Yamaha FJR 1300 Out, Toyota Prius In
May 11, 2012 9:52 AM   Subscribe

CarFilter: 4 doors, hatchback, 30MGP (highway), manual. Go!

I have a previous question about deciding on which sport touring motorcycle to buy, but my wife wants something "practical" and "with airbags" and "can pick up our six year old with", whatever that means.

I asked her what she wants out of a second vehicle, and she's said she values the following:

- Hatchback. This is nice because we go on road trips and bring a dog, so the dog can ride in the back and the kid has the whole back seat to herself, plus luggage.
- Gas Mileage. We'd like at least 30MPG on the highway. If it's close (like 27MPG) but ridiculously fun to drive, I could overlook that.
- Manual Transmission. She wants to stick with a stick, but I'd accept an automatic. This isn't a deal breaker to us, but if the car comes with manual, great.
- Under $15,000US. This means we'll be buying something used and that probably doesn't have a warranty.
- Reliable. I'm going to be driving this car about 400 miles a week over the next year, so I need it to be able to handle that with ease. I'm comfortable with doing my own maintenance like brake pads/rotors, oil changes, coolant flushes, starter/alternator, but anything involving tearing into the engine or transmission might be a bit over my head (maybe not, depending on how patient I am that particular day). Car repair days make me curse like a sailor.

If I can't decide not to get a motorcycle, I'd like to install a digital receiver and decent speakers. Anything else that makes the car cool to drive would be a plus, since 0-60 in under 4 seconds isn't going to be happening now.

So what cars should we be looking at? Of the cars listed below, what should I know?

Ford Focus: I've heard Ford has come a long way as far as reliability goes, and I'm willing to give them a shot. I like the cool gadgety stuff that's on the dash, but maybe that will come out when I replace the radio? I don't know.

Volvo C30: I really, really like this car, but finding one in decent condition for $15,000 is probably going to be a problem. I understand it shares a lot with the Focus.

VW Passat/Golf/GTI: These are all nice. I really like the sportiness of the GTI. My wife really likes the practicality of the Passat wagon, but I think it's only the very recent model years that are getting 30+ MPG.

Honda Fit: Nope. She hates it. I don't know why.

Prius: Sigh. I guess so. I mean, 40+MPG is awesome. Reducing our carbon footprint is desired. It's so ugly. I was initially very concerned with the price of having to replace the batteries, but from what I've read, they're designed to last the life of the car. If I put a sweet enough sound system in this car I'd be happy.

Hyundai Sonata: I like that Hyundais have 100k warranties. That's about all I like, but I'm not very familiar with them.

Ford Escape Hybrid: I know nothing about this. Looks like a small SUV/large crossover. I think the Matrix is a crossover, and I like everything about the Matrix, so maybe I'll like this? Not sure if I can find one in our price range.

Right now we're driving a 2003 Toyota Matrix XRS. It's a great car, but we need a second vehicle to make picking the kid up from school a bit easier. Also, I'll need to commute to school (the 400 miles a week thing) for another year. We used to have a Dodge Neon that was loaned to us for a couple of years, and I hated everything about that car (especially the way the roof pillar perfectly blocked my view when making a left-hand turn).

What do you love/hate about the cars listed above? What other cars should we be looking at?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints to Travel & Transportation (52 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You can get a Nissan Versa for less than $15k. I like mine a lot (although I have automatic but not CVT). Pretty good warranty, and a lot of space for a small car. It's basically a ripoff of the Fit, but I hated driving the fit.
posted by radioamy at 9:55 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason you're not considering the Fiesta?
posted by saladin at 9:56 AM on May 11, 2012

Honda Fit: Nope. She hates it. I don't know why.

Prius: Sigh. I guess so. I mean, 40+MPG is awesome. Reducing our carbon footprint is desired. It's so ugly. I was initially very concerned with the price of having to replace the batteries, but from what I've read, they're designed to last the life of the car. If I put a sweet enough sound system in this car I'd be happy.
Look, one of you hates the Honda and the other hates the Toyota. One of you is going to have to bite the bullet.

Don't discount the Hyundais, which everyone has been saying good things about, lately, and you forgot about the Toyota Yaris,.
posted by deanc at 9:57 AM on May 11, 2012

Definitely check out the Mazda3 hatchback - I have the sedan and it's a great little car. The new model year advertises 40 mpg, but is out of your price range.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:00 AM on May 11, 2012

I also have a Versa, mine has a 6-speed manual. What I love: comfy seats, great visibility, 30mpg, good cargo space. The biggest love: back seats big enough for adults! Mr. Ant is 6'2" and can ride comfortably in the back.

