What kind of car would best make my daily commute safe, comfortable, and cost-effective?
December 21, 2007 8:00 AM   Subscribe

What kind of car should I buy (under $15K) to make my commute safe, comfortable, and cost-effective?

I just took a new job, which should be great for my career. That makes me happy. But it comes with a 30-mile each way commute, in Chicago, which will be less than pleasant.

We need to buy a second car for the commute, and I have a variable budget up to about $15K. In theory I could go higher than that, but I'd prefer not to.

I'll use the car just for the commute, and for some short business trips. I'd like it to be safe (ABS brakes, airbags, etc., and reasonable in snow), comfortable (not cheap on trim or accessories), cost-effective to maintain, and - especially - good on mileage.

I'm currently thinking used, late-model Honda Civic. I'm also thinking of a Nissan Sentra, or Toyota Corolla, or Mazda 3. Our other car is a Pontiac, so if I could get a reliable American car I'm down for that too.

Commuters - what should I buy and why?

Bonus question: is CarMax a good place to do the deal? Many people I've talked to have said it's a no-hassle, pleasant, reliable place to buy. If I'm only paying $1000 or so more than a private buyer, I'm inclined to pay a no-hassle premium.
posted by AgentRocket to Travel & Transportation (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A used VW Jetta might work. My wife got one a few years back, and we've been pretty happy overall.
posted by jon1270 at 8:03 AM on December 21, 2007

toyota corolla. inexpensive. good gas mileage. less likely to break and have expensive repairs than a VW. get the LE model and you get faux-wood dash and leather shift. it has no personality, which i kind of like, because you are basically undercover. i wouldn't bother getting it used because they don't lose their value so much in the first few years, so you wouldn't be saving a ton of money. and don't you usually get better loans on a new car? plus the warranty. i was debating btw corolla, civic, and jetta (for cache). i decided the jetta wasn't a good deal based on the higher price and the reputation for breaking down. it was then between the corolla and the civic. i think both are great choices, it's just a matter of aesthetics at that point. drive both and see what fits you.
posted by apostrophe at 8:10 AM on December 21, 2007

The Honda Fit is around $15k and got very good reviews by Consumer Reports.
posted by electroboy at 8:10 AM on December 21, 2007

You cannot go wrong with the Honda or Toyota.

Also, CarMax is the way the car business would be done in a perfect world. They are up front people looking to make a fair deal rather than viewing their customers as sheep waiting to be sheered of their cash. When shopping for a vehicle, I always go to Carmax first. Not to mention, their website is pretty dang useful.
posted by grumpy at 8:12 AM on December 21, 2007

I feel like I am forced to post in every car thread. I love my Nissan Versa! it was 14k. And it's been surprisingly great in the snow (and oh what a lot of snow we've gotten here in Maine so far!).

I love having something under warranty and not worrying about repairs. And the gas mileage kicks butt.
posted by miss tea at 8:12 AM on December 21, 2007

Its might be a little on the upper end of what you're looking for, but I love my Mazda 3. I got mine for about $16k two years ago. Great car that's a pleasure to drive.
posted by tundro at 8:13 AM on December 21, 2007

For that money you can probably get a new car if you're interested. Although there is the depreciation you get when driving off the lot, you have the advantages of not "buying someone else's problems" and you also usually get a lower interest rate when buying a new car. To get some idea what kind of car this might be, start with this Car & Driver comparison (about a year old but gives you an idea), then do some research on Edmunds.com.

Also bear in mind that through many organizations (such as your employer, your church, etc.), you can get a group discount which is often in the range of invoice plus some nominal amount (like about $200). You can find out what the invoice is for a given car on Edmunds.com.

I bought a commuter two years ago after doing a lot of research and ended up paying just under $14k ($15k out the door including TT&L) for a Hyundai Elantra which is actually a little bigger than a Civic.
posted by Doohickie at 8:16 AM on December 21, 2007

(Note that Honda Fit and Nissan Versa came in at 1 and 2 in that Car & Driver comparison. The Kia Rio5 is a much, much better car than it used to be, but can still be bought at a very low price compared to the competition.)
posted by Doohickie at 8:19 AM on December 21, 2007

I have a Corolla and I love it. Great mileage, it doesn't feel cheap when I drive it, it looks nice, and it was cheaper than a Civic.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:20 AM on December 21, 2007

At that price point, you can get a fairly recent used Honda or Toyota. They're simply the gold standard for reliable used transportation.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:22 AM on December 21, 2007

I've got a 2002 Civic that I bought used a couple years ago, and I adore it. It's comfy (and we've done some long road trips in it), efficient, easy to maintain, and just a straightforward good car. That's my vote.
posted by bassjump at 8:25 AM on December 21, 2007

The Honda Fit looks like a very practical choice. It's got good mileage, all the safety bells and whistles, and that big-inside/small-outside thing.

