What cars should I be looking at?
November 1, 2018 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the market to purchase a new car in the next six months. My whole life long I've had a string of (relatively) inexpensive, practical cars like a Honda Civic and a Honda Fit. I think it might be time to spend a bit more money to be a bit more comfortable. What should I be looking at?

Some of the things I'm thinking about:
-- I drive in horrendous city traffic a lot. 15,000+ miles per year.
-- I want a (relatively) eco-conscious car. Good mileage.
-- I'm willing to consider a hybrid, but I don't think I'm ready for a full plug-in car.
-- I usually have me + two passengers max, but want a four-door.
-- One thing I like about the Fit is the fact that if I have the need to carry a lot of stuff, I can fold down the back seats and actually have quite a bit of room in there.
-- No interest in going SUV-size or very tiny (so no Smart car or the like).

Instead of just getting another Fit, it occurs to me that I might be able to be more comfortable and have a more pleasant driving experience with something a bit more expensive.

For the purposes of this question I only want to consider purchasing a new car. No leasing, no used. What should I be looking at?
posted by BlahLaLa to Shopping (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The Prius is great and ticks all your boxes. Even the smallest model, the C, has a nice bit of cargo space with the seats folded down.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:14 PM on November 1, 2018 [7 favorites]

I’d probably start by looking at either a Subaru or a Mazda. They’re an upgrade, but not unreasonably fancy, and the improvement in comfort and ergonomics is pretty significant. I’ve found their seats to be a lot more comfortable than a Prius. Getting some upgrades can make a big difference too — electric multi-axis adjustment on the driver’s seat is wonderful. Depending on your climate, things like heated seats can make a big difference in comfort too.
posted by duien at 7:21 PM on November 1, 2018

I got a 4 door nissan rouge named Geraldine that does most of that, and excels at the fold down seats for cargo thing.
posted by vrakatar at 7:29 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I currently have a Honda Civic, but when my car dies, I have my eye on a Mazda 3 hatchback. I've heard great things about it (including here on mefi), it's a similar size/class to the Civic, but it's a bit nicer/sportier, and the hatchback gives extra room for storing things (similar to the Fit, I would imagine).
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:29 PM on November 1, 2018

Best answer: If you regularly drive in bad traffic on the highway, I'd highly recommend looking into getting a car with adaptive cruise control. It's becoming more and more common in new cars due to Euro NCAP standards. It really reduced the amount of fatigue I experienced when I was commuting every day in SF Bay Area traffic and it also made long road trips a lot less tiring.

I'd agree with @duien that my Subaru (Forester XT) has more comfortable seats than any of the Toyotas/Hondas I've been in recently. An Impreza hatchback or Crosstrek might be fulfill your size/space requirements.
posted by strangecargo at 7:35 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Chevy Volt is an incredibly nice car, and great for city driving. I highly recommend taking one for a test drive at least. You can fold down the back sets and fit quite a bit of stuff, too.

Plugging in is really not a big deal- you can charge it overnight with a regular plug, and if you don’t fully charge, you just go on gas and life goes on.
posted by rockindata at 7:50 PM on November 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

I love my Subaru Impreza. I upgraded from a really old two-door Ford Focus and was looking at a Mazda 3 and Honda Civic, also, but I really didn't care for driving either of those. I love having a hatchback, and the Impreza was a very reasonable price for how ridiculously nice it is (esp compared with my old-as-dirt Focus)!
posted by sockermom at 7:59 PM on November 1, 2018

We have a Chevy Bolt which is 100% electric and we absolutely love it for city driving. It also fits a lot of stuff - more than the volt did. It is super zippy and makes start-stop traffic a major breeze. We wouldn’t go back to a gas car again based on the performance of this one. We find it comfy but it isn’t super fancy.
posted by andreapandrea at 8:02 PM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Mazda 3 four door hatchback is substantially more fun to drive than most Hondas, gets fairly good mileage, and has a pretty good amount of storage space.
posted by Candleman at 8:09 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love my Mazda to nth to the recommendations to try one out.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:16 PM on November 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

We’re driving a 2015 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and have been so happy thus far. It gets around 38 MPG combined, and it is supremely comfortable to drive and ride in. The trunk is still plenty roomy with the hybrid battery, and the backseat can fold down for hauling extra stuff as well. We bought ours used, so that doesn’t apply to your new car specifications, but we were able to get one fully loaded (and still under warranty) early this year for under 20k.
posted by jaksemas at 8:21 PM on November 1, 2018

Mazda 3 Hatchback all the way. Much better driving experience than Honda or Subaru.
posted by matildaben at 9:59 PM on November 1, 2018

I bought a new Mazda3 in 2012. It sounds like you want a standard transmission so your price might be higher but in general it ticks all your boxes.

With a manual transmission my average gas mileage is 28mpg.

Things I have put in my Mazda3 hatchback with the backseats folded down:
- 4 assembled toilets in boxes.
- an apartment's worth of furniture from IKEA - a queen size mattress, queen size bed frame, two chairs, a table, a couple coffee tables, dishes, linens, random household goods.

