2008 Cars with great gas mileage.
September 25, 2007 9:56 AM   Subscribe

My parents are looking for a new car with great gas mileage. They don't want a Hybrid. What are their options?

Here's the problem, a Honda civic is out of the picture. My parents dislike Hondas, they believe Hondas feel cheap and have crappy interiors. I don't drive a car so I have no opinion on this. They have looked at the newest Hondas and they stand by this opinion.

I've been looking into diesel options but there is no usable information out there. VW is supposed to have TDIs, but their site is devoid of any info. Furthermore, I've checked out http://www.fueleconomy.gov and there is no info on the diesel models from VW or Audi.

Basically my parents would like a 30+ mpg car with a nicer German or European feel.

Is there a model you recommend? Is it feasible to get cars directly from Europe? It seems that just like with bicycles they get all the really cool useful models that never get marketed to Americans.
posted by Telf to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
would they go for a mini cooper?
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:00 AM on September 25, 2007

Toyota Yaris gets fabulous gas mileage and quite a decent amount of pep and handling.
posted by teleri025 at 10:08 AM on September 25, 2007

Scion xb. Roomy, and with the seats down it can hold a dining room set.
posted by ewkpates at 10:11 AM on September 25, 2007

I drive a 1996 Passat VW TDI, brought over from Germany (yes, they will do that!), and I love it to bits. I can drive from Ottawa to New York City (over 700 km) on a single tank of diesel. Urban driving works out to about 42 miles to the gallon. The poor thing is a rust-bucket now, but still gets envious stares and requests to sell (which of course I won't do).

Have you tried this comparison tool from the Canadian VW site?
posted by LN at 10:14 AM on September 25, 2007

Well, two things go a long way in making a car with good fuel economy: make the car lightweight, and give it a smaller horsepower engine. Both of these things will make a car feel "cheaper." Unfortunately, Volkswagen has discontinued their diesel model. Diesel engines seem more responsive at the same horsepower because they have so much low end torque, and really go a long way toward making you feel like you have more engine than you really have.

For trendy teutonic styling, check out the Mini Cooper.

MINI Cooper: 32/40 mpg

Also, my extremely wealthy aunt traded her Acura in for a Ford Focus, and she liked it so much that she bought a second one a few weeks later for the other home. Its a somewhat low-slung car that is really easy to get in and out of.

Ford Focus: 27/37 mpg
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 10:14 AM on September 25, 2007

Unless the quality of the MINI Cooper interior has improved in the recent models, I would say they don't have a "nice feel" in general. I freaking loved my MINI Cooper, and it held up very well, but it didn't have anything like a luxury feel to the interior.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:15 AM on September 25, 2007

Browse consumerreports.org -- it lists milage. (The Scion Xb gets 28 MPH, BTW.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:35 AM on September 25, 2007

Toyota Matrix? 30/35 MPG ( somewhere around there ), and while the interior isn't necessarily luxurious, the dials do look cool. I liked driving it better than the Scion (felt more solid). Also very roomy; probably good for tall people.
posted by amtho at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2007

My partner and I love our Toyota Matrix, which averaged just over 35mpg on a recent roadtrip. By far, it was the most comfortable 12 hours I've ever spent in a car. The interior seems plush enough to us, but I've never been in a European car, so I don't know how it would compare.

To list the attributes that parents might find most appealing... Getting in/out of any seat is a breeze, the seats are high, so there is no grabbing for handles to pull yourself up to standing. The leg/head room is astounding, my 6ft+ father-in-law had no complaints about the backseat. All seats but the driver's fold perfectly flat, which opens up gads of cargo space. High crash test ratings.

All that being said, they may feel they are driving a car designed for a younger crowd. And, their opinion of Honda might spill over to Toyota... it does in my family.
posted by wg at 10:39 AM on September 25, 2007

Nthing Scions for the gas efficienty standpoint. I have an 05 xA which gets 34-36 mpg on the highway (32-38 sticker before the new calculations). My very short commute gets me 28 mpg, but I'm ok with that.

