When in Rome... you need a car that's cheap to run, efficient and easy to park. We consider the options
26 March 2019

There was me thinking that my limited appeal was strictly to the locals who don’t know any better. But, no, it was a pleasure and privilege to get a car-buying question from one of our European cousins. In this case, it was Melicia, who lives in Rome. 

Helpfully, she outlined how she uses her current car. She said that for 99% of the time, for city trips of less than half an hour, there are only one or two people in the car. However, two or three times a year, they go from Rome mob-handed, with four or five people and their luggage, to another city two or three hours away. Then they go mad and take a one-off road trip to a city about eight hours away. At this point, it’s probably timely to mourn the passing of Melicia’s worn-out Honda Civic

The thing is, Rome is going the way of all major cities and imposing emissions-based restrictions. That means a hybrid is going to be the answer, and the smaller the better. When Melicia needs a big barge for those big trips, she can get everyone to chip in and rent the best people-mover for the job. Otherwise, it is a case of getting a city hatch to handle all those one-up and two-up trips. 

I won’t go shopping in Rome. Let’s play the game over here. The obvious budget answer is one of those Honda Civic 1.3 IMAs in Executive trim. One of these early-era 2005 hybrids with 108k miles is around £1995. It’s a four-door saloon but not a huge thing and easy to live (and pick up all those Rome-related parking dents) with. 

There are, of course, more Toyota Priuses than you can shake an Uber at and those are the ones to ideally avoid. Otherwise, a decent 2007 Prius with just over 100k miles is going to be around £2950. 

Our Verdict

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Not everyone is a cheapskate like me, though, and upping the budget puts a cute little Suzuki Swift, a 1.0 Boosterjet Hybrid, within reach. A 2017 one with 25k-30k miles under its tyres is £9500. That seems pretty reasonable to me. There are a few about. There is also the teeny, tiny Suzuki Ignis with the Dualjet petrol-electric set-up and a 2017 car with 20k miles is similar, £9950 money. 

Alternatively, there is the Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid, which is very likeable. A 2014 one with a CVT gearbox, perfect for Rome, and 114k miles is around £6500. We are on the cusp of the old-shape/new-shape models, and with half the miles, you will get a tidy old-style example from 2013. That’s value, economy and reliability in one perfect package. It leaves a chunk of change for hiring a big bus for those days out. 

That was easy. Any other international conundrums we can fix?

What we almost bought this week

Citroen Berlingo Enterprise: Once you have a van, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it. That’s the theory… We were tempted to test it out with this 80,000-mile, 2013/13- reg Berlingo in fine condition and up for £4500. It was that rare thing, too: a commercial on which VAT was paid when it was registered, so none due now. 

Tales from Ruppert’s garage

BMW 320, mileage - 82,811: Just when we get a late-winter heatwave, the Baby Shark throws a minor tantrum. I was walking back to the saloon in the sunshine when I noticed something was hanging down. 

It was definitely a belt. I popped the bonnet and there it was, the auxiliary one to the air-con pump. I must admit it had been a bit quiet and hadn’t been wheezing at me like usual. The system needs some work anyway, so that becomes a definite ‘to do’. It isn’t snapped, so I might as well reattach it. Might be straightforward. Might be more of a challenge. I’ll let you know.

Reader’s ride

Ford Puma: Al Horsman has “always loved the looks of the Puma and the way it drives.” He used to have a green P-reg one and was recently looking for a smallish coupé/ sportscar when he saw this black Puma.

 Al says: “It had only 64,000 miles with just two owners and full service history. Thankfully, it drove just like I remembered. The last lady owner had the car for the past 15 years and was only selling it because she felt unable to drive it any more. I paid £2500. Definitely worth that bit extra for a good one.”

Readers’ questions

Question: My friend has a budget of £15,000 for a premium-brand car. She has tried a Mercedes-Benz A-Class but is 5ft tall and can’t reach the pedals. Any suggestions? D Wortham, Dartmoor

Answer: As manufacturer of the NSX and Civic Type R, and with a history of great engineering and innovation, perhaps Honda could fit the bill. That being so, allow us to recommend the Jazz, a neat little hatch driven happily by many vertically challenged folk, my petite sister among them. John Evans

Question: Would I be stupid to buy a new car that’s about to be replaced by an all-new model? Amanda Howse, Newcastle

Answer: No, so long as you negotiate a big discount or good trade-in allowance to cover you against the extra depreciation the car will suffer for being the old model. As the last of the line, it should be best-in-breed with all wrinkles ironed out, too, as well as being stuffed with extra features. John Evans

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26 March 2019

I don’t think it’s a simple matter of choosing any old hybrid to drive in European cities. The Civic IMA and Toyota Prius of mid 90s vintage would only have been certified to EU4 standard and would probably now be considered unclean. Furthermore the Honda can’t be driven at all without its engine running and I think that a non plugin Prius will only allow a mile or two of electric running.

What I suspect is required is either a pure EV, or a plugin hybrid with a decent electric only range. Or maybe just a modern EU6 petrol or diesel? One thing’s for sure - none of these options will be cheap!

26 March 2019
"She said that for 99% of the time, for city trips of less than half an hour, there are only one or two people in the car. However, two or three times a year, they go from Rome mob-handed, with four or five people and their luggage, to another city two or three hours away. Then they go mad and take a one-off road trip to a city about eight hours away."
The answer is use public transport.
99% of the time in the city and only four times a year outside it. No wonder our roads are clogged and emission concerns raised.

26 March 2019

Great deals on runout models that aren't going to be replaced - my local SEAT dealer has a good deal on the last pre-reg'd Toledos, which are basically Skodas with a sporty Ibiza grille. In silver/grey/'champagne' colours they look a lot more expensive than they are. Flat colours like red are best left to the minicabbing community.

26 March 2019

Still miss my old Metro ex-Post Office van - good to drive and you could get loads in it without worrying about scratches, etc. Something like a C2 van (or even a Rover Commerce/MG Express for rarity) would be good.

26 March 2019

is a Mercedes B Class factory-built to run on compressed natural gas. It's spacious inside but has a small footprint for easy parking, it overcomes Italian environmental restrictions and the Mk 1 version looks chic too. 

27 March 2019

If someone is wanting to buy a "premium" car such a a Mercedes A Class, is a Honda Jazz really the most appropriate suggestion. I would have thought an Audi A1 or a MINI would have been better suited. Perhaps a used TT if D Wortham's friend wanted to play on Dartmoor's roads in style.

27 March 2019

I grew up on Dartmoor in the 1970s, when you could drive for at least 3 minutes without seeing another car. But its narrow, twisting byways are as traffic-clogged as anywhere these days. If it's not a tractor dawdling at 15mph then it's or a 4-axle bungalow towed by an asthmatic crossover, or that modern curse - the delivery van. It's rarely fun nowadays, and certainly not stylish.

City driving? Stuff it, take the train.

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