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Family Car Buying Advice

Hi, everybody! I’m looking at replacing my 2003 Honda Civic coupe with a family car, and could use some advice on what to get.

I’ve test driven 16 vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and VW – cars, wagons, and crossovers/small SUVs. They’ve been either 4-cylinders or hybrids, with either automatic transmissions or CVTs. (My wife refuses to learn stick.) I can give the full list later if you’d like.

My criteria for the new car are

1) Enough backseat and trunk room for a child. It doesn’t need to be huge, though, because we can use my wife’s Saturn Vue for long family trips. I do like the functionality of hatchbacks, and folding rear seats are important.

2) Good reliability.

3) Good gas mileage.

4) Decent drivability. It doesn’t have to be super-sporty, but I don’t want an underpowered econobox.

The top two on my list are the Honda CRV and VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI. The CRV is very reliable, has good interior room, and gets decent gas mileage. But it’s an SUV, although a small one, and I’m not super fond of driving them. I don’t like sitting up high, or feeling a little tippy when I turn.

The big plus with the Jetta Sportwagen TDI is that it gets 40+ mpg, and it’s a wagon. However, it’s a little smaller on the inside, and Consumer Reports ranks it as only average reliability (the 5-cylinder gas Sportwagen is above average). I’ve also heard stories that VWs have to be taken to the dealership for just about anything, even something as simple as changing the wiper blades.

Any suggestion on which car would be better? Or perhaps another car that might fit the bill?

Here’s a list of the cars I’ve test driven so far:

Chevrolet Malibu
Ford Fusion
Ford Fusion Hybrid
Honda Accord
Honda CRV
Hyundai Elantra Touring
Hyundai Sonata
Hyundai Tucson
Nissan Altima
Nissan Versa
Subaru Outback
Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry Hybrid
Toyota Prius
Toyota RAV4
VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI

How about a Mazda 3 (not the Mazdaspeed 3, as fun as it might be)?

And if you’re considering an AWD CR-V, yuo should also look at the Subaru Forester (I prefer it for better visibility and a (slightly) better AWD system).

Thanks for the suggestions!

I had a Mazda3 a few years ago as a rental car, and enjoyed driving it, but thought it was a little too thirsty for a car its size. Are recent models any better? Too bad the Mazda6 wagon is no more.

And I forgot to mention that the RAV4 and CRV would be front-wheel-drive only. For where I drive AWD would be overkill. I’ve heard the 2011 Forrester’s getting a CVT, giving it a bump in mpg, but it’s still more on the SUV side of things. At least the Outback still seems a little wagon-ish.

[b]"My criteria for the new car are

  1. Enough backseat and trunk room for a child."[/b]

Child Protective Service agencies in most states frown on the practice of placing children in the trunk of a car. Please refrain from doing this, no matter what type of vehicle you buy!


You already have a SUV; get a car. The Malibu or Civic are excellent choices. I think the Accord is too big now, since it’s a full size car. The Civic is more like my 2005 Accord than the new Accord.

But after looking at your list, it really seems that you want another SUV, no matter what you say.

What I’d really like is for someone to allay my reservations about the Sportwagen TDI. :slight_smile:

Forester’s just like a CRV size wise, not an SUV at all. Just a bit taller, great headroom! It’s smaller than the Outback.

Probably not going to happen here. VW’s are not known for their reliability.

Porsche Turbo S and a vasectomy.


Honda Civic. Good trunk space, reliable, very good mpg, back seats fold down, last a long time, excellent accident protection with side airbags.

Dangit. Well, at least I get closure on the VW one way or the other.

Now if only the Hyundais didn’t have that horrible blue instrument lighting that seriously screwed with my night vision. Otherwise the Elantra Touring wagon would be my top pick.


Huge backseat, ginormous trunk, good reliability, very good drivability. Our 2010 is averaging 23-24 mpg in 100% city driving (no highway runs yet) its first month. Our insurance co’s purchase service is now selling them at a pre-negotiated price of $16,685 for an i Sport with automatic. Hondas, Toyotas, Fords, Nissans, and Hyundais were all thousands more.

Now if you’re in a state where you can buy a Nissan Altima Hybrid, go find one. They were running $18,000 brand new after rebates and federal tax credits last I looked - cheaper than the gas version.

As for Consumer Reports, do NOT read too much into the reliability ratings. The differences between an average rating and a much-better than average rating are really very small, while below-average ratings still actually mean something (it isn’t a linear ratings scale).

On the smaller side, Forte or Elantra
On the larger side, Sonata - there is a Turbo Sonata now, wish I waited :slight_smile:

The Sonata 4 is still 200 HP, and I can get 30+ on the highway and mid-20s around town. My wife can’t, but I need to teach her :slight_smile: It’s a 6-speed auto, with a “sport shift” mode - that I never use. It’s rock solid so far, even better than my last gen one that I traded. The cost is a nice plus, too.

I love the blue lighting in the Sonata. Blue car, blue lighting :slight_smile:
On my Forte, it’s orange (to match my orange car). Ask the dealer if there is a way to disable that, the cars are NOT the Hyundais of old

I like the performance of that Sonata, but are the prices still good in your area? Here they’re no longer any better price-wise than a Camry or Accord.

I thought the Forester was larger than the Outback.

I love my little SUV. Sitting up higher is easier on the knees than falling in and climbing out of a vehicle

You get 36,000 miles of maintenance at no cost to you. And while it may not be as reliable as a Toyota Rav4, it won’t be hugely expensive to own as long as you take care of it. An estimate from Edmunds says that repairs will be 70% higher for the TDI, but maintenance is more expensive for the Rav4 and that’s a lot more expensive than average repairs for the first 7 years. And fuel is $3000 more for the Rav4 over 5 years.

You can buy the Sportwagen now.

As Tom & Ray occasionally point out these differences in the reliability statistics (Consumer Reports, for example) are often miniscule. While a CR-V is supposedly an exceptionally reliable car, the VW is not going to be a money pit either. The question is: Do you need the most reliable car possible or are you happy with average or slightly above average reliability in exchange for a better ride, more fun and more refinement. I occasionally check the CR equivalent reliability statistics form other countries and it turns out that the Golf/Jetta frequently tops such lists there. As long as you stay away from things that only Americans order (V6, AWD) you should be fine. I have 3 friends who own Jetta Wagons from different vintages. All fo them are extremely pleased and have never had major repairs.