Please help me find the make/model I want, so I can focus on the next steps. Thanks!
August 7, 2009 1:56 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy a new, used or certified used car real quickly. I could use some help deciding on a make and model that meets some specific criteria.

I have ~$4000 I could put down on either a brand new or certified used car (not to exceed $25k). I could manage about $6000 for a direct-from-seller used car.
  • I want something fuel efficient and/or hybrid, but I am not currently not keen on buying a hybrid from a individual seller (hybrids are more expensive and if I am going to invest in one for environmental and economic reasons, I would prefer the extra up-front cost to count toward the public financial record of support of this type of innovation – an individual seller has already paid for the car and I might as well buy a fuel-efficient used car for less from them).
  • It'd be great if I could put >$4k down on a car that is also less than ~$12k. That's a most comfortable loan amount for me.
  • The newer the better.
  • I would prefer a hybrid.
  • Must be able to transport bikes and surfboards (shortboards inside with seats folded down) and longboards (at least three) up top. Cars like Prius's are NOT designed for this...curved roof and significant drag make it not practical.
  • The smaller the better. I like finding parking and not being a big bohemoth on the road.
  • Good track record, reliable. I tend to sell cars when I suspect they are going to start causing problems a year or two down the road, and so I don't want to take on something with a short life span, known problems, or high repair cost. I currently have a Mazda Protege5 wagon, which is a pretty great all around car, minus the fact that mine is almost done for, its no longer made, and the gas mileage is 'meh'. I used to have a Mini Cooper, but that thing was too small. Any suggestions, both car-wise and perspective-wise?
posted by iamkimiam to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How about a certified pre-owned VW Jetta TDI clean diesel? It's extremely fuel efficient, about the same size as your Protege, can carry a bunch of stuff, and there's no $3000 out-of-warranty hybrid battery expiration to worry about. It's in your price range, and the TDI Jettas tend to hold their value pretty well, too.
posted by Jon-o at 2:00 PM on August 7, 2009

A used (or, y'know, certified pre-owned) 1st generation (2004 - 2007) Scion xB? Not a hybrid, but pretty damn good gas mileage (mid 30's, iirc). I know several people who have them, and they all love them. The first generation is more suited to your purpose than the current iteration, BTW, which is less fuel efficient and holds less stuff (although it is faster. Whooptidoo.)
posted by dersins at 2:07 PM on August 7, 2009

I'm in the market for a similar car and have been digging the Toyota Yaris. I've been really hoping to find a four-door hatchback to test drive but they are annoyingly unavailable close to me. Although somewhat anemic in the performance category, every other aspect has been right up my (and apparently your) alley: price, ability to handle odd-sized gear, gas mileage, etc.

Might be tough to find a hybrid to compete on price. I've been shying away from hybrids -- especially used ones -- until someone can give me a satisfying resolution for what happens when the batteries go bad. Expensive drive train replacement with the bad one going to a landfill? No thanks.
posted by GPF at 2:07 PM on August 7, 2009

The only thing that leaps to mind is a Jetta TDI wagon, though I dunno that you can get one for $25k. They're pretty new so I reckon used ones are mighty rare.

I assume you realize that your slate equals a tough ask, 'specially if you're looking for significantly better MPG's than the Maz.

To distill the requirements, seems like you essentially want something like the Protege5, but with better MPG's (?) One obvious thought which may have crossed your mind is the Mazda 3 5-door, though I dunno that it would do much if any better on gas.

There is the Ford Escape Hybrid, which is not a small car, but it can't be much if any longer than whatcha got.

Looked at the Mazda 5, essentially a mini minivan? Hyundai Elantra Touring? Maybe another Protege5 from the last model year they made 'em, one with plenty of life in it?
posted by ambient2 at 2:12 PM on August 7, 2009

Response by poster: The last model year made was 2003 for the Mazda Protege5. I'd like something newer, if possible.

