What car should I buy this summer?

I currently have a 2005 Hyundai Accent that I like very much.  I would keep it forever except that I am getting really tired of having to take breaks from it for little repairs.  3 days without the car waiting for a door handle replacement was the final straw.  (I could have driven around anyway and opened the door from the outside via the window, but we would have had to put the door back together for me to do that.)

The car landscape has changed a lot since I last looked for me.  Last time I looked for me, there was one very obvious only choice.  The Prius was at the top of every list and nothing else compared in the compact/sub-compact range.  If I didn’t want to go hybrid, then the Toyota Corolla was the top of every sub-compact list.  (And the Honda Civic if I wanted to go bigger.)

Things have changed quite a bit since then.  The Hyundai Accent, which we bought in 2005 because it was literally the only car we could afford to buy with cash, is now as high as #3 on some lists!  The hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.  Honda has the Insight, Hyundai has the Ioniq.  And there are plug-ins with tax discounts!  (I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a bolt the weekend before the April 1st deadline for the $7.5K discount, but opted not to.)

By summer I should have up to 35K saved to play with for this new car purchase.  I do not *want* to spend $35K, but I will be able to if necessary.  (The money will find another home if not spent on this car.)

Here’s what I want:

I want a small car.  Sub-compact preferred, Compact as a second choice.  I like small cars because I am small and because they are easy to park.

This car will drive me 7 miles to work and 7 miles back 5 days a week (occasionally stopping at DC2’s school on the way home).  My current 14 year old car has just a little over 50K miles on it.  I just don’t drive much.

I do not care about “performance”.  I do not want a sports car.  I do not need vim or vigor.

I want a new car.  Dealing with the used car market is not something I want to do.  I will keep this car until it, too, starts succumbing to plastic fatigue or otherwise dies.

I want a four door automatic with air conditioning.  I’m not sure if it is possible to get a new car that doesn’t have those attributes, but that was something that was really important when we bought the accent.  The back needs space for two kids including one in a booster seat.

I am really not a mini-cooper kind of person.  I am a boring middle-aged female.  I do think the new lines on current models are sexy, but how the vehicle looks is really not a priority.  Except I would prefer not to have something with a personality.  Nondescript is where I’m at.

I want at least 28 C/35H mpg.  Those are arbitrary.  My current Accent still gets something in the 30-33mph range (I guess because my commute is partly highway?)  If I go hybrid, then I want at least 50mpg.  I know that given how little I drive my mileage isn’t that important, but I dislike stopping to get gas (especially during election season when I avoid places advertising evil people).  I currently do it about once every 2 weeks.  I don’t hate it enough to go completely electric though.   I can afford an electric, but it seems like they’re more than I need given the higher price-tag (which is why I didn’t buy the Bolt before the subsidy got cut).  Plus with DH having the Clarity we might need to get an actual charger if we went electric.  Still, something like the Leaf, which still has the $7,500 credit, might be reasonable, except that I would not be able to make it to the city and back without recharging if something happened to DH’s car.  So… I guess I don’t see any all-electric vehicles that I like enough to buy.

I don’t want a luxury car.

I don’t care about electronic bells and whistles.

The beep beep beep beep that the Prius does when reversing DRIVES ME CRAZY.  (Two of my colleagues have Priuses.)  (#2 notes that you can turn it off.  We had a link in Link Love, I think.)  (Yep, that’s why I put it in link love.  But I do worry that somehow that ability will get disabled.)

What should I test drive?  What am I forgetting?  What sub-compacts and compacts do you love or hate?



49 Responses to “What car should I buy this summer?”

  1. Carcar Says:

    I commented on your last car post and since then we purchased the Hyundai Ioniq plugin. I’m really happy with it. It fits a lot of your requirements: it’s compact, easy to park, not showy at all. I love the trunk space, which is generous. The back seat is a bit cramped, but my kids are small enough that it doesn’t matter. It’s easy to fit two boosters in the back. And finally, there is something so satisfying about driving in electric and rarely using gas. I also just drive a few miles every day and the gas tank is never depleted. It’s both psychologically satisfying and also nice never to need to stop for gas.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I will have to check it out. DH looked at it when he was buying a new car but he liked the clarity better for whatever reason.

