By on January 12, 2011

Ryan writes:

Hello everyone, I am looking for something with these attributes: 2005+ model year, $8500 or less, at least four doors, not too old (or older but VERY reliable), smaller is better, cute will win, and no clutch pedal. Go!

Backstory: the missus and I grow weary of a 1998 Beetle that is now host to a trifecta of troubles (transmission, electrical, and engine. Considering this is the 2.0 non-turbo motor, it’s almost a blessing). We’d like something that is more reliable and allows easier access to the back seat (my mother- in-law and wife have both earned the right to not be folded up back there). This is our only car, but neither of us drives to work, so fuel economy is a non-issue. But easy parallel parking on weekend trips downtown is an issue. Our cargo needs are modest, nothing that can’t be handled with a bike rack.

I’d love to get a stick, but it’s not in the cards.

What I love about the Beetle is that it’s a luxurious small car: keyless entry, quiet, goes around corners well, and isn’t tinny. Given that we have to get a 4-door automatic, I’m resigned to a non-sporty ride, so why not go all the way and buy the smallest, most comfy car we can buy?

Consider that my wife’s favorite cars right now are the Fiat 500 and the Mini, you can see where her aesthetic tastes lie. So I guess the ideal car would be a 4-door Lexus that was the size of a Mini, and costs around $8500, and is nice and reliable, and preferably 2005 or newer. I don’t ask for much!

PS: if it’s good at going around corners, that would be great.

Sajeev Answers:

Nice. Reliable.  And for $8500.  Which eliminates anything not made by a Japanese or American manufacturer: I know, I know…the Euro fanbois say there are plenty of reliable 3-series, 9-3s, or V-whatever Volvos out there, but anything from hard-to-find control modules to brake pads (maybe) are gonna cost more.  And if you don’t the toolbox skills and/or a reasonable and honest mechanic in your area, forget it.  So you know the drill, suck it up and buy something that lacks the industrial design flair of a fashion-savvy small car.

Which leaves understated refinement: anything Honda or Mazda has a clean and wannabe stylish look, topped by the necessary understatement of this price point.  And doesn’t it sound awesome when you think about it that way?

So drink this Kool-Aid: seek a Civic, Mazda 3, Accord, Mazda 6. You probably can’t be picky, because at this age, finding a unit with reasonable miles, a comprehensive service history and (with any luck) an owner willing to negotiate on price may not be terribly easy. That depends on where you live and what’s on the market when the search gets serious. Good luck.

Steve Answers:

You have an expensive wife. Wait, that’s not what I meant. Your wife has expensive tastes.

A lot of cars may ‘seem’ to fit into this niche. Much like a 40 year old may ‘seem’ to fit in their college jeans. The Honda Fit would obviously be near the top if price weren’t the issue. But with $8500 to spend, you would have to get one with highway miles. Think around 80k to 100k. A BMW 3-Series that ‘may’ cover the luxury aspect of your desires would have even more miles. Those cars are questionable at best in terms of maintenance costs.

The Mazda 3 would be one of my top choices…if it weren’t the living embodiment of finance fodder these days. That one has a price premium that rivals the Fit. A Suzuki SX4 is a crapshoot when it comes to reliability and dealer service. Golfs and Rabbits will likely hit right near the same price issues without 80k+ miles. As for the Mini you mentioned? That would be in the six digit odometer range.

My choice would be the Ford Fusion. Take a 2006 Fusion S model for around the 60k range. Throw in leather seats on Ebay or your nearby auto recycling center. Get a nice premium sound system, and keep the maintenance costs in check by making sure everything is up to date. Some other folks will recommend the Mistubishi Lancer or a Nissan Versa. They’re good cars. But luxury and low miles aren’t easy to come by for either one. I would opt for either the Fusion S or a Mazda 6 of similar vintage and outfit it to your heart’s content.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to [email protected], and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.


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73 Comments on “New or Used: Expensive Wives and Necessary Understatement...”


  • avatar
    John Horner

    I second the Fusion recommendation. They are surprisingly posh in the higher trim levels. If you can find a clean used Mercury Milan (the Fusion’s near twin), all the better. Or, maybe a clean used Lincoln Zepher/MKZ, the nicest trimmed Fusion made :)! Lincolns depreciate like crazy and can be an interesting used car buy.
     

