(Apologies if this is an often repeated question-)
For the last eleven years I’ve driven a Volvo V40, which I loved. It was my first and only car. Surely, many of the reasons I loved it were, like love, irrational. It carried me from coast to coast, many moves, many different climates. I recently had to replace the timing belt, had major brake work done some years ago, but all in all, it was a very reliable car, I felt very safe in it, and it was a beloved “work-horse” without being very huge.
A month ago, I was rear-ended by a truck going a very high speed, while I was stopped for the car in front of me to make a left turn. That made a “total loss” of my sweet car (and a mess of my back!). Now I’m in a place of “analysis paralysis”… I’ve researched a ton, asked the advice of friends, family, car mechanics, strangers on airplanes (so, probably should have come to the Car Talk community sooner!). Where I live and the nature of my job, I have to have a car and I’ve been delaying the decision because of being overwhelmed by choices. So many choices!
I keep saying “I wish a Prius and a Subaru would have a baby and I’d buy that car.” What I mean is, wanting good/great mileage and to be as “green” as possible, with the work-horse-ness of a Subaru (most of my family drives Subarus). Clearly, I want to be safe in the car but don’t want to drive something huge. I want a hatchback, I used the space in my V40 all the time. I drive to pretty rural/wilderness spaces regularly. But I live in a small city… so it’s both urban & rural driving needs.
I invite the Car Talk community to help me out if you have any ideas. Thank you so much. So appreciated!
Stop by the local bookstore and pick up a Consumer Reports New Car Buyers’ Guide. That’ll provide an excellent comparison of all the available choices. Selecet the ones that look good to you and start test driving.
Choosing a vehicle is a highly personal choice.
Consumer Reports puts out an annual issue covering reliability of all cars. That’s worth a look (but it’s not gospel).
Do you do heavy city driving? If not, a hybrid may not save as much gas as you think.
If your back is bothering you, try to take an extended test drive in whatever car you think you might buy. You’ll probably want as many seat and steering wheel adjustments as possible.
If you loved your Volvo so much, why not buy another one? Since Volvo doesn’t appear to make hatchbacks anymore, you could look for a used V40.
Keep it simple.
The new Prius V is an enlarged Prius, with much more storage room. Worth a look.
Check out the 2012 Subaru Impreza hatch. It achieves an amazing 27MPG city and 36MPG highway with AWD. A comparison point is the Honda Civic that manages slightly better 28MPG city and 38MPG highway but does not have AWD.
And yes the MPG of majority of previous Subaru’s was the pits.
If AWD is the appeal 2012 Subaru is the way to go.
The VW Jetta TDI Sportwagen is a pretty great combination of green and practicality. I get 46 mpg on the highway with mine, and the wagon configuration makes travel with stuff/kids/dogs, etc easy.
Would you consider an American brand? Test drive a Ford Focus hatchback, or a Fiesta hatchback if smaller is better. Each gets close to 40mpg.
If you would love the first and only car that you owned then you have no basis for comparison. Just buy a car with the features that you like and chances are that you will love that one too. There are no bad cars now.
The Prius seems to do best in warm climates and all city driving. Cold weather reduces the efficiency of the battery and highway driving is in direct drive, just like a normal car. I’m not trying to bash them, in their environment, they are a very good choice, but it may not be the best for you.
A lot of other cars out there today are using higher gearing to increase their highway mileage at the expense of city mileage. It looks good in the ads. You need to define the percentage of city vs highway miles that you expect to do over the next couple of years. Then you can figure out the best combination of city/highway mileage that will work for you.
Fuel economy is not everything though. You should also look at Total Owner Cost. That includes the cost of the vehicle, insurance, maintenance, interest on the loan (if you need one) and any other incidentals.
But the most important thing is comfort. Now that you have back problems, the seat will be the most important thing for you. If the seat hurts you, you will come to hate the vehicle. Seats are a personal thing. A premium price tag, luxury vehicle, big vehicle, etc will not guarantee that YOU will be comfortable in the seats. The car with the best seats for me was an entry level Dodge Colt. Right now, my Nissan PU has the seats that cause me the least discomfort of all the vehicles that I currently drive, and it is the entry level truck for that year.
This is going to be a high dollar decision, so test drive the car as long as possible, then just sit in it in the dealer lot for awhile if you have to. If you end up with a vehicle that the seats do become uncomfortable on trips, you can always go to a truck stop or The Back Store and get a good ergonomic seat cushion that will work for you.