It's the first new car I ever bought and it's fun to drive. I have the base model and it's great - I imagine the newer models have more features... the only thing I miss is a display that tells me the artist and name of the song I'm listening to.
posted by bendy at 10:16 PM on November 1, 2018

I love driving my Impreza: comfortable, maneuverable, and the sound system is great. But the mileage is maddeningly shitty. After 10,000 miles I'm getting 22mpg in mostly start stop city driving and I wish I hadn't bought it. It's also not very good for hauling stuff. Look at hybrids.
posted by firstdrop at 10:33 PM on November 1, 2018

I just bought a new car in September to replace my 2003 Honda Civic. I really liked the newish Subaru Impreza wagon and the Hyundai Elantra GT hatchback. The Elantra has a ton of features for the price, and the latest models have a very flat hatchback space when the seats are folded down. I really wanted a Subaru Crosstrek due to the increased ground clearance, but I was unsure about the extra expense over the Impreza.

What did I buy? A used Nissan Leaf. I know you said no used, but you can get these coming off lease for at least $6000 cheaper than new base-level new Imprezas and Elantras, and they have the same features! I didn’t think I was ready to go full plug in either, but I love it so much. I only drive about 5000 miles per year, so I plug it in once or twice a week to trickle charge. I looked into getting a level 2 charger for my garage for quicker charging, but it would involve installing a dedicated panel/meter in my detached garage and dropping new wire from the pole, but I don’t drive enough to justify the extra expense. If you have an attached garage it is WAY easier. Anyway, I am in love with my heated seats and steering wheel, I love parallel parking with the backup camera, I love how the car accelerates, and it is magical how quiet it is. When winter kicks in I know I will love the remote climate control settings but also need to plug it in more often due to reduced battery range in the cold. I have yet to use a public charger - 80 mile range covers 99% of my driving needs, and i’ll swap cars with my husband if I need to make a day trip (we still use his car for longer trips). It has a ton of head and leg space for my 6 foot tall self and my tall kid in a car seat in the back.

I also looked at the VW eGolf and found the car quite similar to the Leaf (but rarer in Minnesota). I also thought about ordering a Kia Soul EV from Carvana but never got around to test driving a regular Kia Soul before I found my used Leaf. I liked my old Civic, but it never put a smile on my face like driving electric does. It is such a different experience, and it really feels magical.
posted by Maarika at 5:16 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love the new Honda Accord; the 2019 design is beautiful and won all kinds of awards. There is a hybrid version, and they went all out on the interior, especially if you get a higher trim level than the base. Whenever I drive my parents' higher-end Toyota, it's a comparatively poor experience - the engineering and attention to detail just isn't there.
posted by Atrahasis at 5:38 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'd look into used cars still under warranty and get a nice Audi or something if I had those requirements. For my part, I wouldn't buy a car that wasn't fully electric unless I had no way to charge it.

Thing is, the vast majority of cars sold in the past 30 years have fold down rear seats for those times you need extra cargo, so it's not a very good filter. Maybe think more on what exactly you need from a car and what features you'd only use once or twice a year. Those things on the second list you can ignore if they will add an appreciable amount to the cost since you can rent a car for those occasional needs.
posted by wierdo at 6:19 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, at 15k per year you're getting towards the point where renting full time can be financially better if you aren't the type to keep cars until they are unserviceable. Super high mileage drives down the resale value of a car quite a bit. You can help yourself out a bit by getting a 1-2 year old car that's still under warranty so that you aren't paying for both the normal early depreciation and the excess due to your high mileage.
posted by wierdo at 6:24 AM on November 2, 2018

Best answer: I also came here to say Prius. Roomy, comfortable, reliable.
posted by mosst at 6:46 AM on November 2, 2018

I have had Mazdas (which I love) for our last three car purchases and still highly recommend them.

But I think, with the current political climate, supporting union-made vehicles is on my priority list for our next vehicle.

That includes the Chevy Bolt and Chevy Volt mentioned upthread. I got to test drive a Volt this summer on an unseasonably 100F day and with the air conditioner blasting, I still was able to get up to highway speeds SIGNIFICANTLY faster than my gas fueled Mazda. It felt fancy on the inside, comfy enough for adults, and if you get the extra packages, you can also get the adaptive cruise control mentioned upthread. We have that on our 2017 Mazda CX-9 and is SO NICE TO HAVE when we drive on the freeway and in significant traffic. When my 10yo Mazda5 finally kicks the bucket, I'm pretty sure the Volt will be my next vehicle.
posted by jillithd at 7:55 AM on November 2, 2018

We drive a Prius C and has the joy of being a tiny car with a decent hatchback. For comfort in around town driving, I think it's the trim level that matters most. Heated seats, backup cameras, etc come on the nice trim levels of some pretty middle of the road cars.
posted by advicepig at 8:45 AM on November 2, 2018

Best answer: You get fantastic mileage with the new Honda Civic hatchback, and the sport trim is hella fun to drive. The cabin is quiet and a very nice place to be, tons of room in the hatch and of course you can fold the seats down for even more room. I haven't driven a Mazda 3 hatchback so I cannot do a direct comparison but the handling and engine on the Honda hatchback sport is lively and a blast to drive - you would not be disappointed. I'm going to state the obvious: throw in Honda's low maintenance and reliability and you pretty much have your answer right there.

