recommended a hybrid + what are the killer features in modern cars?
November 17, 2015 12:52 PM   Subscribe

We're looking into a new car; haven't car shopped in a decade and a half. I'm at least vaguely aware that there are a lot of new high-tech features out there but for someone who last time around thought finally having a remote keyfob was pretty neat, it's hard to see what's actually valuable vs. what's just shiny nonsense. What hybrid compact or subcompact hatchback would you recommend and what are the features that are really valuable to you?

We drive less than 10,000 miles a year, mostly local errand-running, but with occasional road trips. We're in the Bay Area, so dealing with snow or temperature extremes isn't an issue. We have a narrow driveway and garage, so we wouldn't want to go wider than our current car's 68". We have Android smartphones, so integration with those might be useful but integration with iPhones wouldn't be. I'm willing to pay a premium for physical comforts.
posted by Zed to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
We have a Nissan Leaf. It is a wonderful car. All of our daily routines are easily within the 85 mile range and we charge it at home. Your area may have a lot more public infrastructure for charging around town. It's super fun to drive, and there's a lot of neat comfort touches available, like a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.
posted by odinsdream at 12:55 PM on November 17, 2015


Probably my favorite feature in newer cars right now is blind spot monitoring and notification. My car makes a little beep anytime I have on my turn signal when there is someone in my blind spot and it has saved me a lot of times.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:56 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


How firm are you on the hybrid requirement? We just bought a new Honda Fit and it's WONDERFUL. We've been averaging about 43 mpg combined highway/city.

In terms of killer features, the backup camera in the Fit is super useful, much more so than I would have ever anticipated. Helps us to back in to our extremely narrow garage.
posted by saladin at 1:05 PM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


New cars I've rented recently have all had backup cameras, and I would love to have one of those in my next new car...
posted by msbubbaclees at 1:07 PM on November 17, 2015


I would pick an enclosed trunk over a hatchback because of smash and grabs.
posted by brujita at 1:10 PM on November 17, 2015


Besides the Nissan Leaf, I would look at electric cars in general. They can go long distances now thanks to the growing network of "DC Fast Charging" stations. If you just can't get over the fear of going pure electric, consider a plug-in hybrid like the groundbreaking Chevy Volt or something more pedestrian like a Ford C-Max Energi. I've got basic EV info here, although the site is aimed at the Georgia market.

Personally I'm now driving a BMW i3 and it is a FREAKING THRILL to drive, but it may be outside your price range.

All electric cars offer heated seats and preconditioning. Preconditioning means you use your keyfob (or smatphone app) to tell the car to start the climate control before you get to the car, so that it's already comfortable when you get in. THAT is a killer feature.

If you're about to dismiss the EV idea, do some reading, as there are a lot of myths about them.

FYI on backup camera: nearly all cars have them now, and in fact they will be federally mandated in all cars starting one year from now. So ... it's not really a differentiator, they all have them now.
posted by intermod at 1:15 PM on November 17, 2015


I thought a blind spot indicator system was nonsense for people who were not very good drivers, until I got a car with one. It's a really nice thing to have. I thought it was silly right up until I got on the freeway while test driving it, and then once I realised how much a car can be invisible there I was thrilled with it. It's especially nice if you have just gone to Costco and can't actually see out the back window over all the toilet paper.

It doesn't sound like kids are a consideration here but for anybody else reading this, or if they might be in the future -- built-in booster seats are phenomenal. I trust them more than aftermarket plastic that may or may not fit my car just so, and it's nice having two so I can ferry my kid's friends around without having to borrow a seat. The kid thinks it's the best thing ever, too.
posted by kmennie at 1:42 PM on November 17, 2015


Sounds small, but an AUXilliary plug is a pleasure in one of our two car. The other is older and we miss having easy access to our music. (Of course, them newfangled cars probably have Bluetooth now.)
posted by fairmettle at 1:45 PM on November 17, 2015


If you're about to dismiss the EV idea, do some reading, as there are a lot of myths about them.

