Car purchase guidance before moving to Oregon
February 3, 2019 7:51 PM   Subscribe

We are moving to Oregon in a few months! Please help me choose an appropriate vehicle for the Willamette Valley area.

We currently live where things are flat, you can see far, there’s not much traffic, and we get lots of blowing snow that quickly turns to ice on the roads. I drive an older, full-size SUV. I just learned it is not safe to drive long distances and costs more to repair than it's worth. I need to buy a new(ish) vehicle.

Here are my details:

- I am expecting to spend anywhere from $22,000 - $29,000 depending on model, year, and various safety and comfort features.
- The vehicle will have to travel around 1,500 miles to get from here to there, so it needs to be up to that kind of trip and climbing up mountains.
- I will be making a monthly trip to Portland. We will not otherwise be leaving the Eugene area much.
- I will be using the vehicle for commuting.
- I have NO spatial ability. My SUV is too big for me to get a sense of where the outsides are. I struggle with merging or parking. But the size makes me feel more noticeable and I can see more of the road from up high so I feel safer.
- I am a nervous driver, but for the first time in my life I have an AWD vehicle with snow tires. I was not nervous last winter!
- I will drive alone or with one adult passenger. There are no kids, but there may eventually be a big dog.
- A reputation for reliability it pretty important to me.

1. Is AWD and/or winter tires worth it for the Eugene area?
2. A car that has some good “punch” is important to me so I can feel confident when merging. My research tells me that my two current top choices, the Subaru Crosstrek and Forester, are sluggish and do not accelerate quickly. How much typical merging-type traffic is there in and around the city?
3. How is parking, both retail and residential? I don't know if off-street parking is typical for apartments there.
4. Am I better off skipping AWD and getting a smaller car?
5. Is there anything about driving in that area that most new people don’t realize, but would greatly impact my purchase decision? For instance, we use a lot of road salt which will rust some vehicles more than others.

I am considering both used and new vehicles. I got burned buying someone else’s problems with my SUV, but man, new=$$$.

Suggestions for specific vehicles would be FANTASTIC, but if your responses to the above can help me with my search, that would be great. I would like to go as small/maneuverable as possible while still feeling confident in my vehicle’s power, reliability, and safety in crap weather. I have only looked at AWD vehicles because of how useful they are here. If they're not an advantage there, I don't need AWD. What I wish for is someone to say “My life is exactly like yours but five years in the future, and I have driven this particular car and love it.” But that is not a likely response.

Thanks for any suggestions or general advice.
posted by tllaya to Travel & Transportation around Eugene, OR (15 answers total)
Advice from me, who once moved to Eugene from very far away, and my partner, a longtime denizen of the PNW:

AWD is a good idea, and all-weather tires are nice, but mostly for all the rain; Eugene hasn't had icy roads for more than a day or two out of the last several years. You don't need studs.

You don't need to worry much about punch merging in Eugene, if only because lots and lots of people drive Subarus - a Forester will match other Foresters for punch. They do fine.

Parking situation depends on the apartment complex. Most have off-street parking. A lot of downtown businesses provide parking passes that work for all the city-run downtown parking garages, which is very nice.

A small car will probably be fine most of the time, you don't really need to worry about snow or ice, but if you'd appreciate AWD when driving in the rain or up and down steep hills, well, you'll be doing that a lot.

There's road salt but not as much as you're used to in the midwest, you're fine.

A Subaru Forester sounds like a really good fit for you - great driver visibility, good in the mountains, not too big but with space for that dog. But if you want to go with a smaller car like a Civic or something that'll probably work out fine.
posted by waffleriot at 8:41 PM on February 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Welcome to Eugene!

I don't know cars, but I can fill in some information about weather, terrain and road conditions. Roads do get icy in the winter, although snow is rare and getting rarer. If you're sticking to the city core ice will hardly ever be an issue. If you are traveling outside of Eugene/Springfield (Junction City, Veneta, Marcola, Creswell) then roads are often icy on winter mornings. South Eugene is full of steep, narrow roads that are terrifying when slick, but if you don't live in that part of town it's easy enough to avoid.

