Post bail-out: Good MPG Car from 2013
April 11, 2013 5:38 PM   Subscribe

There is a good chance that I will be the owner of a new car sometime soon (like the next few months or so). Looking for a good balance between fuel efficiency and inexpensive to repair (something I have not really thought about until recently, regrettably). You are not a car expert, likely, but what would you advise from what you know? Details, including what this car replaces, inside.

So the new car will replace a very honorable 1997 Chevy Cavalier, which has been relatively inexpensive to repair and amazingly efficient (measured 37.5 mpg during a summer trip a couple years ago). I have thought about driving this until it grounds itself, but there are signs that time is coming soon, from persistent coolant issues which cannot be traced to anything, to greater than average trouble starting after long idle periods during the winter (car pooling with someone else in their car). Oil light comes on with no good reason either.

Using that car, at its best, as a base line: the new car needs at least a 25/35 mpg rating and is as repairable or easier/cheaper to repair, given new part cost and repair cost will likely rise a bit with energy costs (I expect energy costs to rise in the 5 or 'more' years I use this new vehicle).

For now, I cannot go plug in electric as I live at an apartment, and I would (personally) wait for battery technology and the electric grid situation to improve a bit before laying down some dough on those or hybrids for that matter.

That leaves regular old gasoline: I am currently eying a 2013 Dodge Dart SXT Automatic with their Dual Dry Clutch Transmission (test drove one, felt great). I have test driven a Chevy Cruze, which felt a bit jerky on the gas pedal. For visual appearance: Chevy Sonics and Hyundai Elantras/Sonatas turn my head on the road.

Needless to say, this is a tough decision, and I know I could put it off for a while, maintaining my current semi-trusty horse. I don't want to push it, however.

Short story: please recommend a robust, inexpensive to repair and fuel efficient (25/35) car from the 2012-2013 model year. American or not. Supporting docs will give your recommendation a bit more weight. Also, please comment on my top pick (the Dart) if you know anything.

I have searched the web for more information and it has been iffy at best. This decision may come down to some case studies. *sigh*

Thank you!!!
posted by JoeXIII007 to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: This question is similar to this one, yet probably a lot less picky.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 5:40 PM on April 11, 2013

I'm also buying a new car in the next few months and want something with good mpg and reliable. I'm currently deciding between the (2013 - not 2012) civic and the Mazda3. Car people love the Mazda3 and really dinged the civic from the 2012 models (which they reworked in 2013) - but I am leaning towards the civic. I'd look at edmunds, autoguide, consumer review, kbb for their picks.
posted by quodlibet at 5:46 PM on April 11, 2013

I've been happy with my 2008 Civic so far. Gas, Oil, A set of wipers and a set of tires are all the maintenance I've had to do to it. 25 mpg on short drives in town, 38-41 mpg on road trips. I can't imagine the newer ones are any worse, although i haven't been looking lately.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:07 PM on April 11, 2013

Best answer: It's almost my knee jerk response to this, but get a corolla. Whenever someone asks what new or used car to get that's what i say.

Don't get an american car, don't get a hybrid, and don't get anything overly complicated.

It'll get similar mileage to your cavalier, looks decent, will hold it's value well, and just generally be amazingly put together and reliable.

My grandpa drove a series of toyotas and never ran one in to the ground. He gave his oldest one to me, and drove his newest one forever and it would still be running(and probably in my family) if it hadn't been ruined by a drunk driver. Mine, which was my first car, is still running somewhere and i occasionally see it around town. It lasted hundreds of thousands of miles and about 30 years so far with less than $5000 of maintenance in it's entire lifetime including tires and oil changes, and less than $1000 while i owned it(which was for years). The biggest mechanical problem i had in the entire time i owned it was either a radiator fan wire shearing off, or the cold start warm up system jamming once in a while(which was due to the car sitting undriven for 5 years or so). Both of these were incredibly simple, cheap and DIY-able fixes. The newer(late 90s) car required even less.

Why toyota instead of honda? Honda parts are expensive, the insurance is more expensive because they constantly get stolen, and the cars themselves cost more. Why not nissan? They're not quite as reliable. They're good, but not as good.(My girlfriend has a very new nissan sentra, and it's had a bunch of small odd problems with less than 50k miles so far. The shop said this was stuff they had seen before, and the internet supports them commonly having irritating small issues. The most recent one was a $500 repair of gaskets, belt tensioners, etc. weird shit to fail so soon.) Subarus are just as good, but have never and probably never will get as high of mileage, and the AWD system is just more stuff to break.(similarly, that's what my parents drive. Contemplating buying one, talked to the guys at the repair shop and they said once again the small drive train problems were common) Mazda has never had a super great rep, and searching up issues with the 3 brings up all kinds of things. Same with consumer reports and such on them.

