Car ideas
May 20, 2020 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Can you help give me ideas for potential cars to buy? Details below.

My wife and I are carless urbanites, and generally happy as such. If we buy a car, it will be for two uses:
* Transporting a (hypothetical) child or children.
* Taking trips out of the city, usually camping.
It would not likely be used for commuting.

When I think about what I want in a car, I think
* Good gas mileage/electric
* Flexible storage (hatchback?)
* Can handle occasional rough dirt roads and winter conditions
* Not a truck/SUV
* Straightforward to maintain

Do you have any suggestions for what to look at? I don't really have a price range yet. Cheaper is obviously better but we're hoping this will be the only car we have to buy for 10+ years so we're willing to pay more for quality (but not for luxury). I'm interested in electric but I worry about the range on the Nissans for longer trips out of the city. Plug in hybrid maybe?

I'm interested in model recommendations and also which cars would be good value to buy used vs new. Thanks!
posted by no regrets, coyote to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ooh! I get to be the first one to say Honda Fit this time.

Honda’s suite of safety features is standard, and it fits all of your other criteria except for the electric part. But the mpg is pretty solid.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:01 AM on May 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

Depending on the roughness of the roads in question, the HRV is a Fit with a lot more clearance and optional AWD.
posted by ftm at 11:04 AM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Second the Honda Fit recommendation. I have an '09 Fit that has been wonderful. Great gas mileage, reliable, and the rear seats fold flat into the floor for tons of storage. For a city dweller, it's perfect.
posted by vitout at 11:09 AM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Was coming in to recommend a Fit. Ours is a '15, and it's superb. Terrific gas mileage, dead set reliable and easy to maintain (I do all the routine maintenance; my older daughter and I changed the oil and swapped in new rotors and pads two weekends ago), plenty of room for kids (our younger daughter was born in the backseat), and the fold-down rear seats allow for an absurd amount of storage.
posted by saladin at 11:37 AM on May 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think aside from the Fit, the Subaru 5-door sedans are considered good value and reliable in winter weather.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:40 AM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Small hatchbacks:
Prius C

Last might be a bit small. Next up in size are the Compact Utility Vehicles. Kids and camping can take a surprising amount of cargo space.
Mazda CX-5
Subaru Forrester

If you are not planning commuting and a good deal of stop-n-go traffic, the main benefits of a hybrid are lost to you.

Also consider looking at used cars coming off of a lease, 2 to 3 years old. All of what you want without the new car price.
posted by nickggully at 11:58 AM on May 20, 2020

I have VW golf that I love for city driving. For me, I enjoyed the interior and the handling more than the Honda Fit. Also, VW went to all touchscreen in this year's car, so I might look for a 2017 or 2018 used.
posted by mercredi at 12:00 PM on May 20, 2020

Honda HRV is a good choice, but don't skip a look at a Hyundai Kona. The Kona competes directly with the HRV and in my opinion has the better of the comparison, plus there's a plug-in electric version. I have the gas burning AWD version and it got through a Duluth, MN winter easily. It's true AWD as opposed to the Honda system, for what that's worth. Sadly the EV does not have AWD.

Note that Hyundai calls the Kona an SUV but I would dispute that; it is a tall hatchback, what once would have been called a Crossover Utility Vehicle. It's not large, nor is the HRV. The Subaru Crosstrek is a similar car but feels more like a wagon. Before purchasing the Kona, I looked hard at both the HRV and the Crosstrek before settling on the Kona, and I have zero regrets.
posted by dbx at 12:00 PM on May 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

How often would you be making these camping trips? You may want to price out what it would cost to rent a car for occasional trips rather than deal with all the costs of car ownership and maintenance year-round. The most straightforward car to maintain is the one you don't have to maintain yourself. (And for in-town trips: electric cargo bike!)
posted by asperity at 12:01 PM on May 20, 2020

I also have a Fit, and I want to add that one very nice thing about it is that when you open the hatch, the rear area is on the low side, meaning it's very easy to put things in and take them out if you're a not-tall person (me) and/or don't have a ton of upper body strength (also me). So, for example, wrestling a heavy stroller in and out? Easy. Your kid's bike? Easy. Even 10 bags of groceries. The space is **a lot** larger than it appears. And the split seat back means you can have a kid in a car seat + the other half of the seat folded down so you can still carry lots of luggage or camping equipment or whatever.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:25 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Compact utility vehicles are effectively taller/lifted hatchbacks nowadays built on car platforms. A hybrid model would get you good gas milage around the city. I wouldn't cross them immediately off your list. Newer redesigned models hide the battery so you arent losing hatchback space.

Toyota Rav4 hybrid (40mpg!, I want one and apparently so does everyone else) and ford
escape hybrid come to mind.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:34 PM on May 20, 2020

Used Subaru Outback, just make sure it doesn't have any recalled parts (head gasket, airbag) and it's a super reliable car.

With the standard engine it still have a little get go, but if you're willing to buy premium fuel, the turbo is fun.

Roomy, good storage, but it's far from a land barge.
posted by porpoise at 1:15 PM on May 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

VW also makes a couple of Golf station wagons, the Alltrack and Sportwagen, that might fit the bill. After 15 years with a standard golf, I have and love the Alltrack. Perfect for car camping and mountain drives, handled Colorado's winter roads well. Pre-quarantine, i used it more than i expected to commute because it is fun and comfortable to drive. I've only had it a year so can't speak to longterm maintenance but have had no issues so far.
posted by tinymojo at 2:13 PM on May 20, 2020

Following on dbx's comment - I have the electric Hyundai Kona, and love it. It is in fact a tall hatchback. I get about ~245 miles per charge in the summer, maybe closer to ~210 in the winter if I'm running on winter tires with the heat on. Super fun to drive, easy to maintain, etc. If you test drive it make sure it's not in eco mode - that's no fun at all and doesn't really save much charge.

I live about 40 miles north of NYC - it's very hilly and the winter can be rough (my previous mazda 3 with all season tires couldn't get out of my driveway). I put a really good set of snow tires on it and didn't have too much trouble; the weight of electric car plus the good snow tires makes a huge difference. I'd absolutely rather have an AWD car, but for the ocassional driving in a couple inches of snow and navigating well maintained dirt roads it's absolutely fine.
posted by true at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2020

Skoda Fabia wagon.

The best fuel economy. Huge boot. Cheaper to buy new than a comparable used Subaru. 5 year warranty standard.
posted by trialex at 2:51 PM on May 20, 2020

I have similar needs/preferences. I currently drive a Forester which is too big, and fossil fuels are destroying the planet (and buying a new car with an ICE seems like a terrible financial idea in 2020).

Subaru won't release a mainstream EV any time soon. I'm looking closely at the 2021 editions of the Kia Soul EV or Kia Niro EV (leaning towards the Soul based on its capacity, even if it does look like a nerdmobile). There's a useful (but slightly out of date) table in the "Well Equipped" section of this article. Kia EV's are not available everywhere. In the US they sell them in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington. Skodas (recommended in another answer) are not available in North America. OP: you might want to post back with your location.
posted by caek at 3:06 PM on May 20, 2020

Hyundai's Ioniq should be on your list to look at if you're considering compact-size hatchbacks like the Fit. It comes in electric and hybrid models; good standard features, great mileage, on the less expensive side.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:05 PM on May 20, 2020

The Subaru Crosstrek is available as a plug-in hybrid in certain states. 17 miles of electric range, then gas if you need more. And you can't beat their Eyesight safety system or all wheel drive.
posted by postel's law at 12:50 PM on May 21, 2020

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