Help me shop for a new car!
March 7, 2016 9:30 AM   Subscribe

My current car is done, needs a new engine that's worth more then the car itself. I have no idea where to start with the vehicle search but we want to purchase something in the next week or so. What would some of your recommendations be for the person who is not car savvy? More info below...

My partner and I have a 10 month old and would like to have one more child eventually. We need something:
-Good for Alberta winters
-Good going up and down hills
-Safe and practical
-Room for baby/kid gear
-Needs to fit in our garage
-Decent on gas
-Would like new or slightly used for under $30,000

Not sure where to start on the search, any advice would be appreciated so I can go in armed with some ideas when I hit the dealerships
posted by bluehermit to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Minivan. Most manufacturers have AWD versions, if you feel that is necessary.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:40 AM on March 7, 2016

I'd say a subaru is your best bet. The Forester is great, and the Outback is also great but bigger. The impreza also comes in a hatch, if you're looking more for a car. They're all great in any weather, economical, AWD, safe, pretty inexpensive, and they hold their value really well.
posted by Huck500 at 9:45 AM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can't speak to winter weather but when we had kid #2 we got a minivan. I was REALLY against a minivan but hubby insisted and I've had to eat crow and admit that I love the damned thing (remote sliding doors are brilliant when you're carrying 35lbs worth of baby and carseat). Now we fight over who gets to drive it. No concerns about whether the carseats fit in the second row because there's plenty of room. 3rd row has come in handy on road trips and we've still had enough room to haul the pack n play, luggage and other necessary gear.

I personally recommend Toyota over Honda because in our family we've had a lot of back problems associated with Honda seats. Apparently this is a common thing, you can Google for it.
posted by vignettist at 9:56 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

When we were in the same position (but with older kids) we got a Subaru Outback wagon.

Symmetric AWD, lots of space for crap in the back, easily fits 2 car seats (although when I'm crammed between them it's not great), heated front seats, good clearance. Good in Fairbanks winters once you stick the Blizzaks on. Ours came with a winterization package, I don't know if you'd have to ask for that separately in Alberta.

The only thing I wanted that we couldn't get was mirrors/seats with a programmable setting so it's easy to switch drivers back and forth (I'm 5' and my husband's 6'4"). I'm not sure if that's available with the premium package or not.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

We are positively evangelical about our Outback, and this is a trait that seems common among other Subaru owners we've encountered. We love that it is:
- hella dependable
- able to handle not-super-civilized roads and ugly weather with no problem
- feels super safe (the assisted cruise control and "eyesight" technology on newer models is pretty remarkable and makes me feel incredibly safe when driving for long stretches on the highway, and when driving in heavy traffic, both of which I HATE because they usually make me super anxious)
- decently roomy (we don't have kid-gear ourselves, but we encountered no issues when driving around our nieces and nephew and their assorted seats and strollers and bags and other accoutrements this summer, and have several times managed to pack it with all the gear necessary for three adults on a week-long backpacking trip, plus luggage for a road-trip, plus a 65lb dog and all the shit he needs for both trips. This is a LOT of gear, and we never felt cramped).

My fiancée tracks gas mileage religiously, and I would say that is the single thing that he doesn't adore about the vehicle. The mileage is not terrible (though I don't have the number off the top of my head), but it's not something that stands out as AWESOME about the Outback, and something that might be a deciding factor if exceptional mileage is important to you.

We ended up getting ours new, but did a lot of research into used before ultimately deciding. One of the reasons we ended up going with the new one is that the damn things hold their value so well, that it didn't seem worth it to get a 5-year-old model when a (relatively) small percentage more money would get us the new model with all the snazzy new features.

Also, all their commercials feature adorable dogs, so obviously they're a great company right? ;p
posted by Dorinda at 10:04 AM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Outback is safe and great to drive and has an unusual form factor which makes for an insanely spacious back seat which is good for a child seat, and a lot of trunk space. I also like the Forester, although that has lots of direct competition from CRV, RAV4, CX-5, etc.

Another great Subaru is the CrossTrek - it's a mini-SUV, about Prius-sized inside, and has a hybrid version. The CrossTrek is not as roomy as the Outback and Forester, but it might fit your needs depending on how much gear you need to trek around.

It's worth paying up for a higher end version of Subarus with the EyeSight safety system and nicer interior (it's a lot nicer).
posted by w0mbat at 10:10 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Came in here to say that I bought a Subaru Crosstrek a month ago. I LOVE it more than any other vehicle I've owned. It's almost exactly the same dimensions and body as the Impreza, but it's raised up about 6 inches. It's safe, affordable, and great in snow. It may be a bit cramped if you have a ton of kid gear, in which case I'd go for the Outback.
posted by Sal and Richard at 10:56 AM on March 7, 2016

There are many in the small SUV category that would fit your criteria. I live in Ottawa, so we see a bit more snow and much more salt that you do, though our temperatures aren't as low, or are, but not for as long.

We've got a Forrester and it ticks all your boxes. Of the three (Forester, Outback and Crosstrek) we bought it as the best combination of low price, cargo space, and most-importantly visibility. The Forester is by far the easiest to see out of. I'd buy the Outback really only if we needed the towing capacity. I don't see the point of the Crosstrek.

The Subu does noticeably drag a bit to start on the -20 or below mornings without a plug-in. I'd consider a block heater on it essential. You will want the winter package too. We've got Michelin X-Ice on it and it has handled ice and snow roads (and hills in Quebec) without complaint.