You can search around for consumer reports, car and driver, etc articles on models from all the japanese brands. Toyota is just as good as honda, but costs less. They get the same 5/5 star marks as Honda. End of story.

As another anecdotal evidence thing, my roommate has a corolla. Every single surface of it is dented up from her family driving it poorly, it's filthy, and she never does any maintenance as far as i can tell. It still runs perfectly and gets good mileage. Almost any other car i ever see neglected like that is screwed up in various mechanical ways and doesn't run smoothly anymore. Maintenance basically consists of changing the oil and tires, and occasionally a timing belt. It's almost as good as a diesel. And in addition to that, several broke ass student/musician types i know drive 80s or 90s toyotas and report exactly the same thing. The cars just get passed on to other family members or sold to friends instead of them being junk at the end, even with 200, or even 250k+ miles.

One of my biggest mistakes was getting rid of my grandpas old toyota. When i thought i might suddenly have a decent pile of cash a few years ago i was excited not to buy a used "nice" car like a few friends have, but a fresh yaris and drive the thing until the engine was a sloppy ruined mess with 500k miles. And i was convinced that event would occur when all the other cars were hovering over the top of me and making jetsons sounds. The experts seem to support me on that theory too.
posted by emptythought at 6:48 PM on April 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

I drive a 2012 Mazda3 hatchback with the SkyActiv engine, and I love it. The mileage is as good as advertised, or close to it (28/38), and the SkyActiv engine was only $500 more (the standard engine gets 28 on the highway if memory serves). I drive it 30 miles each way to work and get around 36 mpg with some city driving mixed in. It's fun to drive, the build quality is solid, and the hatch gives me room to shove a bike in back.

I've heard the 2012 Civic is surprisingly bad, and I generally don't trust Dodge and Chevy to last.

If you must buy new, at least look at the Mazda3. If not, get an old Toyota like emptythought suggests.
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:51 PM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ford Focus. They last forever and they're the best-selling car for the second year in a row, so parts are plentiful and everyone knows how to work on them. I've had mine for 11 years and I think my repair costs total have been under $1000.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:53 PM on April 11, 2013

You might want to think about one of the Volkswagen TDIs.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:58 PM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a 2013 Elantra and the gas mileage is great. Pure highway driving often goes above 40 MPG. (Un)Fortunately it hasn't needed repair aside from getting hit by a passing driver while parked, so I can't speak to maintenance concerns, other than to say that it hasn't needed any after 15,000 miles.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:04 PM on April 11, 2013

If you're looking at the 2012/13 model year, getting reliability and repair cost data is going to be difficult. If a car that new needs repairs, it's either been in an accident or it probably has some sort of defect.

On a more helpful note: I've got a 2012 Mazda 3, and I can say that the advertised mileage depends heavily on driving style. The problem is, it's a fun little car whose power band peaks in the high RPM range, which means it's really easy to indulge any lead-footed tendencies you might have. It wants to be driven inefficiently. Mine gets about 25 mpg if I'm lucky, but it could get 35 easily if I didn't drive it like I stole it. I have a 20 mile commute, and usually 5 miles of that is in heavy traffic. I'm sure that doesn't help. I've only gotten routine maintenance on it so far, so I can't comment on repair costs.

My wife had a 2008 Ford Focus Hybrid that got amazing mileage. We routinely got 35-40mpg everyday, and over 45mpg on road trips. It was tremendously reliable, too. We never had any problems with it, and we took it cross-country 6 times. We'd still have it if we didn't need the extra space of an SUV (so we picked up a 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid which still gets ~40mpg). The newer focuses look more interesting, and have far more advanced interiors than my 2012 Mazda, but it looks like even their advertised mileage is fairly mediocre except for, of course, the electric one.
posted by smoq at 7:11 PM on April 11, 2013

The segment of cars that deliver this kind of thing is really competitive and most of the cars are quite good. This is the 'bread and butter' segment of the market and pretty much every maker has a competitive car in this segment. Some I would stay away from for repair costs:anything German. They make good cars but there is something about the way Americans use and maintain cars that doesn't seem to go well with the average German car (there are exceptions but high repair costs are the way to bet for owning a BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and most other European cars like SAABs and Volvos.

The Japanese car makers have made their reputation for longevity and operating costs on this segment with cars like the Civic and Corolla and GM has never even come close until recently (maybe with the spark, time will tell). Fords have been much better on this since the escort and tend to be almost as good at a lower price point. The Koreans seem to be close also now, but Huyndai seems to have some quality control problems with the occasional lemon making it out of the factory, I would put them equal to modern Fords and just a notch below Japanese. Meaning they represent a slightly lower quality product at a lower price, so just about equal in real terms to getting what you pay for.