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      And I’ll third this. Since there are none older than 2006, I’d go for pretty much ANY Fusion where the price is right. Trade miles for features.  The V6s don’t seem to carry much of a premium since they were leased in bulk and there seem to be a lot more of them on the market.

  • avatar
    jmo

    http://autos.yahoo.com/used-cars/jaguar-x_type-overview
     
    I’m under the impression that they are quite reliable as they are based on the mass market and very popular Ford Mondeo.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Chevy Cobalt Sedan LT or higher trim levels.  Yes they were available with leather (even heated leather if you want to blow your mind a little.)  They’ve been beat with the depreciation stick and yeah I did a search of Autotrader to make sure they did in fact exist somewhere in these United States.  (Bonus points for the rare one year only Cobalt SS sedan which might not be in your price range.) OK so it’s not cute but dang, cute is overrated.
     
    The Cobalt is more reliable than most on here think it is and the parts are cheap, just make sure the seller has documentation to prove the electric power steering recall has been performed.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Dan: You beat me to it. A Cobalt LTZ would have had all the toys. Not knowing what kind of physical condition the MIL is in, I would hesitate to recommend the Coby. That back door opening could be bigger, esp. if the MIL has back issues…
       
      However, the Coby’s big brother, the Malibu, especially the 2004-2007 “shoebox” “ugly” version would fit the bill. The shoebox ‘Bu’s 4 door has the smaller wheelbase, but still has a nice sized back seat area with doors that open wide. No contortions getting into the back seat for the MIL. Good size for city driving and parking. Huge trunk, and you can get one with the 4 cyl Ecotec, low 30’s for freeway mileage. Additionally, it’s so ugly, no one will ever want to mess with it, so you could just about leave your crown jewels on the dash unattended! (sarcasm intended)
       
      I owned the Maxx version of this car, ours ran great for three years, no issues. The Maxx has an adjustable back seat that offers even more room for passengers. The hatchback makes loading big things easy. However, I haven’t seen too many in my area (that aren’t hi miles) under $8500.
       
      You’d have an easier time finding the sedan for that money. Look for one that’s CPO for maximum peace of mind.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m a fan of the Maxx. Unique car with excellent utility.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    If cute is a factor, have you considered the Yaris or Echo hatchbacks?  Either is stone-reliable, cheap to run and easy to drive, park and live with.  Admittedly they’re a little spartan, but you can always get aftermarket leather and some dynamat.

  • avatar
    colin42

    Saturn Astra – If you can find one. Personally I like the styling of the 3 door but the 5 door is more popular. Finding one for $8500 will be a slight stretch – most start around the $9500, but it goes around corners, hatchback design is practical and easy to park. The engine is not the best in terms of refinement but has enough to get you going (Unless your someone who must have 200 bhp to get you to Walmart!)

    Otherwise I’d 2nd the Mazda 3 (Hatchback again)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The 3 door was available in the US?  If it was let me say; “Ya learn something new everyday.”

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      The 3 door was available in the US?

      It sure was, Dan. I see several of them around here in the Cincinnati area. They sure are attractive to boot. If I was in the market when they were available, I would’ve bought one on the spot.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      In my area CarMax seems to be the primary purveyor of used Saturns of all kinds and I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen them with one.  The funny thing is owning a Astra 3 door might be more rare than owning a Bentley or Rolls from the same year.

    • 0 avatar
      colin42

      Yes – Google Saturn Astra XR

    • 0 avatar
      YYYYguy

      I just test drove a Saturn Astra recently.  If you are comfortable with a lack of cupholders, a 24hour clock, a dash mounted door lock switch, and no jack for an MP3 player/Discman/Walkman….it actually drives quite nicely. 

      I havea 2007 Honda Fit with 122k highway miles on the clock, thought about selling it but it’s been too reliable. 

      Are the SX4’s really a crapshoot?  I always thought the MIJ Suzukis were quite good.

