Best used hatchback?
February 27, 2017 3:13 PM   Subscribe

In the market for a used hatchback car, any year from ~2003 up until now. Where are the sweet spots of reliability & low price?

I really like the layout of hatchback cars (where you can use the full extent of the backseat & trunk, rather than a separate trunk). However, I am definitely a budget shopper and want to get the best value I can. What makes & models consistently score high marks for safety, gas mileage, cost, and looks?

My priorities for my new car are:

- automatic transmission is a must
- good gas mileage
- reliable and sound mechanics
- not-too-cramped interior
- easy to drive and park
- good in the snow and ice

I don't have kids so no need for backseat features or safety locks or anything. I live in Pittsburgh and this car is going to be used 95% of the time for short trips of 5 miles or less.

Happy to hear your own personal recommendations of cars you've loved over the years or more structured, official lists.
posted by amicamentis to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Honda Fit, hands down. I use my daughter's old college/high school Fit for exactly these situations. Except I don't know about ice and snow, as I'm in the south. After ten years of hard use (did I mention college?) it's officially our beater car. Still runs great, easy to park, holds a shit-ton of stuff with the back seats folded down, and gets great gas mileage.
posted by raisingsand at 3:30 PM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

A 2008 Honda Fit fits all of your criteria.

If you have access to electricity and you won't need it for long trips, a 2012 Nissan Leaf would be even more reliable and easy to drive.

I sold my Fit (loved it) for a Leaf (love it even more).
posted by Diddly at 3:31 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just did this search with pretty much the same requirements. My shortlist came down to the Honda Fit and the Toyota Matrix. Note that the Pointiac Vibe is largely the same car as the Toyota Matrix, and can often be found at a slightly cheaper price than its Toyota twin.
I went with the Fit due to finding a honey of a deal on one. My only complaint (that the Matrix/Vibe is only a minor improvement on) is the ground clearance. I bottomed out for weeks when I first got it, until I got used to how short it was compared to my old CRV.
posted by piedmont at 3:33 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you want a Fit, for sure.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:33 PM on February 27, 2017

I've had great luck with the Subaru Impreza.
posted by ph00dz at 3:36 PM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

You're going to have to give a budget. A Fit and "budget shopper" don't necessarily go together very well. For good reason, no one really wants to sell their Fit. Supply and demand and all.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:48 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Old Subaru Foresters and Outbacks are ubiquitous here in Maine, where conditions are shall we say, less than ideal !
posted by lobstah at 3:48 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just was in the market for a small budget hatchback so I've done a ton of research. The Honda Fit is a great car but 1. I drove one for a day as a zipcar and hated driving it (and have other friends with the same experience), so definitely try it out and 2. it can be really hard to find good deals on Fits because they are very popular and people hang on to them.

If the Fit doesn't work out for you, try a later-model Ford Fiesta. A few friends have and love this car, and Ford has really become a lot more reliable in recent years. Other cars to look into are the Kia Rio and the Hyundai Accent. If you can get a good deal on an Impreza or Soul, those are also great cars. I'd stay away from the Toyota Yaris and the Chevy Sonic, which are two cars in this general category that are cheaper than many others but for good reason.
posted by lunasol at 4:04 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love my 2005 Scion xB, and Consumer Reports loves it too.

- automatic transmission is a must

- good gas mileage
In the twenties

- reliable and sound mechanics
I've never had to do anything major other than, uh, replace the back third after I got rear-ended.

- not-too-cramped interior
It is glorious.

- easy to drive and park
Yes, although it doesn't have the world's best turning radius, possibly? It has fabulous visibility.

- good in the snow and ice
I don't get much snow or ice where I am (Western Washington) so I can't speak to that -- it did get stuck in some snow going up a small hill once, but also has made it over the Cascades in the winter just fine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:15 PM on February 27, 2017

I also echo the Subaru owners. I have 4.. a Legacy, a Legacy wagon, an Outback and a Forester. Three are over 150k miles and going strong. If buying used, just be sure the head gasket and timing belt work have been done on any car over 100k miles. Those are the two big ticket items you usually get hit with. (regardless of brand)

The Impreza Wagon would fit all your requirements, though. I've lived in Pittsburgh. Would fit right in.
posted by rich at 4:15 PM on February 27, 2017

I drove my Honda Fit to college in Michigan from NJ multiple times as well as driving it around town in the winter. It would probably be smart to put snow tires on it but I never did and it was fine. I did end up in one snow bank but people helped me out again quickly and that had more to do with my driving ability than the car.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:26 PM on February 27, 2017