I noticed that Honda has a little savings calculator linked from the page for the Civic Hybrid, which costs $22K. Well above your limit. But how long would it take to save back the difference? Apparently for you, comparing the hybrid with a 30-mpg car and $3/gal gas, it would take 10 years years to save back that $7K overage.

Also, I just have to add this. I grew up in Chicago, and never drove a car the benefit of AWD while I was up there. I live in the sunbelt now, and drive a Subaru. In hindsight, AWD (and ABS) would have been really nice in those Chicago winters. Subaru's low-end model, the Impreza, is bumping above the top end of your price range, and doesn't have mileage quite as good as a Fit or Civic. But you might want to throw that in the hat anyhow.
posted by adamrice at 8:31 AM on December 21, 2007

I'm a Honda Civic owner (2004 model). That car is fantastic. I don't live anyplace where snow is a possibility, so I cannot vouch for its performance under those conditions. The gas mileage is awesome -- I can get near 40 mpg as long as I'm not using the AC. For a small car it's quite comfortable. If you got with the top trim on a used model (LX I think??) you would probably be very satisfied.
posted by brain cloud at 8:36 AM on December 21, 2007

Honda Fit. I just got one last year and love it so far.

Plus, it's such a thrill to see people passing by a parking spot realizing they can't fit into it and going and easily parking my Fit there.

Ditto what brain cloud says -- comfortable, incredible mileage. And it's been fine in the snow we've had so far this winter.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 8:42 AM on December 21, 2007

I just bought an '03 BMW from Carmax in Schaumburg. I was very, very happy with their customer service, especially as a female (I was there with my fiancé, and the salesperson actually talked to ME instead of just to him).

Good luck finding a used Mazda 3 - that was my original choice, but there aren't a lot of used ones out there, and they're overpriced IMO. I went with the BMW because it was the same price as a new Mazda 3, had a lot more features, and will hold its value better.
posted by desjardins at 8:48 AM on December 21, 2007

Oh, I should mention that I slid off the road during that snowstorm we had a few weeks back. In the car's defense, I hadn't driven in snow in 10 years.
posted by desjardins at 8:49 AM on December 21, 2007

I recently was in the market for a similar car.
My previous two vehicles had been American made, so this time I was in the market for something more reliable. I decided it was going to be either a civic, a corolla, or a mazda3.

I like driving, and I like a car that looks decent. The corolla seemed boring for some reason.

The civics were nice - and about $2000 nicer than either the 3 or the corolla. It's the little things, like better quality sun visors, power outlets with spring-loaded caps, twenty places to put your loose change (why?), and a trunk that unlocks when you push a button on the key fob (ok, that one is worth extra money).
A nice thing about the civic is that they dont have all those nonsense option packages. You just have DX (no a/c if I recall), LX (A/C, cheap wheels, drum brakes in the rear, no sunroof), and EX (alloy wheels, 4 wheel disk brakes, sunroof, and probably one or two more tiny improvements).
A nice thing to note is that all of the new body style civics (2006 and up) have side air bags.

Wound up buying a new 2007 mazda 3 i sedan for just under 17k.
16 more horse power than corolla, 8 more than civic.
Features a 4 speed (civic had 5 speed) automatic transmission that lets you shift the gears manually - if you want to. Not an option on civic or corolla, but is on one of the upper model honda fits.
Mazda tunes their cars a bit sportier than honda does, so gas mileage suffers a bit.
You get the difference back in performance - the 3 does not have an overdrive/economy-mode button of any sort - If you floor it, it will give you everything it has.
I can get around 25-26 mpg city, and was able to get 32.9mpg on a 500 mile highway trip.
The lowest i've ever gotten was 18mpg, and that time i was making a conscience effort to see how low my mileage could go.
My favorite feature on the interior (2007model) is the line-in for an mp3 player. It's nice be able to hook my poor-pod up to the stereo with just a $5 cable. (06' civic EX and 07 EX and LX have this as well)
The only feature that I really would like is a trunk that you can unlock without turning a key or pulling a lever inside the driver's side door. But I only go shopping once a week or so, so I don't miss it every day.
The 3 i touring has alloy wheels, 4 wheel disk brakes, a/c, optional ABS/side airbags package (a must, if only for the air bags), and optional sun roof. All for less than the Civic LX.
Oh, and you can get leather in a 3 (something you cant get in a civic - at least not stock)

