Car is smashed. Help me pick another? Absolutely a snowflake.
September 22, 2014 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Just lost our 2014 Turbo Sonata Limited in an accident Thursday. Won't be replacing it with a twin. Help us pick a new something?

Prior to the Sonata, we owned a 2010 Corolla, which we loved and put ~105,000 miles on in about 3 years. Our little boy is 4 in December and it just wasn't big enough for us any more, so we got the Sonata. We really enjoyed the car and all of its many bells and whistles, BUT it always got FAR under its EPA Estimated Fuel Mileage. (Think 22-24 instead of 27-32) Also, my fiancee was T-boned at about 45mph, and 0 of the airbags deployed, and the onboard satellite based crash detection did NOT go off. SO---time to switch. I've made a list of unique details.

*Under $30k. The more under the better.
*We commute a minimum of 50-80 miles a day on all kinds of roads.
*Fuel mileage is important. Fuel can go DOWN if cost also goes DOWN.
*We live in mountains, this kills the fuel mileage.
*It snows and freezes here, kind of a lot.
*Needs to be somewhat spacious, definitely 4 doors.
*Needs to be reliable, we currently do 30-40k/year
*Needs to be either sporty or comfortable. Or both. The Sonata was both.

Right now I'm considering the Subaru Crosstrek XV Hybrid, it's mostly the city traffic that kills our mpg I know. I'm not opposed to something used, it's just that we have great credit and so our interest rates new have been .9% and 0%, so it's more cost effective to go new. Open to any suggestions.

Our "beater" is a 99 Volvo S80. Safe, comfortable, reliable, terrible gas mileage. Heh.
posted by TomMelee to Shopping (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, the Subaru is exactly what I'd suggest. Either the Crosstrek or an Outback, or if you want a sedan, a Legacy. The higher trims of the Outback and Legacy come with Subaru's Eyesight system, which I've heard is pretty nice (it's not offered on the Crosstrek).

Given your usage, you might be one of the rare people who can break even on a hybrid in a reasonable time, but if not, the 4-cylinder with the CVT gets quite good fuel economy.
posted by kindall at 10:27 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Our diesel Passat TDI SE is under $30k, sporty (6-speed turbo!), comfortable (two car seats and an adult fit across the back) and heavy enough to be a reasonably good deal in the snow belt. Can't speak to mountain driving specifically. We get slightly over 50mpg on the highway. Yes, 50. It's a 2013 -- so far totally reliable, cushy, etc. I'm a total broken record when it comes to this car.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:35 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Came here to suggest a Forester - high clearance, great on snow & steep, ok mileage. The Outback is about $10K more than the Forester.
posted by leslies at 10:39 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you've pretty much listed off a Subaru. Used Jeep Cherokees are good on everything but mileage (although you could buy 3 of them in your budget) so that's out.

Hatchbacks out of the question? The Impreza would be on my short list.
posted by Thistledown at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2014

The Subaru is the obvious choice for your snowflake-y needs. But since we're talking about snowflakes...

The Sonata is obviously not a snow vehicle, and you managed with it fine, yes? So, you need to ask yourself, do you really need an AWD Subaru? AWD will bite into gas mileage in the other 9 months you don't need a snow vehicle.

I mean, why not just a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:56 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

With a naturally aspirated engine, you lose power with elevation, as the air thins. I've heard (but can't vouch for) a rule of thumb that it's about 3% per 1000 feet above sea level. Given that you live in the mountains, I would consider sticking with something turbo-charged; the Subaru XV, recommended above, is borderline underpowered even at sea level, and will feel really weak at elevation.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some manner of Subaru was first thought too. An Impreza hatchback should give you similar space to the Sonata.

Just to make a bit of an odd-ball suggestion...

I might look at a 2012-ish Audi A4 Quattro if I were in your shoes. Decent size, good handling and comfort, 0-60mph in under 6 seconds with the automatic, AWD, and a small turbo 4 that gets 29mpg on the highway (though it does require premium unleaded). It should be in your price range and be reliable. I'd be a little concerned about maintenance costs (I haven't looked, I'm just going by the reputation of German cars) but this is their bread-and-butter car in the U.S. so I can't imagine that it's too far from the norm. There should be plenty of two-year-old lease returns around so it should be easy to find one too. You might even be able to find an Avant wagon but that will be close to the top of your budget.

One thing to consider that you might already know. Altitude affects naturally aspirated engines more than turbo charged ones. Thinner air has less oxygen so you get less efficient combustion. Turbo engines compensate by compressing the intake gasses up to the same PSI as if it were at sea level. As you go up in altitude, a naturally aspirated engine is going to lose power while a turbo charged engine won't.
posted by VTX at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2014

Subaru Crosstrek XV Hybrid --- This is the same platform a Forester with sexier bodywork and a higher price tag. And a smaller, harder-to-see out of side rear windows.

