Used car suggestions, which should I choose?
March 9, 2012 6:39 PM   Subscribe

UsedCarFilter: Shopping for a small inexpensive hatchback, <$10k. Have a few models in mind, but looking for more info

I've been car-free for the last two years and have generally enjoyed it. However, now for various reasons (mostly work-related), taking the bus isn't cutting it anymore and I need to get a car. More than likely it won't be getting too many miles, some occasional commuting but primarily just weekend errands and the like.

Last car I owned was a 2004 Corolla. Great car, never had any issues (and this was back when I commuted 70+ miles/day). Not really looking for another Corolla - would prefer something a bit sportier this time but would still like something halfway reliable that isn't going to constantly be in the shop.

Looking for something small, preferably a hatchback. Aiming for ~$10k or less if possible (so I don't have to take out a loan).

One more twist: I'm moving overseas next year, most likely to Central Europe, and plan to take the car with me. Shipping/registration overseas isn't an issue, but I'd like to get something that can be serviced & replacement parts can be obtained.

What I'm considering so far: 2007 VW Rabbit, Toyota Matrix, Hyundai Accent.

Does anyone have experiences with any of these models? What did you think? So far the Rabbit is my top pick - I like the design (small/compact), it's fun to drive, presumably easier to get replacement parts in Europe, gas mileage is so-so but then again I don't plan to drive it very frequently. But I don't know much about VW's reliability - how well do they hold up? The Matrix also looks promising, but I don't know how popular it is outside of the US. Also open to suggestions of similar models that might be a good choice. Thanks!
posted by photo guy to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know much about VW's reliability - how well do they hold up?

I've been told by different sources, including a mechanic, that VWs are great until they go out of warranty, at which point it becomes a labor of love to keep them in working order.

A 2007 Honda Fit is also in your price range and is the kind of hatchback you're looking for.
posted by deanc at 6:42 PM on March 9, 2012

2007 Ford Focus ZX5 would fit the bill. I drive one, bought new, and at 91k miles it just had its first issue (stuck throttle body). Otherwise bulletproof and fun to drive.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:48 PM on March 9, 2012

The Matrix is basically a Corolla mechanically, or so I am lead to understand, which may make part availability less of an issue. My wife drives a 2004 Matrix which has been 100% reliable even though it's now over 150,000 miles. Very spacious and pretty fun to drive.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:56 PM on March 9, 2012

If you want sporty, get a used Honda Civic over the Matrix. Compared to my wife's 2007 Civic 5 speed sedan that I drove fairly often, the same year Matrix that I owned was a dog (some of that was manual vs. automatic, but the suspension in the Honda was head and shoulders above the Toyota). If you want more space, the Fit is a decent choice as well, and keeps the relatively sporty drive quality.
posted by exogenous at 7:01 PM on March 9, 2012

Thirding the Fit. I have one, 3 of my neighbors drive Fits, and two of my coworkers do too. No one has reported major problems or complaints. Gas mileage is not quite as good as my old Civic hatchback, but good nonetheless. Fun to drive, and the interior feels really roomy for a compact. The seat configuration makes it a bit more useful and versatile than the usual grocery getter/errand car.

Also, they were introduced in Europe (they're really popular there) at least 5 years before they came to the US, so my guess is that service and repair will be a cinch.

Used cars in general, and Hondas in particular are sort of overpriced right now. I bought mine a few months ago and had to search a bit to find one under $10,000, but they're out there.
posted by Knicke at 7:05 PM on March 9, 2012

Response by poster: A Fit would be ideal, except that pickings are slim and I haven't been able to find one under $15k. I think Knicke has a point, it does seem to be something of a seller's market right now.

Exogenous, good to know, esp as I might go with a Civic if bad comes to worse. Starting to think the Matrix might be the best option for me - unlike the Fit, I've been able to find plenty of used ones for sale around here.

The Matrix is basically a Corolla mechanically, or so I am lead to understand, which may make part availability less of an issue.

