I need a new car but what?
February 2, 2016 2:43 PM   Subscribe

After 18 years of sterling service, my old Toyota Corolla is starting to fall to pieces. Literally. It's time to replace it - but with what? I want something with a bit more room this time around so was thinking a small SUV. Or do I? Please help me walk through the decision-making process because I really don't have a clue. Wall of text inside...

The car I' m replacing is a 1999 Corolla Conquest hatchback in metallic silver. It's been a great car and I'm going to miss it. The biggest issue I've had with it over the years is that the colour has made it completely invisible on the road or in parking lots - ever single panel is now dented and scratched by people who just didn't see me. Other than that minor quirk, it's been the perfect car, except my very tall husband turns into a hunchback after extended trips, but I did buy it before I married him so he doesn't hold it against me. :)

I spend at least 10 hours a week in thick city traffic, but I also do a fair amount of highway driving on the weekends, so reliability and comfort are top of the list. Comfort means AC, and a sound system I can connect to my phone or iPod by some means. A higher driving position would be nice too.

The Corolla was a 1.8L engine and had plenty of get up and go for me, so a bigger engine isn't essential, although I'm sure I wouldn't complain. I'm a reasonably efficient driver, so something hyper-efficient isn't necessary, and I prefer a manual transmission over automatic.

I would like more interior space, if only to preserve my marriage, but it doesn't have to be huge. Being able to fit 2 adults in the back seat without having to snap them in half would be nice - the Corolla manages that, but only just, and it's not comfortable for more than a short trip. And the Corolla had a good size boot, which I loved. I'd prefer a 4 door over a 2 or 3.

I park off-street at both work and home, but enjoyed being able to jam the Corolla into quite tiny spots if I had to, so something roughly Corolla sized would be great but I'm flexible on that.

The two contenders I've come up with are the Nissan Qashqai (formerly known as the Dualis) and the Mazda CX-3. I'll be test-driving both this coming weekend. Is there anything I should know about either of these? Driving reviews seem pretty universally positive but I'd like to see what the Hive Mind knows before I get in it.

And is there another small SUV or car that I've missed? I've driven a Subaru Forrester and liked it, but it's a little too expensive for me. The old sporty Toyota Rav4's were cool, but the new one is big, ugly and overpriced. What am I missing?

My budget is roughly $30K but there's some flex, and I'd prefer to buy new rather than used. Help?
posted by ninazer0 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am very pro-Subaru, but rather than recommending a particular make/model to you, I recommend you 1) take a look at compacts on Consumer Reports and Edmonds; 2) bear in mind that Japanese makes in general are not so comfortable for larger/taller people as U.S. built; 3) go test drive, and when you find something that makes your heart zing, get your husband to show up to check it out for comfort and 4) remember that the best stereo/sound systems, and the most affordable, are the ones you install yourselves via aftermarket places like Car Toys. I.e., focus on the car, then when you have it, take it in to an aftermarket place for the sound system you want.
posted by bearwife at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Honda Fit (called Jazz in Australia it looks like) has plenty of space for passengers and cargo and is available with a manual transmission. Mrs. exogenous is a big fan and I have driven her car enough to recommend it.
posted by exogenous at 2:51 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not an SUV, but I really like the amount of space in my old Prius. Plenty of room for my tall boyfriend and people in the back, or, with the seats down, you can fit really long things in the back (surfboards, etc- I even fit a loveseat in mine). It gets great gas mileage, obviously, the seats are super comfortable, and apart from not being a particularly attractive car, I have no complaints about it at all. So reliable.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2016

Yeah, I was definitely thinking Prius. You might also look at some of the littlest SUV things, like the Kia Soul or the Scion Xb (looks like that is called the Toyota Rukus in Australia?).
posted by hydropsyche at 2:57 PM on February 2, 2016

I call my Prius, "the little truck" because it has so much room for hauling stuff around, especially once you fold the back seats down. Two adults can fit in the back seat, though I wouldn't put someone over 6' back there for a multi-hour trip. My 5' 10" pal was fine in the back seat for many hours. My 6'2" husband is very comfortable in the front seat(s) on long trips. My short mother also loves her Prius because she says she sits quite high in it and feels like she can see more than she did in a standard sedan. How my short mother and tall husband are both quite enchanted with how they fit into the car must be witchcraft, but they're both very happy with their driving/riding experience.

