Help us pick a super efficient car!
May 2, 2008 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Things are changing at the SlyBevel house, and it looks like we'll have to buy another car. Help us choose it!

This will be a commuting car. The ideal model would be small, perhaps a two seater, get fantastic gas mileage (35 mpg+), and be available a couple of years old used to minimize cost.

We don't like American cars.
Something sporty, that could go fast if desired, would be nice (though gas efficiency is primary, and I understand that going fast cuts efficiency a lot.)
It should be available for $15k or less used.
Personal experience with a car you love is highly favored.
posted by SlyBevel to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Honda Fit is the cutest car I've ever seen. I would really like rid of my VW Golf for one.
posted by sully75 at 11:39 AM on May 2, 2008

Isn't Fit new to the US market? I looked into them back when we bought our current car, and it seems like they were just releasing in the US then.
posted by SlyBevel at 11:40 AM on May 2, 2008

We have a Honda Fit and love it. That having been said, I think they're probably pretty tough to find used, as 2007 was the first model year. That having been said, the new price isn't much about your $15K, and if you're willing to forgo some of the niceties and drive a manual transmission, $15K might just be possible.)

(for anyone else who's concern with a new model car is reliability rather than the ability to find it used, the Fit has been available for several years in Japan and Europe as the Honda Jazz with only relatively minor modifications for the US market).
posted by JMOZ at 11:43 AM on May 2, 2008

Are Miatas good commuters? Good in snow?
posted by SlyBevel at 11:52 AM on May 2, 2008

I have a 4-door Toyota Yaris and I got it brand new two years ago for around $15K. I use it almost exclusively for commuting. But they are fairly hard to find used and new (not a profitable car for Toyota to manufacture). It gets around 32city/40hwy mpg for me and still has that sporty feel. The 2-door Yaris probably gets better mpg, but it just felt too small for me.
posted by mattbucher at 11:54 AM on May 2, 2008

Ha, I was just going to suggest the Miata. Little 1.8L engine, convertible, drives like a go-kart. But it's also RWD, so it'll be lousy in snow without snow tires. And probably too stiff for daily commutes on rough roads.

Mini Cooper, maybe? Not my cup of tea (although neither is the Miata, to be honest), but the base (non-S) model should get great gas mileage.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:57 AM on May 2, 2008

I think Mini Coopers are out of the running for us. Dependability is a must, and I've heard that a lot of folks have problems with Minis.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:03 PM on May 2, 2008

The Fit would be my first suggestion, but you may need to raise your price tag. I love my little Civic 4 door, but it's not terribly sporty (though I'm sure you can get one with a spoiler - voila, sports car. I think 2-door models are available too). Great on gas, peppy, handles well in snow, very reliable etc.
posted by Koko at 12:07 PM on May 2, 2008

From a Wisconsinite, Miatas are horrid in snow.
posted by desjardins at 12:10 PM on May 2, 2008

I should say, in case it becomes relevant: the 2.3L Mazda3 is a great car, and sporty as all heck in the price range, but it is terrible--or worse than terrible--on gas, at least with the auto transmission, no matter what the EPA's figures say.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:11 PM on May 2, 2008

I'm in a similar boat. I've found the U.S. News ratings to be handy - they are for new models, but usually have pointers and history about the model's predecessors:

Right now I'm looking at the Hyundai Elantra. I currently have a 2000 Civic coupe 5-speed that I can get 32-40 mpg out of on my commute, depending on traffic and my impatience. It's OK.

Fast is usually at odds with efficient, unless you go for very low weight like the Miata. I think most other 2-seaters have more performance-oriented engines that cut into the mileage figures.

