Car Me Up! (New Commuter Vehicle Needed)
September 16, 2018 4:18 PM   Subscribe

So, I have a new job starting up soon, and with it, a commute that cannot be done with public transportation. I currently have no car at all, but I have reliable anytime-access to a RAV4 when I need it for grocery runs or long road trips or bad weather, etc. I have started the test drive process. A couple of top contenders: The Chevy Bolt, and the Mini Cooper.

Why those two?

1) It's a fairly long commute - about an hour each way, so I want to be comfortable and happy with whatever I end up with. I'm going to be sitting in it a lot for the next however many years.
2) decent mileage would be nice to keep down costs
3) the destination and parking location will be Cambridge, MA. I can park on the street if I like (I have a pass) but a smaller car is a better car to deal with tight parking spots and tiny twisty streets.

The Bolt looks likes it might be great -- good range of mileage, lots of interesting features, nice and environmentally friendly, and it sits really high and had a good range of vision on the test drive. The interior was a bit plasticky. For some reason they thought a light up bar around the dash was a good idea. I wasn't entirely convinced that the brakes were quite as responsive as I would have liked.

The Mini Cooper (probably 2-door) - it was adorable, I loved the interior, it felt like it gripped the road really well. But, it seems to require premium fuel, I'm betting it's fairly expensive to repair, and it doesn't really tick the "sensible" box like the Bolt did. (I still loved it, though).

Cars I have also considered:

-The Honda Fit - I thought this would be the easy victor, but I actually didn't like how it felt when I was seated as the driver.

-a Fiat - cute as a bug, but they don't seem to have good track records. (Also we watched one pass us the other day on the highway and it literally appeared to be on fire.)

What else should I consider or try out? What other arguments for or against the Mini or Bolt should I be mulling over?
posted by instead of three wishes to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
mrs. qurlyjoe and I have driven Corollas for the past 50+ years, in the Boston/Brookline area mainly the last 40 of those, and Somerville and Cambridge for a couple years at the beginning of that period.

It's boring, by some standards, but incredibly reliable. The only time we ever paid for more than scheduled maintenance on any of the half-dozen we've owned was when the wife crunched the right-front quarter on the current one. The damage was rebuilt, and we still have it, 5 years later (after driving it several times to Detroit and back, and two years ago to Colorado where we live now.) Up to 117K miles now on this one, which is not at all unusual for Corollas.

FWIW, the Consumer Reports annual survey always rates them very highly.

Mileage is great, front wheel drive works really well in the crappy snow and slush in the winter.

We've ridden in Coops, and it's not a car I'd want to spend a lot of miles in, frankly, but that's just my butt and lower back talking. Not terribly comfortable.

(Full disclosure: I'm an old git, so comfort and reliability are higher in my priorities than may be in yours.)
posted by qurlyjoe at 4:32 PM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Treat this with all the weight that you would an anecdote from a stranger, but my friends bought a certified pre-owned Mini Cooper. They loved it, initially. Several months later the transmission failed in a way that was not covered by the warranty, and the cost of the repair exceeded the value of the car.
posted by jordemort at 4:33 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

We’ve been happy with the Bolt. Can you park off the street at home for charging? You should consider getting a 220V home charger installed.

It is a chevy, so the interior trim is underwhelming, but the interior is extremely roomy, and the acceleration is great. The back seat will comfortably fit three adults because there’s no transmission tunnel.

If you put the transmission into “L” you get single pedal driving. Put your foot down to accelerate. Lift your foot up to brake. I’ve not had a problem with the brakes.

There’s been zero maintenance needed, except for the inevitable software updates. The tires are run-flat, so they’ll be expensive to replace once the warranty runs out.
posted by monotreme at 4:36 PM on September 16, 2018

Here's a review from the Jalopnik blog of the Bolt. They generally liked it, but with some caveats.