    • Tinkering Theorist Says:

      I have an Ioniq (hybrid version though not the plug in) and I also am really happy with it. I wanted the slightly fancier package with the blind spot/lane change warning system but then they couldn’t find it in the color I wanted and I just ended up with the base version. I was also really interested in the Honda Fit but I thought the Ioniq was nicer overall.

  2. Steph Says:

    I don’t actually *own* a car, but I’ve been driving a lot of rental cars in the last year or so. I’ve driven the Ford Fiesta and Nissan Versa a lot, and like both cars – they’re tiny and handle well, although their acceleration leaves something to be desired on the highway. The Fiesta meets your MPG goal. I hate its headrest, though – I’m 5’1″ and it ends up throwing my head forward at an odd angle. If I owned one I would just replace the headrest.

    I also got to drive a Hyundai Elantra last month – it’s a little bigger, but gets better gas mileage and has better acceleration.

  3. Becca Says:

    Obviously test the Corolla hybrid and the Hyundai Ioniq. I think it makes sense to get something with better fuel economy than you are at, and the main objections to these cars seem to center on slow for acceleration.
    Both should be fine on durability, but I’d lean toward the Ioniq if you dont dislike the service department at your nearest dealer, because of the warranty.
    The Honda Insight is also a good option to look at. Insights have a good track record and apparently a bit more zip than the other two.

    I feel like this is stupid to ask, but apparently some cars only have Apple and not Android- would that bug you?

    I personally dislike parking in a Prius, mostly as a visibility thing. I suppose a backup camera would ameliorate this but really it’s a new skill to learn. On the other hand, you can get heated seats, which are not a thing in the Corolla, if I recall correctly.

    My first car was a Chevy Prizm and I just looked up its turning circle and it was under 15 ft. No wonder everything else seems hard to park, even if small!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve only gotten 50K miles on 14 years of driving (including 2 cross-country drives), so I don’t think my fuel efficiency is that important. It’s just a preference.

      We have iphones now and don’t anticipate changing. Lack of compatibility seems like a terrible idea though. The clarity did recently allow google maps and not just apple maps which makes using GPS a lot easier.

      Living in the south we don’t really need heated seats. We have used them exactly once on the clarity and it was nice (I got soaked in the rain IIRC). But just that one time.

      DH didn’t get a Prius Prime mostly because of the lack of visibility thing.

      • FF Says:

        I was car-shopping several years ago and didn’t get a Prius in part because of the limited rear visibility. My previous car was a Corolla, and it was pretty reliable until its last year (I got rid of it in 2012, at just short of 12 years). At the time, I looked seriously at another Corolla, the Subaru Impreza, and the Mazda 3 (Hondas were not rated well at the time, so I didn’t check the Civic out). I liked the Corolla well enough, but it seemed to be exactly the same car in 2012 that I’d bought in 2000 in terms of look and feel and I’d wanted something a bit more up-to date. I liked the Mazda 3 on paper, but I’m also petite and the headrest was super-uncomfortable (hopefully, they’ve fixed that since). Not sure of the mileage. I liked the Impreza a lot–it was very comfortable and more upscale than the others (and wasn’t more expensive), had reasonably good mileage, although I don’t think it’s as high as you would like, and they are favored cars around here because of our winter weather, but that’s not really an issue for you. What I ended up getting, much to my surprise because I didn’t start out considering a midsized car, was a Camry hybrid, and I’m still happy with it several years later. It does get good mileage (~40–you would probably do better without a harsh winter), has good acceleration, and I very much appreciate being able to avoid getting gas frequently when the temperature is well below freezing. If a Corolla hybrid had been available at the time, I probably would have gotten that instead.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My sister liked the Mazda 3 and almost bought one, so I assume they must have fixed the headrest problem.