It's a great commuter, quite zippy and fast, easy to park, and super reliable.
posted by quince at 3:33 PM on February 2, 2016

Looks like the Rukus isn't being sold in Australia any more, is that right? I think the Prius is a bit out of the price range. Really, I'd go with the Mazda or the Nissan, whichever you like better on the test drive.

While you're at the Mazda dealer, you might also drive a Mazda3 hatchback and see if it's big enough for you. It's an amazingly fun and practical car. Also, the base CX-5 starts at around 30K if you want something a little bigger.

Just as a dark horse I'll throw out that I recently got a VW GTI, and the Golf starts in your price range... and after years of Japanese cars, the Golf does a lot of stuff I love. Reliability has gotten much better recently, too. Prices are insane right now because of their... PR problem, at least in the US.

Looking at the Toyota site: They seriously still sell the Landcruiser 70 new there?! OMW.
posted by Huck500 at 3:34 PM on February 2, 2016

I bought my Prius new (base trim model, but not the smaller C) in 2014 for under $25k, so it's definitely in your price range. My 6'3" partner is comfortable driving it for long road trips, although I wouldn't put another tall person behind him in the back because he does push the seat all the way back. I'm 5'2" and equally happy. It's small enough to fit into compact parking spaces and most parallel spots, but roomy enough to fit a flat-packed queen size IKEA bed or an upholstered armchair.

The biggest con I've seen people mention about the Prius is its handling/acceleration. So I would test drive it to see if you notice; I didn't, but I'm not a "driving for fun" kind of person and actively dislike driving even crossover SUV's.
posted by serelliya at 3:40 PM on February 2, 2016

I'm basing the price range on $30,000 AU, which would be roughly $21,000 US, is that correct?
posted by Huck500 at 3:45 PM on February 2, 2016

We just bought a Jeep Renegade and love it. We wanted something good in the snow but something still fun and comfortable. The slight runner up was the Fiat 500x.

(And my car is a Mazda3 hatchback, love that, too)

Nthing bearwife on just going and checking them out - Mr. Getawaysticks had his heart set on a Subaru Crosstrek and we just didn't like the interior of it *at all.*
posted by getawaysticks at 3:51 PM on February 2, 2016

The Mazda is almost certainly out because of your husband's height. There's probably enough room, but the top of the windshield in all Mazdas is really, really low. When we test-drove a Mazda CX-9, their 7-passenger SUV, even my 5' 8" wife found that she had to hunch over to see the traffic light when stopped at an intersection; it's pretty ridiculous.

Nobody seems to mention this when reviewing these cars...
posted by kindall at 4:11 PM on February 2, 2016

I know several people who love their Honda Fits and it was a top contender last time I thought my car was finally on its way out. I particularly like the way the seats fold down to make the cargo area.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:12 PM on February 2, 2016

Huck500: yup, AUD. And no - the Rukus is not being offered anymore, although there's quite a few on the second-hand market. I'm actually looking at one for my dad right now!

I hadn't really considered a Prius, but I'll go and have a look on the weekend. Jeep and Fiat don't really have a good name in Australia with their reliability so I hadn't even considered them, to be honest, but happy to be proven wrong. There's a Jeep dealer near me, so I'll do some tirekicking and see where it gets me. Thanks for the suggestions so far, guys!
posted by ninazer0 at 4:54 PM on February 2, 2016

I don't have a specific car recommendation but a set of competing new standards (Android Auto and Apple's Carplay) are starting to become commonplace in cars. Both of these things make it easier to unify your phone with the car. As a driver of a '98 Vintage car I'm well aware that I might be in your shoes shortly and a car that supports one of the above would be important to me.
posted by mmascolino at 5:20 PM on February 2, 2016