You could also look into getting a hatchback design and removing the rear seats to save weight and improve efficiency.
posted by rhys at 12:11 PM on May 2, 2008

It may not be the particular kind of sporty you are looking for, but my Toyota Matrix can get 40mpg on the interstate. I bought a 2006 last summer for less than $15,000. Caveat, it was from a private owner who had been knocking the price down all summer. (He'd been pitching it as a grad gift, but couldn't find parents willing to teach their kid how to drive stick.) I haven't tested the upper limits of speed; but it drives smoothly, has loads of cargo space, and is the most comfortable car I've personally known (so far). Once we got rid of the summer touring tires, it went wherever we asked in the snow.
posted by wg at 12:15 PM on May 2, 2008

I recently bought a 2008 Fit Sport Automatic. The EPA gives it 27/34 and that's about what I get. Don't buy this car thinking you'll be getting 35+ on city driving, it just won't happen.
posted by jepler at 12:16 PM on May 2, 2008

Apart from the snow issue, you might check out a Toyota MR2. I have not driven one, but my sense from reviews is that you might decide that you can put up with the bad snow performance because you are in luuuuurve with it.

End-of-run Prelude maybe, but that'll mean something like an 01 at the newest.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:27 PM on May 2, 2008

I purchased a new Nissan Versa for under 15k last year (automatic). It gets 35 mph highway but not city. I love my car. It's cute, and fun, and feels really roomy although it's rather smallish. The Fit was not available when I was buying so I couldn't test drive it-- but the Versa felt much nicer, more solid, and more luxe than any of the comparable cars (Matrix, Scion, Yaris).
posted by miss tea at 12:42 PM on May 2, 2008

If good mileage is really a priority, try a Prius. Most used Priuses are probably more than $15k, but there are a few out there for less. I live in Florida, so I don't know anything about how they are in cold and snow, but I love my Prius. I used to have a Miata and the Prius isn't any less fun to drive (except, of course, it's not a convertible; and maybe it's just that I've gotten old).

I've had the Prius for 3 years with no reliability issues. Yeah, it's sorta ugly, but what car that gets more than 20 mpg and costs less than $50,000 is really beautiful? I average 50 mpg commuting 18 miles each way on I-95 2-3 days a week, and drive around town the other days.
posted by michquig at 12:54 PM on May 2, 2008

The Fit or Yaris are both around $15k new: trouble is, there's not much of a used market for it, nor is there much bargaining space at the dealer, given the huge demand for wee small sensible cars.

One alternative might be a Golf (or Beetle) TDi, but from previous threads here, it appears that VW's most unreliable stock is all in the US. Diesel's expensive these days, but the Golf TDi is listed as 34/45 auto, 42/49 manual, and reported by users at around 40 combined (auto) or 50 (manual).
posted by holgate at 1:12 PM on May 2, 2008

Used gas Golfs or older economy Civics (not the sporty version) should easily obtain 35mpg if you're careful with the gas peddle. Honda's are obviously very reliable and decent in the snow. I can't speak for the reliability of the VW as I have never owned one (I've heard notorious rumors, and had bad experience with an Audi though). I will say that I'm in love with the Golf for it's cargo carrying ability, though.
posted by mbatch at 1:38 PM on May 2, 2008

Just another person to chime in with the Fit. We went from a large SUV and a pickup truck to one tiny sport-edition Fit and love it to death. The sports edition, however, seems merely to be a spoiler, slightly bigger wheels and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The used ones around here, however, go for as much as the new ones (no, I don't get it). You can get it down to $200 over cost if you go through AAA or Costco car buying.

I've seen quite a few Smarts around San Francisco, but I have no experience with them other than, "Woah! that's tiny!"
posted by Gucky at 1:43 PM on May 2, 2008

We bought a used 2001 model Prius (the ones that look more like Echos) a few years ago for about $14k. Current mileage: 46.7 mpg. My commute is 60 miles (total) of freeway driving. It's had one mechanical problem since we bought it, and dealer had it ready to go within 6 hours of me dropping it off.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on May 2, 2008

I have a SMART- it is great for city driving but I wouldn't want it as a highway car. There is also no secondary market and a two year waiting list for a new one. Before the SMART we had a MINI - and LOVED it. The newer ones have better mileage than the early models and I think they've come a long way in working out the early bugs. They also have great "service included" warranties. I don't think you'd be disappointed.
posted by Wolfie at 2:59 PM on May 2, 2008