Chevy Bolt
posted by qurlyjoe at 4:40 PM on September 16, 2018

The Bolt is a really great little car if you want to go all-electric. Super fun for such a basic-looking little hatch! Re: the brakes, did you try it in "L" mode, where you can basically do one-pedal driving? Because when I test drove one, I found them responsive as heck in that mode. The interior is plasticky for sure, but if I were getting a car purely for commuting purposes, it would still be high on my list. Not many other cars are going to be that inexpensive on a day-to-day basis, and it's silly how zippy it is when you actually put the pedal down. Honestly if I were looking for a simple, practical, inexpensive car and I didn't do things like go on road trips or drive 200 miles to New Hampshire and back on a weekly basis (which I do) I'd get a Bolt. Love those little guys. Get the fast charge option, though.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:41 PM on September 16, 2018

My next car will be a Prius. Environmentally appropriate, comfortable, well made. You can run electric stuff off the charging battery with an inverter, so it's awesome for camping.
posted by theora55 at 4:53 PM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Main thing with the Bolt or any electric is you want to have a place to plug it in. Either there needs to be charging stations at your work or at your house, ideally both. If you only have on-street parking, then charging at work will probably be your main option. If you (or your work, for that matter) need an EV charger installed, I, um, work for a company in the Boston area that does that. If you can't charge at work *or* at your house, an ICE car is definitely a better option for you.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:53 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you don't get the Bolt, I think you should consider a Prius. If you're going to be commuting into Cambridge during rush hour, a good deal of your commute time is going to be spent crawling through stop-and-go traffic, and this is where the Prius' regenerative braking shines.
posted by mr vino at 5:20 PM on September 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

The Nissan Versa is surprisingly comfy and nimble. I believe well rated and not ridiculously expensive. I
posted by Ftsqg at 5:21 PM on September 16, 2018

The people I’ve known who had a Mini Cooper and a Honda Fit in snowy/icy areas did not stick out more than one winter with them.
posted by Kriesa at 5:46 PM on September 16, 2018

I have a Prius C and commute 60 miles to work and back each day. It is a mature efficient drivetrain, basic features, compact, and reliable. They are a great deal right now I think because they are not as popular as full electric, or the full size Priuses. But they are unrivaled in terms of hybrid MPG, I regularly get 60mpg in my commute.
posted by nickggully at 5:48 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I drive 25 miles one way to go to work. I wanted a hybrid you didn't have to plug in and I test drove a Prius, Prius C, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid. Liked the Prius and Ioniq best, hated the Prius C in comparison to the regular Prius, Sonata was too big, bought the Ioniq. I've had it a month and I love it so far. I'm getting 60-62mpg with no change in the way I drive.
posted by possibilityleft at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2018

Prius is cheap and great.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:06 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a note - instead of three wishes used to drive my Prius, and a) found it really physically uncomfortable to drive and b) way too low-slung for winter driving. That's why we ended up getting rid of it, there just wasn't enough road clearance for the state of Boston-area roads in winter. I have no idea how other Boston Prius owners handle it, but ours would bottom out running over the snow between tire tracks on the highway. So Prius was out of the running before we even started looking this time around...
posted by invincible summer at 7:34 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

For the sake of your wallet, and sanity don’t buy either the Fiat or the Mini Cooper. Both have poor reliability, and are expensive to repair. I’ve also had similar issues with Nissan, nice car, but the parts are exorbitantly priced. Honda, Toyota, and Subaru are workhorse cars that go on for a lonnnggg time. Safe too.
posted by dbmcd at 8:30 PM on September 16, 2018

Try the higher trim levels of the Mazda 3 or VW Golf.

Try the driver assist package on the Golf - it will parallel park for you! Adaptive cruise control automates the stop-and-go drive. I have this on the 2018 Golf and it is such a huge enhancement. Lease if you can stay under miles - the driver assist technologies feel a bit v1 - but they will improve your day. Panoramic sunroof also makes the car seem bigger and more expensive.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:38 PM on September 16, 2018

Instead of the Fit, did you consider the Accord Hybrid. Granted it is a bit bigger but I don't have any problems parking it in my garage and it gets excellent gas mileage.
posted by mmascolino at 9:23 PM on September 16, 2018

