Compact Car for a Floppy Family
July 9, 2013 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Do you have a Honda Fit or another compact car that you can recommend for a family of four?

We are a family of four. Two adults, early forties, two kids, ages 10 and 12. Kids are boys and are tall and only getting taller.

We have a Toyota Tundra pickup truck and a 2004 Honda CRV. We own both vehicles.

We are thinking of trading in the Tundra (poor gas mileage), keeping the CRV, and purchasing a Honda Fit or another fuel efficient car. We haven't taken any cars for test drives or even looked on the lot.

I would use the Honda Fit to travel to work twice or three times a week, grocery store, and driving around town. One day a week I work about 30 minutes away on the highway.

If you have the Honda Fit, what do you think about it? Is this a practical car for a family? We go on one vacation a year, usually by car.

I would prefer a crossover SUV type car -- like another CRV or the Hyundai Santa Fe. My husband wants something that is more fuel efficient. I have this idea that compact cars are prone to break down and have no get up and go.

Any advice on compact cars for families appreciated.
posted by Fairchild to Shopping (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have the 2013 Fit which I love for commuting and my own personal driving around. I find it quite comfortable, well built and very responsive and maneuverable. It's also great for hauling since the back seats fold completely flat and there is very little taper to the cargo area roof which provides tons of usable space. I really can't recommend it enough as a well composed vehicle.

I would say it's a great option for a family on a budget that needs a lot of versatility and with young children.

I do think rear legroom might be an issue for you if your boys are getting tall. My circa 6-foot workmates are quite cramped if I am driving for lunch outings. If you are considering it I would recommend you take it for at least a couple test drives with your family fully loaded.
posted by rocketpup at 9:57 AM on July 9, 2013

I have had a 2013 Honda Fit (based model, manual) for about 3 months now and love it. My wife and I downsized over the last couple years from a Toyota Tacoma 4x4 and Jeep Cherokee to the Fit and a Scion XD (a similar subcompact) and have been very happy with the decision on both. In between there we also had a 2010 Toyota Matrix, which is slightly larger -- neither of us liked it (ungainly, unimpressive fuel efficiency, blind spots) so it got traded for the Fit.

The Fit is my daily driver. I'm 6'3" and it has plenty of head and leg room in front. The rear seats don't have as much leg room, as is standard for subcompact cars. Our daughter is currently about 2 so I can't say how it's working for a teen yet, however I can't imagine that she'll grow to the point where riding in the back of this car is agonizing at least in the 10 years or so that we'll have it.

The cargo hauling capacities are awesome for such a small car -- especially the convenient lift-up rear seat for tall items. I haven't driven the automatic version, but the standard shift is pretty fun to drive and the engine has plenty of power. I've been getting 31.5 mpg with mostly city driving.

My only complaint is that the standard shift version's gear ratio has the engine at 4k rpms at highway speeds (75-80 mph) and it gets loud.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:05 AM on July 9, 2013

I have a Honda Fit (2009) and I love it!

However, my husband is 6', and the car is pretty cramped for him. Not even just leg room, but shoulder width - we have much more room in the Hyundai, and it is what we use for all our road trips. How far do you drive on vacation? The fit just isn't as comfortable to ride in for long trips, I feel like.

I agree with rocketpup - it's great for hauling things, and you can fit more in there than you think you could.
posted by needlegrrl at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2013

Family BlahLaLa has a Fit and we love it. I am short & wide, Mr. BlahLaLa is over six feet, and kid BlahLaLa is 10. We all fit inside just fine, and frequently have a fourth passenger. At other times it's just me driving four 10-year-old boys, and wow, that's a lot of 10-year-olds for one car but it works out just fine.

In general, my word about the Fit is that it's bigger inside than it appears on the outside.

It doesn't have the most "oomph" of any car on the market, for sure, but it has plenty. I do street & freeway driving all the time and have never felt particularly underpowered.