For my money, in this segment for an inexpensive commuter car to replace a cavalier I would go with either a Civic or Focus or a Mazda3. I drove a rental corolla and was NOT impressed and really disliked that car. Both the Civic and Focus have a wide range of trim levels from bare bones to high end sporty so you can pick what you want and both are huge sellers and so parts and mechanics who know them are going to be easy to find and junkyards will be full of wrecked ones should you need to go that route. I would say go with whatever one you like the best and you enjoy the looks of. You will probably be fine going with a KIA or Huyndai and they make some great cars in this range (the Forte Koup is a looker and so is the Veloster).
posted by bartonlong at 7:12 PM on April 11, 2013

Consider a Hyundai Accent hatchback. I have a 2012 that just rolled over 36,000 miles today. Much more versitile than the sedan or the Elantra sedan. I have absolutely zero complaints, and from looking at the way it is built, it appears to be well designed and easy to repair should the need arise. Part availability at the auto chains might be an issue, but on the other hand, I've found that maintenance items from the dealership are very inexpensive. Cheaper and much better than the Pep Boys stuff.

A Volkswagen TDI of some kind would be more fuel efficient, but they are expensive. Corolla is a step larger these days.

I wouldn't buy a Dart. I'm pretty sure that's just a Fiat with different badging. Not something I'd buy the first model run of.
posted by gjc at 7:16 PM on April 11, 2013

Best answer: Actually the Dart is an Alfa Romeo Giulietta stretched a few inches and adapted to the North American Market. There isn't any service history there but like all new basic transportation cars from major manufacturers it is unlikely to be a complete train wreck.

Still the Dart is uncharted territory.

They currently (in Canada anyways) are very competitively priced and they've got 0% financing available which makes them a smoking good deal in their segment.
posted by Mitheral at 7:52 PM on April 11, 2013

My 2003 TDI with 160 thousand miles on the original clutch is kicking ass at 50 MPG and is less than halfway through it's 400 thousand mile lifecyle.

Seriously consider a Jetta TDI wagon.
posted by roboton666 at 7:59 PM on April 11, 2013

If you care about reliability and want to keep it for the long haul, don't consider a TDI from Volkswagen until they have a track record of the fuel pump issue being fixed.

Ditto the Dart, which is an Alfa Romeo under the skin and so you won't find a lot of out-of-dealership knowledge on how to fix it after the warranty ends.

The advice to get a Corolla? Spot on, if you don't need or want to enjoy it (and coming from a Cavalier, even a Corolla is a big step up.)

If I were you, I'd strongly consider a Hyundai, if the Corolla doesn't work for you.
posted by davejay at 9:17 PM on April 11, 2013

I just retired my 2000 Subaru with about 200K miles on it. I drove it from mile 3 to mile 199868. I put in easily $7K into it and it died worth its scrap value. I drove it for its last year and a half, uninspected (dangerous), with a persistent leak on the passenger side, a fixed-on check engine light (there was a timing issue with the ignition that would have been hours to diagnose for something that wasn't catastrophic)

Things I replaced: Radiator, Break pads x 3 (including a caliper set one go-round), exhaust system and muffler (Could have been done at its demise as well, I didn't though), Oxygen sensors x 4 (really x2 and then two instances of another one going), rear ball joints, some sort of filter which allows your car to 'fill' with gasoline, and roughly 44 oil changes. There were also two instances of body work done on the car. The maintenance was probably 4500 worth, and the autobody work was probably 2500 worth over its 13 and a half years.

In all, the work and insurance differential was always cheaper that new car payment and newer version insurance price until October 2011. At that point I stopped putting in any money besides gasoline and drove it into the ground, and it went from minorly profitable, to majorly profitable. What I lost in resale value from 11 year old scrap to 13 year old scrap was negligible, and what I gained was another year and a half with no payment and with as cheap insurance rates (and excise tax) as humanly possible. My kids were not allowed in the car.

The replacement car was a Subaru. I would not describe it as cheap to maintain, nor the best in fuel efficiency, but for lifetime value I think I've put in less than having to replace a cars on an 8 year cycle - fuel costs included.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:26 PM on April 11, 2013

get an old Toyota like emptythought suggests.

Just to clarify, I meant a new one. I was just discussing their track record.

I also support the people saying VW TDI. The repairs you have to do cost more... But you also do significantly less maintenance, because the engine is just objectively less complex. Don't buy an automatic though. I don't know about the new ones, but the old ones(1999-05 about?) had absolutely garbage automatics. That concept is forever soiled to me even if they got their act together.
posted by emptythought at 12:30 AM on April 12, 2013

Another data point for a Mazda 3 Skyactiv. In hatchback trim, it's easily the most fun, most practical car you can get for the money. I can get 40 on the highway without really even trying (keeping it under 75 mph), and through almost nine months and 7000 miles of midwestern weather I'm averaging 35 - the next three months of warmer weather should bring that up some.