FWIW, I live in central Eugene, work in Junction City and drive a compact with winter tires. I take it slow when it's icy and have had no serious issues. Plenty of my coworkers live in semi-rural areas and consider AWD a must.
posted by arrmatie at 8:41 PM on February 3, 2019

Hey there! I am typing this from Eugene, having moved (and driven) here from Pittsburgh a couple of years ago. We drive a Honda Civic here and have found it to be 100% fine. Winters over the past 2 years that I've been here have been - unimpressive; mostly rain with I think 1 day of light snow last year and so far none this year (though we may get a bit this week - here's hoping!). People tell me that there was a really icy year about 3 years ago but it doesn't seem to be typical. Anyhoo, here are my responses as a still-fairly-new transplant to the area:

1. Is AWD and/or winter tires worth it for the Eugene area?

If you're really only going to be driving around Eugene and up to Portland, I'd say no to both. Eugene to Portland is a very straight shot up I-5, right through the valley with no real hills to speak of. Eugene does have a few hills but unless you live in/on them you'll mostly be driving on pretty flat land. If you decide you want to go hiking or whatnot in the natural areas (mostly) outside Eugene I hear it can get snowy in the winter and there are definitely mountain passes where you see signs about needing snow chains - but it's easy enough to just not go to those areas then (I don't have snow chains).

2. How much typical merging-type traffic is there in and around the city?

Hahaha not sure where you're coming from so your perspective may be different, but Eugene drivers are so polite about merging that I was genuinely bewildered at first - when you signal a lane change, people actually slow down to let you in, which still shocks me at times. There are a few lane closures on the highway near my home right now, and people actually do that zipper thing and it's so stress-free. How much you'll experience merging will depend on whether or not you need to get onto the highways to go to/from work or wherever (lots of short trips around Eugene/Springfield require a quick hop on a highway) - but merging around here is easier than anywhere I've ever lived.

3. How is parking, both retail and residential? I don't know if off-street parking is typical for apartments there.

If you're in an apartment complex (we are) you'll almost definitely have a parking lot - even the complex we checked out downtown had a garage, though they charged extra for a spot. And I've never really had a problem parking off-street anywhere in the area.

4. Am I better off skipping AWD and getting a smaller car?

Having never had AWD I can't really speak to this - but while I do see plenty of Subarus around (as well as more of those GIANT STATEMENT PICKUPS than I ever saw in Pittsburgh), I also see lots of Priuses, Yarises, and other smaller non-AWD cars. I feel totally confident driving around in my Civic.

5. Is there anything about driving in that area that most new people don’t realize, but would greatly impact my purchase decision? For instance, we use a lot of road salt which will rust some vehicles more than others.

There are a LOT of bicyclers around here, and a fair number of pedestrians (especially downtown and near the school) who don't always wait for crosswalks or clear roadways to cross the street. My car has a fairly big blind spot at both edges of the windshield that I'm constantly having to be extra-triple-careful to check at all times - whatever you get, I'd pay even more attention to blind spots than normal.

I've never seen them salting the roads, though I've heard they have a truck or two for when it gets really bad - they must not use it much, though, as I've seen tons of noticeably older cars around here. To be honest, if it were bad enough out that the roads needed to be salted I'd just stay in if I could, because I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable about how the other drivers would handle it.

Oh! And I'm not sure what this is about but somehow it feels like many parking lots around here have spaces that are a little smaller than I'm used to - they often feel super tight and can be difficult to get into/out of, so this makes me glad to have a smaller car.

Otherwise, I can't really think of anything all that remarkable about driving around Eugene. As cities go, driving here is pretty tame - the streets are usually not too narrow, traffic can be a bit annoying but not insane, and drivers are pretty okay in general. If you were thinking of living a ways out of Eugene and driving in I'd be giving you different advice because it doesn't take TOO long to get into hills, but given your parameters, I think you'd be fine with a smaller car of whatever kind suits your fancy. Good luck!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:50 PM on February 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

AWD is good. The Subarus you like are pretty much the same engine, except an extra cylinder on the larger Forester. This can count, but at the same time a 2L 4cyl should be fine for the area. The only Subaru 6cyls are out of your price range, but you could surely get a used one that isn't, and I think that going used will be your best bet if you want engine power and AWD.

Searching on, I see these 6cyl AWD SUVs: '13: BMW X5, '15+: Lexus RX350 and Infiniti QX60/70, Nissan Pathfinder. This is also the land of the Ford Expedition and Jeep Grand Cherokee models.
posted by rhizome at 9:44 PM on February 3, 2019

Actually, the 2019 Forester and the Crosstrek no longer share the same engine. The Forester now deploys exclusively a 182 HP (up from the previous 170). You should drive a Forester before you decide it doesnt have enough power as I think you will find it offers plenty. If you can afford it the Sport configuration offers a lot of value, but even the base Forester is a reliable and safe vehicle that will offer you many years of enjoyment.