One thing i did notice when i was shopping: at least in my market, their seemed to be way too much demand for used, late model, economy cars. I saw a used 2006 civic with 41,000 miles on it selling for $2000 less than a brand new 2007 civic with the same options.
Same thing with the mazda 3's.
The prices seem to be inflated on used, late model, high-demand cars - especially the hondas.
posted by itheearl at 9:20 AM on December 21, 2007

I have just been through this experience, with similar price points and preferences.

1. I had a good experience with CarMax. I think I would recommend against it only if they are cleaned out of any model you want, or if you are the kind of person who enjoys haggling and tends to succeed at it.

2. I think you're definitely into a used car, and one that's several years old, if you're serious about not going cheap on trim or accessories.

3. As to particular models, I have had good success with Hondas (I think you are looking at a used Civic) and Subarus (used Impreza or even a Saabaru). I have loved and lost a VW, and would recommend that you look very carefully at the reliability ratings for the year in question -- they seem to have had some bum output.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:23 AM on December 21, 2007

I love our '02 Chevy Prizm. It has a Toyota engine and is basically a Corolla for a heck of a lot less money. Great reliability and mpg (30-35). If you're looking to get a good commuter car on the cheap, definitely give it consideration.
posted by thewalrusispaul at 10:04 AM on December 21, 2007

Seconding Toyota Corolla. Great value for the money. You should be able to get one only a few years old for $15k. They are reliable and comfortable and get good gas mileage. I have a 1993 Corolla with ~100k miles that still runs like new. I have been driving it for 15 years and hope to drive it until at least 200k miles. I know other people with Corollas and Camrys that have gotten similar mileage out of their Toyotas.
posted by charlesv at 10:05 AM on December 21, 2007

If you look at a VW, remember that keys are ridiculously expensive. I bought '99 used, and the clicker thing is on its last legs. There was only one. Guess how much to replace? You guessed it. $289. For a key.
posted by sully75 at 10:24 AM on December 21, 2007

i have owned two corollas and loved them both. you can get one still under warranty for under $15k, especiallly this time of year.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:29 AM on December 21, 2007

Non-computer keys are cheaper. I need my clicker key replaced but I can live with a manual key.

Aside from possibly higher maintenance costs, which depends a lot on your mechanic, I think, I recommend a diesel VW, a Jetta or Golf. Manual Transmission models get upwards of 40 mpg. And they are Safe. Safe. Safe. I mean, I've never done a 670 degree side roll down a 30 foot ravine in any other car, but my 2001 Golf sure stood up to it with class. One broken thumb from the steering wheel airbag was IT. For 15K you should be able to find something around $70K miles and 2003, I would wager. The diesel engines are supposed to last quite a bit longer, too.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2007

I'm currently thinking used, late-model Honda Civic.

This is wise, and as other posters have written, the small premium that one pays for such a car is justified by reality and having all the little quality touches that come with Honda.

Is CarMax a good place to do the deal?...If I'm only paying $1000 or so more than a private buyer, I'm inclined to pay a no-hassle premium.

I mean this quite respectfully-- if not being arsed is worth $1,000 to you, you're quite fortunate. At this point, with the auto market rolling over a bit, I would suspect that a shopper who is willing to be a bit of a hardass could save at least $1,000 over a typical no-haggle price. Arm yourself with Edmund's or KBB, and try to get a car from a local dealer (and I bet the Honda dealer in your neighborhood keeps a lot of its trade-ins) at 5% off the Edmunds typical dealer price. Better yet, use the internet.
posted by Kwantsar at 10:46 AM on December 21, 2007

I have a 2002 Civic for my 47 mile-each-way commute and have been very very pleased with the quality, comfort and reliability of the car. By coincidence I purchased it at Carmax in the DC area, and have been a convert for several transactions. Back in '03 I positively swooned over Carmax on Epinions. Ever since my first Carmax transaction I have sold and purchased cars no other way. I hope your experience is as pleasant as ALL 5 of my transactions were with them.
posted by chocolate_butch at 11:21 AM on December 21, 2007

I bought a commuter two years ago after doing a lot of research and ended up paying just under $14k ($15k out the door including TT&L) for a Hyundai Elantra which is actually a little bigger than a Civic.

