Cheap reliable car for Boston-area parents of infant?
June 10, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Please help me choose a first car (and ideally a Boston-area dealer). Baby coming late August, we live in Cambridge (off-street parking), wife's new to driving. We want: baby-safe, reliable, envirofriendlyesque, comfortable, good trunk space, city-savvy. Used is fine.

I'd really appreciate any help you can give, folks - I'm at sea here. I'm looking for (1) a trustworthy Boston-area car dealer, used is fine; (2) the right car for our soon-baby-having family (the baby is the reason we're car-shopping). Our requirements/preferences/predilections in a little more detail:

At age 31, neither of us has owned a car since high school. Wife's preference: friendly, safe, comforting automatic-transmission car, and "nothing too big" (i.e. not some looming monstrous SUV). Cool with me. We can count on the equivalent of one decent city salary plus unpredictable freelance dough.

We currently bike/walk everywhere we can, including (gladly) work; 90% of our driving is in Boston. (Oh those Boston winters...) But a couple years from now we might be out in the 'burbs?

Gotta get that car seat in and out easily - and use it safely.

Hybrids appeal (oil-guilt-wise) if otherwise unproblematic. (Are hybrids worth the fuss? Is there fuss?) Gas mileage matters, regardless.

We'd prefer to be able to make the occasional trip to Target for biggish items without needing to borrow a friend's SUV/van. A comfortable driver's seat is a real boon (we both tend to have back troubles). Aesthetics are irrelevant. A little pickup would be nice. Saving money for Little Junior's college fund would be very nice.

Thanks for reading: DESTROY ME NOW WITH WISDOM.
posted by waxbanks to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We just bought a 2009 Honda Fit. Good mileage, good safety ratings, good reliability, very versatile interior, decent price. (We actually got a great price, but that's another question.) We don't live in the city, but I'm sure it would work well there.
posted by jon1270 at 12:10 PM on June 10, 2010

I'd recommend the Prius. Easy to get baby seats in and out. No fuss. Good mileage. Automatic. Also, the back seat folds down and splits, so you can fold down only one side if you want. With a Prius, you can move moderately large objects. IKEA flat packs are no trouble.
posted by zippy at 12:11 PM on June 10, 2010

Hondas are where it's at. Even if you weren't to get a hybrid, I'd recommend a Civic. They last forever, they're very sturdy and they're well designed to maximize interior and trunk room in a small car. Some have back seats that flip down to let you put stuff all the way through from the trunk. Bonus: the solid build works surprisingly well in snow and slush.
posted by Madamina at 12:12 PM on June 10, 2010

I think you'll get a limited response here. Have you browsed around for new and used cars that appeal to you? And plenty of reviews there once you narrow it down.

Anyway, we love our MINI S. I'd say look for a 4 door though if you'll be popping the babies in back seat.
posted by artdrectr at 12:16 PM on June 10, 2010

Response by poster: In case it's not clear: by 'a little pickup' I mean 'a little get up and go' as opposed to 'a tiny pickup truck'(!!). :)
posted by waxbanks at 12:16 PM on June 10, 2010

Response by poster: Madamina - d'ya know, does the flexibility of the Civic's back seat at all compromise the safety of the baby seat?
posted by waxbanks at 12:17 PM on June 10, 2010

just bought a (used, 6k miles) 2010 ford escape hybrid, and so far, I totally recommend it. we were definitely keeping safety & near-future child-rearing in mind when doing our research. it's the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market (30/34 mpg) & it's definitely on the smaller side of SUVs. the bells & whistles are fab -- even the seats are made of recycled materials. the pricing is definitely competitive. we were in the market for a prius right as the toyotashitstorm emerged, and I'm so glad we went for this car instead.
posted by changeling at 12:17 PM on June 10, 2010

I recommend Subaru!
posted by dustoff at 12:19 PM on June 10, 2010

I'll third the Honda (and the Fit).. can't say how they are in the snow but I had no problems with a '93 Prelude on all season tires over a three winters in Maine. Boston winters aren't that bad - it's the horrible drivers.
posted by mbatch at 12:21 PM on June 10, 2010

If it does, in fact, have back seats that flip down completely (we owned a '93 Civic and currently have a 2000 Accord that doesn't have flippable seats), I wouldn't worry about them. I have never personally heard of anyone having safety problems with flip-down back seats in any model of car, and that includes those in station wagons where the seats don't attach to a stable bar behind them.

