Cars that pass the university examination
Choosing a reliable, low-powered and thrifty car will keep your students safe from trouble, writes Neil Lyndon
Published 05/09/2010 | 05:00
NOW that the results are in and the offers made, many parents might be thinking of buying a car for their princes and princesses to drive away to college.
The best advice, on behalf of all of us, would probably be "please think again". The last thing the congested hearts of our cities need for their wellbeing is an influx of yet more cars transporting one person (the advent of cheap, new cars and the growth of car ownership among single people under 25 is one of the main reasons why there are more cars on our roads than they can accommodate).
Even in remoter towns, the streets can be clogged with cars in rush hours and parking spaces are hard to find around the cafes and shops where students linger.
In any case, it is well understood (and as well for parents to remember) that teenagers go to college to have fun and equally well recognised that cars go with drink and drugs the way blue touch papers go with dynamite. Therefore, it might be better to drive the little darlings to their colleges, pick them up at the end of term and let them borrow family cars in the holidays.
Seeing, however, that I am getting nowhere with these objections, I now turn to the business of the day, which is to recommend cars that might be fitting for a student.
A formula covers this question: what they need is the opposite of what they want.
What they want is a powerful, tasty car that will make them look good to the opposite sex. Given a free hand, 80 per cent of female students would probably choose a Peugeot RCZ coupe while most boys would settle for a Ferrari 458 Italia.
Let them eat gruel. The best car for a student is the one that the parent who is footing the bill is happiest to buy.
That parent seeks a cheap, safe, low-powered car that is going to be reliable, cost next to nothing in maintenance, insurance and road tax, and might be returned to the family at the end of its student years in a sufficiently fit state to serve some time as a household standby. What they want, in other words, is a Kia Picanto. The Picanto recently came out top in a Which? survey, being judged by owners as the most reliable car on the market. It is covered by Kia's unbeatable seven-year warranty (so it might even see two students through their college years before the warranty expires).
The renowned Honest John in the Daily Telegraph recently described the Picanto as "cheap as chips" and said that it represented irresistible value.
The Picanto has, in fact, passed the sternest of all tests: being judged acceptable by my mother-in-law.
It was no easy task to persuade M-i-L to consider the Picanto when she was thinking of changing her doughty, ancient VW Golf estate. She was wary of its Korean origins -- not aware that the Hyundai-Kia group is rapidly overhauling Toyota and VW for build quality. She was unconvinced that such a little car could be so safe and had to be persuaded by the Euro NCAP crash test results.
Lastly, she couldn't believe the deal that was on offer from Kia and supposed that I, foolish boy, must have got the figures wrong.
What's good enough for canny granny should be more than good enough for upstart kid. They won't like it, but "he who hath the gold maketh the rule".
Worthy new alternatives might be a Fiat Panda or a Toyota Aygo.
And if you are thinking of buying a new car for two to share, a Kia Venga would be worth considering.
Among second-hand cars, the Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta would be high on a list of best buys. But the best counsel might remain: let them walk.