    • 0 avatar

      @YYYYguy:  The SX4, from both my personal experience and TrueDelta’s research, is quite reliable.

      ETA: TTAC alumnus Jonny Lieberman thought highly of the SX4’s handling:

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-sx4/

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    How about a Ford 500? Okay..okay…a Ford Five Hundred….several of them on Cars.com with asking prices >$9k with under 75k miles…avoid the CVT..go with the 6sp AT and the 3.0 V-6 smooth, powerful, underrated, pretty well built, easy to maintain, comfortable for wives and MIL’s….shop wisely and I think this fits all your needs, mate.

  • avatar
    segfault

    How about an original Lexus IS300?  The SportCross if you can find it.  I think they may have depreciated to the point where they’re in the OP’s price range.

  • avatar
    sco

    You’ve written the desciption of the gen 1 Scion Xb  2004-2006 – reliable, readily available for <$8500, roomy back seat for MIL, modest amount of cargo space, great city car and certainly distinctive and perhaps even “cute” . Not luxurious but the 2006 versions will give you steering wheel mounted audio controls and iPod connectivity, Dynamat in the doors also helps reduce the tinny factor.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Agreed.  My 05 has suffered only the premature failure of a window switch and downstream O2 sensor over nearly 6 years and 56k miles of ownership, while getting 28-31 mpg in town.  It’s a great town commuter, with a ton of room inside.
       
      I have the stick, but the AT should be fine.

  • avatar
    dancote

    Truedelta shows Suzuki SX4 has good reliability.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed it does.  As a bonus, TTAC alumnus Jonny Lieberman praised the SX4’s corner-carving prowess:
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/01/suzuki-sx4/
      I concur with the Loverman’s assessment, to the point that I seek out twisty routes when I’m not in a hurry.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    2008 PT Cruiser

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Actually, that’s a really good idea.  The only issue is the monstrous turning circle on the PT.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      If the PT’s turning circle is monstrous, people are spoiled. Plain and simple.
       
      I came out of a neon coupe(THE domestic New Beetle, except it was reliable and had a real back seat) into this car and haven’t been disappointed yet. It’s bigger for people-carrying, bigger for cargo-carrying– it gets 10MPG less– It has a delicately baroque flavor with a gorgeously minimal interior design– and mine was $500.00 cheaper than the poster’s budget.
       
      PLUS it was under warranty for 12k more miles. Maybe the 2009s are in his range now, and those are Automatic-only with higher trims standard. Maybe they waited until 2010 to do the loaded-out classic models? Mine’s the plain LX 5-Speed.
       
      A point-of-contention I’ve got with this series is: Why does everyone pretend tax doesn’t exist and that when a commentator asks for an $8500.00 car, they all go $500 ABOVE the commentator’s price-point AND ignore taxes as well? ARE YOU ALL CAR SALESMEN?!?!?!?
       
      I’m pretty sure he knows an $8,500.00 car costs $10,500.00 out-the-door, but it just doesn’t seem like many people here understand that extra 20% comes out of the pocket as well– is it a willingful ignorance? Could you guys please specify your TAXES AND EXTRAS INCLUDED price-points in the future, just to help with some actual advising? If he has exactly $8,500.00– he’s looking at a $6,750.00 car, not an $8,500.00 one.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The PT has a forty-foot-plus turning circle.  You notice that, especially if you put a priority on maneuverability, as that’s up there with much, much larger cars.
       
      I should point out that the mileage and the turning circle are the only real problems I have with the PT.

    • 0 avatar

      I must agree that the PT has a very large turning circle. Also poor fuel economy, but if you don’t drive much this won’t matter.

    • 0 avatar
      ThisWas

      From PT Cruiser to Neon:

      I bought a PT Cruiser base model in 2000.  With its 15-inch wheels and 5-speed manual it had a significantly smaller turning radius than the upscale models with automatic transmissions and 16″ wheels.

      Last March I left the car at a junkyard and went shopping for a car for my daughter who had requirements similar to Ryan:  small, reliable, four doors, and cute, with a budget somewhat less than Ryan’s.  We ended up with a flame red 2005 Dodge Neon, 50K miles, perfect condition, and the balance of an 8/80K warranty.