The Honda CR-V with the turbo (EX Model) offers a superb amount of value and is availabe with or without 4WD, though I believe an EX with 4WD would be slightly above your price range.

The Mazda 3 is about to come out with a 4WD which promises to be a remarkable vehicle on many fronts, though not sure it will be released in time for you. March I believe.

If it was me based on your criteria I would get a Forester. I might be buying one myself!
posted by jcworth at 10:13 PM on February 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You are all so awesome! I'm getting really excited about picking out a vehicle now, instead of anxious. You have all helped so much. If anyone has more info, I am very interested in hearing it.
posted by tllaya at 10:22 PM on February 3, 2019

Nthing Subaru. The 6-cyl Subarus enjoy a better reliability reputation than the 4-cyl and the major maintenance intervals are much further apart. My daughter has a 3.6R Limited Outback and it is is a tough, dandy vehicle that is great in bad weather and snow. The only thing I don't like is the CV transmission as it is kind of boring but I think it helps with overall traction and road-holding. I don't know the Foresters as well but they sure are popular here in the Pacific Northwest. So are the CrossTreks.

I think the Eyesight package is worthwhile as it adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot, lane watch, collision braking intervention, rear cross-traffic alert and other driver-assistance features.

You can buy a 20-30k mile used 2016 3.6R Limited Outback for about $27-$28k

Here is a decent TopSpeed review of the 2016 Outback.
posted by bz at 10:57 PM on February 3, 2019

Just a note, unless you live near a border, Oregon doesn't salt its roads. If you're in the Willamette Valley, this is unlikely to matter to you except for the few days a year that it does manage to snow a bit.
posted by Aleyn at 11:01 PM on February 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Add on: tire choice makes a big difference. I bought Vredestein Quatrac 5 tires for my daughter's Outback and they have proven to be a particularly excellent tire on that car.
posted by bz at 11:03 PM on February 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just throwing in a pitch for the Jeep Cherokee, which is the only real competitor to the Outback in terms of AWD performance and clearnace, IMHO. I just bought my second one brand new. I live on a mountain in the White Mountains region of NH. The roads are really steep and poorly maintained, and I've passed Subarus that couldn't make it up. (Subarus are great...just saying the Cherokee 4WD system is REALLY capable.) It's really comfortable, quiet, luxurious, big enough but not too big, etc. You can get a loaded one that's a year or two old in your price range.

If you can buy a Trailhawk model (which gives you 4WD low + a locking rear differential), or at least one with the Active Drive II system (which gives you the ability to put the car in 4WD low), you'll be able to get anywhere in Oregon you need to go, but even the basic Active Drive I system is fantastic.

Have fun!
posted by nosila at 6:34 AM on February 4, 2019

Actually, the 2019 Forester and the Crosstrek no longer share the same engine

Sorry, I was being a little too clever. I only meant they're the same in that they both have 500cc cylinders times X, in one case 4, the other 5. No turbo differences (or even options) or anything. The extra cylinder in the Forester going towards pushing its heavier weight.
posted by rhizome at 8:46 AM on February 4, 2019

Pretty sure Subaru doesn't build a 5-cylinder engine.
posted by bz at 8:59 AM on February 4, 2019

I'm so sorry, I saw 2.5L and must have read right over the rest. Forget my engine musings then (but my pricing research is still good!).
posted by rhizome at 9:35 AM on February 4, 2019

I lived in the Portland area for a decade with a Ford Focus and never found it to be inadequate for the city (though if you're going to be going to any elevation regularly AWD would definitely help -- if you're not going regularly just wait a couple days in the rare event it's snowy/ice up there).

One thing that I haven't seen mentioned yet is it's definitely worthwhile to get something with a rear wiper. My Focus was the sedan type without a rear wiper and there is so much rain that it really helps to be able to clear the rear windshield. Intermittent wipers, where you can control the wiper speeds in smaller intervals than the normal slow/med/fast, are also super useful and worth including in your list of desired features.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:00 AM on February 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I live in Portland and get around mostly on my bike, and I have a small Honda Fit that's perfect. I think AWD is overkill for the Willamette Valley, especially since it costs more to buy and you use more gas. There might be one or two days each winter where you would be glad to have it, but that's a lot of extra money when it's incredibly easy to just stay home when it snows here once in a while. We shut down in the snow.

If you were going to go up to the mountain to go skiing every weekend, my answer would be different.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:44 PM on February 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

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