Buying the car that best suits your needs

Most of us need to own a car. However, when looking to purchase, too many people wind up searching for what they would like to be (seen) driving, rather than what they really need. Whilst it’s true one driver’s ‘essential’ features may be top-tier luxuries for another, some careful analysis of your needs at the outset may prevent you blindly following your dream, which swiftly becomes a nightmare.

City cars

Vehicles in this category include micro cars, city cars, super minis or hatchbacks. Generally speaking, city cars range from two-door micros – which are a tight squeeze for two adult passengers - up to five-door hatchbacks – which can accommodate four adults. Engines are often petrol, though diesel engines have recently gained popularity, with sizes from 500 cc up to 1.4 L. Storage space is very limited in the smallest vehicles, though larger cars will have enough boot space for a light load.

Advantages

The big appeal of these cars is their relatively cheap purchase price and low running costs. Parking and general manoeuvrability in city environments is excellent. In addition, because smaller cars burn less fuel and produce less harmful emissions, they are an eco-friendly choice.

Disadvantages

These cars are great for day-to-day town driving, but major shopping trips can present problems. Once outside urban environments, further limitations become apparent. Fuel economy is still good over longer distances, but fuel costs increase considerably with a full passenger load and longer journeys can be uncomfortable. Some drivers feel more vulnerable in city cars, especially when driving on motorways. Although small cars are safe, some drivers feel more protected in a larger vehicle.

Small family cars

Vehicles in this category include family hatchbacks and saloon cars. These are always four- or five-door models with ample room for four adults, or two adults and two children, plus luggage. Petrol and diesel engines are equally popular with sizes ranging up to 2 L or just above. Adequate boot and storage space is always available and some vehicles may have adjustable seating to alter the load space when required.

Advantages

This is a popular category so there is always a good choice available. These cars cannot match city cars for performance and economy in urban environments. However, the picture changes elsewhere, because a larger engine delivers decent fuel economy on longer runs, and also because small family cars are more robust than their city car counterparts and cope well under high-mileage conditions. In addition, the more robust construction of small family cars can make drivers feel safer.

Disadvantages

Running costs are higher and family cars are not as well adapted to city driving, and city parking, as their small and nippy cousins.

Larger family cars

This category includes estate cars, people carriers and 4x4s. These vehicles tend to come as roomy five-door models with extra seating and generous luggage space to accommodate five to seven passengers. Diesel engines are common, though there are petrol options too, and engine size stretches upwards from two litres.

Advantages

Larger cars offer more passenger seating and greater comfort on long journeys. Being strongly built, they are also much safer and better suited to high-mileage applications, bad roads and poor weather conditions. Cars in this category are also designed to cope easily when towing trailers and caravans, or transporting heavier loads.

Disadvantages

Fuel and running costs are much higher and larger cars are seen as a prime cause of environmental pollution. Parking and manoeuvrability is an issue in urban areas and some large-capacity models tend to handle and perform more like a light van than a car. Some larger cars also quickly depreciate in value.

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