      Daughter would have preferred a Focus, Civic or Mazda3, but in a month of scouring Craigslist here in New England I found nothing good in our price range.

  • avatar
    zznalg

    Lexus IS300 is a great suggestion. If you wanted to turn the corner towards cute-utility-vehicles, I have a soft spot for the previous generation Toyota Rav4. They were sweet driving, small, understated and very practical vehicles. I’m making the assumption that they were very reliable as well.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      Around here, with $8500 to spend you are not going to find an ’05 RAV4 or newer unless it has major miles on it, and although I’ve owned a few, I’m not sure I’d classify them as good about going around corners.  They do feel zippy and maneuverable though compared to a lot of utes, and are very practical.

    • 0 avatar

      My shameful secret is I’m in Canada, so the Xb is not available without some cross-border shopping. Also, not really sure it meets the wife’s definition of cute, but otherwise a noteworthy choice.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    I’m prepared for the howls on this one, so…
     
    I suggest a 2000-2001 Jaguar XJ6.  Bear with me on this one.
    1) lots of legroom
    2) reasonable (low/mid 20s gas milage in mixed driving)
    3) has some style
    4) you see lots of them in the 5K range with 150K miles; 8K brings you one in the 60-80 range.  This brings me to the last point
    5) reliable.  Yeah, I know, no one is going to believe this (and I would be interested in hearing from the TruDelta folks about statistical support for this one) but as I recall it had very good reliability ratings when it came out but I have recently looked at a lot of 1999-2001 cars that all seem to be holding up well that have gone well in excess of 150K, and since not all owners of these cars splash out on maintenance, it seems to me there must be something to them.
     
    Thoughts?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Oh Jaguar’s are definitely on my automotive “bucket list” (you guys will find out more about that some day) but I don’t think it meets his requirements.  Speaking honestly anyway.  Now if the OP had asked; “What’s the most underrated, elegant, reasonably reliable RWD sedan I can buy for $8500?”  This would be one of the answers.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Hyundai Sonata. Sorry, but $8,500 does not buy “cute” (cars or wives).

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    2009 Hyundai Accent.  Lots of them coming out of rental fleets now.  Good looking and easy on the wallet.  Stay away from Minis and probably Fiat 500s.  I had an ’05 — electric power steering control module drew power when the car was off — many dead batteries.  A friend is now having problems with his Cooper’s brake master cylinder — can’t get more than 20K miles before they give out.  Too bad parts and labor are at BMW prices.  Check out the Hyundai and its long warranty.

  • avatar

    I think for around $8500 you could find a great used SAAB 93, these are fantastic little cars and very under-rated.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Indeed. An ’06 9-3 SportCombi is even in the cards for that price, or a low-mileage ’05-06 sedan. Maybe even an ’07 with a little luck. Note that ’07 and ’08s have a 5yr/100K powertrain warranty.

      And they really are VERY reliable. Folks on the Saab forums whine about squeaks and rattles, not things breaking.

      In my experience, the differences in cost to repair European, American, and Japanese cars are wildly exaggerated. ALL cars cost a lot to fix if you have to pay someone to do it for you.  

  • avatar

    I am absolutely in love with the 2007 Pontiac Vibe I bought in October for $6500. There are some good examples out there under $8500. Mine has high mileage, but with the Corolla mechanicals, I feel like I stole a helluva deal. I prefer the Vibe styling to the Matrix, the back seat is mysteriously roomy, entry/exit is easy for seniors, it’s just as versatile (maybe moreso) than a PT Cruiser, and the turning radius is more liveable. I’ve been getting 30-33 MPG in mixed driving. It’s the quietest, smoothest vehicle we own for highway cruising.