Dislikes: it's a little noisy on the highway, stock steel wheels suck so I put some alloys on.
posted by workerant at 10:01 AM on May 11, 2012

I recently bought a new Subaru Impreza sport hatchback manual for 20k, im sure there must be lightly used ones for 15. It gets a crazy 500miles to a tank, something like 36 on the highway with fulltime awd. Very happy with it.
posted by H. Roark at 10:02 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming the Fiesta's not mentioned because there's not much of a used market for the new generation, and new models are over $15k, even with a manual.

Mazda2/3? Common platform with the Fiesta and Focus, respectively.
posted by holgate at 10:02 AM on May 11, 2012

What about a Subaru Outback or Outback Sport (or even an Impreza wagon, which is basically a hatchback)? The sport is more of a hatchback. They all come in manual I believe, but automatic is more common. The newer imprezas manuals get like 33-36 on the highway. My outback is a 2001 (though an automatic) and I get 27 on the highway. They're AWD and handle well, last forever.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is the Hyundai Accent. I recently purchased a new one that was right around your price point. It's a four door + hatchback, six speed manual and is rated 30 city / 40 hwy, which I've found to be reasonably accurate, and the 100K warranty is bumper-to-bumper.
posted by ndfine at 10:04 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take a look at later model Priuses. Toyota changed the styling in 2010, and they're a lot snazzier now. The old ones really had the whole dome thing going on, but newer ones are a bit more angular.

Problem is that 2010 Priuses sell for closer to $20k than $15k. But I get about 46MPG in mine, on average. Compared to my old Subaru, which got about 25MPG on average, I'm saving more than $100 a month in gas. You'd save more, because you drive more. But that's still like four years to make up the difference in price between a $15k car at 30MPG and a $20k car at 45MPG.

Also: no possible chance of a stick shift. Part of the reason it's efficient is that it has a continuously-variable transmission, i.e., you always get exactly what gear ratio you need. But if you're aggressive about engine braking, you get some of the fun of a gear shift, in that you're constantly switching drive modes.

The Prius isn't a scam. If you own the car for five or more years, it will almost certainly more than pay for any price differential compared to a similar sedan or hatchback. After ten years, mine will have saved me something like $15,000. The reason it won't save the world is that personal cars never accounted for all that much of society's fossil fuel consumption to begin with.
posted by valkyryn at 10:07 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Additionally, I have found that the Hyundai dealers tend to throw in some additional perks that you won't find from other more "established" brands. For instance, on top of the excellent warranty, I also got six years of roadside assistance and free oil changes every 3500 miles.
posted by ndfine at 10:08 AM on May 11, 2012

If you're looking at 2007-2011 models, the American Focus was not the same platform as the rest-of-the-world Focus.

The non-US Focus, which is pretty widely acclaimed, is the same platform as the Volvos you mention and the Mazda 3.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have had a 2007 VW GTI for the last 90,000 miles and it's been great. Everyone comments about how much roomier the back seat is than they'd expect. Mine is a 2-door with the DSG, but you should be able to find a 4-door with the manual. If your list were all of my choices, I'd get the GTI again. As it is, my next car may just be a newer GTI, or maybe a new BMW 3-series wagon (after the new one comes out).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2012

I have a Scion XD that I really like -- it's got a decent backseat for kids, gets about 32 mpg, and has a great sound system. I wouldn't call it fun to drive, though...

Have also owned a Hyundai (elantra in my case) and it was awesome right up to the 100k mile mark, at which point it fell apart.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:16 AM on May 11, 2012

I love my Mazda3 hatchback. Love it.
posted by misskaz at 10:19 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cooper Mini? Very fun to drive and comes with an excellent sound system.
posted by carmicha at 10:20 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a 2002 Ford Focus and I love it. Ten years in, I have only had to take it in once, to get the thermostat replaced. Oh, and once or twice I've had to replace a tail light, and once the check engine light went on but it turned out that it was just the gas cap wasn't on tight, so those don't really count.