Twice a year we visit family 400 miles away. We drive, and we do have to be practical about our luggage, but it does all fit in just fine. We've also folded down the back seats to carry larger items from time to time. Originally Mr. BlahLaLa was worried about this, since he occasionally has to carry large items, and the car we got rid of to get the Fit was a CR-V - so obviously a huge difference in cargo space. But that slight hassle has been totally overcome by the better mileage.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2013

I just bought a Kia Rio 5 door (aka. hatch back) and I think it is fantastic and would absolutely recommend it. I was going to get a Fit but the Rio totally knocked it out of the park.
- Rio has WAY more headroom we found. And tons more leg room for both front seat passengers and back seat passengers. Basically, it is just a roomier ride for passengers.
- We only have one kid, but I have to believe it would fit two very comfortably.
- we live outside of town and it is ~15 minute drive in to work, mostly highway. It is very comfortable and has a nice ride, very easy commute.
- really well equipped. The base model was very very well equipped, but I was able to very cheaply bump up to the EX model. For basically the same price as a base model fit I was able to get my Kia Rio with a sunroof and bluetooth and voice command and backup camera etc.
- excellent warranty
- Seriously fun ride. Very peppy and responsive. I test drove the Fit a few times and found it a bit plodding and blah. Much preferred driving a Rio over the Fit. I drive a manual transmission, and the Rio is a six speed and just damned fun.
- lots of storage. the back seats fold down and I can load a whack in to it. Granted there isn't as much storage as there is in a Fit, but like you I am using my car for more day to day stuff
- Really nice looking car.
- We just took my Rio on a family trip and everyone (grownups and kids alike) kept going on about how comfortable and nice it was. My partner has a Toyota Corolla (2012) and my little Rio is way more comfortable for the family.

Definitely go try out a Rio 5 door. If you get one, it is worth the little bit extra for the EX model.

Also, consider the Kia Soul. It may be what you're looking for.

(I swear, I don't work for Kia or anything. I just effing love my car, I could not be happier with it, and I just want to pass it along!)
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:11 AM on July 9, 2013

Husbunny just got himself a 2013 Fit and he LOVES it. He traded his Element and I thought he'd have an issue with the difference in interiors, but he liked the head room and the visibility.

I got a 2013 Civic, and I really like it. You may want to consider the Civic, I think your boys will be more comfortable in the back seat, also it's a fun vehicle to drive.

I've driven both cars and they're pretty peppy as well as being fuel efficient.

Take a test drive. Then decide.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2013

I have this idea that compact cars are prone to break down...

No, not anymore than anything else.

...and have no get up and go.

Yes, because small engines are cheaper to build and more fuel-efficient.

In practice, whether you get a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris or Ford Fiesta isn't going to make any significant difference in any other area of your life, like your fuel expenditures or your overall comfort when driving. It'll turn out pretty much the same either way. You may like one or the other model of car better because it has satellite radio or it's quieter or the seats fit you better or whatever, but the overall difference in your life from picking one subcompact over another is going to be negligible. The Fit consistently gets good reviews, and if you buy one, your kids will manage to deal with it and not be bothered all that much.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

One other thing - I went from a 2010 Toyota Corolla to the Rio and it has way more passenger space and comfort and room than the Corolla, despite it being a smaller car. The Fit, though, felt smaller than the Corolla. Don't know why.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:18 AM on July 9, 2013

I'd be looking at minivans, frankly, for the room and storage. I tried both the Fit and the Soul; Fit had more "cargo"room but the cabin was cramped (as is the Soul) for six footers. But if I had to pick Soul or Fit - I'd go with Soul simply because of weather-related flooding. I wouldn't drive in flooding weather but I'd be less worried about the car drowning while parked (happened to all of my compact cars in Florida despite my best efforts).