The thing you should watch for on SUVs is the wheel base and center of gravity. Wider is typically better for stability.
posted by Madamina at 12:25 PM on June 10, 2010

Nthing the Honda Fit. Don't let the small size dissuade you: it can hold an amazing amount of stuff. We live in-town in Portland, Or, and it's our only car for a family of four and a (small) dog.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:29 PM on June 10, 2010

Oh, also, the Fit has more cargo space than the Civic.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:29 PM on June 10, 2010

Do you plan to put a jogging stroller in the back?
posted by k8t at 12:33 PM on June 10, 2010

Video tour of the Fit on YouTube

We got the sport model, automatic transmission, which has paddle shifters that let you drive it like a stick if you feel like it. It's quite a zippy little car. The base model's transmission shifts more conservatively to save gas, but accelerates more slowly.

Note that the 2009 model is about 4" longer than the '07/'08 models, so a bit more legroom and cargo space.
posted by jon1270 at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2010

Another vote for the Fit. We loved ours, and I damn near cried when we had to let it go. Flexible, spacious, efficient (we got ~34-38 mpg, depending on the road), and great safety ratings. We'd purchased manual transmission for that extra pick-up you're talking about, but it goes on beautifully as an automatic, too.

We currently own an Insight. Not as comfy or roomy, doesn't handle as well at higher speeds, but still a good little car. ~40 mpg, no fuss at all.

We love dealing with Honda.
posted by moira at 12:35 PM on June 10, 2010

VW sportwagen diesel (TDI) gets around 40 mpg (often compared with hybrids) and fits our britax carseat, our camping gear, and our city livin'. Definitely worth considering.
posted by rabidsegue at 12:39 PM on June 10, 2010

I have owned both an '05 Forester and and '05 prius. Both are really great cars. Safe, reliable, good gas mileag-30 in the Forester, 45 in the prius. We were in a high speed collision in the prius when I was 6 mos pg-my 3 year old and I walked away. The forester would be quite a bit cheaper. It will also be cheaper to repair, I'd think.

Consumer Reports lists reliable used cars by budget-that's a great place to start.
posted by purenitrous at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2010

i have a 2008 mazda 3, waffled between it and the fit for awhile and went with the m3. a coworker got the same car after being in mine and she recently had a baby and she's very happy with it, it fits everything she needs. another friend bought the hatchback version after being in my car. i have the sedan but the hatchback version may fit your needs for tons of space. even the sedan has a surprising amount of room- HUGE trunk and even the glove compartment is unusually roomy. i get good mileage and the car wasn't too expensive new so used you can probably get a great deal... 3 years after buying it and it still runs perfectly.
posted by raw sugar at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2010

My in-laws live near Boston and got a Honda Fit and love it. They had a 3-year-old at the time and find it easy to get him in and out of the car. They say it's just fine in the winter, too. So, essentially, nthing the Fit.
posted by bedhead at 12:43 PM on June 10, 2010

Also amusing.

(I guessed this might be possible.)
posted by jon1270 at 12:47 PM on June 10, 2010

I have been very happy with my Ford Focus (it's 10 years old now and still runs great) for my little family in an urban environment. It gets good gas mileage, excellent safety ratings, is inexpensive to maintain, etc. It has been perfect with the baby. With TWO babies I think it would get a little crowded, but I have driven that Focus for 10 years in all kinds of weather and environments, it can haul a surprising amount of stuff. We liked it so much we got a second one (we're a two-car family), which we bought used for under $10,000 (that's my husband's, his is 8 years old, also little maintenance, good reliability). My husband is 6'4" and drives it comfortably and I'm 5'2" and drive it comfortably and that's hard to find!

I have the sedan, he has the hatchback; I swear my sedan can haul MORE (the trunk is surprisingly huge), but the hatchback can definitely haul BIGGER things.

