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Buying a car

I will return to Los Angeles in July after six years of teaching in England, Russia and China. I sold my Honda Civic before I left and need to buy a car. I was happy with the Civic, and I was happy with the Subaru that I owned before it. I need advice about whether to buy one of these or another make, and whether to buy used or new, regular or hybrid. I expect to use the car for driving around LA and also for driving across the country and back. When I was in England I bought a used Skoda Octavia, which was OK but a bit too big. I want something that will be very reliable, get good gas mileage, and be reasonably comfortable. Having been out of the country for six years, I don’t know much about current cars. I would appreciate any help you can offer. Thanks.

There are some very good small cars on the market today. However, there are very few smaller than the Skoda Octavia, which a friend of mine in Wales drives.

In any case you should try the Toyota Yaris (various versions), the Ford Fiesta, the Honda Fit (Jazz in Europe), the Mazda 2 (the most fun to drive), the Kia Rio, the Hyundai Accent and the recently introduced Chevy models such as the Spark and the Scion iQ, a true minicar that’s very reliable and fun to drive.

The Scion iQ is really a Toyota; they call their Youth divison Scion and they have really funky cars. No one on this board will recommend the Smart for Two car; it really does not fit North American driving conditions.

The April issue of Consumer Reports has been released and this issue is devoted to ratings of automobiles. This might be a place to start. I think you should consider a new car first as you will be driving across the country. I drove a Honda Civic hybrid on a 300 mile round trip to a conference a couple of years ago. I am tall and the seating position was not comfortable for me. However, the person who went with me is short and thought the seat was great. Her own personal car is a Honda, but she claimed the mileage we got on the trip with the Civic hybrid was no better than what she gets on her 4 cylinder manual transmission Civic. The last vehicle I used from my university’s fleet was a Ford Fusion and I thought it drove well and had a comfortable seating position. However, I think it is a little bigger than the Honda Civic.
I would suggest trying on a car for size just as you try on a pair of shoes for fit. When you have narrowed down your list to a couple of choices, you may want to try to rent these vehicles and drive them for a day or two to see if how well the work for you.

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy for always recommending this car, I’ll add the Hyundai Veloster to the list. It’s larger than the Accent, but that’s a good thing. The ride is better, as is the interior and cargo space. You’ll want a better ride for long trips. I wouldn’t want to go cross country in an Accent.

Check out all the cars in the same class as a Civic. The Civic is still a good car, but other mfg’rs have really improved their offerings and the Civic is no longer the king of the class. Right now I’d really look at the Mazda 3 with SkyActive drive train. Reviewers give it high praise for handling, power, and fun factor to drive. Both the 6 speed stick or the 6 speed auto earned high praise. Over 40 mpg (like 43 mpg on interstate trips) which leads the class in mpg. I’d get stick myself. I’m a very happy owner of an '03 Civic EX 5 spd stick, but if I was looking for a car to replace my Civic I’d look at other cars in this class. There are a bunch of good ones now.

I don’t think you need AWD and therefore I’d pass on a Subaru.

The Civic has grown over the years. It seems more like a midsize car to me. Here’s a good place to check out gas mileage:

There are 26 cars that get 33 MPG combine EPA mileage or better excluding electric vehicles. Check the Cali DOT to see if they still offer HOV stickers for hybrids. If you travel much in LA on the freeways, the HOV sticker is a real blessing.