You're right, I got curious and did some poking around - the Matrix is only sold in North America, but the European-marketed Toyota Auris is virtually identical and shares the same Corolla platform as the Matrix.
posted by photo guy at 8:57 PM on March 9, 2012

The Matrix is also a Pontiac Vibe; the only difference is the name on the front. I've had my 2007 Vibe for three years, now, and the only expenses have been routine. The Vibe seems to be about $500.00 cheaper than the Matrix.
posted by faceonmars at 9:21 PM on March 9, 2012

Something to keep in mind when you move to Europe is that they have a much, much broader selection of this kind of car than we do here in the US. And even cars that are called the same thing here and in Europe are not necessarily the same car, and almost certainly don't have the same options. World cars aren't really made anymore. Some maybe get a an old beater here for the next year than buy something in Europe from the selection their. There are lots of cars that are still cheap if you are willing to go more than 10 years old-Ford Rangers, although not anywhere near what you said you want, are great for this. Usually cheap, reliablish and easy to sell on. Any kind of Honda/toyota will be fine as well.

I can think of several cars, most sporty hot hatchbacks that are available in Europe but are not here-ford RS, Honda Civic Type R, Peugeot, Fiat, Alfa, the list goes on.
posted by bartonlong at 10:01 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with baronlong's sentiment re: the selection in Europe.

I know this doesn't answer your question, but is there any way you can hold off on the big purchase now and buy a car once your in Europe? (You know, buy a beater for your last year in the states, sell it for a slight loss, and then re-buy something more permanent once you've relocated.)

Even if you have amazing, low-price/free shipping connections and an easy way to get past all of the bureaucracy and regulations involved in registering a car out-of-country, it seems like purchasing after the move may be a better choice in the long run, considering the limited options in the US that fit your requirements.

(/Speaking from the experience of multiple moves between the US and Japan.)
posted by Kevtaro at 11:17 PM on March 9, 2012

I drive a Hyundai Accent hatchback, and so does my mother (same year, even). Do you drive stick? Both of ours are manual transmissions, and they're awesome little cars -- very fun to drive, especially in city traffic.

If you don't drive stick, I'd make sure the automatic has enough power for you. I've rented a Kia Rio/Hyundai Accent with an automatic transmission a few times for work, and while it's still a nice car, the automatic makes driving it in heavy traffic a little harder. (That being said, it's still better than most comparable cars when driven with automatic transmission, esp. the Toyota Yaris or the Aveo, and I would say comparable to something like a Corolla/Matrix. I haven't driven a Fit for comparison for obvious scarcity reasons.)

It has also been a reliable car -- a couple minor warranty items, but they were truly minor and dealt with during regular oil change/service appointments. I'm in the US, so I can't really speak to parts availability. I did previously own a (admittedly much older) VW, and the Hyundai has been a precision machine of reliability in comparison.
posted by pie ninja at 5:28 AM on March 10, 2012

The Mazda 3 (if you haven't already looked at it) will be a little less expensive than a comparable Corolla or Honda, and it's loads of fun to drive.
posted by COD at 6:25 AM on March 10, 2012

Since you're considering the Matrix, have you looked at the Toyota Yaris?
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 7:05 AM on March 10, 2012

zThe Mazda 3 and Focus hatch are both going to be more car per dollar than something from Honda or Toyota. The 3 hatch (or the pior iteration as the Protege 5) is a damn fun car.

I also enjoy toyota's cube shaped vehicle. The Scio xB. With a manual transmission it's a surprisingly entertaining drive.

I've owned 12 VWs. I would avoid them like the plague. Dollar for dollar, a ~2000 BMW 323 wagon would be a better choice than a VW.

If you don't need the utility of a hatch and want fun, get a Miata. As reliable as an anvil and as fun as skydiving. I'll always have one in my garage (unless I ever have cash for an Elise or Cayman). The Mazda2 is slightly out of your price range, but worth stretching for if you want entertainment.
posted by pjaust at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! After shopping around this weekend, I ended up going with a 2006 Mazda 3. Slightly higher mileage than the other cars I looked at, but is otherwise in great shape and seems like a reliable model and (and yes, it is a lot of fun to drive!)
posted by photo guy at 2:01 PM on March 11, 2012

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