I too have an Elantra. I got a loaded GT 5-door model for about $15,500 in 2003. It's a bit more now, I'm sure, but it looks like they still have a trim level in your price range. Kias are basically the same mechanically as Hyundai now and have the same warranty, so they are worth a look too.

Hyundai and Kia do have a lower dealer density than some other makes in many parts of the country. Make sure the dealer you buy it from doesn't suck at after-sale support, or that there are a number of local dealers you can take the car to if it needs service. My dad got so frustrated with his local Hyundai dealer (who couldn't fix a problem his Sonata had from the day he brought it home) that he traded it in for a Toyota after just a couple months, taking a real bath. Which was a dumb thing to do, obviously, but it's the situation I'm warning of, not his solution.

A used Civic or Corolla is also a fine way to go, but there's something to be said for having a new car with the full warranty remaining.
posted by kindall at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2007

A couple things to think about:

If you get a Mazda 3, PLEASE factor in the cost of snow tires. I've driven three different Mazda 3s, all of which had incredibly poor snow handling. Like it wouldn't go up a 4% grade covered lightly with snow even after a 15mph running start. Actually, I just witnessed a Mazda 3 get stuck on a level, unplowed road in Minneapolis just the other day.

Older Hondas and Toyotas, if maintained well, can give you great gas mileage and give you almost all your money back when you sell it back again.
posted by yellowbkpk at 11:35 AM on December 21, 2007

I don't know how far this Prius is from you, or whether it is still available, but the 2004 model year gets great reviews, has excellent Toyota reliability, and unbeatable mileage. Basic trim levels are higher than entry level cars, too. I am currently in the process of buying a car, and am waiting on the inspection of a 2004 Prius. I hope it pans out well, since I quite look forward to driving a hybrid. So, I suggest including used Prii in your search...
posted by birdsquared at 12:44 PM on December 21, 2007

Absolutely consider a used car, especially a used, but immaculately maintained european diesel car.

Example: A friend recently bought himself a gorgeous 1998 Mercedes E300 TurboDiesel for $5200.
He had to do about $2000 in work on it (new exhaust, brake pads, oil change), and probably (being the clean freak he is) spent few hundred or two on cleaning products, new floormats, etc. Still, he spent about 8 grand for a benz that gets 37mpg in around town driving. Granted, it is rear wheel drive, making it less than optimal for snow, but by that same token, a few things hold true, namely that mercedes has the most fascist traction control (i.e. you cannot turn it off, and it will not really let you do anything dangerous, even if you want to), and that for 8 grand, you still have 7k in your budget for a set of snow tires (which, for any car, if you plan on snowy driving, is like a NIGHT AND DAY safety and piece of mind difference...seriously, try a car with snow tires, and prepare to have your mind blown).

All that being said, he followed a couple of really important rules when looking at a used car:
1) Private sellers have no reason to mark up a car, unlike dealers, who purchase the car at auction, or get it as a trade in, etc, and want to make a distinct profit off of it. So, look at private sellers...

2) The bigger the pile of maintenance records, the better...this will tell you how much preventative work has been done to the car, whether there were any major problems, and can give you an overall idea of how diligently the previous owner took care of the car. For example, my friend's benz had a receipt and invoice for literally every time money went into the car, from major tune-ups, to oil changes...it even had a handful of gas station receipts with it.

3) CarFax and PPI: For $30, CarFax can provide some piece of mind over any title-related issues, or accidents that the previous owner "forgot" to tell you. What's better is to spend between $80 and $200 on a Pre-Purchase Inspection at a local mechanic whose work you trust. He will do a compression test, a leakdown test, and a thorough inspection to tell you whether there are any problems that a test drive might not. Also, simply asking the seller if they are ok with your independent mechanic looking at the car is a good indicator of whether you're getting screwed. If they say no, there's certainly a reason they don't want someone who knows what they're doing looking at the car....

4) With european cars, do NOT be turned off by high mileage. In fact, in some cases, 110,000 miles can give you a BETTER car than 75,000 can. Example: I currently drive a 1997 BMW 740iL (which I'd recommend to you, but it only gets 20mpg or so...otherwise, it is simply the most amazing driving experience you can imagine. My mom calls the car a "living room on wheels"...it's more comfortable than most couches, and will literally do anything you ask on the road...and for one in the year range of 1998-2001, they run about $11,000, which is a steal considering the original retail was about $85k). I acquired the car at 101,000 miles. You might think this would put it near end-of-life, but really, I was lucky. At between 90-100,000, this car requires a major "refresher" repair, involving most of the cooling system, and some suspension components. This repair usually costs a few thousand dollars, and by getting the car after this repair, I saved myself that money. Were I to buy the same car with 75,000 miles, I would not only pay extra for a low-mileage car, but I'd get to look forward to a $1500+ repair bill in a year or two. Likewise, the aforementioned Mercedes had 120,000 on it at the time of purchase.