I can recommend the Scion xA; I've had my 2006 for 2 years now and it's been totally relieable and frequently tops 40 MPG (when I can remember to drive in such a way as to get 40 MPG), easy to park, and best of all it's made by Toyota, so, easy to find a mechanic for maintnenance when needed. Or take it to the dealership if you like, they service Scions as well as Toyotas. Plus, fold down the back seats, and it has the cargo capacity of a small station wagon without the social stigma driving such a vehicle inevitably entails. It also has a jack into which you can plug your iPod, or if you're really fortunate you can find one that has the iPod readout on the stereo, but I was too cheap to spring for that option...just being able to play the iPod through the stereo system was plenty cool enough for me. This is one of the few cars I've ever owned that I can find nothing to complain about.
posted by motown missile at 3:17 PM on May 2, 2008

I have a VW Passat 1.8T which I love, but won't get the mileage you're looking for and is a bit large unless you're looking to fit the whole family in it (and it's very comfortable and safe). But otherwise, I'd second the Golf or suggest the Jetta, both of which should get you better mileage. I believe anything in the post 2001 range will have side airbags too. I can get up to 30 hwy in my car although I believe VW's posted number is 28, so the Golf or Jetta will do better.

I'm not sure what the Volvo S40 is running (maybe a 2002 would be in your range?) these days, but that might be another good option -- drives well, safe, and good gas mileage.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 3:27 PM on May 2, 2008

Just for reference, our current car is a 2008 Accord LX 4cyl.

It doesn't get the mileage that our 2003 Accord got, and we're about to be driving more miles than we used to.

Thus, the little car for doing the bulk of the zipping around.

Thanks for the answers so far! Still listening...
posted by SlyBevel at 3:40 PM on May 2, 2008

My buddy used to have to drive long distances (highway miles) for his job and had the totally sweet Honda Insight . Wikipedia says that it was the first mass produced hybrid sold in the U.S. I don't know if you can find a used one...but, this two seater got crazy good mileage with no mechanical problems. It looks crazy weird though--think Jetsons mobile [one more datapoint for you anyways]
posted by fieldtrip at 4:36 PM on May 2, 2008

Consider a 3-5 year old Ford Focus ZX3 hatchback (or ZX5 if you want little rear doors).

Something of a convert from the European market (where they don't much like American cars either), it's actually quite a good little runner, and one of very few hatchbacks that you can find that are a few years old. There is an SVT version with a lot more horses, but it takes premium gas and certainly won't get 35+ MPG. You'd never guess it was an American car, until you realize that you actually can get cheap brake pads, on a Sunday afternoon, in the middle of nowhere.

Plus, thanks to the blue oval on the front, they shed most of their value the moment the first driver farts in them. You could buy two of them (or one, plus 40,000 miles of gas for it) and still keep it under your $15k budget.
posted by toxic at 4:54 PM on May 2, 2008

I commute on a motorcycle in San Francisco.

45-70 mpg (variable dep. on engine size, driving style)
power-to-weight ratio means awesome performance
Major style points
Dirt cheap insurance
Parking is a cinch

Need to wear/carry riding gear
Riding in bad weather / snow is nasty
Can get stolen easier
Could be scary/intimidating
Need to take an extra class/DMV test

If you're looking for good mileage/ performance in mostly sunny climes you really can't beat a 2 wheeler though.

Plus its fuuuun.
posted by spatula at 1:06 AM on May 3, 2008

Thanks for the tip on getting a bike, spatula.

I've thought about biking for a long time, but I'm just not ready for that.

We won't be buying the next car for a bit, so no specific answer is the greatest ever. There were some good ones here though, so I'll make sure to mark a few.

Thanks again, and I'll watch this space for more answers.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:21 PM on May 3, 2008

I drive a 1991 Daihatsu Mira, and I love it. It has 248,000 km on the clock and still goes like a champ. If I keep the speed under 80 km/h, the 850 cc 3-cylinder naturally-aspirated engine gets me 5 litres per 100 km fuel consumption.

Translated figures for people in non-metric backwaters:

248,000 km is 154,000 miles
80 km/h is 50 mph
850 cc is 52 cubic inches
5 litres per 100 km is 47 mpg (US gallons)
posted by flabdablet at 9:29 PM on May 3, 2008

It has 145/70R12 tyres, which were a pain to find snow chains for. Did so eventually, though.
posted by flabdablet at 9:31 PM on May 3, 2008

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