I love the idea of an electric car but we're a single-car household and will be getting rid of our current car when we get a new one and want to retain the option of going hundreds of miles in a single day (though we do that rarely, one reason we might be doing it is to respond to a family emergency.)

I would pick an enclosed trunk over a hatchback because of smash and grabs.

I'd want a removable hatchback shade like we have now; I had assumed their availability is standard. I like hatchback over trunk for more flexibility in moving large things.

It doesn't sound like kids are a consideration here

Nope!
posted by Zed at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2015


I bought a Prius (base model) last year after moving to the Bay Area, and it's ubiquitous around here for good reason. If I could do it over, I'd upgrade to the next-up trim model to get a backup camera and keyless entry on 3 doors (driver/passenger/hatch) instead of just driver side, because damn do I appreciate not digging my keys out of my bag.

I also love the hatchback feature for moving shit around, especially in the Bay Area where comparatively few people own SUV's/trucks/minivans so it's harder to borrow one. I've fit a queen size IKEA bed frame, a tall bookcase, and an upholstered living room chair inside my Prius (not all at once).
posted by serelliya at 1:56 PM on November 17, 2015


Just a point on the "but what if we need to drive on a road trip" thing - at least with our decision to go with a Leaf, we realized that renting a car for those random, rare occasions was much more appropriate for us in terms of costs and convenience than essentially hauling a long-travel car around for our 99% short-trip lifestyle.
posted by odinsdream at 2:04 PM on November 17, 2015


I thought a blind spot indicator system was nonsense for people who were not very good drivers, until I got a car with one. It's a really nice thing to have. I thought it was silly right up until I got on the freeway while test driving it, and then once I realised how much a car can be invisible there I was thrilled with it. It's especially nice if you have just gone to Costco and can't actually see out the back window over all the toilet paper.

Not only that, but a lot of newer cars have thicker pillars and smaller windows in the back, so the car's own design can hamper rear visibility quite a bit.
posted by phatkitten at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2015


Backup camera, blindspot warning, and Bluetooth make driving much less wearying.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2015


I like USB outlets (so you don't need an extra widget for phone charging, especially if you kill your phone with GPS use), backup cameras, and the inset blindspot mirrors.

I also really like having radio controls (volume and channels) on the steering wheel.
posted by ktkt at 2:43 PM on November 17, 2015


I have a 2005 Prius, and my mom just bought a 2013 plug-in prius with all of the bells and whistles.

I love my car. I get right around 40 mpg at coming up on 200k miles now, and the only non-routine work I've had done was a ~$300 heat pump of some sort years ago and more recently a $700 fixed AC (non-negotiable in Texas). The amount of cargo space is really surprising. I get skeptical looks in the Home Depot parking lot all the time, but it's like the damn Tardis in there. It always seems to hold however much I need it to.

My mom's car is superior in every way. It's got the backup camera, blind spot notification, lane monitoring, windshield HUD and adaptive cruise control. She can plug in at work as averages 90 mpg. Bot my dad and I were skeptical about many of these features, but after driving it a couple of times I'm convinced, and my dad raves about it.

My own personal wishlist of actual cars to own is: 1. The upcoming Tesla consumer level dealie. 2. Plug in Prius.

Seriously, my old 2005 has exceeded every expectation and manufacturer's promise.
posted by cmoj at 2:44 PM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also have a workhorse 2005 Prius and would get one again in a hot minute. My all hybrid mechanic said that their new buy favorites are the regular Prius and the Prius C (smaller). I'd get the leatherette (not fabric) upholstery and heated seats. The rest of the phone integrating with Bluetooth, and back-up camera, etc is usually fairly standard across the board now.
posted by quince at 3:45 PM on November 17, 2015


These are the features I miss the most when I get a rental car:

Keyless entry is a sleeper-hit for me. You never need to touch the fob, find the fob, interact with the key or fumble around with anything in any way. You never need to lock your car. You don't need to worry about it or remember it or think about it - the car is simply always unlocked for you, and always locked when you walk away. The fob needs to be somewhere on your person (at the bottom of a pocket), but otherwise fobs are not part of your life any more. (I didn't realize how annoying it was to constantly be fishing around for car keys until after I rented a car after not having to use keys.)

