By on March 5, 2013

JP writes:


I’m following up on this Piston Slap episode: soon after the column, a family member needed a car temporarily for work. He ran the Satan Fe for 7000 miles and to 3% brake pad life last fall without a hitch. After that, the Satan Fe didn’t seem so devilish but it was still one more Hyundai CUV than I needed. I decided to hybridize your advice with my ambitions. I got the ridiculous offer from Carmax (they told me it would head straight to auction). Then I put a funny and honest listing on Craigslist (“Korean snowmobile…I mean 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe”). I started at $500 below the local rate and I slowly dropped the price.

At first all I got were emails of the “cool ad” and “I’ll trade you a 1998 Accord with bad paint and 220k” variety. One guy would only communicate via text messages even though we live in the same town. There was also a sob story asking me to donate my car so “Mom doesn’t need to drive me to magnet school anymore”. Craigslist!

As the price came down, I became resigned to keeping the car as a beater. On cue, the winter weather and interest in the Korean snowmobile both got serious. A couple of weeks ago, someone paid for a PPI and bought the car for nearly double what Carmax offered. The buyer had been looking for a while and knew my car compared favorably to other options in the price range. I got decent money but don’t feel like I ripped anyone off. What a relief.

Gas prices are peaking again and I just unloaded our most efficient car. Any thoughts from you or the peanut gallery on what has a good mix of reliability, enjoyability, safety, and efficiency in sub $10k manual transmission hatches and wagons? I’m thinking about the Vibe/Matrix, Impreza/9-2x, V50/3/Focus, Xb, Elantra Touring segment but I have never driven any of them. Yeah, there’s a Hyundai in that mix.

Sajeev answers:

Since this is a Piston Slap follow-up, I will stick with the “reliability” and cost effectiveness portion of your follow-up query.  My favorite of the grouping you mentioned is the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe, because Toyota parts-service is cheaper/involves less labor/easier to diagnose than anything from Subaru or Europe. The Focus, xB or Elantra?  Not bad choices, either.

Of course, you must test drive these machines to see what you actually like.  And, when you like something, find an example with a host of service receipts.

The plus side?  Compared to the parts concern I mentioned in the previous Piston Slap about older Hyundais, odds are the newer ones in your price range are probably better.  Probably.  Tell us what you think, Best and Brightest.

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9 Comments on “Piston Slap: An Irrational Preference for Hyundais? (PART II)...”

  • avatar

    If you’re looking at stuff like the Matrix/Vibe and Focus, don’t forget the Honda Fit. My wife drives one (base 5 speed manual) and loves it to bits. It has an amazing amount of storage for such a small hatchback and a better ride than the 1st generation Scion xB.

  • avatar

    Acura RSX.

  • avatar

    Depends on your typical driving.

    If mostly highway, I’d vote for Elantra or Focus.

    If mostly around town, I’d vote for Honda Fit, xB or Matrix/Vibe.

    If 100+” of annual snowfall, Subaru.

  • avatar

    We have a Honda Fit Sport, automatic. It’s remarkably spacious and provides really good real-world fuel economy, not reflected by its ratings. In the winter, we equip it with snow tires..I’ve driven it through ugly Milwaukee snow dumps without any issues whatsoever.

    That being said, I’ll second the vote for a Matrix/Vibe. They are great cars with really good space (passenger seat folds to increase cargo space), and while their handling is not as crisp as the Fit’s, they ride much, much better. The Fit, because of the short wheelbase, pitches forward and back a lot, especially on freeways with lots of expansion joints. Over a long haul, this is tedious and downright uncomfortable.

    So if you’re looking for an around-town runabout, with few plans to road-trip, get the Honda. If you road-trip, go for a Matrix/Vibe.

  • avatar

    I know prices may be a little high but a 2003-2009 Subaru Outback should fit the bill. Same goes for a 2002-2008 Forester.

  • avatar

    “I got the ridiculous offer from Carmax (they told me it would head straight to auction).”

    Even for cars Carmax would keep, their prices are usually low-balling. In many cases, you would get a better price from Autotrader’s sell-to-a-dealer feature, through which a dealer can buy your car.

    If you have the patience and can deal with some tire-kickers and low-ballers, obviously it makes sense to sell the car yourself so you capture a piece of the dealer markup for yourself.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Remember the Elantra Touring, that wagon that was based on the previous Elantra sedan (and actually looked a lot better than said sedan)? It was a very underappreciated vehicle, and there are some of them on Autotrader that are hovering around the $11K-$12K mark, and a few that are below $10K. They’re actually far more spacious than the other wagons you mentioned, easy to maintain, available with automatic or manual transmissions, cheap to purchase, and the oldest ones are 2009 models, so they should still be under Hyundai’s powertrain warranty…

  • avatar

    I just finished shopping this EXACT same vehicle demographic for my girlfriend! How ironic. Unfortunately, looking for a hatch knocks out most of the market, but a 3-door is probably my favorite vehicle configuration (being the driver of a ’95 Civic VX). For my girlfriend we were hunting down either an 02-05 Civic SI (the most recent hatch varient), an ’08 Saturn Astra (3-door), or a Hyundai Accent (3-door). After about 3 weeks of shopping we went with the Hyundai. It has only been about 4k miles so I can’t say much for reliability, but we found an SE model which is much nicer to drive than the base.

    If you don’t mind a 5-door, I’d say the Matrix is the way to go. My brother was shopping Astras about 2 years ago and after driving a few and then driving a Matrix it was a no-brainer. The AC outlets in the center stack and “bed liner” trunk treatment sold him on the deal even though the Astra (in XR trim) had a slightly better driving dynamic.

    I’d steer clear of the Focii in that price range. They were plagued by a very annoying “key stuck in the ignition” phenomenon. Maybe they cleared that up in the later years, but definitely check. Also, coil springs broke on the <04 model years.

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