Buying a new car, American style
April 23, 2010 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Buying a new car - is there an American car that fits the bill?

I'm going to be buying a new car soon. My main considerations are going to be reliability, fuel efficiency and low cost. Some vehicles I have been thinking of include the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Hyundai Elantra. I've been thinking though that I would also like to buy an American vehicle. I still have a lot of doubts on the reliability of American vehicles, but I figure I live here and what happens with the economy can affect me, so why not try to put money back into the economy where practical. What are some modern, reliable American cars that I should consider?
posted by fx3000 to Shopping (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you got any criteria as far as features or body style or anything? All the cars you mentioned are available as a hatchback except for the Elantra, I think (they do have the Accent, though).

I had really great luck with my 2002 Ford Focus, and I was quite looking forward to the Ford Fiesta coming back over to the US Market. It looks great, has a sunroof option for every trim level, and seems to be an excellent vehicle if Top Gear is to be believed. :)

I traded in my Focus just shy of 100,000 miles for a 2007 Honda Fit just last week, and I love it! It's a great, peppy little car with lots of room and lots of cool features. It would've been a much harder decision on whether to wait or not and what car to choose, though, if I could afford a brand new Fiesta.
posted by Jinkeez at 7:03 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A Ford Focus would be pretty similar to the models you listed above, and has been well liked by Consumer Reports.
posted by susanvance at 7:03 AM on April 23, 2010

What about a Ford Focus?

I drive a Honda. I will always drive a Honda, unless I decide to buy a Mazda. Quality and value matter to me more than anything else.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:04 AM on April 23, 2010

For what it's worth, quite a few "foreign made" cars are actually built in the United States with American workers.

Similarly, last I checked, Ford Fusions were made in Mexico.
posted by saeculorum at 7:18 AM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

And by Ford Fusion, I really meant Ford Focus. I was also wrong about that - Ford consolidated assembly in Michigan in 2006.
posted by saeculorum at 7:21 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm going to nth the Ford Focus suggestion. There's one in my family I drive frequently, a number of friends have them, I've rented a few, and I follow reviews. I think it's the clear American entrant on the list you wrote above.

I would probably come down on the Honda Civic, all things considered. It's a nearly perfect car for its type. But the Focus is a very respectable and fun to drive alternative.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:44 AM on April 23, 2010

My brother has a Ford Focus and I really like it. He bought it used and has had 0 problems with it.

I myself like the Ford Fusion if you can afford it. I feel safer in mid-size cars, but I also understand if due to budget constraints that isn't an option. The Fusion comes in a hybrid version as well if that's appealing to you.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:44 AM on April 23, 2010

Oooh, and I also love the Mazda 3 if you want a little more performance for the buck. I'd be hard pressed to go safe with the Civic given the appeal of the 3 and its record in recent years for safety and reliability if I wanted to enjoy driving just a little bit more than I wanted to be conservative in my choice. Among American cars, Fords are clearly the best made these days, so a Fusion might indeed be worth checking out as well.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:47 AM on April 23, 2010

If you're looking at the Fit, also take a look at the Versa Hatchback.

Nicer in some respects; worse in others. I drove one up and down the East Coast last year for a friend. IMO, it's more fun to drive, and handles better than the Fit. It also has, by far, the most backseat legroom I've ever seen in a hatchback. The reviewers didn't seem to like it as much as the Fit, but it's worth taking a test drive....

I also test-drove a Yaris, which felt "cheap" in almost every aspect (right down to the fact that there's basically no instrument cluster!).

That all said, it's hard to go wrong with a Civic.
posted by schmod at 7:54 AM on April 23, 2010

Ford recently shed their ownership stake in Mazda (though they're still participating in joint ventures) so I'm not sure if this statement is 100% true for 2010 models, but the Ford Focus and Fusion actually share platforms and many mechanical bits with the Mazda 3 and 6 respectively, one of the reasons I, a proud Mazda* owner and long-time import buyer, would happily consider a Ford the next time we're due for a new car.

