Help us choose a new (used) car!

Disclaimer: I am a car snob. I have a thing against most American cars, and while I appreciate the practicality and longevity of Hondas, Toyotas, etc., well, they’re mostly just… boring.

Right now, my husband and I drive a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee. We’re hoping to replace it with a late model used car sometime within the next several months. We’d like to keep the purchase price below 15k, and ideally find something with low enough miles that we can drive it until it dies - and also enjoy it along the way. Four wheel drive or at least some reasonable traction control might be handy (we live in the midwest). I much, much prefer a small car but love the cargo space of a hatchback or wagon. I’m a bit of a tree-hugger so I would prefer to avoid another SUV - at least a large one, anyway. I’ve previously owned a VW Golf (loved it until it hit 80k and got tempermental and needed mucho expensive repairs), Honda Civic (the boredom and terrible winter handling nearly did me in, once quite literally), and Subaru Outback Sport (also loved).

So far, we’ve had our eye on late-model:

-VW Rabbit

-VW Passat wagon

-Toyata Prius

-Subaru Outback (hard to find in our price range)

I’d love to hear your collective thoughts on these cars, as well as any ideas for models we may not have considered. Thanks in advance for any help in making this decision!

In Your Price Range (Low Budget) You Can’t Afford To Be A “Car Snob”.

Tree Hugger? That used Prius is perfect for you!

No matter what you buy, you should be aware that the “terrible winter handling” of your old Civic was the result of bad tires, not anything to do with the car itself, as Hondas are no better and no worse in winter traction than any other front wheel drive vehicles. Even if those tires looked good, they undoubtedly were poorly rated for winter traction.

I have an Outback with AWD, traction control and vehicle stability control, and I use winter tires for an extra bit of security for both going and stopping in winter conditions. So-called “all-season” tires vary considerably in their winter traction, and some all-season tires are VERY POOR in this respect. The Bridgestone Potenza RE-92 is probably the worst of the lot, but many other “all-season” tires are also unsafe in winter conditions.

There may be other reasons for you to avoid buying a Civic, but your perception of a Civic as having poor winter traction is totally bogus.

You’re obviously aware of the problems with VW’s. It seems from my observations that they seem to be very hit-or-miss-- I’ve known people who’ve had great experiences with them and I’ve known people for whom they have been nightmares to own. They are fun cars, so it’s really sort of up to you whether you want to take that risk. FWIW, I personally don’t think their problems are bad enough to automatically exclude them especially if you’re someone who’s a good sport about little problems.

If you go for the Subaru, you need to do some research as there were some configurations and years of those that were problematic.

The Prius would be okay, but I’d be a little iffy on buying one in the 15k range because, though they’ve been pretty reliable, there are some extra big-ticket items that can potentially go bad on older ones. Also, unless you do a lot of stop-and-go driving and/or are mostly interested in it as a fashion statement, you’ll get better results with a conventional car. And once the novelty wears off, the Prius isn’t exactly what I would call an exciting car.

It appears you have Mercedes taste on a Chevy budget. Of the cars you looked at, I would avoid the Rabbit and the Passat wagon; they are even less reliable than your previous VW.

The terrible winter handling can be much improved with ANY car by buying high quality winter tires, such as Michelin X-ICE. We live in an area near the mountains with severe winter weather. Both our 2WD cars have winter tires, and my wife took a special course from the AAA in winter driving. She has no hesitation to drive her 2WD Nissan through a snow storm to get to the mountains to ski! Where we live the most cars in the ditch after a snow storm are 4WDs and AWDs.

Most Japanese cars have a “Sport” version with upgraded suspension, more power, and much faster handling, equal or better than a VW GTI. I suggets you look for a Mazda 3 Sport, Toyota Corolla Sport, a sports version of the Honda Civic, or a Subaru WRX (a little harder to find). There are many others, but any of the four will tax your driving ability in mountain and hilly terrain. In other words, they are not “boring”. The WRX wins most rallies these days.

The Prius is a true tree-hugger’s car, but the performance and handling is definitely “boring”. There is a new sport version out this year (more power, wider tires, etc), but it will be outside your budget. The Prius definitely has “snob appeal” since many famous people drive them.

You have not told us what you consider boring about Japanese cars; if it just the looks, then I would suggest the Mazda 3 to be the coolest, much better looking than any VW or Subaru.