However - I'm seconding the recommendation for the Honda Accord (upthread), because you say you think you want something a bit more comfortable, and the latest Accord approaches luxury-car levels of interior (that's not just me talking, lots of auto journalists have been wowed by the interior); plus there's a hybrid version so that would be of interest to you. The Accord is an absolute champ that unfortunately hasn't been selling very well due to America's SUV obsession, so you might be able to find a good deal or negotiate for one. You have to sit in one and check it out to appreciate it. To sum up: it's a commuter car that has a very comfortable cabin that you won't mind spending a lot of time in.

Both the Honda Accord and hatchbacks have manual versions so if that's your bag, you're good to go - however it sounds like if you're dealing with traffic a lot you'll probably want an automatic.

I will say I'm certain the Civic hatch is far, far roomier than the Mazda 3 hatch. Here's an Autoguide.com YouTube video doing a direct comparison of both models if you're interested. (The conclusion is that the Mazda 3 is a better car, except for the infotainment and interior space, which the Honda is better at. Again - I cannot comment on their conclusion as I've never driven a Mazda3 hatchback, but the consensus is that it's a hoot to drive.)

There's no substitute for the test drive - hit some car dealerships a take a few cars for a spin. I test drove a TON of different makes and models when I was looking for a new car and it really clarified for me what were contenders and what were also-rans.

Seconding this advice from wierdo above: "Maybe think more on what exactly you need from a car and what features you'd only use once or twice a year. Those things on the second list you can ignore if they will add an appreciable amount to the cost since you can rent a car for those occasional needs." One of the best bits of advice I got from a car salesperson was, "Don't buy a car for a feature you'll use 20% of the time." (I was looking at SUVs at the time and loved the idea of all that space, but had to come to the hard truth that I really didn't need all that space most of the time.)

(The only Mazda to buy is a MX-5, imho.)

My husband just bought a Honda Civic Sport so he may chime in. I hope I haven't raved too much about Honda but people are a little Mazda heavy here.

Also: want to note that even if you wanted to buy a Honda Fit, you may find it difficult to locate one, as the Honda factory where Fits are produced was flooded recently (as we found out when car shopping a month or so ago). Perhaps they've fixed the factory and Fits are back on the lot by now.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:07 AM on November 2, 2018

I just bought a 2018 VW Golf Sportwagen to replace my beloved (and now quite dearly departed) '06 Chevy Malibu Maxx.

* The base trim models come nicely equipped -- heated front seats, sunroof that opens over both front and back seats, Apple CarPlay compatible entertainment system, front/rear collision warning sensors, etc.
* Engine is a 1.8L turbocharged 4-cylinder with an electronically shifted transmission. Letting the computer shift, I'm getting about 28 mpg combined highway/city and 34-35 mpg pure highway. I haven't bothered with manual mode yet but supposedly you can get an extra 1-2 mpg out of it.
* It's a mid-sized wagon so the cargo area is significantly larger than even a four door hatch. The back seats fold flat and it comes standard with roof rails. There's also a decent sized storage compartment underneath the cargo floor, above the well where the spare sits -- that helped me out a lot because it means I don't have the normal Minnesota winter survival kit taking up space in the main cargo area.
* Not mentioned in your post but a big selling point for me was the warranty. 2018 model year and newer Volkswagens come with a 6 year/72,000 mile warranty.
posted by nathan_teske at 10:35 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mazdafilter around here.

Another quite satisfied Mazda3 owner here. My 2014 has 60K miles and has been utterly reliable. My main complaint is that the paint is not very tough (a widespread complaint) and the OEM tires do not do justice to the car's handling properties. Once I replaced those with much better tires I really came to love the way it carves a canyon.
posted by spitbull at 2:07 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My husband just bought a Honda Civic Sport so he may chime in.

It me. The Civic Sport hatchback is a whole lot of fun to drive; you get 4 doors vs. 2 doors in the Civic coupes; good visibility and lots of room in the hatch. I do a horrendous commute (50 miles each way of Bay Area freeway) and have been liking it as a commuter car so far. I get 40+ mpg on my mostly-freeway driving, although this is on its preferred premium gas.

Downsides: you don't get the Honda Sensing safety tech on the Sport trim; the rear seats fold mostly flat for cargo rather than the completely-flat magic seats on the Fit and HR-V; the radio's a bit basic on the Sport trim also. The next-level-up Civic Hatcback trim, the EX, loses the sporty engine and handling but adds a lot of the comfort and tech features.

I think though OP's "more pleasant driving experience" phrasing leans more towards luxury/comfort than sporty/fun, right? and Civics fall more into functionally-comfortable than luxury-comfortable.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:19 PM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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