I need some compact car advice

I’m looking to buy my first car (used). I’m 23 and finally have a job offer. My commute would be short, but because of highways in the area, I can’t bike, as I would much prefer. I’m not a car person, but since it looks like I’m going to need one, I’d rather have something I’ll enjoy. Here are my demands (please)!

Small, though not 2-seater small, and reliable.
Hatchback a definite plus, though sedans/coupes are ok. Sedans with folding seats would be a good compromise.
Fuel economy is important, though not terribly so since I don’t plan on driving too much.
Good handling. I like to be in full control and make tighter turns (probably because I’m used to a bike).
Something a little sporty would be nice, but if not, I’ll deal.

My questions:
How much should I spend? $14,000? $10,000? $7,000? I can afford whatever I need to to get the most out of my money, but obviously less is better.
Should I be concerned about engines and horsepower? Some of the cars I’m looking at get down pretty close to 100HP. Is that adequate?
I keep reading 15,000 miles per year. How much weight should I give that? What would be too many miles?

It seems like this is my list: Best option is a Civic, preferred is a Mazda3 if I can get a good deal. Also in the running are the Fit, Matrix, and Versa. Any I should add to the list or remove?

In the end, cost, practicality, and reliability are most important, with handling and cargo space coming up behind.

I’ve checked a lot of sources, including Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, and USAA. Now I need some real live person advice.


There are many compact cars out there that will fit your needs. My only advice is to try the cars on your list on for size. You may even want to rent one and take for a 150 mile trip to be sure it fits. I don’t think horespower means much. If the car accelerates adequately for your needs, don’t worry about the power rating. You aren’t going to be towing a trailer with a compact car, nor are you going to be carrying heavy loads.
The reason I advise you to make certain that the car is comfortable for you is that I drove 300 miles round trip to a conference in a Honda Civic Hybrid from my institution’s fleet. I didn’t have enough legroom. On the other hand, I drove 550 miles round trip to a conference the next year in a Nissan Sentra and I found it quite comfortable for me.

I would add Corolla to the mix. I would buy a late model and go for the best deal. Don’t forget to get an independent pre-purchase inspection. Private sales bring with them a bit more risk, but generally lower pricing than with dealers. I like to use 12K miles to determine normal mileage, but 15k I think is what the "blue books’ use as a guide for annual mileage average.

Don’t forget to check nadaguides.com, kbb.com, edmunds.com to get a feel for what you can negotiate for when you get into the serious purchasing stage.

If the used prices seem high, then consider buying new and compare to see if you get that way.

I have said it before and will always… Any Honda product will satisfy even the most critical user.

I am very fond of Honda products and I have tried ALL of them. ALL meaning all other makes…and I continue to return to HOnda… They have a certain Zen to them…sounds funny No? But I’m very serious… The feel of the materials…and switch gear…the ergonomics are SPOT on, the way the doors sound when you shut them (new and after 10years)…The handling…the GEAR ratios, the PERFECTION of the manual transmission, even the FEEL and shape of the steering wheel…the cars are SERIOUSLY well thought out. I cannot say this about the other Japanese makes with such certainty. I am driving an 03 GTi at the moment and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss ANY of my past Honda’s. I believe that I will actually find my way into an Si myself. They haven’t won in the 10 BEST category many years in a row for no reason… That’s a fact.

You simply CANNOT go wrong with a nice little Civic Si… If I were you I’d look into this vehicle THOROUGHLY…I STILL want one to this day. You can pick up a 2-4 yr old Si for a very reasonable price. The fun factor is through the roof…the reliability is unquestionable, they look great…and are a VERY satisfying ride. Honda has basically perfected the 4cylinder engine…and the Civic has a Gem of a mill…200Hp…4cylinders, VTEC, and a 6speed trans = Heaven.

I’d go for a manual 6sp trans if I had my Druthers…but even the Automatic is as solid as a rock. Not an easy thing to say about all cars in this class.

Toyota has nothing on the level of the Civic anymore…with the passing of the Celica…Maaaybe the Corrolla, but not really.

If you don’t like the Honda…there’s Toyota, and Nissan… Go with the “Big Boys” of the Japan import world and you cant go wrong.

I see you in a Slate Blue Civic Si…man…its YOU…Oooh maybe the Pearl White (with purple metal flake) also…Mmmm.

Honda baby…Honda


I would not buy any of the cars on your list. They are all excellent cars, and they are all very expensive. If you don’t mind paying a couple thousand extra for a Honda, Toyota, or Mazda that’s fine. But there are several good cars available that cost less. A Chevy Cobalt or Hyundai Elantra might work for you. Test drive them and see if the difference in price for the other cars is worth it.

Hate to burst your bubble, Blackbird, but even Consumer Reports have been slowly moving away from Honda lately, even describing the new look they gave the 2012 model a bad thing.

I wanted, so badly, to want a new Honda while I was shopping, since I liked my old Civic, but they just didn’t make anything I liked. The CR-V was cramped in the front(not much leg room), the Pilot was too big, their cars sit too low to the ground, the newer(09/'10 models) Civic felt very cramped inside with not much leg room., the Accord was ok, but I just couldn’t see myself in one. The Fit was even more cramped than the Civic. The Acura RDX was pretty good, but they wanted quite a bit of money for the options I wanted($42~45k).

Mazda wasn’t really on my list until someone said to just try one out, they loved theirs. So I took a day and drove the hour to the closest dealership and tried a 3 hatchback and a CX-7 out. Needless to say, I’m usually recommending a Mazda to anyone who’s looking for a new car, and will even refer them to the salesman who sold me my CX-7.