The Mazda five and the Honda Fits are a bit smaller and quite a bit smaller. Both are very popular in Ottawa as well and do just fine in our cold and snow. My brothers both have the somewhat larger Honda CR-Vs and like them both too, though they also complain about limited space. The Toyota RAV4 seems a bit small and the 4Runner (owned previously by one brother) is a gas-hog compared to many of the others.
posted by bonehead at 10:58 AM on March 7, 2016

I did not opt for the EyeSight package. I found it to be more annoying and distracting, and it wasn't worth the extra money for me. YMMV.
posted by Sal and Richard at 11:00 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

We didn't bother with EyeSight either.
posted by bonehead at 11:00 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another Canadian Outback owner. We bought new last year, standard transmission, basic package - so basically the lowest end possible - and came out around your pricing limit. If you don't need to tow anything you might prefer the Forrester or the Crosstrek. Pros are covered above - great clearance, amazing in the snow and ice (my partner calls it "cheating", so much easier than our last car, a Mazda 3), lots of room in the back, good visibility and damn I love those heated seats in the winter. It has this automatic hill start button thing in it, if you are worried about starting on hills. Cons: I do a fair amount of start and stop city driving and notice a big difference in how much gas I go through compared to our old Mazda. It's better on the highway. It's also big - less parking spots available when I need to parallel park for sure. It's better as a suburban than an urban car. If you are doing city driving and parking I'd go for the Crosstrek.
posted by Cuke at 11:12 AM on March 7, 2016

I have a Mazda5 which I purchased to haul 2 adults, 2 kids, a big dog and stuff, all at once. It would certainly do that. I'm in MN where we definitely get winter. It is FWD, and lower to the ground for small kids and old folks to get in and out of, but I do need a plowed road - just can't drive through big drifts of snow. Visibility is excellent in it, decent mileage, and excellent safety test ratings. The only problems I have with my 2008 model is that it doesn't have heat in the back rows, but the newer models do (I think 2010 and newer). It is a smaller minivan so fits easier in a garage and is about $10k USD cheaper brand new top-of-the-line Grand Touring edition than a minivan with less interior niceties.
posted by jillithd at 11:55 AM on March 7, 2016

I ended up buying a Forester which wasn't even on my radar and I love it. Ticks all your boxes.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:44 PM on March 7, 2016

Don't know about Alberta, but we bought a Chevy Trax last year and it works well for Minnesota. It's been sold in Europe and Russia for a few years now (called the "Tracker" in Russia, because "Trax" apparently sounds like a naughty word in Russian). If you haven't seen one, it's like the baby brother of the Equinox - same basic styling, smaller body. For $30k you ought to be able to get a top of the line AWD model.

It easily fits into our garage (it's actually shorter, nose to tail, than the Cavalier we used to own) but has some pretty solid cargo space (rear seats fold flat, front passenger seat also folds flat - I've thrown an 8" tree into the car, roots and all, and was able to close the gate!). It'll easily accommodate the downhill ski gear for our family, provided I put my 180 cm skis in at an angle. Rear window is a mite small, but backup camera largely makes up for this. 10 airbags and lots of small cargo pockets.

We bought it largely because of the 5 similar-sized vehicles with the best safety ratings, it had the 2nd best safety rating and the lowest base price. There's a Buick model that is the same vehicle if you want it a bit more plush, but it's more expensive too. Not available in the US, but perhaps in Canada, is a turbo diesel model - more horsepower. The US model is not rated for towing. Add-ons like oil pan heater and etc. might make winters more bearable. Heated seats have been nice, and it has on-board WiFi... which has been useful more often than I expected!

My ONLY major complaint is that Chevy has not made CarPlay/Android Auto available for this model vehicle, not even in current model years. It could also use a USB connector that didn't live inside the glove box. That's basically it though. I've been really happy with it.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:38 PM on March 7, 2016

I've been driving a twenty plus year old hand me down Subaru for the last couple years, and it's freaking fantastic. The AWD + ABS is like cheating in the winter, I still get 20+ MPG, and the car just ignores the cold. The AC compressor died last year, and I'm not paying $600 for a new one, but that's why I have windows and a sunroof.

I got this when pops got a new lease, gave his old car to mom and my old lease ran out, and I thought what the hell? Drive this until the tires fall off, save up a buck or three, then lease or buy. Well, that was three years ago. Having a car payment of zero is kinda cool.

I can't recommend Subaru enough. I've driven Mazdas, Hondas, Cadillacs, Buicks, Jeeps, one stupid year of an old MG, Chevys and Fords and I'd put the Subie on the top of my list.
posted by Sphinx at 3:26 PM on March 7, 2016

Another vote for Subaru, and for the EyeSight system. Best investment we ever made, in terms of improved safety, reduced stress. It even helped our marriage, since I'm less likely to tailgate with the EyeSight turned on. We bought new just to have that, and because we expect to get 200,000+ miles out of it, just like we did our previous one.
posted by postel's law at 4:18 PM on March 7, 2016

Unless the hills you need to go up and down are frequently iced, you could do quite well with a FWD intermediate or crossover (station wagon, really), like an Accord, a Camry or a Venza, or maybe a Mazda or a Ford. Members of my family have had good (and less-good, sometimes) experiences with those in a Climate colder (but wetter) than Calgary's. Re: Subarus, they're great, but depending on where you live service may be a bit hard to get. I understand they're super popular in BC, but I don't know about Alberta, though it shouldn't be a problem in a large city.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:33 PM on March 7, 2016

Check out the Jeep Renegade. It's really a great little car. It's super practical, good on gas and great in the snow.
posted by TickTickVroom at 1:33 PM on April 21, 2016

« Older Interesting Place to Stay Along I-20 in...   |   baby led weaning is just a fancy name for finger... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.