      • becca Says:

        Well, 35 gallons over 50k is about 428 gallons of gas. At your income, I dont expect the $1284 you’ll pay at the pump to matter. But there is the $1626 of cost you’re adding to poor kids with aathma to think about https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/tomzeller/2015/03/05/study-youre-really-paying-more-than-6-per-gallon-for-that-gas/amp/

      • Becca Says:

        I garbled that comment. I mean the delta between 35mpg and 50mpg is 428 gallons. But the negative externality of additional gas consumption remains, even without factoring in excuses to wage war in oil countries or the tricky to calculate stuff like that.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sure, but we live in a flat rural area without much pollution. My marginal addition to local asthma is non-existent. The 6-8 gallons I get every ~2 weeks just isn’t that much, and the change to a slightly more efficient car would only be a tiny fraction of that. The people who need to have super efficient cars live in different places and drive more. Plus the fancy batteries aren’t environmentally friendly.

        (I should probably also finish that post in drafts about where in the country you should *not* buy an electric car if you care about the environment.) (Yes, I have been talking to a lot of environmental economists lately.)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I should add– my husband has a plug-in hybrid since we use that car as our primary driving car.

        Now, plug-ins may be a bad idea because they may contribute to local air pollution in places that are more concentrated in terms of pollution. I don’t know where our specific electricity comes from. Fortunately we’re not coal-powered around here, otherwise we should feel super guilty about using electricity from the socket instead of petroleum.

  4. Harriet Says:

    I want to suggest Volkswagen for good fuel economy. I just bought a Jetta and pretty happy with it. It’s advertised as 30mpg city/40 highway but does better. It’s not that small though, probably Civic sized. They are quite aggressive on pricing. I paid about $21k. (automatic, sunroof)

    • Allyson Says:

      I just got a Jetta in January and was tipped by the 6 year bumper to bumper warranty compared to other gas-powered cars at comparable prices. Fits my two boosters just fine. Think my real fuel economy is a bit lower than the 30/40 but my driving is all city.

  5. D.L. MacLaughlan Dumes Says:

    We’ve had the Honda Fit since 2008, currently the 2016 model. Small footprint, fits four adults comfortably, can park anywhere, wonderful turning radius, good gas mileage in town and highway, and miles of space in the hatchback. We once brought home a harpsichord in our Fit. Available in automatic and manual transmission too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      What made you switch to a new one?

      • D.L. MacLaughlan Dumes Says:

        We decided to trade in our 2008 manual transmission (which we loved) for a 2016 automatic because most of the driving we do is in-city stop-and-go. The 2016 Fit is still peppy, just easier to handle in traffic. And inexpensive, relatively speaking!

      • ZMoo Says:

        I’d second the Honda Fit. I had a 2007 model for over 10 years. We sold it to replace it with a seven seater. I liked it a lot – easy to drive and fit way more in the car than some SUVs (seriously- I could get both a stroller and my grandma’s walking frame in the trunk)

  6. Matthew Healy Says:

    I’m currently driving a Corolla. Before that a Camry. Before that a Corolla. You might see a pattern there. No plans to replace my current car for a few years, but when I do it might be a Corolla Hybrid.

  7. ABAA Says:

    Had to comment because I just yesterday purchased a 2017 Hyundai Accent…from Hertz’s car sales company. It was $2000 below Blue Book because they are not really trying to make money off these sales, just replace their fleet. It has 37,000 miles and they do a full inspection and repairs on all cars (ie the rentals that get driven *way* into the ground get auctioned off, not sold via this channel).

    There was no haggling, the price on their website was the price I paid, and other than a brief sales pitch for an extended service contract (which I declined), it was an extremely easy process.

    Just wanted to throw out this option — no haggling, lots of good condition late-model compacts/subcompacts…definitely check out the rental car companies.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Dave Ramsey says to do this as well, and we know other people who have had success with this method. It’s a good option for people. Congrats!

      We’re still going to buy new– I am willing to pay a lot to delay car shopping for two years.

      How do you like the 2017 Accent? My sister was surprised by how nice her test drive was last year (she had a no frills manual no a/c Accent when she was in college).

      • ABAA Says:

        So far, so good – it is definitely basic as far as late-model cars go, but I really like the way it drives and handles. I’m pretty similar to you, I’m just using this as a commuter for my not-very-long commute, so I didn’t need any fancy navigation/infotainment options, just good mileage and a decent ride. I’m sad to be giving up my trusty 2003 Mazda Tribute, which was a workhorse and so easy to maintain over the years, but it finally needed a repair that would cost roughly as much as its value, so we decided to donate it to a local charity rather than deal with the hassle of selling. Good luck with your new car, whatever you decide on!

