What car to purchase for my lifestyle?
June 3, 2010 11:59 AM   Subscribe

I may need to purchase a car in the next month after being carless for 2 years and relying on public transportation. Suggestions needed!

I am in the process of interviewing for a fabulous new job and if it is offered to me, I plan on taking it. However, I live in downtown Boston and the job is out in the 'burbs and is not public transportation accessible. I have been carless for 2 years due to using public transportation to get to my current job (subway, etc.).

Therefore, I will need to buy a car. However, I have no idea what kind of car to get! When I sold my old car (Nissan Sentra - first car out of college) 2 years ago when I moved to town, I took the money and stashed it in it's own high interest savings account, fondly titled "car". Knowing that I would probably need a car in the future, I purposely left it alone to be a future downpayment. So, I have approximately $7k for that. I also was certain to purchase home owner's insurance through my old car insurance company so I could eventually do a bundled deal that will be discounted, so that's all set too. Parking will be on the street and I'm aware of the permit process, so that's squared away as well.

I don't want to break the bank, but I would like a quality car. I'm an almost 30-year old Senior Project Manager in the Biotech industry and am super active/sporty (if that helps at all) - so the car would be for work purposes, but also my weekend escapades (camping, biking, hiking, etc. etc.). I would like for the sticker price of the car to not exceed $20-25k because I would prefer a lower monthly payment. I have excellent credit.

Can you please offer me some car suggestions? Other requirements:
- Needs to be 4-wheel drive for sloppy New England winters (I don't want a truck and can't drive a honkin' big SUV)
- Needs to be able to fit skis in the car
- Needs to be able to either fit my bike in the back, or accommodate a bike rack
- Good gas mileage
- Low on maintenance/easy to maintain

I'm OK with purchasing a pre-owned car, but it needs to be low maintenance and reliable (I have been considering a Saab?). I will be parking this car on the street, so dings, etc. are to be expected.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! :)
posted by floweredfish to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like there's a Subaru Impreza wagon in your future. Doesn't have the best gas mileage of a car that size, but it does have the best gas mileage you're going to get with 4-wheel-drive. You'll be able to get it out the door for well under $20,000 new, but you'd be better off getting an off-lease with some dings considering where you'll be parking it.

Just remember: don't go near the WRX, too many owners abuse 'em, and the insurance rates are crazy. Just get a nice lower-end model.
posted by davejay at 12:01 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

yea go with a Subaru wagon. Impreza hatchback or Outback, 2005-2009. If you use a credit union they should be able to get you a great rate on a loan with that big of a downpayment.

and for the love of god don't buy new, buy a recent model used or coming-off-lease certified preowned. The depreciation & insurance rates on new cars are not worth it IMO, especially if you're going to use this as basic transpo and park it on the street.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:08 PM on June 3, 2010

Subaru Impreza, yes. I would offer you a test drive but ours is a stick.
posted by mkb at 12:11 PM on June 3, 2010

I know you said no SUV, but it sounds like a Honda Element would be just right. Barring that... Subaru. I'd say Forrester for the most bang for your buck.
posted by youcancallmeal at 12:14 PM on June 3, 2010

Congratulations. You align 100% with Subaru's target demographic.
posted by schmod at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2010

Nthing the Subaru Impreza wagon. It's a joy to drive.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2010

I've got an '02 Subaru WRX wagon that I bought new. I don't know what qualifies as "crazy" for insurance rates, but I don't think mine are (or were, when it was newer).

It's a good car. I have stuffed that thing to the gills to go to Burning Man, hauled bricks in it, hauled a daybed on top of it, and had a lot of fun driving it. I can put two bikes (along with all the other sundries needed for a weekend getaway) inside it if I take off the wheels and seatposts. When my wife and I decided to pare down to one car, we decided to keep the WRX because it felt safer than her Honda Civic.

All-wheel drive is great. ABS braking has saved my bacon a couple times. Low center of gravity makes it feel better on rainy roads. Solid build: after 8 years, the car has developed one minor squeak in the dash. Gas mileage is OK but not great. High 20s on the highway, low 20s in town. Low-end torque is poor, so you need to gun it away from lights (part of the poor in-town mileage). This was addressed in '03 or '04 with a slightly bigger engine.

Imprezas were significantly redesigned a couple years ago, and the wagon became a hatchback. I suspect the usable cargo space is about the same, but I'd check it out.
posted by adamrice at 12:26 PM on June 3, 2010

I will just chime in with the pro-Subaru crowd. I bought new, but I've heard only good things about buying them used. Reliability is supposed to be top-notch, and I've had really no problems. The all-wheel drive is great in the winter, and if you get an Outback, the high ground clearance is awesome in the snow and rugged areas you might drive through in your outdoor adventures. Outfitting with a bike rack and carrying skis should be fine. I park mine outside, and the exterior is holding up OK.

