means spending around £13,000.
The specification includes air conditioning, alloy wheels and electric door mirrors, which is all that Rachel's mum should need. Inside it isn't as funky as the outside view, but then again that shouldn't matter.