  8. accm Says:

    Toyota SUV driver here (twin mom) so no advice to offer on car type. But: a backup camera is incredibly useful. Hopefully they are standard by now!

  9. af184793 Says:

    Toyota Corolla Eco. A little bit better mileage than regular Corolla. The back window of the Prius annoyed me. Bought it a year ago and it’s been great; it’s my third Corolla (new ones in 1989 and 2001).

  10. FF Says:

    FWIW, the Consumer Reports top 3 compact cars are the Corolla, Mazda 3, and Impreza, with the Corolla having the highest reliability and the Impreza having the highest road test score, while the Mazda 3 has the highest owner satisfaction rating. Other recommended compact cars are the Elantra GT, Soul, Golf, Civic, Corolla Hatchback, Cruze, Jetta, Forte, Toyota C-HR, and Elantra. The only 2 recommended subcompacts are the Fit and Yaris. For overall brand reliability, Toyota is at the top, followed by Subaru, Lexus, Mazda, Hyundai, Genesis, and Audi.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s interesting how these different lists of best cars order things differently. I have been seeing the Mazda 3 and the Fit on the top of several lists, but there’s a lot of variation otherwise.

      • becca Says:

        I do like the Mazda 3 I inherited, but I will say the big difference between it and other cars in that price range is “zoom”. Great for accelerating on ramps in Chicago (for whatever reason when I lived in Michigan I felt like they designed on ramps to be much longer and it was a greatly superior driving experience).

        The people I know who like their Fits do a great job packing them into garages and they seem easy to park in that real-world kind of way. I test drove one and it wasn’t as hard to see in as the Prius, but it would still involve basically finding new places to look/a modification of current skill.

        I still have a bias toward encouraging everyone to demand better mileage with every new vehicle they get, because I want it to be an “ordinary people” concern, and not a “I’m wearing my environmentalism as a status symbol” badge that Prius made possible and Tesla is now popularizing. I *get* that we need regulations to get the low-end efficiency stuff off the road, I *get* that batteries have environmental costs, I *get* that there are literally 37,000 other carbon pollution targets out there, but I still don’t think it should be ignored by people who can relatively easily afford to take it into account. I guess I *should* be glad you aren’t one of those people with two kids justifying an SUV, who tell themselves it’s for the kids but will never go back to a more fuel efficient type of vehicle because we all get creaky knees about the time the kids are out of the house and we thus have plenty of disposable income for SUVs. If I could solve *that* psychology problem with my random internet posts it’d really make a dent.

      • Cloud Says:

        FWIW, the first people I knew with Priuses (Prii?) here in San Diego were Republicans I worked with at a government contractor who didn’t buy them for environmentalist reasons at all. They had long commutes in a state with high gas prices and they also really wanted the little stickers that let them drive solo in the car pool lane.

        The “drive solo in the car pool lane” stickers have prompted more purchases of hybrids and electric cars among the people I know than pretty much anything else.

  11. Cloud Says:

    Since we’re currently stuck in our own car purchasing debate with very different parameters (I want a plug in hybrid or electric car), I don’t have much to add… other than to say that we figured out how to turn the Prius back up beeping off in our 2007 model, but then had to replace the main circuit board and it is back and we can’t get it turned off again. You get used to it, though, and in the new Prius Prime we test drove recently, it wasn’t as loud.

    I thought I’d love the Ioniq plug in hybrid but it did an odd thing on accelerating onto the freeway that I couldn’t abide given the number of short freeway on ramps we run into out here – it almost pulled back for a minute and then accelerated. None of the other plug in hybrids we test drove did that, not even the Kia Niro, which I assume has the same basic hybrid system. It wasn’t a big thing – I don’t think I would mind the behavior we saw if I didn’t have to deal with so many short on ramps. There’s a non plug in hybrid that would probably not show the same behavior, too – the behavior was related to being in the electric mode.

    Of all the fancy safety features we’ve seen test driving, the one I’ve decided will factor into the decision is the blind spot detector. I really like that.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      what’s the blind spot detector?