I'll add that I've had a number of compliments on the interior. The finish on Subarus is very expensive looking.
posted by TrarNoir at 12:42 PM on June 3, 2010

If I was in your position I would get a used Subaru WRX with a roof rack that fits skis and bikes.
posted by nestor_makhno at 12:43 PM on June 3, 2010

Response by poster: WOW - Thanks everyone! Apparently I need to get myself to a Subaru dealer! :)
posted by floweredfish at 12:52 PM on June 3, 2010

Nope. Get a Toyota Rav4.
posted by tra at 1:18 PM on June 3, 2010

datapoint to all those who said Impreza or WRX: I've had 2 Suby wagons (an '02 Impreza TS and an '05 Legacy), and mr. lfr has an '05 WRX sti (the quasi-rallye car). We are currently looking into replacing my Sad Volvo Sedan of Fail with an Outback of recent vintage.

Both of us are pretty serious amateur bike racers (on the realm of ~50 events/season) and we Nordic and DH ski in winter. Many, if not most, Subys come with factory racks installed which is a serious cash and space savings when you're talking gear haulage potential.

We live in Boulder, Colorado, so we know for snow and crap weather. They don't plow secondaries out here, for the most part. We also camp, hike and MTB in remote areas in where the AWD really comes into play. won't argue the diffs between 4WD and AWD here, it's enough beanplating geekery that I've already commented twice in-thread...

I can tell you from personal experience that the WRX is definitely higher in the insurance rates, especially for certain demographics. Also, and depending on the WRX in question, it was likely driven hard and/or to death by a twentysomething young feller like the mister (was) when he got his, so I would definitely avoid buying used WRXen.

Also, be aware that the "Impreza" wagon/hatchback has morphed significantly in body style over the past decade.

Also, also: if you truly need high clearance, go Outback. There's a lot of stuff the mister has to pick through with the WRX. Granted, much of that is due to the sport suspension (it's purpose-built to go fast, not so much over big rocks n stuff).

the plain Legacy wagons from a few years ago are bigger, less expensive, less "sporty" and don't have quite as much clearance as the Outback. They're also a bit rarer and thus maybe hard to find, but could overall represent the best bang for the buck in a medium-to-large wagon type.

FWIW I've driven Foresters both of older and recent make. I don't personally like the handling compared to the wagons; it's more "truck" than "car" to me. They don't have much more internal space than an Outback unless you're planning to haul crated Great Danes or something. They're narrower and taller, both of which seem to compromise the handling a bit.

So yea, I know for Subarus. Pretty much everyone in Boulder drives them.

last bit of anecdata: Saabs don't tend to do well out here reliability-wise for whatever reason, and they're hella expensive to fix. I've got a few bike racer mates who've had them in the past and since switched to either Honda SUVs or Subaru wagons.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:29 PM on June 3, 2010

The "Outback Sport" variant of the Impreza is supposed to have a higher ground clearance.
posted by mkb at 1:34 PM on June 3, 2010

Sometimes you need to be pushed in a different direction. Subaru is an awfully predictable choice. Not saying it's not the *smart* choice, but, good lord, the cars you can get if you're up for some adventure!

AWD is a marketing ploy. You're adding rotating parts to cope with your inability to modulate the throttle like people did for the first two hundred years of automotive history. Snow tires will make any car work just fine in the snow. My wife's front wheel drive VW with snow tires will kick the butt of any Subaru running all-season tires as soon as it gets snowy. Really, how often is it that snowy anyway? A few days a year. Choosing AWD is like deciding you're going to wear combat boots every single day. Calling a non-WRX subaru fun to drive is like calling virginity fun. YOU CLEARLY HAVEN'T EXPERIENCED THE OTHER OPTIONS AVAILABLE TO YOU. Even the WRX is boring unless you're willing to hurt it.

Look, if you want to live in dullsville, just go for an Accord or Camry in wagon form. I also kinda dig the aforementioned Element for this purpose. Honda and Toyota are the gods of trouble free motoring, with Honda being a manufacturer of somewhat soulful appliances and Toyota being a bit more of the "let's not bother the driver with the sensation of driving" school. My dad always tells me "no one has ever had to apologize to his wife for buying a Toyota" and he's right.

