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Used car tests

Car hunter: Spacious, economical hatchbacks

Reader has £14,000 to spend on a practical car with low running costs

Dear Chris,I need a car that’s easy for my dog to get into, but is also good to drive with low running costs. I’ve got around £14,000 to spend. Suggestions?Martin Smith, E-mail 

If you'd like help choosing your next car, contact chris_ebbs@dennis.co.uk.

The best buys:

Premium option: Audi A3

Audi A3 front tracking

For: Excellent reliability, premium feelAgainst: Smaller boot, sluggish engine

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The Audi A3 Sportback is the most practical model in the A3 line-up, offering greater boot space and the advantage of five doors but the same refinement, premium feel and excellent build quality as the popular three-door model.

Performance is safe and composed rather than thrilling. The boot lip is high, which could be a drawback for a dog owner, and the 302-litre boot is the smallest in our line-up. Choose the right engine and your running costs should prove to be fairly low, however.

We found a 59-plate 1.6-litre TDI model with 31,000 miles on the clock for £12,599. This is the most efficient engine, with claimed fuel consumption of 68mpg. Emissions are a lowly 109g/km, so annual road tax is only £20. But it’s not as flexible as the C-MAX and lacks the outright space available in the Civic.

Great-value choice: Honda Civic

Honda Civic front cornering

For: Excellent handling, large bootAgainst: Rear visibility, high boot lip

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This is the previous generation of Honda Civic – a car which, when it first arrived in 2006, offered something very different to other hatchbacks in the class. Its styling has dated a little, but Honda’s reputation for reliability is second to none and it’s a very good car to drive, too.

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The 2.2 i-CDTi diesel is the best choice for performance and running costs. With the car having been available for six years, you can pick one up for as little as £4,250 – but these are high-mileage examples. If you want a newer model, we found a 2010 car that had done 4,916 miles for £14,000. It will emit 139g/km in Si trim, meaning a yearly tax bill of £120 and average consumption of 53mpg.

Unfortunately, the main issue with the Civic is its high and awkward boot lip. It is pretty spacious, however, with 485 litres of room available with the seats up.

Best all-rounder: Ford C-MAX

Ford C-MAX front cornering

For: Low boot, surprising performanceAgainst: Firm ride, tight rear seats

The Ford C-MAX has taken all the best elements of other Fords – intuitive and stylish interior, great driving dynamics, good practicality – and squeezed them into an MPV.

The boot offers a decent 471 litres of space and, more importantly for your needs, the boot lip is very low. Drop the rear seats and space expands to 1,723 litres.

Despite the C-MAX being a relatively new model, prices start at around £12,000. We found a 2011 1.6-litre TDCi Titanium model with 16,000 miles on the clock for only £12,600. Average fuel economy is 61.4mpg, while emissions of 119g/km mean you’ll pay only £35 in annual road tax.

It definitely offers the best mix of everything you’re after compared to the other two cars, with the added space and practicality giving it a big advantage.

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