      I’m kind of regretting not getting a bolt the week before last even though I’ve never seen one and it’s more money than I need to spend, mainly because I’d just be done at this point. Of course, we’d also have the 3 cars with a 2 car garage and a 1 car driveway problem which is not what we want to be playing with at this point in the semester. (My car is still in good enough shape that I’d rather give it to a college student who needs it than have it squished for parts. Mainly because I want it to go to a good home which is illogical.)

      • Cloud Says:

        The blind spot detector displays a little orange car icon on your side view mirror if it detects a car in your blind spot. I really like it. I think you can get it on most cars if you’re willing to go up to a higher trim level.

        We are actually now considering a Tesla because it is the only electric car that could actually do our San Diego -> Phoenix drive (thanks to the network of superchargers). I still think it is more likely we pick one of the plug in hybrids, though. We know we’ll need to replace our other car (the “big” car – currently a Mazda 5) in the next 3-5 years, so we’re in a weird place where we’re trying to think not just about what to replace the Prius with but what our final state after replace the Mazda 5 should be. I am so sick of thinking about cars….

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I get the sick of thinking about cars thing. This is part of why we’ve kept our cars for so long!

        Teslas are attractive! They’re not even in our choice set because the nearest dealership is so far away.

        The blind spot detector sounds really cool.

  12. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I am really appreciating the discussion here even though the parameters we have are much in the other direction (going larger, rather than compact), it’s helpful to know what’s out there these days since I haven’t bought new since 2002. I’m thinking we might be going new if we get a plug-in hybrid next though we have happily been driving used for a really long stretch now. I wish Elon Musk wasn’t a terrible person or I’d be tempted by Tesla – I just can’t bring myself to put money into his company XP

    • Cloud Says:

      I’ll be writing up our plug in hybrid/electric decision making process soon! It has been an interesting process. There are definitely some aspects of it that are very specific to my husband and his quirks, though. But I do have “Elon Musk is an insufferable prat” in the negative column for the Tesla.

  13. Solitary Diner Says:

    I am going to have to follow this discussion, because I am basically looking to replace my Toyota Corolla with the same type of car that you are. For the record, I’ve had my Corolla for 10 years and have loved it; it’s starting to need a few small repairs, and like you I’m thinking about getting out before it becomes a regular occurrence.

  14. Leigh Says:

    I don’t know how tall you are / how long your legs are, but that was a strong limiting factor for me when I bought my car. My data is old now, since I last car hunted 9 years ago, but I still have this problem. Part of why I prefer buying over renting is that I can check out tens of cars and only pick one that doesn’t hurt my knees. The seats were too deep in all Chevy cars I tried, same with Volkswagen, even a Golf, so I didn’t drive them off the lot. And I didn’t like that the Toyota Yaris had the speedometer and everything in the middle of the dash. The Mazda2 had too little storage room then, so I ruled it out. The Nissan Versa was a pretty good size and honestly probably what we would have picked if my husband and I were picking a car together because it is taller. (The Fiesta is a little on the short side for his height.) The Honda Fit was good too and I think was the cheapest of the options I considered, but I liked how the Ford Fiesta drove the best. It does have awful acceleration on hills, but I think it’s flatter where you are than where I am, so that’s not a big deal. I’m sad they aren’t making Fiestas in the US anymore a) because I think it’s a great car and b) because that makes me worried about finding parts eventually, like when I needed the entire door replaced…

    I hope we are 5-10 years out from replacing our car, but I have a feeling we will likely consider an electric vehicle of some kind, now that the range is improving. The original Leafs had awful range for road trips.

  15. First Gen American Says:

    We’ve pretty much always chosen Toyota’s or Honda’s. Have had a corolla, Camry, accord, element. All good cars. Was thinking of getting a FIT. It ended up with a used Camry instead during the time I didn’t have a company car because I knew it was a temporary need.

    For company cars, I’ve had Ford, Chevy and Chrysler. I like the fords the best. Have had 3 of those. Multiple Chevies have stranded me and would never buy them. My Chrysler was broken when I got it. What a lemon.

    I have no issues buying used but the most reliable cars tend to have the best resale values so I don’t think it really buys you much unless you are okay getting a car that’s at least 5 years old.

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