What make and model of car do I want?
February 23, 2017 1:01 PM   Subscribe

I currently drive a 2007 VW Rabbit S-model and love it to bits. But it's got almost 150K miles on it and I am faced with either $4K of expensive repairs, or getting a new car. I am up for a new job which will require the occasional long commute, and if I take the job (and get the associated raise), I am going to go the new (or new-to-me) car route. Given my needs and preferences, what should I get?

Things I love about the VW:
*The blue and red nighttime lighting. I have always loved this feature of VWs.
*The hatchback, moonroof, cuteness, and overall zippy feel of the car (although I am ready for a smoother, quieter ride)
*Seat warmers
*My excellent, trustworthy mechanic who specializes in Audis and VWs

Things I don't love:
*Repairs are somewhat expensive
*Gas mileage is not particularly great (under 20 mpg)
*The gas warning light doesn't turn on until the gas is almost empty (which would be okay if it weren't for the bad mileage thing, because it means I have to get gas RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND every time the light comes on)
*VW did that horrible thing with the diesel cars and not sure I want to support them

Things I want in a new car:
*A more luxurious car experience, particularly leather seats, rear back-up camera, and other fancy new features
*Safety, safety, safety! (I have a small child)
*Reliability (but having been a fan of VWs which are very hit-and-miss, I will do my research here)
*I love the automatic nighttime lighting that tints the rearview mirrors green at night in my partner's car (a Lexus)
*Something with some personality to the styling -- I find your basic sedan indescribably boring. A sedan is okay as long as it looks stylish somehow. (I realize this is subjective.) Also open to a small SUV.
*Something comfortable for tall/large people.

Things I don't care about:
*GPS or satellite radio
*DVD player in the back
*How good the sound system is (although I would like to be able to play CDs)
*Bluetooth stuff

My commute would be up to two hours or so per day, three days a week, in California weather. I don't have an electric car hookup and the range of electric cars might not work for me, although I do like the idea of getting an HOV lane sticker as it would save me massive amounts of commuting time where I am located. And also, you know, the earth and stuff.

I'm open on price, will get Consumer Reports and start researching, but would love suggestions of some cars I can look at that might fit my special snowflake needs! Thanks, Mefi!
posted by Threeve to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
I love my Subaru and it seems to meet a lot of your requirements. I have the Outback. Other models are available in hybrid (Crosstrek).
posted by anya32 at 1:06 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

What VW lacks in reliability, it makes up for in comfort and performance. I think that will make it hard for you to find a reliable and somewhat luxurious car experience without moving up to the luxury vehicle class. Toyotas, Hondas, and Subarus, while reliable, will probably feel like a step down to you when it comes to comfort.

An obvious choice for you is an Audi. With a child, the All-Road, Q3, or Q5 would all be great option. BMW x3 as well. The Jeep Cherokee is actually quite nice for a domestic small SUV.
posted by scantee at 1:15 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

*A more luxurious car experience, particularly leather seats, rear back-up camera, and other fancy new features
*Safety, safety, safety! (I have a small child)

An SUV is not at all a logical conclusion, based on safety. It is an urban myth that seems to be purely a US thing. They are much better than they used to be, but much less stable at highway speeds and much worse on primary safety (the ability to avoid an accident in the first place - handling, braking performance and stability related stuff) than any family car style comparative. Being higher is *not* safer, but people seem to think it is, oddly.

My biggest thing when looking to upgrade on cars in terms of user experience and still get the fancy stuff is to look at a 3-5 year old model. Fix a price for a new car you'd be ok with paying, then just look at older, better cars in that price range. My wife had a 2008 Accord that she paid around $18K for, and we swapped it in for a 2008 Lexus IS250 4 years later and she was Over The Moon with that car. It was a significantly better user experience and from the test drive she utterly fell in love with it.

Her most recent car purchase was a 3 year old Infiniti G37 - same thing. $14K saving on a new car (because depreciation hits like a rock for the first three years) and a SUPER fancy car that gets decent mileage (25 average) despite it being a really pretty quick car.