*Ahh, the joys of the multi-national car. My 2004 Mazda 6 wagon was built in Michigan, and features a version of the Ford Duratec V6 with variable valve timing (also found on the version Jaguar uses) an engine that can trace its lineage back to Porsche, who sold engineering input for a 2.4 liter V6 they were designing to Ford and Cosworth. Whew.
posted by jalexei at 8:11 AM on April 23, 2010

I've been super-impressed by Ford lately; they've really picked up the slack and are making great cars.

But I have to at least say look at the Kia Soul. I fucking adore mine. I wouldn't trade it for the world. And it was well-priced.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:20 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are interested in getting a used car, I have a Pontiac Vibe that i have been pretty happy with. Pontiac didn't make it through the GM reshuffle, so Vibe models will all be about a year old, but it is a pretty decent car that is similar to a Mazda 3 hatchback. I've had mine about 5 years and it has been very reliable.
posted by mjcon at 8:34 AM on April 23, 2010

Just had to chime in with InsanePenguin and say that I LOVE my Kia Soul. I got the Denim Limited Edition and with those white racing stripes and rear-view mirrors, its reminds people of a souped up Mini-Cooper SUV.

It is affordable, gets good gas mileage, the insurance is cheaper than my old Elantra AND its totally adorable and gives me a warm fuzzy feeling (that has nothing to do with the hamsters, I promise). I like that it fits my laptop in the big glovebox (has a red interior, reminds me of cookie monster) It also didn't hurt that they gave me 0% interest. It also has those fancy things like a USB slot for music, Ipod hookups, flashy blinky speakers...and legroom.

We took it from Oregon through Colorado and then the Grand Canyon and back, a 3800 mile 2 week camping trip and there were no issues, it held tons...and the satellite radio came in very handy out in the middle of nowhere. I normally get about 28 miles a gallon, but out on those back desert roads I got close to 34.

I have had the car for almost a year now, and it really is the only car I have never had even a tiny bit of buyers remorse over.
posted by Jenny is Crafty at 8:45 AM on April 23, 2010

Chevy Aveo - Do they even sell these anymore? Yeah, don't do that.

Ford Focus - Seems to have lots of goodies for the price. Had a brand new rental last year (~250 miles) and it drove like a dog.

Honda Fit - Handles well but rides a little rough. Probably the only cheap automatic I'd buy. Also has tons of cargo space.

Nissan Versa - Automatic is only a 4 speed and you can tell. Go for the CVT or 6 speed manual. A solid choice.

Toyota Yaris - Skip the hatch, unless you'd be happy with a larger Smart ForTwo. Sedan is surprisingly large inside.

I would recommend a manual transmission if you can tolerate it. Automatics tend to cost more and are sluggish, especially with these tiny engines.

Full disclosure: I've owned a Yaris manual sedan for 3 years now. 32 city/50 highway. My only compliant is lack of a 6th gear.
posted by barake at 8:46 AM on April 23, 2010

I've driven an older Fucos, and thought it was kinda cheezy feeling. On the other hand, I drove a Ford Contour for 8 years and it was rock solid.

Mazda and Ford share a lot of technical background. I wouldn't hesitate to buy either, but I'd lean toward Mazda for styling purposes.
posted by gjc at 8:50 AM on April 23, 2010

Also, the Chevy Malibu is supposed to be a great car, as well as the Impala. Don't know about the smaller ones.
posted by gjc at 8:51 AM on April 23, 2010

Elantra owner here. Through 2006, they made a hatch (I have one and love it). They went to sedan-only in 2007, but have now added an Elantra Touring which is a wagon that is not quite as sporty as the Mazda3 but looks much better in person than in photos for some reason.

I am a bit of a Ford fan, having owned more Fords than any other make. I looked real hard at the Focus in '05 but convinced myself that the Elantra was a better, more comfortable car for the money. So far it has been.

If a hatch is not a consideration, the current Focus is a pretty good car, and as has been said, Ford's reliability is not a problem. The other three cars in my household are all high mileage Fords (2 with more than 100k miles) and all three are going strong.