If you won the lottery today, I would recommend a Lexus Hybrid; great handling, top quality, very reliable,and great fuel mileage. An alternate would be the Mercedes E 320 Diesel, with even better mileage than the Lexus. Both cars will cost more to maintain, especially the Mercedes. The reason we don’t mention a Jaguar is the tempermental nature of this sexy beast might “do you in”, and unlike the Queen of England, you don’t have a live-in mechanic.

Take a look at the Pontiac Vibe. It has optional AWD and gets fairly decent fuel mileage. Since they’re no longer gonna make Pontiac, you could find one on a dealer lot and probably haggle down to $15k

“Since they’re no longer gonna make Pontiac, you could find one on a dealer lot and probably haggle down to $15k”

It’s worth a try, but I doubt he’ll find one close to that. says that people are paying $17,900 for the base model with AC and AT. There is no rebate. This is still a popular car, and folks know that the Matrix is a similar car. And I’ll wager that GM will be selling the Chevrolet Vibe next year.

The Chevy HHT or whatever they call it is a pretty nice package… Don’t paint yourself into “import corner”…

Based on your tree-hugger thing I’d say the Prius. The Outback would probably be the best for winter driving.

Hold on a moment while I absorb this…
you’re a car snob and tree hugger who has a thing against american cars and you drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee?

Okay, now to the question…

Stop by the bookstore, buy a Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers’ Guide, find ones you like, and begin searching. Then have whatever you find checked thoroughly by your local mechanic.

And, bu the way, you can get a brand new Scion xB for that price…delivered!

Investigate a GM car that will be here after the dust settles such as a Buick, a Chevrolet or a Cadillac and I can say that the CTS is a very nice car; was Car of the Year last year in Motor Trend Magazine against BMW, Mercedes and others. Buick reliability is better than Lexus these days.

GM is offering some amazing deals. We just bought a new Chevrolet and were given some jaw dropping discounts that we did not know about.

VW reliability has been dismal lately but may be improving.
Prius = Goofy styling and fast wearing tires.
Subaru? Do you want to replace all four tires if they are partially worn and one goes bad?

There’s one GT model(2.4L) left on the local lot with a sticker price of $21,645, I believe the price they have on the windshield is $18,365. They also have a base model 1.8L $19,480 and I believe the windshield had $16,405, or something like that.

For a professed snob, I would suggest you look at a used Jetta/VW diesel. If you had a Jeep you’ll be used to the less than Toyota/Honda boring reliability, it touches on the “green” factor, and gives you a little air of exclusivity w/O going overboard.
There are tons of better choices, but you admit to being someone willing to buy a car based upon other factors than value…so no Toyota RAV4/Honda CRV suggestions from here.

Check Out The New Honda Insight 1.3 IMA SE Hybrid.

This could be just what you’re looking for. It’s priced thousands below the Prius. I’m not a car slob or a tree-hugger and so they don’t appeal to me that much. However, this could be the car for you. They get like 60 something mpg, too!


Subaru? Do you want to replace all four tires if they are partially worn and one goes bad?

I know we occasionally mention that as a concern, but I’ve owned 4 and AWD vehicles for many years incl two Subbies and it has NEVER been a concern that needed addressing. Maybe just lucky that one tire never suddenly went bad at about half it’s life, but IMO, that shouldn’t be a reason to exclude an awd car. Besides, theoretically, ALL CARS AND TRUCKS SHOULD FOR SAFETY REASONS, be shod with tires with similar tread wear and pattern.

Nothing screams excitement like a VW Rabbit, a station wagon, or a Prius. Me thinks that by “car snob” you mean “hippie/environazi/hipster” A car snob is someone who will lecture you about the merits of the ferrari f430 Scuderia vs. the Porsche Carrera GT.

Also, I’d be leery of mismatched tires on a used Subaru. I’d probably skip it all together actually

And then demonstrate it by taking you for a ride in both, since he owns them. :stuck_out_tongue:

For a used compact hatch under 15k and not boring like a Toyota, I’d put my money on the Mazda 3.

But I hope that 15k budget includes a 3k budget for in case something that goes wrong. In that case, you might as well check out a brand new Honda Fit. I know, not another boring Honda, but this one actually beats the NSX on the track. Other new wagons that may limbos under 15k budget are Kia Soul and Nissan Versa.