Although Scions probably have some of the nicest interiors of the sub-compact cars, it is, admittedly, inexpensive and may not meet their needs, but they are incredibly roomy, considering how small they appear, and peppy enough to do just about whatever you ask it to do :)
posted by odi.et.amo at 10:40 AM on September 25, 2007

VW is bringing TDI's back to US beginning next year, I believe, if you can wait a bit. They are not currently selling them in the US. Check out tdiclub.com for more info. (I have 2003 Jetta TDI and I love the thing).
posted by disaster77 at 10:50 AM on September 25, 2007

I do realize you said no hybrids. However, depending on when they made this decision, a look at the Prius might be worth it. We test drove an '08 Prius before we bought the Matrix. The interior didn't look or feel cheap and it responds like a standard issue gas engine. The shifter is more like a joystick, which I imagine one would be accustomed to quickly. Since they've been out for several years, the bugs are worked out. Besides, the warranty covers it for 100,000 miles (iirc). (We only passed on the Prius because we couldn't afford it, yet.)
posted by wg at 10:57 AM on September 25, 2007

In general, you're better off with a Japanese brand. Toyotas, Hondas (the Civics and the Fit do very well), and even the Nissan Versa, which you can get in a 5 door hatch or 4 door sedan.

The reason they tend to do well as far as mileage is concerned is because they build lighter cars (well, mostly). They use thinner glass, the panels are usually thinner, and they tend to include a minimum of luxury and electro-toys on their lower models (not that you can't option those in later). The VW diesels are nice, as someone mentioned. Currently, I think they're the only ones offering a small-car diesel in the US. But the VWs are heavier cars (3137lbs for a small hatchback!), which hurts overall fuel economy.

Chevy sells the Aveo, which is small and not terrible, but also not that great compared to the Japanese cars. And the new Focus is just coming out, but it doesn't seem to yet be the revolutionary change the car needed to be. More of an evolution of the current Focus. Otherwise, the American brands really don't put any effort into building good small cars.
posted by ninjew at 10:59 AM on September 25, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the input so far guys. I didn't realized that Toyota/Scion offered so many options. I've sent my parents link to the Mini Cooper, Yaris, xA/xB, Matrix and the Focus. I'm not sure what will satisfy them.

I did some more research into the Volkswagen TDIs. The 2008 Jetta TDI should be available around January. I found a popular mechanics feature which claimed about 50 mpg highway.

I can't believe the US VW site does such a poor job of touting the upcoming TDI models.
posted by Telf at 11:02 AM on September 25, 2007

If they think Hondas have cheap and crappy interiors, they'll definitely be turned off by the Scions and the Yaris. The Fit's interior quality blows away its Toyota competitors.

If they could just wait a teeny bit more, the 2008 VW TDIs will finally be coming out in a couple months with the new cleaner BlueMotion diesel engines.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 11:03 AM on September 25, 2007

Is the Mercedes Smart available near you? The cars look frankly odd at first, but they're all over the place here. Diesel and they get fantastic milage. The interiors are very nice indeed, better than the VW, I'd say. Older people tend to like them a lot because they're upright and quite east to get in and out of.
posted by bonehead at 11:17 AM on September 25, 2007

After my mother-in-law's 2-year-old Jetta TDI caught on fire on the side of the road and I looked around and saw that happened with alarming frequency, I've tried to dissuade people from buying the Jetta. If you look under the hood, you'll see things are packed way too tightly (compared, even, to our Honda Fit).

Also, do they want high gas mileage for economic reasons or for environmental reasons? Diesels (even the TDI) tend to pollute more than other engines. They cause less global pollution (CO2, etc), but a lot more noxious fumes.
posted by JMOZ at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2007

My Mazda 3i regularly got 30/33 mpg, even for short hops. I really liked that car.
posted by fuzzbean at 11:31 AM on September 25, 2007

Anecdotally, diesel VWs get astonishing gas mileage... my folks have a '98 Beetle, and can squeeze 700 miles out of a tank of gas (>50 mpg). There are some drawbacks to diesels, of course, but as far as pure gas mileage goes, it'll definitely outperform a Yaris or a Scion... actually, VWs can outperform hybrids in a lot of cases.
posted by Mayor West at 11:50 AM on September 25, 2007

Things are too tightly packed together in a TDI? No, things are spread out too much in an aspirated engine.