I rear-ended someone in that car two years ago when I was 8 months pregnant, car would have been totaled but for the relatively low miles on it, major front crumple. I felt practically NO impact -- the car took all the shock. It was amazing. And after the body work, it still works like nothing happened. I get 28-29mpg in mixed city and highway driving. On long car trips, all highway, I'd say it's about 34mpg or so.

Love it, love it, love it. You might want to look at the station wagon version if your dog is big, though.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:26 AM on May 11, 2012

GTI or Subaru Impreza.
posted by fshgrl at 10:28 AM on May 11, 2012

Just coming in to second the Hyundai Accent - I'm averaging around 32MPG, but I'm not as gentle around town as I might be. On the open road it gets much better. Pretty close to your price point brand new, well equipped, and not un-fun to drive.
posted by pupdog at 10:29 AM on May 11, 2012

My Kia Soul gets about 28mpg on my mostly-highway commute. The base-model manual starts at $13900 new (the + model manual starts at 16300 new, but should be available a lot cheaper used). It's an IHS top safety pick, handles fairly well (not a lot of power though), and it's way bigger on the inside than you'd think from looking at it. They DO have an audio upgrade package (light-up speakers, woo!), but I think it's only available on the automatic models.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:29 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have the latest generation Scion xB and absolutely love driving it. I have the 5spd trans and get 27mpg on the highway if I keep it below 70mph. It has lots of room, a great stereo and enough power to get me up and down the highways in the San Bernardino Mountains. My only complaint is thew amount of road noise at highway speed, but that seems to be inherent in the small cars of its class, less than the Honda Fit or Nissan Versa, but still noticeable.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:31 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Under $15,000? If you can crank that up just a smidge I'd say for sure the Kia Soul. There are four in my parking lot of about 200 cars right now and everyone LOVES them.
posted by tilde at 10:38 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and from what I've heard talking about them, the 2012 Souls get about more 4mpg than the 2011, but I never followed up on that.

If you are going to go hybrid, don't go used. UNLESS it's a Hyundai and you have in *writing* that the lifetime battery warranty IS valid AND transferable to you.
posted by tilde at 10:40 AM on May 11, 2012

Remember that 25->35mpg is only a few hundred dollars per year for the average driver/family. No reason to waste money, but definitely worth remembering that a +5k jump for a few mpg or a newer car negates the benefit - the Prius is a prime example.

Also, as much as I disliked the Fit (and I'm a habitual Honda/Acura owner), tons of my friends have them and after seeing them on the track (!) I'm actually convinced that it's a great car. I'd buy one if there was an AWD version.
posted by kcm at 10:41 AM on May 11, 2012

Thirding the Hyundai Accent. Good little car and lots of room with the hatch. I'm on my second Accent (bought this one brand new and have had it for 7 years with no problems at all) and I'm averaging city and highway 36MPG.
posted by barc0001 at 10:41 AM on May 11, 2012

If I needed a hatchback, the Kia Soul, recommended by several others, would be at the top of my list. I have a 2010 Kia Forte Koup, and I love it. I'm very impressed with Kia's build-quality and styling. They have come a long, long way in the last few years.
posted by The Deej at 10:43 AM on May 11, 2012

You can get into a new 2012 Ford Fiesta with stick for a little more than $15K. Factor in a warranty that will virtually eliminate repair costs for years and you're more than making up from going a bit over your desired limit. Reliability is solid, gets 38 MPG highway, reviews are positive, and the new global design (based on the European Fiesta and essentially the same everywhere in the world) is pretty slick.
posted by bassomatic at 10:44 AM on May 11, 2012

Speaking on the VWs: The GTI (a turbo) takes premium gas, so although it may get a better MPG, it'll cost you more than a car that gets less fuel economy. Fun as hell to drive though. I had my '02 for 9 years, and I miss it terribly. I now drive a 2011 Golf, and the fuel economy bites relatively. Probably because it's a 5 cylinder, but I'm not nearly as happy. The build quality isn't the same either. Maybe the '05?-2010s Mk5 series Golf's are better, but i'm not as impressed with the Mk6s.
posted by cgg at 10:50 AM on May 11, 2012

Popping in to 4th (?) the Kia Soul. I bought a 2010, then gave it to my wife when we bought a 2005 Forester. She and I both love it, it's got lots of a room for a small car and people love it. Good gas mileage, even better on the newer model years, I hear.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2012

New Mazda 2 costs barely more than 15K, depending on options. They're fairly new entries to the US car market, so used models that are about a year old (they can't get too much older) may be available for significantly less.
posted by LionIndex at 10:51 AM on May 11, 2012