I would hesitate to buy a Cruze. The Cruze will be made in South Korea by GMDAT (the old Daewoo that GM bought out of bankruptcy in 2004). GMDAT built such winners in this segment as the Suzuki Forenza and Reno. Based on some owner message board traffic, those models aren't aging well. GMDAT also builds the Aveo, and that car does hold its own, quality-wise. Perhaps GM's quality oversight is better than Suzuki's, but until there are several hundred thousand of them out on the road with some quality data, I wouldn't trust them.

If I had to buy a car right now... well, in the next month or two anway, the Ford Fiesta would be at the top of my list.
posted by Doohickie at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2010

The Fiesta is smaller than the Focus, but in many ways its a better car. Take a look at it. It's assembled in Mexico, though.
posted by zsazsa at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2010

Cars are really international these days so don't get too hung up about the percieved nationality of the car company. I believe every Honda Accord sold in the world is assembled in Marysville, Ohio, and I think subura does something similair. In most cases the parts are made everywhere(including the USA), shipped to the final assembly plant somewhere (including some in the USA) and then shipped to there sales destination.

I would (am currently) seriously consider the Kia lineup, while not quite as polished as Honda or Toyota they are definately in the good category and an amazingly good value, i think better than honda or toyota. Dasien is right that the 'american' companies will be introducing some amazing new cars in the coming months. I have more faith that ford is doing the right things and steadily improving quality in their small cars. I am agnostic on the GM lineup, they are starting from too far back i think. Test drive a lot of cars and definately look at the following:
mazda 3
kia soul & forte
huyndai (anything)
subaru impreza ( if awd is desirable-if not it weighs too much and gets back fuel economy)
honda fit
you will probably find one you like.
BTW all new cars have % of parts origin that tells you what country the majority of the car is made in, and some may really surprise you.
BTW just because the car isn't made in the usa doesn't mean it doesn't produce jobs, just think how many people honda and toyota employ here? and how many cars gm and ford make overseas...
posted by bartonlong at 9:24 AM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personally, I would recommend that you wait for the Cruze of the Focus. For safety reasons, I have trouble recommending the subcompact cars. Even though the Fiesta will do fine in a single-car crash, and is as safe as you can make a subcompact, there's just too much of an imbalance in the weight against pretty well everything else on the road.

The current International Ford Focus weighs 1,229 kg to 1,630 kg. The 2008 Ford Fiesta weighs 1,096–1,178 kg. The current North American Ford Focus weighs 1,174 kg to 1,198 kg.

So lightest-to-lightest, the International Focus is only 12% heavier than the Fiesta, and the North American Focus is only 7% heavier than the Fiesta.
posted by Mike1024 at 9:56 AM on April 23, 2010

Back in March I replaced my stolen Toyota Matrix with a '10 Subaru Impreza hatchback (thanks to a generous insurance settlment.) I love it. The Impreza doesn't happen to be, but Subaru does build some of its cars in the US. In my car hunting, I test-drove another Matrix, the Nissan Rogue, the Mazda 3 and the Dodge Caliber. The Caliber, while American, was the worst of the bunch in my experience.
posted by emelenjr at 10:49 AM on April 23, 2010

Seconding what saeculorum said about a lot of foreign brands now being made int he US. I have a US made Honda Accord and I'm very happy with it. My wife's Fit is great, very economical and fun to drive.
posted by arcticseal at 10:55 AM on April 23, 2010

I love my new Honda Fit. Just this morning my mechanic (who only works on Hondas) told me that with regular oil changes it should easily make it to 250,000 miles. Of couse I guess you can say that about all cars made these days. They just don't make them like they used to. They are much much better.
posted by snowjoe at 11:16 AM on April 23, 2010

Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Hyundai Elantra

As you are going to be buying a new car "soon" rather than "now", two new Fords are on the way that are definitely worth considering.

- Ford Fiesta -- already a top seller in Europe, and coming to the states later this year. Similar in size to the Yaris and Fit, but a little more expensive, and (in return for the extra cash) has more amenities.