    Dare I say it, I prefer driving this car to my Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I love my fiances 2005 Vibe (base manual) and it is very entertaining to drive (though I’ve never driven a Miata.)  Every time I drive it I smile cause I know we’re gonna get married, have kids, and she’ll say “It’s too small…” but it’s paid for… so if I can just take it off her hands…
       
      Performance tires, performance shocks, keep up on the maintenance, maybe a nicer shifter… Poor man’s Mini Clubman with better reliability to boot.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Dan: (again) I looked long and hard at a Vibe, liked the size and the utility. Hated the fact that it was stuck with the anemic Toyota motor(s). They were the deal breaker for me. I would have liked to have seen GM slip in a few Ecotecs into these cars; maybe a turbo or two. That would have put some bite into the GT model…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Actually Toyota TRD supercharger for the 1.8ltr 4cyl will bolt up.  (I wouldn’t recommend it if you like to drive cars for 100,000s of miles.  Only because I know I’D hoon it till it blew up.)  I’m not concerned with the stoplight derby or drag racing, I love that the little bugger is so stable at 75mph through a 35mph curve and that it cruises all day on the interstate at 85mph while returning good fuel economy.  But to each his own, every man has his own priority.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    The PT wagon’s got a 36.7′ turning radius. Same as a Vibe/Matrix, 2 feet less than Ford’s Fusion, a foot more than Toyota Rav4– by KBB.com.

    • 0 avatar

      The numbers don’t tell the whole story, though I suppose they should. I once rammed a garbage can while backing up in a rental PT. I thought I would absolutely make the turn, but the radius was too wide. Maybe sight lines were the issue?

      The Vibe’s radius *feels* shorter to me.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Are you sure?  Every stat I read said 41.5′.  The Neon was 36 and small change.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      Likewise here.  41.5 feet.  Got a cite for that spec? That number sounds right for a Neon, but everything I’ve turned up on the PT says 41.5, for example:

      http://www.insideline.com/chrysler/pt-cruiser/2003/follow-up-test-2003-chrysler-pt-cruiser-turbo.html

      As we pulled out of the lot, we were also not surprised to discover that the Turbo has the same 41.5-foot turning radius as its less powerful siblings. For a car that is actually 6.4 inches shorter than the diminutive Dodge Neon, this is frustrating and perplexing. For comparison, the Neon’s turning circle is 37.5 feet, and a Ford Explorer makes the same circle in 36.8 feet.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      The “by KBB.com” part was supposed to be me citing my source: http://www.kbb.com
       
       
      I stand by my recommendation–  He wants a boulevardier, and the Chrysler’s heavy ride is what he’s after. The Vibe is buzzy, light and feels insubstantial compared to the PT. But, as they say: One man’s “tossable” is another man’s tin can deathtrap :)

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      I went to KBB,

      http://www.kbb.com/used-cars/chrysler/pt-cruiser/2010/retail-value/technical-specifications?r=77757699451296448

      and the pages I see show 40  or 41 depending on the year.  The turning radius might be an issue for Ryan, they were looking for something to drive in the city on occasion, along with being good going around corners. They are cute though, but the ones I’ve driven haven’t been what I’d call fun.  The HHR seemed more sprightly, but not as cute.  
       

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      I need someone to go to: http://www.kbb.com and compare used cars. I compared the 2008 PT to a 2008 Vibe, Accent, Fusion and a 2005 Rav4. And, since someone’s going to come at me with a: “DUDE U CAN’T EVEN COMPARE 5 CARS AT ONCE UR LYING!!” I’ll say this ahead of time– I alternated the Hyundai Accent out with others because it’s an insult to recommend to anyone.
       
      My credibility has been dented by KBB’s misinformation, and I do not wish to look like an erroneous bench-racer. Someone please check my version of KBB.com. Maybe you’ll write a nice story about their accuracy in the future. I’ve always used their comparisons to help make decisions.
       
       

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    You know what? As soon as I sent my response back to Sajeev the Pontiac Vibe dipped straight into my mind.
    That may be the top pick here. A bit cute. Plenty of room. Exellent fuel economy. Reliable.
    The Fusion may be the better deal. Maybe not. But if she is already consider the Mini and Fiat, the Vibe may offer the virtue of ‘cuteness’ with room to boot.