If not a minivan, then the Soul; add roof rails and a cargo trailer shelf (class 1) and you'll have luggage room. Seems to have a big ol blindspot, though; add the backup camera.
posted by tilde at 10:23 AM on July 9, 2013

Small family with a 2012 Fit and we love it. I'm 5'-1" and my husband is 6'-1" and we both can drive it comfortably. I wouldn't want him to have to take a long road trip in it, but journeys up to an hour and tooling around town are just fine.
posted by Specklet at 10:40 AM on July 9, 2013

Another vote to look at the Kia Soul. Cargo room isn't great, but my 6'10" friend fits in the back seat without any complaining. Mine is a 2010 Sport package and doesn't have a ton of get-up-and-go, but newer models have better engines and more speeds on the automatic transmission. Great gas mileage, very comfortable seats. It's 0.5" longer than the Honda Fit, so you can park it pretty much anywhere. But it rides a little higher, which I think gives me a better view of the road.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:41 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

No opinion on the Fit, but compact cars are certainly no less likely to break down than bigger cars. Historically, the most reliable cars on the market have tended to be Civics, Corollas and Priuses. All compact or midsize cars.

Many SUVs are built on a car chassis anyway, so often you're just buying a tall car. The Fit isn't particularly sporty, but its engine is fine for merging into freeway traffic. There are plenty of other five doors with more oomph and great gas mileage if that's what you're looking for (Hyundai Accent and Elantra, Kia Rio and Optima, Ford Focus and Mazda3 especially). The Volkswagen Golf is sporty, but the gas mileage isn't great compared to the others.
posted by cnc at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a 2009 Fit and I LOVE it. I have had absolutely no mechanical issues with it whatsoever. Good gas mileage. Much bigger on the inside than it seems. I can fit a ton of stuff in it; the back seats fold down AND you have the option of folding them up as well if that makes more sense for whatever you're hauling. I'm very happy with this car.
posted by queensissy at 11:09 AM on July 9, 2013

My Mazda3 with the SkyActiv engine gets almost 40 miles per gallon on the highway, with decent zip and a comfortable fit for my family of four.
posted by shallowcenter at 11:38 AM on July 9, 2013

My wife has a 100+ mile daily commute in her 2010 Fit. She basically likes it. It's not the most comfortable car in the world, but it's not a buckboard either. It just rides firm, which is kind of typical for Hondas. Gas mileage is great. With the back seats folded down, the thing is surprisingly cavernous.

One of the small downsides (to me) is Honda doesn't include a rear cargo area security cover as standard. It's an accessory you have to purchase separately. Also, her Fit is the Base model, and it did not come standard with an alarm, which seemed odd for a car in 2010. Also, that rear hatch door is crazy heavy. I have a VW Golf, and that Fit hatch feels like a weight machine in comparison.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:44 AM on July 9, 2013

Good point, Thorzdad. I'm under 5 and a half feet, hub is a foot taller. The Pruis hatch is a hassle and a half for me, the Fit was heavy and I think I had to tip toe and muscle it, the Soul seemed smoooooooth in comparison to those and my former Escort and Focus wagon friends.
posted by tilde at 11:54 AM on July 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you so much for the answers so far. This is really good information. Glad to hear so many people love the Fit. We are going to test drive a few different cars this week.
posted by Fairchild at 12:05 PM on July 9, 2013

I'd get a 2nd hand Prius over a new Fit. More space for the family, better safety features, great gas mileage.
posted by w0mbat at 12:08 PM on July 9, 2013

Response by poster: w0mbat, my husband asked me to look at the Prius. We probably will test drive one.

I'm still bent on getting an SUV. They are so expensive. We have sticker shock and a lot of them don't get the gas mileage we would like.

Along with the Fit, we are going to Kia, Toyota, and I want to test drive the Mazda CX-5.
posted by Fairchild at 12:12 PM on July 9, 2013

My husband is 6' but with very long legs and he was not comfortable in the Fit. We are both heavy as well and we did not really fit width-wise. We ended up buying an older Ford Focus ZX5, which has just enough room.

What is it about SUVs that appeal to you?
posted by crankylex at 12:24 PM on July 9, 2013

Family of four he with a 2007 Fit base model. We can fit 2 boosters and an infant seat in the back of the Fit. It isn't fancy by any means but it reliably gets us from A to B and has far more passenger room than our other car, a RAV4. My only compliant is that we have the "sport" trim and the trim constantly scrapes when we back out of the driveway no matter how careful we are.
posted by a22lamia at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2013

Speaking as someone who just came off a 20-hour road trip with my mother in a 2008 or 09 Fit, it's a lot more comfortable than I expected. But I'm short and didn't have kids in the back. I've sat back there and it'll do.