- Ford Focus -- the previous European model never came to the states (I'm not a fan of the current stateside model myself, which is just a warmed-over first-generation) but the third-generation European replacement will be coming to the US as well. As the Civic is to the Fit, the Focus is to the Fiesta (in relative size, cost and amenities.)

In addition, consider two more "foreign" cars:

- Nissan Versa -- doesn't have the flip-foldy seats of the Fit, but has a lot more passenger space, and more creature comforts, at a very good price. Mine (2008 SL Hatchback 6-speed) had a fiddly battery and a sharp weld that ripped the sunroof weatherstripping when I bought it (replaced under warranty) but 22,000+ miles later I haven't had another problem, and I adore it. Very safe, very cute, and if you drive an automatic the CVT has a ten-year, 120,000-mile warranty which should offset reliability concerns.

- Nissan Cube -- mechanically the same as the Versa, except has a crazy-wacky-fun (or crazy-wacky-ugly, YMMV) body on it. Equally safe, equally economical, same warranty.
posted by davejay at 1:12 PM on April 23, 2010

Keep an eye out for Ford rolling out the Euro Focus in the US for the 2011 model year. This car is far superior to the outdated US Focus we've had to settle for. Autoblog has a story about it.

I found this bit particularly interesting: "Like other new Fords, six-speed gearboxes are now the norm for Focus with a choice of manual or dual-clutch PowerShift units available. No traditional torque converter automatic will be offered in the Focus, but the PowerShift will get manual shift capability unlike the Fiesta."
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:29 PM on April 23, 2010

Try a test drive in the Scion XD. It's in the same price-range as your other suggestions, but has way more oomph.
I test-drove and compared the Nissan Versa, the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris, and the Scion XD last September, when I needed a new car. (I wanted to test-drive a Ford Focus hatchback, but they did not seem to be available any more; I also test-drove the Nissan Cube, which had far too high a center of gravity for me to feel safe in it). If you compare the Scion XD to the Toyota Yaris, which is easy as Scion are made by Toyota and available from the same dealers, you'll find that the Yaris feels a little underpowered, compared to the Scion (or the Ford Focus). I ended up with the Scion because it had the most acceleration for almost identical fuel consumption as the others (important for freeway maneuvering when the access roads are busy) and it had better reliability ratings than the Nissan and better safety features and acceleration than the Honda Fit.

Most importantly, the 2010 Scion XD has Vehicle Stability Control (rated by Consumer Reports as the most important safety feature in the last 20 years), which the Honda Fit does not. (The 2009 Scion XD only had this as an optional extra, so if you intend to buy an older model, check that it is fitted with VSC). The Honda was surprisingly disappointing in performance (I test-drove the previous Honda Fit Sport model, when my SO needed a car and I remember it as being way more fun to drive than the current model).

So I would recommend the Scion XD based on my (admittedly skewed to my needs) comparison. If hauling stuff around is important to you, the Fit has much better cargo capacity than the Scion XD. But I really love the Scion XD, after 7 months driving it around. I love the handling which allows me to accelerate around corners and maneuver easily around inconveniently stopped cars, I love the fuel economy and acceleration up hills, and the kid in me also loves the music player, which allows me to play mp3s from a flash drive ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2010

I'm with Dasein -- there are some really good US small cars coming (Chevrolet Cruze, next-gen Ford Focus) if you can hold off just a bit longer. (And further out, Chrysler will be selling the Fiat 500 in a little less than a year.)

The Cruze will be made in South Korea by GMDAT

The US version will be made in Lordstown, Ohio.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:50 AM on April 24, 2010

Response by poster: Well I wound up buying a Honda Fit. After a few days of driving it I am very happy with it. It meets most of my criteria with the main exception being that it's not American made. I tried, but most of the cars that really got me excited were foreign (Honda Fit, Mazda 3, Toyota Matrix, etc). While I know Ford has made great strides, overall American manufacturers are still way, way behind on the options for small, fuel-efficient, fun, reliable vehicles. Hopefully by the next time I'm looking it will be different.
posted by fx3000 at 8:23 PM on May 15, 2010

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