A Fit with snow tires. The Fit is the most flexible hatchback I've ever experienced. The only downside is that the road noise is pretty pronounced when compared to, say, my mother's Ford Fusion. I just turn the music up.
posted by xyzzy at 4:37 PM on February 27, 2017

I have snow tires on my 2007 Fit and have no problem in the snow that we get around Boulder, CO. But I think to get a low price on one you'll have to luck out like piedmont did above. I'm certainly not selling mine, I like it too much.
posted by zsazsa at 4:43 PM on February 27, 2017

I think the Toyota Prius is the best hatchback ever. Used ones can be a good deal and they are quite roomy. They win on mileage too.
posted by advicepig at 5:07 PM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

As an anti-recommendation, I discourage you from getting a Mazda 3 hatchback. They are inexpensive, and ok on snow. However, I have a new-to-me 2008 Mazda 3, and I put $1000 into it in the first year of ownership (and the A/C is still broken). Pick something else!
posted by Guess What at 5:40 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I want to echo that the Toyota Prius is great. Surprisingly roomy, and ours is better on ice and snow than the (older) Subaru Forester it replaced!! (We loved that Forester, too.) And the Prius obviously has great mileage, especially for city driving.

Used Priuses aren't super cheap. And some people don't like the divided back window. But I love ours!
posted by MangoNews at 5:58 PM on February 27, 2017

The Honda Element is also nifty.
posted by vrakatar at 6:04 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another vote for a Subaru Impreza. You can get one with lots of mileage and as long as it was maintained it will be excellent. I recently switched from a Ford Focus hatch to an Impreza and can't sing high enough praises. I disliked the Fit and the Mazda 3 pretty hard when I tried them. For an Impreza you may have to wait for a good deal though.
posted by sockermom at 6:05 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mazda 3 hatchback (aka 5 door). Great gas mileage, great handling and everything else you mentioned. I've owned and driven many Subarus and haven't been as impressed as I am with my girlfriend's 2015 Mazda 3 hatch.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:19 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wanted to like the Fit but didn't: there was something plasticky and leaden about it. Lots of people love them, and they hold their value really well, but drive one first to see how you feel.

If you can afford a 2008 or later Fiesta, that might be an option. (The first year of that generation had a few issues, so check the maintenance history carefully.) If your budget's tighter, mid-00s Subaru.
posted by holgate at 10:54 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Another vote for the Prius! Fantastic mileage, lots of backseat legroom, wide hatchback trunk that flattens out (when you Kay the seats down) to be just massive for a car that size.
posted by jhope71 at 11:00 PM on February 27, 2017

We have a 2012 Kia Rio. It looks the ratings for it are good, if not quite as good as the Honda Fit (so might be a bit cheaper/easy to get). It's made it through winters in the midwest and northeast, and a decent number of long-ish road trips (~500 miles). I lived in Pittsburgh for a summer with it, and it was handy--it's quite short (we often lose it in parking lots, because it'll be hidden behind an SUV), and very easy to parallel park in/navigate around the streets.

The front seat is roomy, but the back seat is a bit cramped. The trunk space has served us well through a couple of moves and Ikea trips. Gas mileage is good, especially on the highway.
posted by damayanti at 4:43 AM on February 28, 2017

I paid about 12k for a 2012 low mileage Prius C (it had been a lease), and I love it. It checks all of your boxes except the snow and ice - we've had a mild winter, so I've got no idea, sorry - and it's a lot of fun to drive.
posted by joycehealy at 6:34 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Mazda3 if you can afford a 3D generation (late 2013 and later) model. And if you care about driving dynamics and handling more than a few other features. Superb gas mileage (I can average 42 mpg on long highway drives staying under 75mph). A nicer interior than most of the competition. Very sound handling in snow and rain. And just fun fun fun to drive.

The Honda Fit/Subaru Whatever axis is the sweet spot of Metafilter (slightly puritanical about cars) common sense, of course. I have driven many Subarus and recently drove a Fit for the first time, which felt to me like a shoebox sitting on a skateboard after my Mazda. They simply don't come close to a Mazda3's driving engagement and pleasure IF you love driving as a craft. If you were talking WRX or Civic Si, that's a different story. But a Fit is the perfect car for people for whom a car is a transportation appliance, and a Subaru Outback/Forster is the nearly perfect appliance car (other than AWD giving you crappy gas mileage, sorry) if you live in snow country.