My particular Protege5 was bought used, heavily modified with a ridiculous stiff suspension and other things that make it get worse mileage than its supposed too. And the whole car has practically wiggled itself apart.

I love the suggestions so far, thanks! I'll start looking into these right away.

Oh, I forgot to mention this, but I don't think it matters much...I absolutely loathe having to get gas. I don't know why, but I just dread it. I can't think of anything else in the world that I would consider a bigger nuisance (it's actually not that big of a nuisance, as I'm not bothered by many things, but getting gas IS at the top of the list).
posted by iamkimiam at 2:30 PM on August 7, 2009

If reliablity and ease of ownership is an issue i am not sure I would recommend any german car. My experience (admittedlly somewhat old) is not good for the non mechanically inclined in this area. Also, in my experience, volkswagens always develop very difficult to repair electrical problems after a few years.

How about a Honda Fit (it might not be big enough)but a new one is under 20k and I don't think honda has made a bad car (ugly and impractical yes, bad no). A used CRV or Rav4 would probably be good choice and they both get good mileage for a SUV. A subaru forester or outback would also probably do just fine, with the bonus of AWD. The AWD will cost you some fuel economy, but if snow and-or ice is where you live or you drive on bad roads they are fantatistic cars. A Ford Escape might also meet your requirements (they are suprisingly small for an amercian SUV). The best way to get good mileage on any truck/suv/crossover is to get one with the smallest/lowest output engine. Usually the models with the smaller engine are manual transmission and don't have too much in the way 'extra' options that can break and usually are costly to repair.
posted by bartonlong at 3:05 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

If the decision comes down to Honda Fit vs. Toyota Yaris, the Fit wins, hands down, in all categories except gas mileage. We own both and greatly prefer the handling, interior appointments, and "packaging" of the Fit. The ways the rear seats can fold are amazing. When we sit in the Fit we get that "this is a nice, spacious little car" feeling, while in the Yaris we get that "this is a cheap little car" feeling. That said, around town the Fit can't seem to break the 30 MPG barrier, while our Yaris consistently gets MPGs in the 30s. Highway mileage is closer, but the Yaris still wins.
posted by zsazsa at 3:45 PM on August 7, 2009

Duh. I forgot about the Fit. Could be good, if not too small. I'd love to get one (and a job). When I've seen someone getting in or out of a Fit, I've asked 'em what they think about the car; 100% of responses have been real favorable.
posted by ambient2 at 5:48 PM on August 7, 2009

We love our Fit. Can't recommend it enough, we get tons of stuff in it.
posted by arcticseal at 7:08 PM on August 7, 2009

When Mom and I tried out the Fit here in the east bay, it had trouble getting up the steep hills. I'd be afraid to take it to the Sierras. My friend's Yaris also has a hard time.

I do see both of them around, though, and they can't all live in the flats.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:02 PM on August 7, 2009

I'll also chime on for the Jetta. There are diesel versions for model years 98-2004, so you don't necessarily have to pay for the newer models 2007-9. At least test drive one- you will be very impressed. My VW mechanic says the 97-98 gas versions are also very solid cars. Stay away from the VR6 versions, for both the poor mileage and reliability.
I'd also consider a Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe, but used ones in your $ range may be scarce.
posted by TDIpod at 10:55 PM on August 7, 2009

My 2005 Scion xB gets 24 MPG now, down from 28 MPG when it was new (mostly city driving). I've found I need to take the wheels off to get a bike in there, even with the back seats down. You might be able to get one bike in with the wheels on at an angle if you tried, but not two. It's pretty roomy for a compact, though.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:40 PM on August 8, 2009

I test drove a 2009 Ford Escape hybrid just yesterday, and wasn't impressed despite going into the dealership expecting to love it. It's definitely an SUV; it feels bloated, and looked huge next to my Scion. It costs $30,000 but the inside seemed cheaply made.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:53 PM on August 8, 2009

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