They can still pick up an 04-06 TDI Jetta, Passat, or Golf easily enough, or they can get the V10 Toureg in a new model. VW is bringing back the TDI next year, the new emissions regs are really Big Money's way of making sure Americans keep buying gasoline and not diesel. But yes, VW diesels will be back next year. Also, in 08 or 09, there will be a diesel version of the Honda Civic, and the Smart will be here in a diesel flavor in 08---but it's already about 10 months backordered.

Diesel > all for fuel economy, and todays diesels aren't like those of even 10 years ago. They're quiet, punchy, and easy to maintain. You also don't get the stigma of an overpriced matchbox car with nasty batteries and an RFID ignition, and you have the option to burn carbon-neutral fuel.

What will be extremely badass is when some manufacturer puts together a diesel hybrid using supercaps instead of batteries...
posted by TomMelee at 12:35 PM on September 25, 2007

I love my Pontiac Vibe, fwiw. It's exactly the same as the Toyota Matrix, but a little bit less pricey. The gas mileage is great, the interior is damn roomy! I can put a lot of stuff in the back when the rear seats are folded flat. The front passenger seat folds flat, too. The ride is not mushy, there's lots of headroom, and I really like sitting up just a wee bit higher than in ordinary sedans. It's like a mini-suv, but without the guilt.
posted by Corky at 1:22 PM on September 25, 2007

Chevy sells the Aveo, which is small and not terrible, but also not that great compared to the Japanese cars

I believe the Aveo is actually a Suzuki, so it is a Japanese car. Though Suzuki isn't exactly what you'd call a top-tier Japanese manufacturer.
posted by kindall at 1:31 PM on September 25, 2007

I did read that they don't want Hondas, however, we got my Honda Civic (hybrid, another no-no you said) with LEATHER interior instead of the cloth. It wasn't much extra and has gone a long way towards classing up the look. Added to that the hybrid navigation system, which is awesome and looks great, and I can't imagine anyone saying it looked cheap.
posted by GaelFC at 2:02 PM on September 25, 2007

As someone mentioned here, if they think a Honda's interior is too cheap, they won't be happy with a Toyota or a Scion. I say that as a happy Scion xB driver. And lord knows an Aveo isn't going to cut it.
posted by YoungAmerican at 2:07 PM on September 25, 2007

The Jetta Sport TDI (which is a Jetta Wagon) will come out (supposedly) in May '08. I'm counting the seconds (and should have a deposit on one soon). It is a revolutionary completely re-vamped engine. Later that year, Audi and VW (essentially the same car/brand) will be coming out with a whole new line of TDIs. The problem with the old engine was that it was starting to fail emission standards, so they took it off the market and re-did the engine to pass emissions in all 50 states (for a number of years). It will be a sweet, sexy car, so I advise waiting and getting one of them.
posted by nursegracer at 2:19 PM on September 25, 2007

Just to close the loop, the Aveo is a re-badged Daewoo Kalos. I have a 2006 5-speed and the mileage sucks.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:44 PM on September 25, 2007

VW's TDI's didn't pass emission requirements this year, so they will not be sold in North America until they are retooled.

I had a TDI, and for the most part loved it. They are powerful, efficient, and preternaturally durable, but they require some TLC and lots of driving. They are loud when cold (in kind of a sexy way), and expensive to repair. My experience with warranties was not great.

If your parents dislike Hondas, I am guessing that they will not respond well to a lot of efficient cars, so a tdi might be for them. The best handling efficient gasoline cars I have experienced are a nissans, and the mini, the latter being small and expensive, but damn cute!
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:47 PM on September 25, 2007

I have an 07 Nissan Versa, it rocks. Feels very solid, lots of legroom, great mileage. I test drove the Scion xB, the Matrix, and the Versa and the Versa was far and away the best feel, best handling. (I wanted to drive Fit but they were impossible to come by at the time.)
posted by miss tea at 4:39 AM on September 26, 2007

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