(Also, virtually all sedans have back seats that flip down and, no, it doesn't compromise the baby seat safety. Many flip in two pieces -- "left and middle seats" and "right seat" so you can leave the baby seat in the middle, flip down the right, and haul 2x4s even with the baby in the car!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2010

I came to vote for the Mazda 3 too. Four doors, lots of room in the trunk when you fold down the back seats (and you can fold down one or the other, so you can leave a baby seat installed), with lots of options, and it's very zippy -- I was deciding between it and a Civic, and the 3 is way more fun to drive. Gas mileage has been about 28 city, 32 highway pretty reliably. Haven't taken it in for anything more than routine maintenance since I got it in Feb 2007 (though I do have to replace an O2 sensor now, but I'm doing that myself). Comes in a hatchback version if that's your thing.
posted by olinerd at 12:58 PM on June 10, 2010

Oh, and FWIW regarding Boston driving: the 3 does very well fitting into the tiny parallel spots in Beacon Hill; it's very maneuverable. However, the stock tires that come with them SUCK on the snow. The car can fishtail, and I can't get up my steep street's hill if there's even a half inch of new snow on the ground. A coworker also has a 3 and got some Dunlop all-seasons that he's been extremely pleased with in snowy conditions, and I'm also upgrading this summer to a similar set. So just FYI.
posted by olinerd at 1:01 PM on June 10, 2010

We have a Mazda5 and love it. Think of it as a mini-minivan. Plenty of room for the kids, the third row folds down for great "trunk space" and it is quite comfortable. It is based on the Mazda 3 body so it works well in the cities. The initial pick up is a little lacking, but once you get cruising you can really move!
posted by brownbeards at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2010

Be sure to check out the Subaru Forester. This was just redesigned recently, but something in the 2005-2008 model year range would be a great vehicle to consider. Fits all of your criteria!
posted by belau at 3:39 PM on June 10, 2010

Wow. I hope you are not seriously considering a Honda Fit if you have a baby.

You will need a bigger car than a Ford Focus, Prius, Honda Fit or a Mazda 3 or 5 etc if you have a kid. Very dangerous if you have an accident.

Here's bigger but not monstrous, but still really safe:

Volvo CX70 (aka the Cross Country)

Saab 9-3 SportCombi

Mercedes-Benz R350

Audi RS6 Avant

And the Lexus RX 350 is not a huge SUV but it's very safe and nicely-appointed. My girlfriend just bought a 2010 and I have driven it. It's a great entry-level crossover/SUV.

Please do not buy a small car.
posted by L'OM at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2010

Wow. I hope you are not seriously considering a Honda Fit if you have a baby.

Crash Test Results
NHTSA Ratings
Passenger: 5 stars
Driver: 5 stars
Side Impact Front: 5 stars
Side Impact Rear: 4 stars
Rollover Rating: 4 stars

posted by jon1270 at 6:27 PM on June 10, 2010

Another vote for the Prius. I don't own one, but I did consider it and have researched them a bit. The back seats are very roomy for a car in that size-class, which is definitely a boon when you have to install a baby seat, those things are HUGE! It fits all your requirements, so at the very least you should go to a toyota dealer and check one out. Don't get talked into any deals, just look and sit inside, and leave.

I have heard lots and lots of rave reviews of the Fit and its cargo space in particular. However, I will say that it is too small for my personal comfort level with a baby in there. Safety ratings tell you a lot, but size does also have some bearing on safety. I would look for the sweet spot of good crash test ratings, and not too tiny, but not too big either.
posted by Joh at 11:09 PM on June 10, 2010

Best answer: Late to the thread, but it seems no one answered your Boston-area dealer question. If you do go the Honda route, I got mine (09 CRV, which might also be worth your consideration; we have one kiddie and it's a great fit) at Kelly in Lynn after emailing every Honda dealer within 100 miles. Emailing was worth it because it made it easy to weed out the ones who wouldn't talk price unless you went to the dealership for the whole "I'll talk to my manager" song and dance. Kelly simply emailed me a detailed, no-haggle "bid," good for a couple days, showing price, tax, title, dealer fee--everything. And it was $600 or $700 lower than all the other dealers, so it was worth the drive to the Northshore.
posted by dust of the stars at 1:00 PM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice everyone - we're Edmunds-browsing, Fit-assessing, Mazda-eyeing, and (apropos of nothing) taking swimming lessons. My god, the pain! But as always, y'all have made it a little better. Thanks much!
posted by waxbanks at 6:17 PM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: Final update - we bought a new Fit, are quite happy with it, and couldn't have done it without y'all. Well, strictly speaking that's a total lie. But you know what I mean. Thanks MeFi!!
posted by waxbanks at 5:04 PM on July 21, 2010

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