It gets around the same fuel economy as the Sonata (actually) got in the non-turbo version. Our Forester is the best car I've ever had in snow, and a lot of fun to drive, but I would not consider it to be particularly fuel efficient.
posted by bonehead at 11:14 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Camry, Prius. You'd be amazed what you can fit in the Prius, and if the Corolla worked for you, I recommend the Prius as large enough and fuel efficient.
posted by flimflam at 11:20 AM on September 22, 2014

Since you've had several Impreza recommendations, I'm just chipping in with my anecdata that my 1 year old Subaru Impreza averages 27mpg at a mix of city & freeway, ~24mpg when I'm driving it in mostly the city, and 21mpg when my husband drives it in the city. We're in Denver; I'd recommend a Prius if you're not attached to 4WD or lots of clearance for your snow-driving.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2014

Hi, I'm you! I live in the mountains, have a 60-mi round trip every day, and my son turns 4 in December.

I currently drive a Ford Focus sedan and it's great for mileage and fits everybody great. The carseat is center install and two normal-sized adults fit on either side. The trunk is amazingly roomy. The only thing it's not great on is snow and ice, and I curse that lack of AWD in the winter. Otherwise highly recommended.

When it dies, I will probably replace it with a Toyota RAV4. Hondas and Toyotas get better ratings on Consumer Reports than Subarus. We had a Honda CR-V for a while and I liked it a lot (AWD, 27 combined city/hwy (that's what I got in real-world driving, not sticker), drives like a car, tons of room in back) but it felt a lot less solid than my Focus, like it was always on the verge of things breaking when it was only 3 years old, and when we decided to downsize, we sold it and I'm relieved it's not still around to cause us headaches. That's why I'm thinking Toyota next time.

I hear all the Subaru people, they do look attractive in a lot of ways, but really, check out Consumer Reports, and go with a Honda or Toyota.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:38 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

A bottom end Nissan Rogue will fit your price requirements. The mileage is allegedly best in class for the current model year and it has AWD.

I've had one for 4 years now and have been very happy with it. It has had exactly 0 issues that were caused by it's design, and to date is the only automatic that test drove that I thought, "yeah, this transmission is doing a better job than I could."
posted by plinth at 12:33 PM on September 22, 2014

TL;DR: I'd go with a Subaru. The Forester is smaller than the Legacy, which lends to more fun in spirited driving IME. For a hybrid, maybe a Lexus CT200h (Prius in Lexus form + sport suspension).

As an 2012 Elantra owner for nearly a year, I can mirror your experience with less-than desired gas mileage. Snow handling, while passable, is less than ideal. I've driven the Sonata in warm/dry/wet weather as a dealer loaner and enjoyed its combination of sportiness, spaciousness and comfort.

My SO drives a new-ish non-hybrid 4 cylinder Camry, and some friends drive various editions of the Prius. The Camry is definitely more comfort-oriented than the Hyundai offerings, at the expense of sportiness. The Toyota auto-stick is much less responsive than either Hyundai, and the non-turbo 4 cylinder engine is unsurprising and utilitarian, but works. More body roll, less road feel.

The Prius is similar, but slower with better gas mileage, closer in size to an Elantra, with the 2010 and newer having better interiors (namely seats and front console) and options (tech package). I've never driven Prius in snow/ice/mountainous conditions, but have read about poor traction control in snow/ice without snow tires. One thing I hate with the Prius is the blind spots up front by the pillars and in the rear quarters, but a back-up camera mitigates the latter.

Rented a 2010 Nissan Rogue for the weekend. Ergonomically handy, but I've never driven a car with such uncomfortable seats. Never again.

To toss it out there, I also rented a 2013 Nissan Juke Turbo AWD for a couple weeks. Smaller than the Elantra, but with the benefit of a hatchback. Felt quick and more stable than the ride height conveys and held great grip. Seats were better than the Rogue, but it is definitely more compact. I've heard bad things about the transmissions in them, and seen a couple rollovers in dashcam videos to the point where I wouldn't consider owning one.

Looked at a Lexus ct200h recently. Essentially, it's a 2010+ Prius with a taller hatch opening (carries slightly more), sportier suspension and Lexus badge. Slower and less fuel-efficient than a Prius due to increased bodyweight, so I wouldn't really consider it a sport-hatch, but the body roll isn't as noticeable. If you really want the hybrid experience and don't trust VW, this is probably what I'd go with.

Good luck, and keep us posted!
posted by Giggilituffin at 1:00 PM on September 22, 2014

If my 2007 Subaru Legacy (I am the original owner, and have put 143,000 miles on it) is any indication, I would highly recommend any Subaru vehicle. My commute is 100 miles round trip, using twisty two lane farm country roads, interstate highways, and almost every kind of road inbetween, though I don't live in a very mountainous area. When I bought the car, I lived in central Massachusetts, and the 4WD comes in very handy there during the winter.

I routinely get an average of 29-32 MPG, which astonishes me for a 4WD vehicle. Other than routine maintenance (oil changes, tires, etc.) and recall services, I've only had to have a few minor repairs done over the 7 years I've owned the car. This is the best car I've ever owned. When it finally goes wheels-up in my driveway at about 300,000 miles, I'll definitely buy another or maybe trade up to the Forester.

I'd imagine the Forester would be better for a family with children (more room, since it's a station wagon -- I didn't get the Legacy wagon but opted for the sedan instead).
posted by tckma at 1:01 PM on September 22, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all! I haven't caught up reading all these as I get ready to leave work. Let me throw out a few more bits of info:

I don't live at particularly high elevation, what I mean is that I'm ALWAYS driving UP AND DOWN, never flat. My dad's 08 Camry got better fuel mileage than my 2010 Corolla because the bigger engine didn't have to labor as hard going up. Weird but true.

I'd love a Jeep, but the fuel mileage...eep. And reliability is an issue with older ones. Used Cherokees at this point are 11 years old, so I'm looking at ~8% interest on a 2 year note if I'm lucky for a car I can't REALLY trust.

The Passat is on my radar and has been. Diesel cars around here run at about a 15% dealer premium though, so that hurts.

As for Accords and Camry's---there's certainly nothing wrong with them. I feel like new ones are a smidge too expensive, although old ones hold value like nobody's business.

Oh---and I never drove the Sonata in the snow. Didn't have it long enough. My plan was to get some Thule chains for it, which was a compromise we weren't happy with. I can work from home in bad weather. She's a government contractor who doesn't get paid if she's not in the building. Boooooooooooo
posted by TomMelee at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2014

Dude. Make it easy. Subaru is a great choice in this situation.
posted by barnone at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2014

Nthing the Subaru suggestion; I just bought a 2015 Forester XT about a month ago and it's been great. I test drove the XV Crosstrek Hybrid during the shopping process and was kind of underwhelmed; even though the Forester and XV are both built on the Impreza platform, the XV felt a little on the small side, and the visibility was much worse than in the Forester. The hybrid drivetrain felt kind of underpowered and seems kind of like Subaru's "first try" at hybrid engineering. The batteries also go where the spare tire would normally be stored, which means you're SOL if you get a flat.

If you want a sedan, go for the Subaru Legacy, which is roughly the same size as the car you're replacing. If you want a compact SUV, I'd look at the Forester (more spacious), or the AWD version of the Mazda CX-5 (better gas mileage).
posted by strangecargo at 1:51 PM on September 22, 2014

I just got a year-old Subaru Impreza Sport. It's a hatchback, is quite roomy inside, and gets much better gas mileage than my old Forester did. Has a CVT transmission. It gets better gas mileage because the engine is only 2.0 L, unlike the old or new Foresters, which are 2.5 L. I do not know what effect that would have on your up-and-down terrain mileage. It doesn't feel any slower than the Forester did, but corners much, much better.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:05 PM on September 22, 2014

Check out a Civic. If you like Japanese. I went from an Accord to a Civic and I didn't notice a change at all in the comfort or even roominess. It get amaze-balls mpg, and it even has an economy setting!

I have the base model and just love it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:13 PM on September 22, 2014

I drive a 2014 XV Crosstrek myself; we opted for that over the Forester (which we also liked a great deal) because we didn't necessarily need the Forester's extra space, and we could get the XV for a bit less (Foresters selling like hotcakes right now = no incentives whatsoever). We're really happy with it. Though we'd have been happy with a Forester, too (our previous car was an '04 Forester, and we loved that car).

The XV is a bit underpowered, but not egregiously so. We have the manual transmission and yes, on hills you have to shift a lot to keep it in the power band. That said, I did manage to drive it on the Cabot Trail with no real issues. Just a lot of shifting. The CVT that comes with the hybrid and is available on other trims should help with that.

The hybrid has a bit more power, particularly at the low end (where the normal XV is a bit weak), but unless you're doing a lot of city driving, you'll probably come out ahead with the normal XV, because you won't save enough on gas to offset the extra cost of the car. The XV hybrid's mileage isn't that much better. For us the hybrid wasn't much of an option, because most of our driving is highway driving, and the MPGs are the same on the highway. (Also, in Canada the hybrid only comes with a sunroof, and I'm a little too tall for that on the XV/Impreza. Foresters are great for tall people.)
posted by mcwetboy at 4:05 PM on September 22, 2014

My Accord with snow tires was like a tank in the winter in an area with 100-120 inches a year on average. I had no trouble making my daily commute up and down Onondaga Hill, which is famously steep and the usual place people go to learn how to really drive a stick in these here parts. Great gas mileage, too.
posted by xyzzy at 6:54 PM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've got the 2013 Subaru Crosstrek (non-hybrid). I love it for the confidence while driving curvy roads, the super-easy fold-flat backseat, the heated front seats, the ground clearance (particularly enjoyable when it's snowed), the versatility, and the road feel. It does get the EPA mpg ratings most of the year. This car really shone on a trip last year when it was incredibly easy to transport multiple skiis and snowboards.

But even though I love my car I would recommend you consider other cars. First, I live in Iowa with all its winter hells and I'm a sensible driver, but I would be perfectly safe driving any car as long as it had snow tires. Second, driving 30-40k miles per year is a lot of wear and tear on an AWD car. Third, perhaps my Crosstrek is peculiar but it does not like the winter cold and the winter gas blends, and my mpg suffers in the winter. (Not saying this is a surprise, but only that if you want to maximize mpg, look elsewhere). Fourth, you may not enjoy the road feel. Subarus tend to transmit a lot of the road to the driver. I like it, you and your four-year-old might not. Finally, yeah, it is a tiny bit underpowered.

Again, I do love my car, and if you got a Crosstrek this week it'd make a great learner car in a decade when your kiddo is learning to drive. :) So test drive it, but I definitely suggest driving lots of other cars too.
posted by nicodine at 7:18 AM on September 23, 2014

Volvo XC60? A little smaller than the XC90 so better gas mileage, but still spacious, comfortable, very safe, and made for winter driving. I also used to drive a '99 S80, and I find that the XCs handle better and are more pleasant to drive overall.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:30 AM on September 23, 2014

Response by poster: I don't suppose anyone is still playing at home...but just in case you are, here's your update:

We drove a kazillion cars. In the past we've always been too fast to pull the trigger, this time we took FOREVER. I found out that the first Nissan dealer lied to me about available interest rates, so even though he had a great deal on a 2013 with 17k miles, we walked and didn't look back. That dealer is also my only remotely close Subaru dealer, and although I talked to another there wasn't going to be any way to get a Subaru in the price range we needed to hit. Boo. In the past we'd purchased from a very close-to-us Toyota dealer, and really really liked the way they do business---no beating around the bush, no "let me ask my manager" crap. Corolla was too small, Camry was too expensive, they had no used options really worth talking about. Went to another Nissan dealer and drove a brand new Versa Note (too...weak for these mountains), a Sentra SR (really nice, we ALMOST went with this option), and another Altima SV. We were eligible for 0% financing on the Sentra and the Altima, and we were SUPER close to pulling the trigger.

And then I talked to the insurance company. The original sticker on the Sonata we killed was ~$33,000. The total true sticker on the Sentra was ~$20,300. Without accounting for the insurance bump we know is coming from the accident, the insurance is MORE EXPENSIVE FOR THE SENTRA?! Because apparently the Sentra has a piss poor safety rating. It blows my mind that the difference in values is over 50% and the Sentra is more expensive. That scared me right off the Sentra. We had also driven a Rogue and REALLY liked it, but it got nowhere near its advertised MPG.

We considered Passat, couldn't find a good deal on a used one. Couldn't find a used Subaru that was less than a new one. There are no local Volvo dealers and there are even fewer used ones.

SO---in passing at the Toyota dealer, I'd brought up a Prius. They didn't have any in our price range. I mentioned "got a used one?"...and it turns out someone had JUST traded in a 2013 Plug-In Prius. We gave them a few days to get it certified pre-owned, etc, and went and drove it last night. I ran the numbers for the Prius vs the Sentra at our annual driving amount, car payment, gas prices, and expected MPG's, and the Prius came out on top, even with a $100/month higher payment.

We tried to play hardball, and I think we did OK, we didn't do awesome. They don't have to give us a great deal on such a car, apparently Plug-in Prius's aren't shipped to WV dealers new. Who knew. Anyway, we got the car for a very fair price and an OK interest rate (1.9%), and brought it home last night.

It's the first time I've ever bought a car and not been EXCITED, but such is life I suppose. It's a 2013 with ~12,600 miles on it, pretty well decked out as far as that goes. It is the plug-in, so it has a longer EV-only range, which will be useful for our city driving.

Thank you all for your input!!
posted by TomMelee at 12:43 PM on October 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

What's not to be excited about? It's a plug-in hybrid, that's awesome!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:03 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, so a couple weeks later, I love this car. It's super comfortable and is currently AVERAGING almost 60mpg. Life is good. Thank you all!
posted by TomMelee at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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