HUD - these are not as common as they should be, but they really work - your eyes stay on the road when checking instruments, they increase both your safety and your information.

Heated seats. You can probably downgrade these since Berkeley is warm all year, but even in that area I still like having them.

Actual important stuff that is sometimes overlooked: Electronic stability control. (A system where a computer uses per-wheel ABS control to differential-drive (tank-style) the car out of a slide.)
Statistically this system is thought to reduce road fatalities by a massive 30%, so getting any car without it is like buying something without seatbelts, or without airbags, or without ABS. (And unlike airbags and seatbelts, it saves your life by preventing an accident from happening in the first place, rather than by making your injuries somewhat less devastating.)
posted by anonymisc at 3:56 PM on November 17, 2015


It looks like I understated the importance of ESC - The IIHS study concluded that ESC reduces the likelihood of all fatal crashes by 43%, fatal single-vehicle crashes by 56%, and fatal single-vehicle rollovers by 77–80%. ESC is described as the most important advance in auto safety

I guess it's really the anti-killer-feature. But it's super cool when it kicks in; it makes me feel like a drift king :D
posted by anonymisc at 4:08 PM on November 17, 2015


I am a cold wimp, and heated seats are really, really nice. Especially if you park outside in the winter--my heated seat is warm way before the heater in my car.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:32 PM on November 17, 2015


Keyless entry is a great convenience feature and I'd hate to own a car without it now.
ABS (antilock brakes) and active stability control and side airbags are essentials, of course.
ABS has saved my ass more than once, and the stability control kicks in more often that you night think.

My top of the line but 10 year old Prius has all these, and I find it weird that these features aren't standard on all new cars by this point. If I was buying a new hybrid now I'd get the top of the line model again to get the full set of modern safety features like blind spot monitoring.
posted by w0mbat at 7:19 PM on November 17, 2015


I love the idea of an electric car but we're a single-car household and will be getting rid of our current car when we get a new one and want to retain the option of going hundreds of miles in a single day (though we do that rarely, one reason we might be doing it is to respond to a family emergency.)

Which is why you should then take a hard look at something like a Chevy Volt or C-Max Energi, because it is probably perfect for you. These "plug-in hybrids*" give you the benefit of an electric car for driving around town (electric thrill, zero gas consumed, trivially small operating cost) but then magically turn into hybrids when you suddenly need to drive further. I drove my Volt to NYC, New Orleans, Florida, no problem, just gas and go. But around town it's an EV!

Seriously, these are great, fun, astonishingly efficient cars, but the hardest part is for folks to just consider the car.

* GM (and owners) bristle at calling the Volt a "hybrid" for reasons I won't go into. It's better than a hybrid :)
posted by intermod at 7:57 PM on November 17, 2015


If you're asking about features, I love the EyeSight system in our new Subaru. Not great gas mileage, but amazing safety. Right now I wouldn't buy a car without it, or something similar.
posted by postel's law at 8:38 PM on November 17, 2015


I have the Mazda 3 and i love the features and fuel economy iam getting non-hybrid. 33 city and 43 highway. Killer feature that I loved was the rear camera (awesome!) and blind spot monitoring BUT with Rear Cross traffic alert( backing out between two huge cars.. cant see either side. It will beep if there is a car coming from either side)

Another one to look at non-hybrid is Honda fit which has about the same fuel economy figures as the M3 but the killer feature are the "Magic seats". Seriously those things can allow you to fit a lot of things in such a tiny car.
posted by radsqd at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2015


thanks, everyone -- this has been really helpful.
posted by Zed at 6:31 PM on November 18, 2015


« Older Roswell, New Mexico   |   Is Zendesk what I'm looking for? Or what am I... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.