Anything with 4 doors is fine for a kid. Anything with a good safety rating (crash testing) AND good handling reviews (which is the more important part of everyday safety frankly) is within your wheelhouse.

So - things that spring to mind are - 5 series BMW (if you want tall people to be in the back comfortably, 3 series if you only care about the front for long trips), Lexus IS/ES/GS, Infiniti Q50 (30 at a push if you REALLY want a crossover) although they used to be called G not Q, Subaru make a nice car, but they feel small to me.

If you really love the dash thing, Audi is worth checking out, but they are the same as VW, but slightly pricier. Slightly better reliability, but I have never had a bad experience with a VW, so I think I am an outlier on what I think of their reliability.

Anything newer that is not an SUV will have significantly better fuel mileage. Even at 2007, your VW has bad fuel economy. I have a 2007 335i Coupe BMW that averages 25 mpg, mostly around town and.... let's just say I am not particularly fuel conscious with how I drive... It would easily get 28-30mpg on highway running.

When you pick an age range, look to find a good model year fit within that range - for 2015, for instance, look for the cars that are at the beginning of their model cycle rather than at the end. Change years are important, and if you are looking at a car that is to be replaced that year, it will be a 10 year old design, essentially.
posted by Brockles at 1:36 PM on February 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

An obvious choice for you is an Audi.

Nthing! I have an A3 and I was reading through your list thinking, "check, check, check." There is nothing I don't love about it. The sedan is probably too small for you, but the hatchback is worth checking out for sure. I bought a brand-new 2015 just after the 2016 models came out and got it for less than I was seeing used 2015's for at Carmax across the street, so that's one strategy to consider.
posted by something something at 1:45 PM on February 23, 2017

How much range do you need? We're still madly in love with our BMW i3 REx (which we used to replace a VW diesel...). And pretty much any of the electric cars will totally give you the zippy feel (OMG the torque at the low end) and the quiet (really, you'll have trouble going back).

For charging, if you're okay with overnight it's just an extension cord (we put in a Level 2 charger, but that's mostly useful for the "Charlene comes home from work, we charge it, I use it for an evening event" thing). Might even work at the office if you can work something out with your employer.

The i3 has options for seat warmers, leather seats, backup camera, all the amenities (ours does).
posted by straw at 2:07 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

We just bought a GTI, and love it! Also, turns out, VW is super motivated to sell cars, for what it's worth.

You can get a nicer GTI than we got -- leather, etc -- but the base model is kitted out pretty well PLUS comes with a tartan seat pattern we fell in love with that isn't available on the higher trim levels, which is dumb. (According to the salesman, we were by NO MEANS the first folks to make this choice, and they complain about it to VW every year.)

It's nice and zippy, surprisingly roomy, and fucking KILLS at highway MPG (we got about 40 on our last road trip). If you step up to the "sport" package or the uber-fancy AWD Type R, I'm sure that number goes down, but it's still probably solid.
posted by uberchet at 2:18 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

If the VW ethical issues aren't absolute deal breakers (I had a Diesel that they bought back, I'd probably get another VW if I needed a car, for what it's worth), for comfort, nothing beats my husband's 2015 GTI Autobahn front seats, he spent at least two hours a day driving for two years and it kept him sane. The gas mileage and warning aren't issued. He got in the upper 20s for mpg, and about a third to half of his commute was in congested traffic (and used sport mode a lot). If it's just highway he gets into the 30s easily. He'd get a reasonable warning for low fuel.