Too bad you're not local - we're selling a 2010 Pontiac Vibe that pretty much fits your requirements (including the manual transmission).
posted by Lucinda at 10:52 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just replaced my 10 year old VW Passat (GREAT car, btw) with a Golf TDI - that's the diesel. I test drove it vs the current GTI and decided that under most real-world conditions it drives just about the same (less HP but boatloads of low end torque). Way fun to drive. Averaging 36MPG in my usual mix of city/highway commute driving, and up to 45MPG on long road trips. (Of course diesel fuel is priced like high test). High 20's new but if you're considering GTIs this belongs in the mix. They've also used this engine in Jetta wagons, btw.
posted by mr vino at 11:02 AM on May 11, 2012

I'd say:

Scion Xd
Kia Soul
Mazda 3
Toyota Yaris

Any of these are going to be reliable, fun and safe.

My favorite is the Kia Soul, but I'm a sucker for Hamsterdam.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:06 AM on May 11, 2012

Toyota Yaris. For reals. I bought mine almost five years ago and I love the hell out of it. In a manual, it has way more pep and go than you would expect. You can fit a ginormous amount of stuff in it and it's cheap as hell. Add to that the fabulous gas milage (when you don't go 90) and you will be in love. There's so much room in the thing that my 6'9" husband can not only fit, but drive the thing without drama. But here's the thing, the automatic is anemic compared to it's manual twin.

Go test drive one. You'll love it.
posted by teleri025 at 11:06 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the C30 is probably pointless since as you point out, it's basically a more expensive Focus that will probably be dearer to fix.

The Fit is IMO really uncomfortable so I'm not surprised she doesn't like it.

The Sonata is really a full sized car. People have mentioned the Accent but there's also the Elantra which is Focus-sized.

I really like the Mazda 3. Fun car to drive, comfortable.

In terms of the Ford Escape, the Matrix and the RAV4 share a lot of DNA so if you decided for whatever reason to go CUV I'd look at that. We needed a big maw in the back and looked at both the Matrix and RAV4, ended up with the RAV. The 3 is more fun to drive, but the RAV is very comfortable and gets it done with zero drama. Not exactly a hatchback, though.

In general from reading your post you really have a range of car sizes there. How much legroom and cargo space do you want to have in this?
posted by selfnoise at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2012

Since she doesn't like the Honda Fit, how about the Honda Civic?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:38 AM on May 11, 2012

For the fun factor alone, get a three-year-old Mazda 3Speed. Buddy of mine just sold his for a hair under 15k, I think. Holy hell was that thing fast.
posted by notsnot at 11:42 AM on May 11, 2012

I have a new 2012 GTI. Never owned one before. Love it SO HARD. I whitewater kayak, and while it won't get me down 4wd access roads, it'll haul me and a friend and all our gear and boats; 2 friends if they don't have a ton of gear. And it's a blast to drive. Every day. And the interior feels like it's more expensive than it is. My insurance premiums didn't get that much more expensive, and I was upgrading from a 2000 Saturn wagon with 1 working power window. YMMV.

I tried the Subaru WRX, but it felt quite a bit chintzier and boy-racer-ey, and it had a huge heavy clutch that I didn't like driving with.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:44 AM on May 11, 2012

You can get into a new 2012 Ford Fiesta with stick for a little more than $15K.

You can, but it's going to be the base S model; the nice stuff that sets it apart from its peers adds a couple of thousand to the price. (Most dealer inventory seems to be the SE for around $17k.)
posted by holgate at 12:16 PM on May 11, 2012

Hyundai Elantra Touring - very practical and pretty. The sedan is even prettier, but the hatch is hard to beat in terms of practicality. My wife has a Hyundai Accent, and it's very, very small,not very well equipped, and not much more efficient than the Elantra.

Also very practical is the Mazda5 - essentially a mini-minivan that drives like a small sedan. Can seat two grownups and five kids, or handle a trip to Costco and Ikea.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:42 PM on May 11, 2012

Here's another vote for the Nissan Versa hatch. My wife loves hers, and I'm not opposed to driving it when necessary, either. My 6'3" self fits anywhere(even the hatch!) with no problem.

