Unplanned new car purchase
March 22, 2019 3:57 AM   Subscribe

A couple weeks ago, I was in a three-car crash on the way to work that morning. Everybody's fine, but all three cars were totaled and the clock is ticking on my complimentary rental car while I shop for a new ride. What should I buy?

You may remember me from such Ask Me questions as this one, in which my previous car was stolen. I replaced that Toyota Matrix with a 2010 Subaru Impreza hatchback.

My Impreza, though totaled in the end, protected me to such a degree that the only injury I suffered in the crash was a sprained left hand and wrist. I'm a Subaru fan and I've test driven the new Impreza and the Crosstrek. The Impreza felt instantly familiar, and the Crosstrek (which is just a little taller and longer than the Impreza) felt like a nice upgrade. So sticking with Subaru appeals to me, apart from the thousands of dollars more it seems Subarus are going for today compared to nine years ago. The sales rep let me take out a Crosstrek that was tricked out with all of the Limited features, including some safety features that really appeal to me after my crash.

I also tried out the Mazda3 hatchback and the CX-3 crossover, and found them fun to drive and loaded with features. They look sleeker and more luxurious, in a way, than the Subarus do.

tl;dr: In 2010, I made a nice down payment on a Subaru Impreza thanks to a nice settlement check for a stolen car. I have a smaller settlement check to make a smaller down payment on a car to replace the totaled Impreza. Subaru and Mazda owners, which way should I go?
posted by emelenjr to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I drive a Subaru Impreza hatchback. I think you know where I'm going with this.

I was going to say Subaru after reading your front page question, before I even knew you had been driving one. It's what I got after a (minor thankfully) accident that ended my precious car's life. I've always felt safe in my Subaru.

I bought mine used from Enterprise and it was a really painless easy experience. Check out used rental car companies for something late model and see if they've got any Subarus or Mazdas available.
posted by phunniemee at 4:47 AM on March 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Seconding used rental car companies. I bought a 2015 Mazda in 2017 from Hertz and it was completely painless and I've had a good experience with the car so far.
posted by peacheater at 5:35 AM on March 22, 2019

Imprezzas have been top rated by Consumer Reports in the past, for what it's worth. They always seem to cost 4 or 5 thousand more than the competition though and the all wheel drive costs you MPG. It's all worth it if you drive in the snow and the mud enough.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:38 AM on March 22, 2019

Seconding Mazda. You could get a certified preowned Mazda3 for a really nice price these days. The tech and features you get on even the base models are decent, and if it's 2015 or later you can upgrade the display to CarPlay/Android Auto for a few hundred dollars.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:42 AM on March 22, 2019

The 2019 Crosstrek I have is just great--bought it after having an excellent Impreza for ten years. I highly recommend it, but you definitely don't need the Limited version. The middle level is what I have and it's got bells and whistles aplenty. I also sprang for the Eyesight system, mainly because my aging eyesight needs some help. Great backup cameras, lane drifting alerts, blind spot beeps, etc. etc. have been extremely helpful. Like the Impreza, the car is a champ in the snow and rain.
posted by Elsie at 6:01 AM on March 22, 2019

Left field option- after test driving everything possible we just bought a Kia Niro as a replacement for an aging Prius V. If fuel efficiency and/or price is a factor I’d give it a shot.
posted by q*ben at 6:07 AM on March 22, 2019

Interesting suggestions about buying used from a rental company. I'll have to research that.

And q*ben, funny you mention the Niro. In the back of my head, I had the idea that my next car should be a hybrid of some kind. I test drove the Niro and liked it. It's similarly sized to the Crosstrek and CX-3.

I don't drive in snow often, although Richmond tends to get unexpected snowfall that cripples the city for days. My Impreza handled well in the snow, as to be expected.
posted by emelenjr at 6:28 AM on March 22, 2019

Shout out to Richmond! My sister lives there and her whole family drives Prii, if that helps.