You just have to decide how much weight you put on the driving characteristics of the car (and then, which ones). Newer Mazda3s do get the best gas mileage in the class for non-hybrids however. And their reliability is right up there with the bigger marques. They also have the top safety rating in the class. And I think they have the best interiors except the VW Golf in higher trim levels.

And they handle like a much more impractical car. They're sensible enough, if you're not quite down for being completely sensible. I love my Mazda3. Could not be happier.
posted by spitbull at 6:47 AM on February 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh hey, we are also in PGH and just did almost this exact search. We were a little surprised to end up with a non-hatchback Civic. Anyway, we also looked for Fits and depending on your budget, it was actually rather difficult to turn up a lot of fits in the area. They are immensely popular in the city, such that I personally felt the dealers weren't willing to negotiate a lot because they have so many buyers. But we were mostly looking at 2010 and later, which is really tight, so I know we spotted a few 08 or 09s that might have been a better deal.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2017

I have the 2013 Kia Rio, hatchback version. I think it's called the Kia Rio 5-door. I bought it because, I too wanted a tiny little hatchback.

It's four years old now and rides smoothly, hasn't had any major issues, maintenance-wise, and is comfortable. On the downside though, it's cheap and you can tell it's cheap -- the finishes are wearing oddly. I had to get a steering-wheel cover because there was a groove on the left hand side, caused by my ring rubbing away at the finish, and the driver's side door 's interior finish is all pocked from being opened and closed so much.

Also, I've been hit by other cars in it on at least two occasions because it's small and low and distracted drivers in big trucks and SUVs do not see me. That may be true of all small-ish cars, though.

That said, it's cheap, reasonably reliable, and easy to drive. But the workmanship isn't there. I still really like my car, but I'd never pay for a new one. If I could afford it, I'd probably get a Honda Fit next time, when this one finally bites the dust. But that probably won't be for another 5-10 years, I hope.
posted by PearlRose at 7:11 AM on February 28, 2017

I have a 2010 Prius and I love it very much. Mine gets 45 mpg, it's fun to drive, and I can fold down the rear seat and throw a 5 foot long dresser in there no problem. It did fine on the snow and ice this winter in Minnesota. I did a lot of research on cars last year before buying it and I feel like I made a good choice.

The Edmunds True Cost to Own calculator is nice for comparing costs.

IIHS has some good safety info if you want to research further.
posted by beandip at 8:41 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I drive a 2007 Prius in Minnesota winters, and it is a beast when equipped with snow tires.

Models from that vintage do sometimes have problems with the electric system, where -- for instance -- the dash will go dark in extreme cold (multiple days at or around - 20°F). Otherwise, I've basically had no repairs over the several years I've owned it. Just a few hundred dollars in yearly maintenance (mostly swapping out those tires every season), and $15 in gas every 1.5 months of normal short-errand use. Being a hybrid, there is potential for extra expense, given that there's a whole extra specialized system in play. But the earlier models seem to have been over-engineered in order to get early adopters to take the plunge. I inherited it with something like 150K on the odometer, and it has virtually no squeaks or rattles.

It's reasonably compact on the outside, making city life fairly painless. But as others have noted, the inside is like a magic wardrobe; tons of head clearance, even in the back seats, and a massive trunk area.

Not at all a sporty vehicle, however, if that matters.
posted by credible hulk at 9:01 PM on February 28, 2017

TrueDelta for reliability studies.

spitbull's comment above basically nails it, tho.
posted by lalochezia at 5:46 AM on March 1, 2017

Happy original owner of a 2004 Pontiac Vibe here. (Which is basically a Toyota Matrix, which is basically a Corolla, I believe.) I have around 150k on it, and nothing major has ever gone wrong. (Except recalls; seems to have gotten a few of those, mostly that Takata airbag thing.)

Might be cheaper because it's a defunct brand?
posted by Bron at 6:31 AM on March 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love my 2014 Prius, and my 6'3" SO drives it happily too. His mother has a much older circa-2005 model that is used as a daily driver in Montana. N'thing what everyone has said about roominess/gas mileage/driving style (not sporty). But the Prius holds its value pretty well--along with the Honda Fit, it's everyone's go-to hatchback model--so I'm not sure about budget.

A friend, also tall, enjoys his Toyota Scion xD. Subcompact size, noticeably smaller backseat, but you don't sound like you'll be using it much. Trunk size is also smaller than the Prius--mostly because the car is shorter--but still pretty roomy once you put the seats down. And shorter means easier to parallel park, too. We drove it in Tahoe recently during a snowstorm, on chains, and it was a bit dicey on unplowed side roads but fine for the main roads.
posted by serelliya at 1:34 PM on March 1, 2017

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