This should not make these cars out of the question! The motors on these things easily last for 200,000 miles, if maintained in a complete and timely manner.

4) Rust. And this goes for whatever car you buy. You MUST look all over the car for rust. Open every door, the trunk, the spare tire well, the hood, look under wheel wells, look near the door sills, even if you don't get a PPI, slide yourself under the car with a bright flashlight. Rust + cars + snow (and the salt and sand they bring with them) is a DEATH SENTENCE. 'Nuff said.

/End treatise on gorgeous old german cars.

Basically, if you do your homework, and make sure to carefully look at your choices, you can get a car that is unrivaled in its comfort and trim level (it's often joked that if you want to see what all cars will have in 15 years, look at a BMW or Mercedes...getting a 10 year old Bimmer puts you about 5 years ahead still!), will last a very long time, and will be, surely, one of the greatest driving experiences of your life.

As a final side note, @itheearl
Horsepower is not really a good indicator of a car's performance, in many ways. First of all, with an automatic transmission, dubbed "slushbox" in some circles, you lose a lot of hp between the motor and the wheels. The degree of loss can vary between cars depending on how the torque converter is set up, and manufacturers quote HP ratings at the motor, not the wheels, so that 3, despite having a few more horses, may actually put out less. That being said, HP isn't even really what you notice when driving, it's torque. The saying goes "Americans buy horsepower, and drive with torque." The first time I drove the Benz from the beginning of this annoyingly long post, I was amazed at how quick it was, from a stop especially. It was not as fast as the 740, but close enough that I was surprised that it only had 177hp (at the motor, not wheels), when my BMW was rated at 282hp. The reason is that, being a diesel, it had a lot of torque (close to 350 ft/lbs), which was a fair match to my car (360ft/lbs or so). A lot of the 4-cylinder motors that you'll find in these mazdas, civics, etc, are weak in the torque department, while torque is something that you'll get in spades from most diesel engines, and european cars in general.

Also, these "manumatic" transmissions are mostly malarkey, in fact they are no different than putting a traditional automatic into the "L" or "1/2/3" positions. VW, however, has a manumatic of merit, called DSG, which is a true double-electronic clutch sequential gearbox. It is essentially a manual that, when you tap the gearshift towards + or -, electronically engages the clutch (two of them, actually), shifts, and then disengages the clutch, all in a fraction of a second. That, friends, is a beautiful thing.

I think that about covers my gamut of expertise,
/End Transmission
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 12:47 PM on December 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have purchased car after car from Saturn of Glenview. They have terrific models new under $15K, but better yet they always have great used buys, from "the guy drove it off the lot and brought it right back" to a few years old. And you will not believe how wonderful the buying experience is at Saturn. All the ads are true (Of course, I buy all my cars with cash; I've never had to finance a car through the dealer, so that may be where they obnoxious part comes in)

One thing about Saturns: mine have been absolutely maintenance free for 120K miles, then they fall apart all at once. YMMV

My 2004 Ion (purchased last year for $8,500 with 11,000 miles on it) gets 28mph using moderate hypermiling (all streets--very little highway).
posted by nax at 1:09 PM on December 21, 2007

We thought 'used, late-model Civic' when looking at a commute, too. We have a 2004 SE.

No complaints about the car itself. But. The actual commuter (Mr Kmennie) could probably be a little more comfortable.

If you are large of body or bad of back, you might want to consider something larger and more comfortable. Definitely don't go with anything smaller than a Civic. On longer drives, it's really made me understand the appeal of luxury land yachts.
posted by kmennie at 2:00 PM on December 21, 2007

If you have time, try out the Nissan Versa. I don't own a car anymore, but I rent frequently. The Versa is so comfortable and fun to drive, I'm pretty sure that is what I would buy. I like the Fit, too, but I feel the road more in it. I'm about six feet and both of these are spacious enough for me.

Saturn is also introducing a nice new eco model that is all the rage in car magazines.