It can get a little chuggy if you're hauling a big load, but we regularly get 4 - 5 adults in it for lunch outings, no problem.
posted by owtytrof at 1:00 PM on May 11, 2012

Mazda3. I love mine (it's the sedan), and due to an upcoming move I'm selling my 2007 sedan with the highest trim level and a few extra bells and whistles for $13k. Given that, you should very easily be able to find one of the manual hatchbacks for under $15k in great condition with some fun features... mine's got a fantastic Bose stereo system.
posted by olinerd at 1:27 PM on May 11, 2012

We have a Mazda protege5 that's the precursor to the mazda3 and think it's lots of fun to drive. Definitely check out new & used mazdas
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 1:34 PM on May 11, 2012

I recently looked at a Yaris, but I didn't like the safety ratings. You might want to look into safety stats, if you have a child. I didn't like that the Yaris faired poorly on rear impact.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:40 PM on May 11, 2012

Just wanted to add that adding/changing a radio to a modern car is quite an involved task. The things are coded to individual car computers and it might be more of a job than you think it is if you haven't done on recently and on a lot of modern cars the radio controls are tied in with the navigation screens and all kinds of stuff.

And I would really look at the KIA souls for what you want, or a used Subaru. Right now this segment of the market is really, really tight and even more so as people are still spending their tax returns on a new car. I like the look of the Huyndai Santa Fe's but then I am driving a Nissan Juke so take that for what you will.

The juke (it is on the Versa Platform)is a really great, really ugly little car, but starts at about 20k for one with decent equipment.
posted by bartonlong at 2:14 PM on May 11, 2012

40 MPG isn't awesome. The Honda CRX got 40 MPG in the city.

Cars today struggle to make the same mileage numbers because they're much heavier, due to construction and materials to meet current crash test standards. On the other hand, you're far more likely to walk away from a crash that would have killed you in a small car built in the 80s.

My wife loves loves loves her Fit, but I see that has been crossed off the list. Bummer. It's fun to drive, like a little go-kart.
posted by Fleebnork at 2:35 PM on May 11, 2012

Our '07 Focus ZX5 is at 90k and has been virtually trouble free. Fun to drive and you can cram a ton into it. This was the model just before they phased out (and then back in) the hatch.
posted by schoolgirl report at 2:58 PM on May 11, 2012

Yes to the Subaru Impreza Sport. I have a 2009, which gets not so good mileage (22-ish). My boyfriend just bought the 2010. The mileage on it is amazing. He commutes from Oakland to Mountain View everyday. With the Audi, he would have to fill up the tank twice a week. The Subaru, he fills up twice a month.
posted by waitangi at 4:18 PM on May 11, 2012

My wife has a Hyundai Accent, and it's very, very small,not very well equipped, and not much more efficient than the Elantra.

The 2012 Accent is different. I recommend it highly. I moved from a Pontiac Grand Prix to it, and I was surprised at how BIG it was. Much more usable space. Doesn't drive like a small car. Averaging 32.5 MPG in about half/half driving, and that's with a lot of stuff in the car.
posted by gjc at 4:25 PM on May 11, 2012

I bought a new 2011 Mazda3 Hatchback with the manual tranny about 8 months ago for a hair over $17000. It is really, really fun to drive, as in Frau Nackt will hold on for dear life when I take some turns way too fast, but I never get any tire squealing. I'm pretty sure you could find a used one for a good deal. I get around 34mpg highway if I stay around 70-75mph and it takes regular. I have been incredibly happy with it.
posted by Nackt at 9:14 PM on May 11, 2012

Another vote for the Nissan Versa (I don't find it noisy on the highway but my previous vehicle was a Jeep Wrangler). We would have gotten the Matrix but the financing terms weren't nearly as good as Nissans, but we've been really happy with it.
posted by deborah at 5:33 PM on May 12, 2012

Response by poster: UPDATE

We bought a 2010 Nissan Altima Hybrid. Reliable (the hybrid system is leased from Toyota), comfortable, decent gas mileage.

We decided to revise our requirements a little. Our Matrix is great, but we wanted the second car to be a little better suited to road trips. We wanted something a bit bigger and a little more comfortable.

We tried the Toyota Camry Hybrid, and that was nice, but felt a little too.....plush. The Altima's suspension is more suited to what I feel I'm looking for in a car that size. The downside of the car (well, the one downside I've found so far) is that the rear seats don't recline, and with the trunk space shrunk a bit from the batteries, we'll need to be mindful of what we pack.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:46 PM on July 13, 2012

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