We are also car shopping, but we have some time. I won't even test drive a Mazda, despite the great reviews, because I simply don't care about "fun driving experiences." My understanding is also that Mazdas are less reliable than average, and they die sooner (based on a coworker just having a CX-7 die at about 150K, after a lot of problems, no thanks).

Today we're test driving a Forester and an Outback.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:43 AM on March 22, 2019

Our Forester saved our house-sitter's life in a recent accident - like you I really wouldn't consider any other brand after that. We just bought a tricked-out Outback, used but newer than our old Forester, it has more cargo space than the Forester, and waaaay more safety features.
I new-ish used Subie (from a dealer or a rental company) is my recommendation, if you want to stay safe.
posted by dbmcd at 7:14 AM on March 22, 2019

Assuming you meant the hatchback versions of the Impreza and 3, you might as well also test drive the Civic (no SI available in hatchback sadly), Elantra, Soul, Golf or GTI, Corolla. If you're willing to look at cars one size down, also the Fit, Veloster, Fiesta ST.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:23 AM on March 22, 2019

I love my Impreza and will never own another car that isn't a Subaru hatchback. I feel so safe in it. The other cars in its class, like the Civic and the Mazda, seemed a lot more like they were built for "fun" driving and not "solid and reliable" driving to me when I test drove them.
posted by sockermom at 7:27 AM on March 22, 2019

I traded in my Mazda3 for the Niro and it’s been a huge upgrade to my driving experience. My Mazda3 was a 2013 and was having all sorts of stupid problems and I was sick of it. The Niro has a ton of nice features and is way more comfortable than the Mazda.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:30 AM on March 22, 2019

I love that IIHS rates headlights as well as crash test results. I hate to drive Mom's Hyundai and she no longer drives at night. https://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings
posted by MichelleinMD at 7:42 AM on March 22, 2019

Prius. It's a hatchback, safe, reliable, and your travels will have slightly less environmental impact. They routinely make 200K, and 300k. As a bonus, if you camp or do other outdoor stuff, you can use the hybrid battery to run speakers, charge your laptop, whatever.
posted by theora55 at 8:01 AM on March 22, 2019

Subaru with Eyesight, recommending in the strongest possible terms. If you worked with a dealer in Maryland, I wonder if you could get the new plug-in hybrid Crosstrek? It's only available in a few states.
posted by postel's law at 9:21 AM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just bought my first Subie in October (2019 Forester), and I love it so far. The Eyesight features are really cool -- I love the adaptive cruise control on my long commute.

I did notice that they just started selling a hybrid Crosstrek -- I would have seriously thought about giving up the cargo space of the Forester if that had been an option when I was shopping.
posted by natabat at 9:23 AM on March 22, 2019

I recently had to replace my 2006 Subaru Outback, and at first I was intending on buying a new Subaru -- until I got an email from my utility company about a $5,000 rebate they were offering on a new Nissan LEAF, which is all-electric. There were also $9,500 in state and federal incentives which made the bottom line price of the LEAF about $3K lower than the price of a new Subaru.

I was surprised how much like a regular car it felt, and I didn't even need to install a charger at my house -- I just plug it into a regular household outlet at night and it's ready to go in the morning. My commute is relatively short, and if you regularly make long road trips it's not a great choice, but as a commuter car it's AMAZING and I have got to say that I love never buying gas. My electric bill has hardly gone up at all and the maintenance costs on electric cars are mainly windshield wiper blades and tires.

Anyway, they're not for everyone but I just wanted to chime in because it wasn't on my radar until it was and I have had such a great experience with it that I just thought I'd put it out there if it's something that works for you.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 11:50 AM on March 22, 2019

The main reason I bought a Subaru (Forester, but I also considered the Legacy sedan) was that the visibility is much better than the other recent cars that I test drove.

Since buying it, I've also come to like the CVT. When I was in Austria recently, it took me a while to readjust to a multi-speed automatic transmission, even in a Mercedes E-class wagon.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2019

I just bought a new Outback.. was going to go Crosstrek and get a manual, but no everyone in the fam can drive that, and right now I have a more stop-and-go commute so..