I grew up driving nicer cars (my parents'), but for the casual driver, I think 15K is plenty to spend on a car. Everything mentioned her is solid and relatively trouble free. Why spend more? Hondas, Toyotas, VWs and saturns seem to last as long as anything else.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:25 PM on December 21, 2007

I think I rambled a bit before:

I have a 3 and love it.
It takes a bit more gas than the civic or corolla, but subjectively I think it's more fun to drive.
You should test drive one - you just might like it.
posted by itheearl at 5:58 PM on December 21, 2007

I just bought myself a 2003 Toyota Echo (more info from cars.com) about 5 months ago, after a lot of research and hunting around for the right car for my own 30 mile commute and $10k budget.

I really couldn't be happier. I am regularly getting 35-37 mpg on my mostly highway drive, and it's a fun, zippy little car that I'm wicked pleased with owning. It's very roomy and comfortable. I will mention that I am in my early twenties, so I didn't mind the odd dashboard or slightly funky style which might be a problem for you. They also really didn't take off in the States (but were very popular in Canada) and so were replaced with the Yaris in 2006.

I personally used Consumer Reports Auto during my used car search and it was immensely useful. As far as places to buy - I found my dealer listing on AutoTrader. Another random data point is that my fiance had a very positive experience buying his Civic Hybrid through eBay Motors two years ago.
posted by nelleish at 6:38 PM on December 21, 2007

(I feel I should mention, especially after reading kmennie's comment above): Though I am not 'large of body', I think a great deal of the comfort that I derive from my Civic is that it is a 2-Door vs. a 4-door. I could be wrong, but the whole front compartment just feels very roomy in comparison with 4-door models of other small cars that I've driven in the past. I am the sole person in the car at all times, except for the occasional front-seat passenger (eg. no kids or spouse) so for me, a 2-door is not currently a hardship on me or anybody else. But if you have different considerations, keep this in mind.
posted by brain cloud at 7:02 PM on December 21, 2007

Edmunds.com has a "true cost to own" calculator which might be a useful resource as well.
posted by itheearl at 8:20 PM on December 21, 2007

Nthing the used Subaru, had one that I used to deliver rural mail in ('91 Legacy w/AWD, modified for right-hand drive). It could be a bit pokey and lower on the fuel economy than more modern used cars, but it was reliable as hell and stuck to the road like glue. No snow down here, but the thunderstorms/flooding can be pretty bad. It had 246K miles on it when I finally retired her.

You might look at Suzuki's SX4. Last I checked it was going for $15K pretty fully loaded, 27/30 MPG, with auto tranny being the only real option I'd add. And once I drove AWD, it's hard to go back.

(I currently drive a '02 Hyundai Elantra GLS. Nice, dependable, but not too exciting. Only real complain is the local dealer is full of a'holes.)
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 2:40 AM on December 22, 2007

SAAB 9-3. You're commuting 60 miles a day and you want comfort. A Honda Civic or the other Japanese econoboxes mentioned are not going to do it. I know the Civic- it's cramped, stark and it has a horribly underpowered engine.

The SAAB has a turbo, it's safe, good in the foul weather. You have heated, comfortable seats- and all of the Swedish practicality you need. And it's good on gas.

It's not a Mercedes, but this car will make your 60 mile a day commute tolerable. The rev-happy econoboxes mentioned above will only fray your nerves.
posted by wfc123 at 3:35 PM on December 22, 2007

wow, you have a lot of answers. hope you make it all the way down here. the 4th generation of Nissan Maxima (96-99) routinely make it over 200k miles. you can get a 99 with around 100k miles for $8k in my area.

www.maxima.org check the forums
posted by phritosan at 9:24 PM on December 22, 2007

You could add a 2003+ Hyundai Elantra GT (the leather version) to the list. It gets 30+ mpg on the highway and it's a very comfortable car (the hatchback version looks like a SAAB 9-3, by the way). Consumer Reports started recommending it only this year, but it's been deserving that for the last 5. It's a much better value than a same-year used Toyota or Honda, IMO, because it's much cheaper.
posted by Ervin at 10:18 AM on December 23, 2007

Before I forget: don't be that excited if a car gets 40 mpg, versus only 30 mpg in others. For your 60 mile per day commute, 270 days a year, the savings are only about $400/year (but the difference in price between those cards could be in the thousands).
posted by Ervin at 10:21 AM on December 23, 2007

Cars, not cards. Sorry.
posted by Ervin at 10:22 AM on December 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. I ended up buying a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. I found one from a private buyer with 47K miles for $10,000. I'm getting 40+ mpg and it's been a good car for the 2000 miles I've owned it.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:24 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

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