I can fit two dogs in the way back, mounds of shopping-club purchases, or flop the seats down and fit two bikes plus gear inside. This in a car NYT called a "junior BMW 3-series."

You might even find some 2012 models still on lots at a discount. I got mine (base hatchback with automatic) for a tick over $20k, or $500 below sticker; I suck at haggling so you might do better yet.

Drawbacks: the interior is not as luxurious or gadgety as some of the newly redesigned models (the 3 dates back 4-5 years). I'm 6'2" and there would not be legroom for an adult behind me.

I traded in a 2008 Civic Hybrid and never looked back.
posted by OHSnap at 1:51 AM on April 12, 2013

Honda Fit.

I too am driving an older car I intend to drive till it dies, and though mine is only ten years old, I like to have something in mind in case the worst happens and I need a replacement NOW..... and that's a Honda Fit: good gas mileage, good reliability, affordable maintenance, usually at the top of the Consumer Reports recommendations. It ain't pretty, but it's solid and reliable.
posted by easily confused at 2:44 AM on April 12, 2013

I'm in the Honda Fit camp. We have two Hondas, mine is 9 years old, Husbunny's is 6 and both are in excellent condition, and both are holding value well.

The Honda Fit is cheap as dirt and very cheap to maintain. No one I know ever regretted buying a Honda.

The Dart is tempting, but it's the first model year and I'd hesitate before buying the first of any car line. Also, anyone who had a Dart in the past is just laughing right now. (what a piece of shit my old Dart was...)

I drove a Hyundai for a week on Vacation and I found it to be...lacking. It was uncomfortable, stiff, and really un-fun to drive. If I prefer driving my 9 year old Accord, you know there's a problem.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:30 AM on April 12, 2013

I agree with davejay that if you want to avoid repair bills, you should avoid both a Dart and a VW.

For cheap overall repair bills get a Hyundai or something Japanese. I drove the Elantra and hated the steering feel at low speeds. The Corolla is maligned by reviewers as old, but I liked how it drove a lot more than the Elantra. The new Civic wasn't out when I was looking - it would be at the top of my list if I were shopping now. In addition to being guaranteed to be reliable, it's got the best crash test scores of any compact.
posted by Dasein at 8:12 AM on April 12, 2013

Oh, also, the Elantra had terrible rear visibility. It seems all the car companies are trying to make their cars look swoopy and cool. In doing so they make them less safe and impossible to park. Really annoying.
posted by Dasein at 8:13 AM on April 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks emptythought for bringing up the Corolla. At my complex, I would see a Toyota car that was clearly labelled Matrix and not see the Corolla name as well. Needless to say the person at the dealership made that clear today. Apparently that version has 4WD.

In any case, I test drove one, and it was OK. Corolla's are pretty bad-ass looking cars. Have a bit of edge and class all wrapped up in a nice package. I can't say the same for the Matrix.

We'll see how this all goes. Thanks for all the responses, keep them coming!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:16 PM on April 12, 2013

I just bought a 2013 Ford Fiesta sedan last week and am happy with it. It uses a dual-clutch automatic transmission which I understand means that it's essentially a manual (it behaves like a manual when driving) but is shifted by the car's computer so there isn't actually a clutch. It has really good visibility and surprisingly good features for a low price point. It is also supposed to be one of the safest cars in its class. So far I've gotten 30.3 mpg on it with a mix of town and highway driving.
posted by Lobster Garden at 5:48 PM on April 15, 2013

Response by poster: So I caved and leased a Dart anyways.

Corolla had a dated interior that weighed on me. I also figured that if the Dart's engine/transmission had been tested in Europe before, and raised no major alarms, I'd probably be OK at least on a lease.

If I were to own it after the lease period, I think with the number of Darts I have seen increase on the road, eventually 3rd party servicing shops will pick up on how to repair the vehicle, at least for the common breakdown issues inevitable to come.

The thing the strikes me having looked under the hood of both a Dart and Corolla (and a Cruze, actually): some of the parts looked like they came from the same manufacturer, who merely set up their machines to craft certain parts a certain way out of the same material. Examples being the pneumatic braking tubes and the computer control modules. I mean, yeah, cars have mostly the same parts, but I expect make 1 to have at least a slightly different build of a part from make 2. (This is aside from standard equip such as air bags, mufflers, etc...)

That said, it raises optimism that the reliability of both cars will be pretty much the same.

Thanks so much for your advice here.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 12:31 PM on May 12, 2013

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