Anyway, Subaru. Son has a 5 speed 2007 legacy (got used), My old Outback (2010) went to my other son (because his other brother without a car totalled his truck, which is why I just bought a new car).

Wife has a 2016 Forester.

The new radio/center console/phone interface is really nice - even better than the 2016 my wife has. Plus, just long term reliability. I have over 180,000 miles on both the 2007 and 2010, and they're running just fine (knock wood, knock wood).

Eyesight is also standard on ALL Subies now.
posted by rich at 12:19 PM on March 22, 2019

This is my opinion/anecdotal observations as a former 2005 Mazda 3 hatchback owner and current 2012 Subaru Impreza Hatchback and 2017 Mazda CX-5 owner. Although my husband and I were big on Subarus for a while, we have had an enormous amount of issues with our Impreza and dealership to the point where we don’t plan to go back to Subaru for anything (service or cars). I’ve been looking on the road for pre 2012 Imprezas to confirm the “Subaru’s last forever” idea, but even in a suburban populous area, I think it’s been 6 months since I’ve seen one. My experience with my Mazda 3 was that nothing major went wrong from 26k miles to 169k miles (incidentally many of those miles were back and forth btw Richmond and NoVA) when we sold it to my co worker with complete confidence that it would last even longer.

That said, our new non-Subaru car repair place had great things to say about Outback reliability, but I’m gun-shy about the brand now since the 35-49k mile issue we had with loud creaking when we turned into parking spaces was met with the Subaru response of “probably need to replace the steering rack” and when we were incredulous over the diagnosis and mileage and were told with no hint of irony “well you’d be surprised how much turning takes a toll on the car. Maybe it’s time for a new one?” Turns out shaving the brake rotor at our new repair shop solved the issue and saved us $2200.

So if it wasn’t clear...I vote Mazda.
posted by hellogoodbye at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I will say that which Subaru dealer you go to really matters. Subaru knows it and is working on it. I was told as much by an executive in the company. There's basically only one dealer I trust around here.
posted by postel's law at 5:01 PM on March 22, 2019

I’ve added 80,000 miles uneventfully to my Subaru Crosstrek that I got from Carmax with some minimum amount of miles on it. It was formerly a dealership car that was barely over the allowable maximum, with manual transmission. If you go for used, the later models have more intuitive sound systems.
posted by childofTethys at 8:47 PM on March 22, 2019

I just traded my '13 Impreza Sport in on a '17 Forester, and am happy with the deal. The Impreza was roomy for a small car, but the Forester feels spacious, and is really easy to get in & out of. Visibility is lots better.

Mine doesn't have the driving assistance features. I drove a brand-new '19 Impreza loaner while the dealer did some body work on the Forester, and it had all the features. I did not enjoy the adaptive cruise. If you're on a two-lane road with no chance to pass, I could see how it would be useful. The lane-keeping steering assistance was very disturbing; when it engaged, it felt like the car was on ice. Not a fan.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:30 AM on March 23, 2019

Also, the Impreza had sporty handling, but the low-profile tires made the ride kind of rough, and the alloy wheels stuck out past the tires and were vulnerable to curbs. The Forester corners well, with only a little more lean, and has taller tires, so the ride is smoother. The wheels don't stick out. It's quieter, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:38 AM on March 23, 2019

I have owned a few Subarus but I bought a Mazda3 in 2011 after being unimpressed with all the available Subaru wagons... and it's now 8 years old and has not had a single problem. I am still not impressed with Subarus and after hearing stories like this and this I'm even less excited about them.
posted by getawaysticks at 12:12 PM on March 23, 2019

Thanks, all! Enterprise car sales didn’t wow me, so I immediately returned to my Subaru dealer amid bought a 2019 Crosstrek premium. I’m picking it up Monday, and I hope you’ll never hear about it here in nine years.
posted by emelenjr at 6:45 PM on March 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

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