He hasn't had to do much beyond standard maintenance, so I can't comment on repair costs. His boss and co-worker both bought a Buick and a Cadillac at the same time he got the GTI...Both GM cars are constantly in the shop and have been since day 1 almost. So stay away from them.
posted by ghost phoneme at 3:14 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for the responses thus far! Audi seems like a strong possibility but I will check all these suggestions out.
posted by Threeve at 4:01 PM on February 23, 2017

You might consider a Mazda. I have a 2007 Mazda3 Hatchback Grand Touring model, and it feels very luxurious (heated leather seats, moonroof, decent audio, etc.). They remodeled in 2014, so anything newer than that has the new improved design. The Grand Touring is the high end trim level. I drive a standard so I can't comment on the zippiness of the automatic. Gas light comes on once you have about 22 miles left, which I find totally adequate. I am a large person, and the seats are super comfortable. I am not tall, however, so I can't speak to headroom. There are other Mazdas you might consider, too, like the crossover CX-3. Cons: Not super quiet. My car gets about 24mph city (I live in the Boston area, so it's a lot of stop & go traffic).
posted by clone boulevard at 5:16 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Something worth considering on these fuel light/range anxiety things - almost all cars will go just over 30 miles on the fuel light reserve. The range may say less than that on the fuel computer, but if the driver doesn't keep going like a hooligan, most cars will get 30-35 miles. They will, however, always tell you they will go less than they can to avoid a lawsuit for you being stuck by the side of the road. You could almost certainly get more miles on your existing car than you are suggesting from the OP.
posted by Brockles at 5:21 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also bought a GTI, and I'd buy one again in a second. If you get the higher trim you'll be in a car that feels like an Audi... they use some of the same parts, I think. You'll just be paying $10k less.

VW's reliability has improved a lot in recent years.

They have a CD player in the glovebox... but there's also an SD slot in there, and I have thousands of songs on a card and play them from the stereo. It's pretty awesome. CarPlay and Android Auto, too.

My S has the seat warmers, and I'm with Uberchet, the plaid interior is the best. But you get dual-zone climate control in the upper tiers, that'd be nice.

It's such a blast to drive, and if you turn off sport mode you can hit 36 MPG on highways without trying. If you get the DSG transmission you can cruise in auto and then shift yourself when you feel like it... and it's a proper dual-clutch, so faster than a manual.

VW is absolutely dying to sell cars... I got an amazing deal on mine with no haggling at all. This was last year, though.

They totally haven't fixed the gas gauge, though.
posted by Huck500 at 6:18 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a former VW junkie who converted to GM.

Lease a Chevy Volt - there are some amazing deals available (like under $200/month) and that is before the $1500+ you get back from CARB. Top safety ratings.

Worse case - if you can't plug in at either end you have a 50+mpg car.

If you can plug in at home or work (even a regular 110V circuit) you can easily do 100+mpg.

HOV sticker too.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 6:53 PM on February 23, 2017

So my wife has had an A3 and loves it (the old hatchback) but my Mom has the A3 sedan and also loves it. There is also the Etron (Plug in Hybrid) which is HOV legit though its a bit more expensive then the standard A3.

For something a bit different to take a look at, I have a Volvo V60 "Sport Wagon" checks off quite a few things if you stay away from AWD it even gets pretty good mileage.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:26 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

You want a Mazda. Great handling, a little more unique, great reliability, great mpg, and safe. The entire lineup has been redone in the last few years. I sound like I'm shilling for them but really my girlfriend has a 3 hatchback and we've loved it so much that when I ended up needing to purchase a car this year, I got a CX-5, their crossover. You want the Grand Touring trim, check out the 3 hatchback, CX-3 ( if you are maybe 6'2" or shorter, and the CX-5. Also, I'm wicked tall 6'4" and the 3, 6, and CX-5 have great legroom.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:26 PM on February 23, 2017

Sad news about nighttime lighting: my 2016 Golf doesn't have blues and reds; it's all white. Still a lovely car though.
posted by actionstations at 2:16 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Got a 2017 Jetta SE and LOVE it. It gets 35-42 mpg, it's zippy, has heated seats, and feels luxurious. I think the fancier trim models may not get as good gas mileage. It was great value for the $. If you love VW definitely take a look at it.
posted by beyond_pink at 5:34 AM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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