I agree with bscar. The new Civic is boring. I do like the Accord coupe, but that’s about it from Honda’s current offerings. And that’s coming from a big Honda fan.

OP, for the money you’re talking, you should consider buying new. The Hyundai Veloster starts at around 17, and comes with a 10 year warranty. That’s pretty significant.

The Hyundai Accent hatchback has everthing you need, including reliability. You can get one is really good condition on your budget. Once you get established in your job and have more money, you can look at something “more sophisticated”.

I tend to agree with the most recent posters, that you ought to consider a new subcompact. You should be able to handle a year of modest payments and then have saved enough to prepay much of the loan. you should be able to get out of debt quickly. Having a 3-year, 36K-mile warranty is a huge plus.

For an affordable small new car, check reviews over here:


If you still prefer to buy used, check to see if any warranty carries over. This item may be critical to your decision.

i rented a ford focus recently and was very happy with it. i have rented several fords recently and they drive very well. I bet they come in a wagon.

also bought a hyundai recently and am way more impressed than I thought I would be.

I like all of your suggestions. A Corolla is one of the higher rated for owner satisfaction and is a no brainer recommendation. I had three of them and can say there are few gas powered cars that are as economical and still deliver comparable performance. It is as efficient as most sub compacts, costs little more to buy, is quieter and better riding. Sporty driving is not it’s strong suit but it has few peers for basic, but reliable transportation in reasonable comfort. It also has a very good resale value when compared to nearly all your other choices except Hondas.

@ Honda Blackbird
"Any Honda product will satisfy even the most critical user."

What if the user wants a rear wheel drive V8 coupe (or even a rear wheel drive car these days) or a truck that can tow an 8000 pound trailer?

I do think a Honda Fit Sport or a Civic would good choices for the OP. Though if Op wants something with bit more umph, I’d suggest a WRX or GTI. If the OP could find a good SVT Focus, that would be another option, or even 2005-2007 2.3L Focus ST which can be had pretty cheaply.

Don’t forget the Mazdaspeed 3 if you’re looking budget power.

But to the OP, I’d recommend a normal Mazda 3 hatchback for economical, yet fun to drive

In 2007 I bought a new Toyota Yaris Liftback for 11,400.00 total price including tax. It doesn’t have power windows and all the bells & whistles that come standard with a Honda Fit, for example, but I didn’t care about that. The Liftback has plenty of room in back and the car gets excellent mileage. I’ve gotten up to 35 mpg.

Consumer Reports didn’t recommend it because of its handling, if I recall correctly, but it did give its highest reliability rating and rates its mpg at the top in its class (for that year anyway). I have no problem with handling in the type of driving I do (mostly off highway) and I enjoy driving it. I bet CR will give the newer Yaris a better rating if they check it out again.

It’s worth a test drive. Btw - I didn’t like the Yaris without the Liftback. It was more cramped and nothing special to look at.

Good luck.

I was thinking Honda Fit even before I looked at the comments. But then I took a quick look at the price (around $15k new) and I had a better idea.

Take a look at the new Ford Fiesta. I know you stated that you’re looking for a used car, but the sedan model is $13k and the hatchback is $15k. Plus it gets 40mpg and has a bunch of options as standard. Ford has also proven themselves in the past few years in terms of quality and service, so maybe it’s worth giving a look.

But if you’re really looking for a good used hatchback I don’t think there’s anything that would be more reliable than a Civic.

When was the last time they made a hatchback Civic?

@Honda Blackbird
I’m sure this article will get you even more excited about the Civic:

I told the OP to go with a used Civic…NOT a new one… He wasn’t looking for a new car. The Civic Si that I have in mind is the …I guess the last gen Civic? Did they re-do the Civic already? I’m thinking an 05-06 Civic Si for the Op…It was included in the 10 Best for many years in a row… That’s the Civic I think he will be happy with…

Dunno bout the new one…EW…looking at the article BS provided…I don’t like THAT Civic… But AGAIN…the guy doesn’t want a NEW car…WTF ?

I believe I said a 2-4 yr old Civic…and THAT Civic won more awards than…than…what? I don’t know… A LOT of awards… It sold more than very well and should suit this new drivers needs and then some.

Not that familiar with all the latest and greatest from Honda I guess…I don’t really look at new cars anyway…I’ve never owned one…and probably will never buy one… I’m too busy buying used cars with snapped T-belts for a fraction of their value and fixing them…driving them for several years and then selling them at a profit at the end of the day. That’s sort of my MO with cars… In fact, I believe I’ve said this before, but cars actually make me money…and have ever since I began driving. I’ve made a profit on every single vehicle I have ever owned…even after driving them for several years.
I waste my money on other fun stuff… A car payment to me is a drag…

OP here. I just wanted to chime in and say thanks for all of the advice everyone has given. There has been a lot of helpful stuff said here and though it also complicates things quite a bit, I think I’ll be able to make a better decision when the time comes.

Decision time isn’t here yet, so I’ll still be watching the thread. Thanks again for the help!

I’ll still maintain that your preferred choice(Mazda3) would be a good bet.

Go ahead and start test driving some vehicles while you keep saving money. Don’t let them pressure you into buying when you go in, tell them you want to think about it. When you’re not in a hurry to buy, the advantage goes to you for making a deal. Go to this website for more, and better, info on buying a vehicle:

Also, if you’re not used to driving, especially if you live in snow country, take a defensive driving course during the winter. Not only will it help you get used to driving in snowy weather, you should be eligible for a discount on your car insurance. At 23 years old, your insurance will still be kinda high

Sure that Mazda 3 is nice…The MazdaSpeed3 is REALLY nice…FAST too… :slight_smile: