Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, or Toyota Camry? Opinions, please
March 24, 2015 8:22 AM   Subscribe

In the spirit of this thread, I'd like to ask for opinions from people who have or have had a Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, or Toyota Camry (hybrid or regular). We're having a second baby in July, and we don't think two car seats and all the kid paraphernalia (we also have a 2.5 year old) will fit in our 2004 Honda Civic. We're looking at new cars.

I test drove a Subaru Outback, a Subaru Legacy, and a Mazda 6. I didn't much like the Outback. I'm planning to go to a Toyota dealership to test out the Camry and Camry hybrid soon. Anyone with any experience of those cars? Any other similar cars that we might like?

What we do and don't want:

Automatic transmission only, please. I can't drive a manual (well, I've only tried once, and don't really have the time now to learn).

It has to be able to fit 2 car seats, ideally 2 rear-facing car seats (one Graco SnugRide 35 and one Evenflo SureRide) and have an adult sit in the back seat.

I really liked the backup camera on the Subaru Legacy and the Mazda 6. It showed markers showing 1 foot, 2 feet, and 4 feet behind the car. I am not good at estimating distances, so this is something I really want. I really want antilock brakes- my first car had them, my Civic doesn't (and I still miss them 10 years on). Mr. Neville really wants lane drift warning, blind spot detection, and preventive braking. I really want to be able to play songs from my iPhone using the car stereo (with a toddler girl, "Let It Go" gets a lot of play on my phone in the car), the Civic does not do this.

I live in Pittsburgh. My car has to deal well with ice/snow and potholes. One of the major drawbacks of the Civic was that it didn't do well in ice and snow. This was a problem this winter. I've heard that the Subaru all-wheel drive is good for this. How do the Mazda 6 and Toyota Camry do in ice and snow?

I would like to get a windshield wiper on the back window, but the Legacy and 6 don't seem to have that :( Does the Camry?

One thing I really liked about the Civic was that it was a good reliable car to get me from point A to point B without a lot of fuss or maintenance. That is something I definitely want in my new car. It takes me a while to get used to a different car, so I don't like changing cars often. I'm also not a fan of car shopping. I want something that will last for a while.

As long as it's not something ugly like a Pontiac Aztek or a PT Cruiser, I don't really care about looks. I'm not looking to impress anybody with my car, unless someone might be impressed by the amount of cracker crumbs, old receipts, or toddler toys in it. I don't care about a car being fun to drive- I don't really enjoy driving, and have never found a car to be fun to drive. I'd get a self-driving car if I could.

I don't want anything super big. I have to parallel park regularly, but I'm not that good at it. We have a small garage where we could not park a very long car (we are pretty sure the Legacy or the 6 will fit in it). I'm 5'4", have short legs, and do not like having to step way up to get into a car. I don't want something that's too low, either- I'm 22 weeks pregnant right now, and will be having the baby by C section, so there will be an extended period of time when I have no abdominal muscles.

We don't do any long car trips. My daily driving limit is about 5 hours (Baltimore or DC). We've driven to Chicago in 2 days. I would not want to take longer car trips than this.

We do want more trunk space than the Civic has. The Legacy and 6 seem to have this, haven't looked at the Camry yet. I know hybrid cars at least sometimes used to not have as much trunk space- is this true of the Camry hybrid?

Anyone have or had a Subaru Legacy, Mazda 6, or Toyota Camry? Anyone have any other suggestions that might work? Bueller?
posted by Anne Neville to Shopping (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One problem with our Subaru Forester I don't like is the rear seat belts don't really work as easily as they should when using a child booster seat.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2015

My parents had a 1980's Camry that they loved, and retired with over 300,000 miles on it -- they drove that car from Houston, TX to Michigan every year with two adults, two children, and a Labrador retriever in it. They replaced it with another Camry.

I drove a 1999 Camry up until last year -- I have two children -- when an uninsured 19 year old who was texting while driving (no, I'm not bitter, why do you ask?) hit a patch of water on the highway and spun into me at 80+ miles per hour. My car was structurally totalled, the central pillar was sheared off under the striker, but I retained control of the vehicle and was not only able to get it safely to the shoulder, but drove it home, albeit very carefully because the driver's side window was smashed. I had some whiplash, but the only scratch on my body was from where one of the pieces of glass got trapped in my bra. I loved that car.

While we were waiting for the insurance claim to process, we were rented a 2014 Camry. It was great -- powerful and responsive. I only drove it for a week and a half, but I wished we could have bought it. We replaced our car with a Corolla because we couldn't afford the payments on a Camry, but I would have bought another one in a heartbeat.

TL;DR: I feel very warmly about Toyotas in general and Camrys in particular.
posted by KathrynT at 8:38 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my best friends has a Mazda 6 and says that the "low – profile" tires make it completely miserable in snow, ice, rain, other conditions of that sort.

I've had the Subaru Impreza (the smaller version of the Legacy) for 4 years and driven it on very icy hills, and in Seattle's very rainy, pothole filled environment, and had no problems with traction control or anything else.

A close friend has three car seats in her Legacy (two front facing one rear facing) and says that while it's tight they all fit snugly and safely.

No real input on the Toyota. Sorry.
posted by dotgirl at 8:39 AM on March 24, 2015

Full disclosure: I'm a member of the cult of Subaru. However, I also live in Pittsburgh, and feel you 110% on our needs with hills and winter weather. My "oh god our previous mayor has skipped town during the worst snowstorm of the century" car is our Forrester. But my everyday (save for maybe 10 days this winter, tops, and I leave for work before a lot of roads are cleared) car is our Legacy. I just wrote the check to pay it off, so it's probably 5 years old or so, but honestly, I don't see trading either car until they die. (The Forrester has over 100,000 miles on it and the Legacy over 50,000 - we road trip often.)

So most of what I can address are winter weather issues (yes, with good snow tires, I'm comfortable living in Mt. Washington and commuting off of it), size, and comfort. We've comfortably fit three adults in the backseat, and I'm about your height, so with the seat pulled almost all of the way up, there is AMPLE room in the back for someone behind me. Plus some. The trunk is enormous (tip, the guys at Bowser aren't amused when you make jokes about hiding bodies in a trunk as big as the Legacy, especially if you also ask about stain proofing...) Our previous sedan was a Civic, and I feel like the Legacy is a step up in size, but also in comfort. I'm not a small woman, and I feel like the Legacy fits me better. Also, save for having the headlights burn out more often than I might like (I always run my lights), and regular oil changes, we haven't had much need to have it worked on either. Feel free to ping me if you have specific questions.
posted by librarianamy at 8:41 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I drove a similar sized car (Honda Accord) in Toronto winters for a decade. Any of these cars will be just fine on snow and ice if you put winter tires on them. If you don't, none of them will be great-though better than a Civic just due to weight. The Subaru AWD system does help with not getting stuck completely, but doesn't help with braking or turning, so I'd still put winter tires on it.

(I have a car with AWD now, spent half of one winter on all-season tires, and will never do that again.)
posted by FishBike at 8:43 AM on March 24, 2015

I know hybrid cars at least sometimes used to not have as much trunk space- is this true of the Camry hybrid?

According to the manufacturers' specs, the current-generation non-hybrid models you're considering all have about 15 cubic feet of trunk space. (The Camry has the most with 15.4 cu. ft.)

The Camry Hybrid has 13.1 cubic feet of trunk space, almost the same as a 2004 Civic 4-door sedan (12.9 cubic feet).
posted by mbrubeck at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a Mazda5. The original idea was that it could haul two adults, two kids, a big dog and stuff. It could definitely do that. The sliding doors are phenomenal when getting the kiddo in and out of the carseat in a parking lot. We could fold the rear seats down in order to stuff a big stroller in. We can keep the rear seats up in order to haul 4 - 5 adults and the kid in a carseat. They recommend carseats to stay rear-facing to two years, which is hard because kids can't see very well after age 1, but much easier in the Mazda5 because he can see so much more than in our other vehicle.

It is a kid hauler that is smaller than a minivan. And it is fun to drive. You are looking at the 6, so the 5 is similarish. I think it would be difficult to fit two carseats AND an adult in the back seat of any sedan. At least comfortably.
posted by jillithd at 8:54 AM on March 24, 2015

Oh, also, with regards to ice and snow, I've had no problem in the Mazda5 as long as the snow is lower than the bottom of the car. I live in central Minnesota. Winter driving is winter driving.

Just get the newer model of the 5 (not my 2008) so that it has better heat in the back seats. Toes get cold back there, otherwise.
posted by jillithd at 8:56 AM on March 24, 2015

I think it would be difficult to fit two carseats AND an adult in the back seat of any sedan. At least comfortably.

This. My in-laws have a Camry (the newest model) and I don't think it would be comfortable... you'd have to have a smaller seat in the middle up very snug against a seat on the side, and then the adult crammed in the other side. YMMV but this is probably the biggest ask on your list and you should probably be doing the research to figure out what cars/seats it will work with. Some seats are much larger than others and you will have to ditch the Graco at some point since IIRC that's an infant seat.
posted by selfnoise at 9:04 AM on March 24, 2015

We have had subarus for ever. They are great in the snow, etc. But there is no way you're going to get two car seats and an adult in the back.

We now have a ford fusion and a chevy equinox. if you specifically get car seats that are designed as narrow, you can fit an adult between our two seats in the equinox. (Which has all your other requirements except the stepping up; it's not any longer than the fusion, and the backup camera makes it easy to park). Also, it may be easier if you install the car seats in cloth seats instead of leather seats, and using seat belts instead of LATCH.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:09 AM on March 24, 2015

Minnesota-born, Rhode Island resident.

We bought a 2005 Camry in 2006 when we knew we needed a car wide enough to hold three kids (one booster seat/"bump" and two car seats). I took a tape measure to a Toyota dealer and to Subaru -- which we couldn't afford even if it had fit, which it didn't -- and bought the Camry.

It's not great in snow, but it's better than the Tercel I owned in late-1980s St. Paul winters or the Corolla we owned in Massachusetts 1990s winters.

I still drive it every day. We are up to four kids now, and the boys are in Boy Scouts and I so want to swap it for a Forester in order to get into Scout camps and parks with loads of gear. But we will keep the Camry because the oldest one is about to start driving, and I want her in a car with airbags and ABS.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:16 AM on March 24, 2015

The Mazda6 definitely won't fit two regular Graco carseats plus an adult. One car seat with an adult on either side is kind of tight but doable. Larger hips would be a problem. The measurement you want is "rear hip room", the Mazda 6 has 56.1 inches and the Camry is tighter at 54.5. The Legacy is 55. A Highlander has 57.1, which is a bit better. If this is a firm requirement, be sure to take the seats and strap them in while you sit back there and discuss the car. The salesperson will want to get you out of the back seat as fast as possible.

The Mazda's infotainment is superb. I've rented a bunch of cars (Hyundai, Toyota, Ford) in the past year and the Mazda was the best. Pairs quickly, easy navigation with the knob, nice large bright touchscreen.
posted by wnissen at 9:19 AM on March 24, 2015

Why do all you young folks have such aversions to minivans? Room for everyone comfortably and it's easy to get kids in and out of the back, and room for groceries, etc. Some of them even come in AWD. I have a Toyota Sienna I love and it's just 10 inches longer than the Camry. Check it out.
posted by mareli at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2015

Response by poster: I'm hoping by the time I have to ditch the Graco, I can move my older child from a carseat to a booster seat. In PA, I can legally do this when she is 4.

I'm worried about a minivan fitting in our garage. We live in an old house with a small garage. There just isn't room there for a very long car. We think the Legacy, 6, or Camry would fit, but I'm not sure about something 10 inches longer than a Camry. We don't have a driveway that you could park a car in, plus I don't like sweeping snow off my car in the morning (I might have some real difficulty doing that with a high vehicle like a minivan), so parking outside is not really an option. I'm also worried about parallel parking a minivan- avoiding parallel parking isn't really an option here, unfortunately.

Is there still a separate Subaru Legacy wagon? I thought that's what the Outback was. It looked perfect for us on paper, but I found the seat uncomfortable when I tried it out. I wish there were more wagons, but unfortunately I once again like something that is out of fashion. (Says the person who has worn tie-dye shirts since the early 90's)

We did take the car seats with us when we went to the Subaru and Mazda dealerships, and Mr. Neville did try sitting in the back with them.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:46 AM on March 24, 2015

The Mazda5 minivan is actually 10 inches shorter than the 2015 Camry, but has more cargo and passenger space. Might be worth checking out. A small minivan is not very hard to park; the higher seating position and improved visibility can actually make it easier than a mid-size sedan.

Is there still a separate Subaru Legacy wagon?

Sadly, no. In the US especially, traditional station wagons are gradually being replaced with "crossovers" like the new Outback.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2015

mareli: "Why do all you young folks have such aversions to minivans? "

Hard to park in the city.

The low-profile mazda tires are fine ... I'm not going to chug over the ice and snow to get to the store mid-blizzard, but once the streets are plowed, it's fine. I do find the stability control (in slippery conditions) on the newer mazdas is a little aggressive, which took some getting used to. It's awesome in really icy conditions, but in merely slushy conditions it's trying to help me a little more than I want to be helped.

When you narrow it down to a couple of top choices, you can go rent that model car for three days and try it out with your garage and your car seats and your grown-ups and see how it actually works for you driving around town, getting the kids in and out, etc. Spending $100 to test the same model for 3 days is definitely worth the expense before buying a kid-hauler.

(And yes, the Mazda 5 is a breeze to parallel park in the city, and is only an inch or two longer than my husband's Ford Focus, and the same height, so it fits very nicely in our tiny old garage. Like mine a lot.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:12 AM on March 24, 2015

Response by poster: The low-profile mazda tires are fine ... I'm not going to chug over the ice and snow to get to the store mid-blizzard, but once the streets are plowed, it's fine.

Unfortunately, our garage is on an small street/alleyway that is one of the city's lower priorities for plowing. They pretty much gave up on it toward the end of this winter (I guess they were running out of road salt). This was a problem with the Civic.

Mr. Neville says that Consumer Reports didn't like the Mazda 5. I ignored their reviews once and bought a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire. Don't do that. (Maybe they're wrong sometimes, but they weren't about the Pontiac Sunfire) The only minivan they really like is the Honda Odyssey, which costs more than we want to spend with the features we want. I rented a minivan once back in 2003, for moving, and drove it in Berkeley, Livermore, and Walnut Creek, CA. I didn't like it much (though I suspect it was easier to deal with than a U-Haul, which was why I rented a minivan).
posted by Anne Neville at 10:30 AM on March 24, 2015

We bought our Subaru Forester (which, again, you didn't ask about) from a guy who had two small children. His other car was an Outback. I believe he replaced the Forester with another Forester.

If you're thinking about size, I have to say that I park my 2009 Forester in small-car spots all the time. We park it in an older carport thing and the length is fine. In fact, according to, the 2015 Forester is actually the same length as a 2015 Camry and one inch narrower. The Mazda 6 is even worse: a half-inch longer than both and 2 inches wider than the Forester. (A full half-inch! Can you BELIEVE that???)

I am not so sure about the interior width of Mazdas, though. I know my former neighbor had three small kids and had to upgrade from a Mazda wagon (is that the 5?) when the second one came around because it wouldn't fit two seats.

We have fit two adults in the back with the baby seat. Hell, we have fit a seven-foot, fully assembled entertainment center into the back of the car AND SHUT THE HATCH.

The only problem I've had with visibility probably has more to do with the baby windowshade I put up on the driver's side.

My former #1 car (which we still own) was an Accord, and we were a lifelong Honda family. I've been really pleased with the driving experience; the road noise hadn't been great in either my Accord or my previous Civic, but it's great in the Subaru. It drives very smooth, in contrast to the Toyotas I tried. My Accord is a V6, and every other car felt like a major step down in power. The Subaru's H4 engine is really nice.

And it's basically built for snowy, slushy, muddy towns, hence why they hand you a Subaru key when you move to Vermont.

It is the best car ever and we love it dearly.
posted by St. Hubbins at 11:27 AM on March 24, 2015

Hi! I live in Pittsburgh (south hills) and commute to Fox Chapel for work. I have an 05 Legacy. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old. You would be very, very, very hard pressed to get me to purchase anything other than another Legacy for my next car.

Fitting an adult in the back with the two car seats is tight but doable, depending on how wide your hips are. I think you're going to run into this problem with ALL of your choices though -- I can barely fit my hips between the car seats in my wife's Mazda CX-9 SUV. I am a relatively slim man. This problem is going to be worse with the full size booster seats than the two rear-facing car seats, surprisingly -- I fit tightly between the rear facing, I do not fit between the front facing.

The AWD on the Subaru is fantastic. I have only ever fishtailed it twice, and both times I was driving like an ass. Both times it corrected just fine. The autostick feature is really great for the snow -- you can start from 2nd gear at a stop to reduce torque and spin, and utilize engine breaking for more gentle stops without risking wheel lock.

My legacy is also really easy to work on.

I will happily admit that quality tires are WAY more important than AWD for getting around in the winter (and I know -- I spent four years commuting from the south to the north in a Mustang). Do not underestimate this, regardless of your purchase.

As stated, in another 5-10 years when I finally kill my Subaru, it's probably going to be another Legacy for me.
posted by bfranklin at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Had a legacy for 12 years, just bought another last month.

I live in Mass and drive approx 90 miles a day on my commute, through the worst winter on record.

Love my Subaru.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:56 PM on March 24, 2015

Oh, and addressing something librarianamy said with the headlights -- the Legacy (at least mine, and probably hers based on the year) use H7 bulbs for the lights. These bulbs just plain go after ~11 months. My boss has a BMW 3 series which uses H7s and has the same issue. I just watch the Amazon goldbox and pick up 4 or 5 pair whenever they go on sale. They're really easy to swap out yourself.
posted by bfranklin at 12:59 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Are there places that will rent a Subaru, Mazda, or Toyota? I've never gotten one when I rented a car. I've gotten GM cars, on one occasion a PT Cruiser, and a VW Jetta. I've never been offered much choice of make and model when renting a car- would I have to reserve my preferred make and model in advance?
posted by Anne Neville at 1:54 PM on March 24, 2015

I was rented strictly Mazdas from Hertz (I think it was Hertz) in California in the past few years. At some point someone asked me if I had a preference, and I said "Mazda" because I have a 2005 6 (which I mostly like but is not fun to work on, now that it's over ten years old), and that's all they rented me, from then onward.

That said, I'm actually also looking at Subarus and Camrys...which is why I peeked into this question. They all seem like nice cars! Good luck with test drives.
posted by destructive cactus at 4:11 PM on March 24, 2015

Hertz has Mazdas; looks like Dollar has Subarus; pretty much everyone shows Camrys as rentable. You can generally reserve a specific car online, but you can also just call the local office of the appropriate rental agency and tell them you want to rent whatever specific model because you're trying before buying and you're not very particular about dates but you really want that specific car. They'll sort you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:58 PM on March 24, 2015

I bought a Mazda 6 in January and love, love, love it. But I live in North Carolina and my kids are grown. I specifically bought it as a rite of passage, giving up my Mom Car/Highlander; I'm not hauling around football equipment and slumber-party survivors any more, plus we hardly get any snow so the 4WD was overkill. If I still had little kids and lived in Pittsburgh, I'd be looking at a Subaru (my husband has an Outback and loves, loves, loves it).
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:08 PM on March 24, 2015

I have a 10 year old Mazda 3. The interior is not much different in the 6 (2730 vs 2824 litres) . You can fit two car seats but the space that's left between is very small. I've squeezed into it (I'm 5'4" 120lbs) but it was a very uncomfortable ride.

Mazdas are brutal for rust, especially in snowy climates. All that salt I guess. Mine was fixed under extended warranty a few years back and there are still chunks of the wheel well falling off this winter. My 8 yo takes great pleasure in kicking at them. Other than that the car has been quite good. FWIW I'm pretty sure my next car is going to be the Outback, uncomfortable seats or not. More space, good gas milage, AWD, higher profile, long lasting and can tow. It's a winter friendly kidmobile. I also looked at the Nissan Rogue, Honda CRV, Mazda CX-5, Forester, Crosstrek and the Toyota RAV 4. The ones with the most interior passenger space are the Forester, Outback, CRV and CX5. The RAV 4, CRV, Outback and Forester have the most cargo space (with the seats up, I haven't calculated with seats down).
posted by Cuke at 6:52 PM on March 24, 2015

Have you checked the Subaru Crosstrek? I had a '98 Outback (Back then it was "Legacy Outback") and adored it. Ice, snow, no problem. But now the Outback is a huge vehicle. The Crosstrek looks to be in the same size/height that my old Outback was, so lots of snow clearance without driving a monster car.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:17 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

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