James Ruppert: the best compact cars for European cities

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. 

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

Leave a Reply