There's a totally new Honda Insight just coming out - I think it's basically a hybridized Civic variant, but that's a good thing, as the current Civic has been very well received.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:51 PM on September 16, 2018

I had long-term use of a Mini Cooper S and it was both really fun to drive and surprisingly practical as far as carrying capacity despite the small size. Need for premium gas is IMO not a big deal for a small car (at generally $0.20/gal more than regular it just works out to a few dollars extra per fill-up). However, Mini is a subsidiary of BMW so, as a current BMW owner, I'd apply the same caveats about buying a BMW if I were looking at a Mini—don't buy the first revision of a new model or major redesign, check the Consumer Reports reliability reports, understand the possible repair costs.

Another model to consider is the VW Golf or GTI, which also combines small and practical form factor with good handling and driving enjoyment. A friend of mine who lives in Cambridge has had a couple and is very enthusiastic about them.
posted by 4rtemis at 3:05 AM on September 17, 2018

I have a 2006 Mini Cooper with 86,000 miles. Maybe I'm just lucky but this car is a warhorse (and I live in Boston).

I've also heard that they can be costly to repair but over the years I've found many non-Mini mechanics who have taken excellent care of it.

Every time I see a British Racing Green Mini with stripes I think, "Oh that's such a cool car," then I remember I have the same car and it makes me really happy.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:06 AM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Forget Fiats. They are not good cars, and very unreliable.

The Mini is also weak on reliability.

Corolla is a safe bet from all angles.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:12 AM on September 17, 2018

I love Minis. I've had two. That's why I popped in to tell you NOT TO EVER EVER BUY ONE unless you plan to sell it to an unwitting sucker right before it inevitably and expensively breaks just before or just after the warranty period expires. Mine needed a NEW ENGINE three weeks BEFORE the warranty period was up. When they realized the timing, they walked back their diagnosis to something much less costly to them. Mini is infamous for this. Search the Mini forums (here's one) for lots of similar horror stories.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:31 AM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

N’thing; Mini Coopers are not to be trusted.

I love my 2014 Mazda3. She’s been reliable AF to 60k, super fuel efficient, and fun to drive.
posted by spitbull at 5:47 AM on September 17, 2018

I'm really impressed with my 2017 Jetta. It gets great gas mileage (I got 35mpg on a light-traffic city errand the other day!) and it's really zippy on the highway.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:42 AM on September 17, 2018

A nice bonus of the Chevy Bolt - it is union made. In this political climate, that is a driver (*snerk*) for my next car purchase.
posted by jillithd at 8:25 AM on September 17, 2018

Another vote for the Mazda3 higher trim levels! Reliable, fun to drive, good gas mileage, purty. I've had mine for four years and nothing outside of scheduled maintenance.
posted by *s at 10:44 AM on September 17, 2018

Mini - too unreliable. Bolt - excellent choice assuming easy access to plugs. I would give some serious thought to a Prius Prime. Due to federal and state credits you can get a Prime for less than a regular Prius. Then you have a car that will get you around 60 mpg and will likely exceed 200k. Some other great possibilities, Subaru, Kia/Hyundai, and of course Toyotas. The above mentioned Mazda 3 is a superb driving car (as is the Mazda 6 which I drive) Personally I avoid German cars - they are superb to drive but tend to require more repairs and when they are repaired tend to be more expensive. For what its worth my next ride will be a Hyundai Kona, turbo variant. They hit it out of the park with this one as all the reviews from the various auto sites will tell you. The Ultimate iteration has advanced safety features which are on a par with the highest end vehicles and it is a blast to drive.
posted by jcworth at 4:45 AM on September 18, 2018

Nthing a Corolla, but there is a new 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback that has a more powerful engine. My wife and I really liked it. Great gas mileage and that Toyota reliability. Too small in the backseat for us however.

We are getting prices out the door (including ttl) of ~$21,000 in Arizona.
posted by gregjunior at 8:31 AM on September 18, 2018

I'd put the Mazda 2 and 3 on your list.
posted by TrinsicWS at 12:41 PM on October 1, 2018

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