But...c'mon, you're young without kids. You have some money. You live in a city with some of the most interesting independent old-school grease-smeared mechanics on earth. So what if the car spends a little time in the shop? Carpool when it's down for the count. You really want to go with boring when you're going to be stuck in the thing for 2 hours a day? What's that all about? You do realize you can get a used late-90's Mercedes or BMW for 10%-20% of its original cost now. We're talking REAL cars here for pennies on the dollar. Hell, go whole hog and get TWO interesting cars and drive them on alternate days.

Here's your alternate universe:
1) Early 1990's Miata and late 1990's BMW 540i wagon. You get a fun little car that's reliable, easy to park and gets awesome mileage AND you get a German beast that will get you to the White Mountains faster than you can say "it didn't feel like I was going that fast, officer." You can get both cars together for about $10K. Maintenance costs will be totally fine until something interesting happens to either the Miata's crankshaft or the BMW's cooling system or transmission.

2) Early 1980's Mercedes 300TD wagon and a Porsche 944S. Run biodiesel during the week and be the envy of your greenie friends. On the weekend, drive your Porsche and enjoy some straight up 1980's motoring bliss. Both cars together will run you about $8K. Maintenance costs will be tolerable if you're used to training for an Ironman.

3) Late 90's/Early 00's BMW 740i with a roof rack and a ten year old civic. Nothing says IT'S OK THAT YOU HATE ME BECAUSE I AM BETTER THAN YOU like a $100K (2010 dollar equivalent) 280hp uber-sedan. When you're tired of the dirty looks, drive the civic.

I could come up with ideas like this all day.

Just read through Bring A Trailer's or German Cars For Sale's archives and tell me you honestly want a Subaru. I DARE YOU.
posted by pjaust at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you want a Subaru Outback.
posted by andrewraff at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2010

I agree with the first half of pjaust's post: Buy a nice FWD car for everyday driving (even in the winter) and rent or borrow a friend's SUV for ski trips. I drove a FWD Acura in Boston suburbs for years, snow tires in the winter, no problem.

DO NOT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD BUY A GERMAN CAR if you're looking for troublefree motoring. Current VW Passat owner, former Mercedes owner, speaking from experience. Fun to drive but they break a lot, and parts and service are expensive. I would not recommend a car from the 1980s or earlier. Airbags = good. ABS = good. With a 1980s car you get neither (OK, Mercedes had airbags in 1987, you can start there.)
posted by dudeman at 2:04 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, as a cheap alternative, a first or second generation Forester is a fantastic bet -- it'll be beat up, sure, but more room inside (despite being on an Impreza platform) and better looking in my opinion (but I like goofy looking things.) Finding used ones shouldn't be difficult. Avoid third generation or later as they're much too SUV-like (whereas first and second are like driving a really tall car.)

And just for fun, open the hood of a first or second generation Forester. Just try. It's heavy, super heavy, then you get it open and see a big "FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES" metal plate underneath and you think "oh yes, yes, this is a solid car that will run a long time." And it will.

note: I don't actually drive a subaru, and am not a fanboi of them, but I have friends like you who do and are
posted by davejay at 2:35 PM on June 3, 2010

I wouldn't trade my Volvo XC70 Wagon for any reasonable alternative.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:43 PM on June 3, 2010

A friend just got a Ford Fusion after researching extensively for a lot of the same requirements as yours, just not the sports wagon capability. The fact that the car is hybrid is important to him. With the probability of increases in gas prices, this might be a good thing for you. The Fusion has a lot of excellent technology which my friend enjoys.
posted by Anitanola at 6:08 PM on June 3, 2010

I've lived in Boston for 15 years and haven't had a problem with a 2WD car.

But my wife swears by the AWD in her A4.

Except for the AWD, I think the Mazda 3 hatch is a winner.

Get a subscription to Consumer Reports website so that you can look up fuel economy and reliability figures.
posted by reddot at 7:11 PM on June 3, 2010

Subies are great but if you want something a bit less expensive what about the Pontiac Vibe. Lot's of room, reasonably priced and when the time comes, not too expensive to repair either.

Also another vote for the Honda Element.. I know it's an SUV but my sister's is as good on gas as my Acura and it's small enough that it parks just as easily as the Acura too. Hands down the best camping vehicle I've ever used.

Good luck ...lot's of great idea's so far!
posted by Weaslegirl at 8:20 PM on June 3, 2010

There are AWD versions of the Vibe and its cousin the Toyota Matrix, I believe. Both cheaper than the Subaru. (Zipcar has Matrices and Imprezas if you are a ZipCar member and want to test drive some)
posted by mkb at 6:32 AM on June 4, 2010

« Older Oliver Twist and Shout   |   How do we buy a house with a lot of educational... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.