    • 0 avatar

      Does anyone actually consider the Vibe cute? I was never a fan of the driving position and it has the feel of a cheap car. I’d rather have a pre-2008 Ford Focus, especially the 4-door hatch.
      Here’s a 2007 SES with 42k miles and leather seats, asking price $8,500:
      2007 Focus ZX5 SES
      Or, the Malibu Maxx mentioned earlier, here a 2006 in SS trim with 74k, a little over the limit at $8,975 but they appear to have had the car for quite a while and are probably very motivated to sell it:
      2006 Malibu Maxx SS

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Michael: The Maxx SS is at Shaheen?! Dang, it! I’ll be out of town this weekend. What really sucks is that I will drive right by there on my way out of town…

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      That Malibu has one strange history.
      It’s been sitting on the lot since 10/6/10.
      It had been sold back in May, but was put back in inventory in June. Somewhere along the way it added about 10k miles between March and right now.
      I’m not swearing on this. But there is a good chance this vehicle belonged to the used car sales manager or other higher ranking employee since the vehilcle was sold, and then put back as a for sale vehicle less than a month later.
      It spent another 3 months being driven (more than likely) before heading to this place. Where it has again been driven for about 3 months.
      I would start by offering $6500 and see whether you could realistically get a warranty that would be worth a flip. This car has been in wholesale heaven… but there has to be a reason why and I think it may not have been a cheap car to own.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Steven: I got off shortly after posting last evening. What are the chances the car was sold in May and the buyer’s credit was “not as represented” (i.e., crap)? Although your guess on the used car manager (or some other ‘manager’ driving the car around is probably correct. The car is too old/too many miles for a decent (GMPP) warranty. There’s a fair amount of these around still, and I’d rather hunt closer to home. I really don’t need the SS version, but it would be nice to have, however.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      The chances are slim. I would say 20 to 1 in favor of the dealership keeping it vs. the bad credit scenario.
      You should take a firm look at the replacement parts cost for this vehicle. How much would a tranny be on car-part.com. Compressor, alternator… also look at the cost of maintenance. A lot of these ‘hot’ cars have problems around the 80k to 120k areas.
      If you buy it, plan on spending $1000 to $1500 on bringing everything up to specs. Less if you know a good independent garage. Personally, I’ve always tried to avoid these ‘hoon’mobiles as keepers. But it may make you happy.

    • 0 avatar

      The Malibu Maxx SS isn’t that much of a hoon-mobile. The tuning is fairly tame, and it’s a largish four-door hatch. The typical owner was probably over 40.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Steven: Good advice there. I just did a quick search on autotrader.com and within 200 miles of my location (Grand Rapids) I flushed out 25 Malibu Maxx SS’s. The lowest priced one was the one in Lansing. There’s one just 12 miles from me right now, and it’s a CPO car! But it’s $13K! Like I said in my original post, the Maxx’s hold their value better than the sedans. And I don’t necessarily need the hi-po version to go to Home Depot…
       
      Besides, it seems the OP already has made up his mind about this generation of Malibus.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Michael: Yeah, I guess I would resemble that  profile. :)

  • avatar
    Docomo89

    Might be a slight stretch but…http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/2006-Honda-Accord-Sedan-LOW-MILES-WHOLESALE-PRICE-/170589376963?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item27b7eb51c3#ht_1057wt_1167

  • avatar
    thatguy

    How about a Scion xB – the original one. Its reliable, inexpensive, good on gas, and, depending on your wife’s notion of style, it might be right up her alley. Or she’ll hate it. Just a thought.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Reliable vanilla bores Hyundai Elantra/Nissan Sentra? Usually undercut Civic/Corolla prices used. Insurance mid-pack.

  • avatar
    SV

    I can personally vouch for the Mazda3; I have an ’05 s hatch and it’s been totally reliable as well as pretty fun to drive (even with the auto). I’ve known of at least one girl who actually called it “SO cute” or something to that effect ;) It’s not a quiet car by any means, though, and gas mileage isn’t very good for a compact, but I also have the larger engine. I think it would be fairly difficult to find a decent 3 hatch or “s” level sedan for under $9k anyway, so you’d probably end up with the more efficient 2.0.
     