I'm a tall fat man, and getting in and out of Subarus definitely counts as some kind of torture.
posted by flabdablet at 5:30 PM on February 2, 2016

I have a Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback which is sold in AU as the Elantra I30 hatch. I love it. I was looking for a car under near identical circumstances a couple of years ago. Bonus, the hatch seats fold down completely flat unlike the Subaru which has a couple inches of a dip.
posted by asockpuppet at 5:54 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Please buy slightly used. Certified Pre-owned cars are so, so, so much cheaper that you can get something you want with all the confidence of a dealer warranty. New cars are the worst deal on the planet.
posted by kcm at 6:30 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just traded in my 01 Corolla and bought a 2012 Honda Civic and I'm so happy with it! It feels like my Corolla, but upgraded.
posted by orangesky4 at 7:45 PM on February 2, 2016

Please buy slightly used. Certified Pre-owned cars are so, so, so much cheaper that you can get something you want with all the confidence of a dealer warranty. New cars are the worst deal on the planet.

Take it from someone who has sold new cars for a living and been around the car business his entire life, new cars are a terrible value.

Just about any "mini-ute" should fit the bill. At least in the US, it is a hotly contested market and just about all of them are great cars. They are mostly cross-over SUVs that definitely lean hard on the car side of their DNA. Basically like your Corolla but a little higher and a little taller (which will help your husband fit better). There are some trade-offs in handling (higher center of gravity), fuel efficiency, and road noise compared to a sedan.

I really like the MX-3 but in this segment, it's mostly a matter of personal preference. The Toyota Rav-4, Honda CRV, most Subarus, Hyundia Tuscon or Santa Fe (Kia is owned by Hyundia and makes a version of each of those too, I think). It's really hard to go wrong with any of them. See what has the features you want in your price range and do your research to see what looks good on paper (I'm certain that you have options there that we don't have in the US) and then drive them to figure out which one you like driving the best (hopefully on the roads you typically drive on).
posted by VTX at 6:55 AM on February 3, 2016

I'm a huge Subaru proponent(my dads has like 250k on it, which is like 400k km) but after driving a rav 4 on several long trips I understand why they're so popular and have such a following. The back seat is also categorically nicer than ANY subaru I've been in. I fit in there with plenty of extra room, whereas in a forester or outback I barely fit. It's really a bigger back seat than any small-ish car has. And yes, I'm talking about the new chunky rav 4. I really didn't expect to like it but I do.

They also are pretty much the most reliable cars made, and are REALLY comfortable for a long trip. Great power for cruising and accelerating on the highway, too.

I like the Prius as well, and agree on comfort as a tall person. They're expensive to fix though. Even basic stuff like the cabin battery is really expensive and specialty. They're very reliable, but sort of slot in more towards a luxury/performance car in maintenance costs.

I will say that as a car to drive in general, the Subaru is really really nice. I'd take a long hard look at a certified pre owned one if new ones are out of your price range. They're seriously amazing cars that just sort of last forever. I've done everything from quick trips to the store to moving house and huge drives in one and would buy one in a second.
posted by emptythought at 11:58 AM on February 3, 2016

Just a quick followup post. I ended up test driving the Mazda CX5 and CX3, the Nissan Qashqai and Juke, and the Toyota Prius and Rav 4.

I ended up buying the Nissan Juke, which is something I hadn't planned on as everyone had told me that it was too small for what I wanted. It's actually surprisingly roomy - particularly up front and actually has more space for the passenger than the Rav-4, which is a much bigger car. The engine is quite small (1.6L) but the turbo and CVT transmission make it incredibly zippy. And the fully optioned AWD version came in at the top of my budget, so I took it. It ticks every box except the roomy back seats, and the warranty and servicing deal was particularly good. I ended up getting bright red rather than the bumblebee yellow as it was just TOO yellow.

The CX5 and the Qashqai were too big and I found them horrible to drive. The Rav4 had awful visibility, no space for the passenger and the engine was really sluggish. The Prius was nice enough to drive and had plenty of space, but I just didn't like it. It felt like a bad deal considering the price.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:59 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

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