It's my mom's daily driver, and she picked it after driving a truck-based SUVs for over a decade (Cherokee and Blazer), and she loves it. She looked at both the CRV and the other Honda crossover, I forget what it's called. She doesn't miss the height at all, and the Fit has much more cargo space than it looks like it does. It's a Tardis, basically, except considerably more reliable.

It's got enough punch to get up hills and onto the freeway, and it's a perfectly serviceable daily driver, especially if the kids aren't with you all the time.

That said, if you're keeping the CRV, can you drive that when you all need to go somewhere simultaneously? If I'd had four people on this 20-hour road trip, you'd better believe I'd have been in a bigger car. But for daily driving, why not get something with better gas mileage?

Are you currently the main driver of the Tundra, or the CRV? Part of the reason Mom was still driving the Cherokee was because my parents live in snow country and they needed something with ground clearance just in case the road didn't get plowed. Mom drove the SUVs because she only had to go in to work a few times a week, plus groceries; Dad drives a Honda Insight because he's got a 70-mile daily roundtrip commute.
posted by mgar at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2013

Will this be the car your current 12-year-old drives when he's 16?
posted by Lyn Never at 1:38 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

May or may not be in a price range you are interested in, but the Volvo C30 has 4 bucket seats and a hatchback.
posted by Feantari at 1:51 PM on July 9, 2013

The Nissan Versa is also cheap and happy, and has one of the most surprisingly roomy back seats that I've seen.

There still aren't terribly many compact cars in the US market, so it really doesn't hurt to try the full range of them.
posted by schmod at 2:16 PM on July 9, 2013

If you're at Toyota, I'd recommend trying the Scion xD -- I have the precurser (xA) and love it. I can fit three elementary age kids in the back or fit an adult or two instead. It's a subcompact car, but tall enough for an adult to sit in the back without scrunching their head. (Most of my height is torso, so this is pretty important to me. When I was a teen my mom tested out cars she was thinking of buying by sitting up really tall in the backseat to be sure that I'd fit.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:34 PM on July 9, 2013

I saw one of these Fiat 4 door things when I went to test drive the 500, and I was shocked at how much it looked the size of a CRV.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:25 PM on July 9, 2013

I would prefer a crossover SUV type car -- like another CRV or the Hyundai Santa Fe. My husband wants something that is more fuel efficient.

Well, the Prius v is a minivan/MPV version of the regular Prius hatchback. (They're so similar you might not tell them apart at a glance, but the v has a bigger back cargo area.) And it's close to the most fuel-efficient non-all-electric vehicle you can get, so a bit of both. It's new this year so not on the used market yet, though.

have no get up and go

This is one of the bigger complaints about the Prius generally, that it's sluggish and the opposite of a grippy, feedback-fluent driver's car.

The 2014 Ford C-Max is its closest competitor, and has more of a crossover SUV look to it, if that appeals, but has notably less cargo than the Prius v and got bad marks from Consumer Reports in terms of inflated mileage claims (an issue it shares with other vehicles, to be sure). It's supposed to be a much more snappy, grippy, solid-feeling vehicle, but it's also had some first-year problems that may clear up in later model years or not.

Anyway, if those are the poles you're navigating between, both vehicles are sort of a midway point.
posted by dhartung at 7:00 PM on July 9, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the input and suggestions.

Regarding why I want an SUV or a Crossover-type SUV: I'm used to being "high up" I guess. I like it. It looks like hubby is on a Prius kick right now so we will see... Thanks again for awesome replies, I really appreciate it.
posted by Fairchild at 5:43 PM on July 10, 2013

I'm 6', 210#. I've ridden in the front and back of an earlier-model Fit, and I was not super impressed. The back was a bit of a squeeze for me.

OTOH, several coworkers and I went to lunch one day; a 6'3", 300-ish pound coworker and I were both able to comfortably fit in the back of a Cooper Mini with the smallish driver and another coworker in the front.
posted by hanov3r at 9:23 AM on July 11, 2013

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