    I’d also suggest the ’05-’07 Focus. It’s more cheaply finished inside than the Mazda (and positively crude compared to any VW, I’m guessing), but it’s also cheaper to buy. It has a good reliability record and in ZX3/5 form anyway is at least somewhat cute-looking. I personally find the first-gen Focus’ fun-to-drive factor its most attractive aspect though; apparently it had exceptional steering feel.

  • avatar

    Excellent suggestions all! A few notes:
    Ford 500? For me, YES! For the missus who doesn’t want to park a boat, not so much. The Saturn Astras aren’t usually quite that cheap, but I’ll look around. Our search has lately been focusing on the Versa (which is available in loaded versions for not much money) and the Focus and one Yaris (she likes the look of the Yaris; we’ll test drive one, and I’m pretty sure she’ll realize it’s rather spartan).
    The Mazda 3 suggestion is a reasonable one, and the Vibe? Um, whoa. I think she’ll be repulsed by the look, but I’ll check.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Look at a Kia Forte 4 dr. – I had an early new beetle. It’s battery exploded in our driveway. Never could keep both headlights burning. Sold it for no loss though.

  • avatar
    DearS

    May be able to find a 2006 Sonata, with warranty. I’d get a 3 series, but I have an affordable mechanic, back up car, can do a lot of little things myself and buy parts online. An ES300 is a more upscale reliable Camry. Last but not least is a Honda Accord, good cars always, but not luxuriously comfy. Camry Solara is more comfy less sporty.

  • avatar

    I’ve read over most of the comments and the Truther’s responses now, and they’ve been informative and interesting. A few notes and thoughts:
    1) cuteness is a bit arbitrary and certainly subject to interpretation. It’s closely correlated with size, I’d say.
    2) Turning circle is a theoretical (and reasonable) consideration, but at the risk of ignoring an issue that I can live with and that my lovely wife wouldn’t notice unless I mentioned, I won’t worry about it.
    3) The mother in law and wife: neither is big, but neither is bendy. Roomy is great, but none of us is tall. Almost any back seat with its own door will do (the Beetle’s headroom-free rear seat is roomy enough, but ingress involves too many contortions).
    4) I didn’t realize how short the New Beetle really is. A Versa is a bit longer. The Yaris is shorter, but I have lots of reservations about the Yaris (like, it might not be a very pleasant car to be in).
    5) Regarding the suggestions: the Versa and Focus are on the shortlist. The Malibu/Maxx? Too long. PT Cruiser? “Looks like a hearse.” (I think that means it’s not cute). Same for the HHR. IS300? Interesting, but very old. I’d buy it, but having a car basically crap out on us in its 12th year was a bit sour. The Vibe? Verry interesting. We’ll definitely look at a few. Fusion? “The Fusion’s only 190 inches long…” [wife laughs]. I have a weird obsession with the benefits of the Versa CVT, as the only reasonably efficient transmission option on our list of prospects. I’m not even sure why the Mazda 3 isn’t on our shortlist, but I think, like the Fit, the resale values are on the high side.
    6) Dynamat? I will seriously consider that as an option. Didn’t think of that.
    Thanks again. Given that the Beetle has gone from bad to worse (the battery died, immediately followed by the hood release breaking off, give me strength…), we’ll be searching with an aim to buy this weekend. These suggestions have been clarifying.
    I really, really liked the Ford Five Hundred suggestion, but it’s just way too big. Note that coming from a VW Beetle, almost every car other than a Yaris, Mini, or a Mazda 2 is bigger. I learned to drive on a 1978 Olds 88, but I’m not the only driver…

  • avatar
    itsgotvtakyo

    SX4- not terrible cars. If you have reasonable access to a dealer it’s certainly worth your time to check one out. A friend has one of the AWD crossover jobs and hasn’t had any unscheduled dealer visits. Doesn’t suck to drive either.

  • avatar

    Just thought you’d want to know, we bought a car: 2007 Nissan Versa S, automatic, 80,000 km (~50k mi). It cost $8500 (including all fees, $9450 with taxes) from a local used dealer in the Vancouver area.
    I was attracted to the idea of a Versa by the CVT and the huge and quiet interior, but in the end I could only afford the S-grade with the 4-speed auto, and that seemed a reasonable compromise for our needs. Thanks for all the suggestions!

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