My first new car!

Hello, all. So, my used car has been given about a year to live (Translation, there are a ton of things wrong with it that are not worth fixing, given the fact that making these fixes would cost me several grand; and the registration goes out in about a year.) This, obviously, necessitates the purchase of my own car; and this is the very first time I’m purchasing a car with my own money. So, here we go:

Fortunately, unlike some of my 21-year old peers; I am not an idiot. I don’t give a damn about spinny rims, beautiful makes, and blah blah blah. The only nice thing I want in my car is a good sound system, and that’s it; it can be the ugliest thing in the world, as long as it meets these requirements:

What I want in my car

Low price: I’m going for the $15k-$22k range. Obviously, this will impact everything in ways that I can’t imagine; perhaps you guys could offer me generalizations as to what low price will affect.

Lastabillity: My used car was a NIGHTMARE; every other month I’d be pouring a grand into it, fixing some obscure detail that I don’t wish to remember. I want something that will go for a LONG time without something going wrong.

Good mileage: I’ve heard that two-wheel drive cars come with an upside and a downside; better mileage, and worse handling on snowy roads. Given the fact that I’m a conservative driver, I don’t think I’ll be needing four-wheel drive at the cost of having to fill up frequently.

Good audio: The teenage dream. I’d like a quality audio system; at least good speakers that won’t crap out upon prolonged exposure to dubstep, or anything like that. One of those crazy things with a 6-cd holder and an aux-in would be awesome, but if it comes at the cost of a price boost, I’d just want a single-CD unit, perhaps with an aux-in. Good speakers would be really nice, though. And being a musician, I’m a bit of an audiophile.

Safety: Pretty obvious; I don’t want a smart-car, a tin can, or anything that, in the case of a small accident, will leave me saying, “Where are my arms?.. oh, they’re over there, okay.”

Can hold lots of things: I’m a musician, so having space to lug gear around would be fantastic: However, I don’t want the car falling into the SUV category, as they’re known for their low mpg. Does size adversely impact mpg?

Cars I’m considering:

(Subarus are known for their safety, but yuck, I don’t even want to hear the word ‘SUV.’)
(Looks a tad bigger than the basic Civic, but I dunno if that will help carrying stuff in the long run; I should get out and look at these cars.)
(Looks decent, looks like it can hold a lot of stuff, and wow, even up to 32 mpg highway!.. wait, what’s good mpg, again?)

Essential questions:

What’s good/average/bad mpg in a car in the price range I’m looking at? ($15k-$22k)

How does price, overall, affect my listed qualities?

Does size ALWAYS impact mpg?

Do you know of a car that’s priced within my bracket that has all my qualities, and that you think I’d really like? Once again, it can be the ugliest thing ever, as long as it meets my requirements.

Thank you very much, have yourselves a great day.

I’m not a fan of Subaru as the AWD system requires 4 matching tires, so it you damage one tire you might have to buy 4 and this might be one of your “nightmares”. Also the AWD has more parts (transfer case and 2nd differential) which require more fluid changes and are expensive to repair or replace.

The basic Civic is more in your price range than the Si version. A 4 door Civic with a fold down back seat can carry a good amount of “stuff”. A stick version of any Civic can be fun to drive.

Caliper is a good package with size and flexible layout, but hasn’t been an especially reliable car as they age. The auto trans has been a expensive problem area for many Caliper owners.

Ford has a couple of good small cars now, so you should check out Ford offerings.

Don’t worry about the stereo. Most new small cars come with a decent stereo standard. If you must bounce down the road with heavy bass you can get more for your money with a visit to an aftermarket car stereo shop.

In general size does impact mpg. Smaller cars are lighter and require less power and fuel to make them go the same speed and distance as a larger heavier car. There are some exceptions, but in general size matters regarding mpg.

Ford Focus 5-door hatchback with manual transmission. You’re welcome.

I would not recommend an inexpensive awd car unless you need one. I would recommend you check out one of the Scion models whose size fits your needs. There are a couple of boxy styles with lots of room and being based upon the Corolla chassis, one of the most reliable and economical vehicles of all time, how can you go wrong ? They are relatively inexpensive for the standard features you get. One may fit your needs.

Considering the price range, and the fact that you want to haul things, I suggest a Toyota Tacoma or Ford Ranger. You should be able to find a good cover for the bed.

Yes, size always impacts fuel economy, both because of weight and aerodynamics.

You should go get a copy of the Consumer Reports car buyers guide, lots of info there to help you come up with a short list.

There are lots of good-quality compact cars out there now. I’d skip the Civic Si, it’s the high performance version, no bigger than the others.

I too recommend that you start with a CR car buyers’ guide. And in the price range you mentioned, you can get a brand new vehicle, which is what I’d recommend. That way you have the warranty, can create your own history, and even get a lower loan rate for a longer period if necessary.

The Forester isn’t really an SUV, it’s tall wagon, it’s much more car than truck. The Civic probably won’t have enough space for your needs, but the Si model is fairly peppy. The Caliber is a POS, I rented one for a few days once and it’s an appalling car in every way.

I would also put the Golf, Focus, Optima, or Scion Xb on your list.

Unless you get a lot of horrendous snow, I wouldn’t worry about AWD. I’ve never had much trouble in snow with FWD, given a set of good tires. A lot of newer cars have unnecessarily wide, low-profile tires, which is a hindrance in the snow. Where audio systems are concerned, keep in mind that speakers, no matter how “good”, are only as good as the amplifier driving them. Speakers often get the blame for the result of underpowered amplifiers and misused EQs.

If you want a really good audio system, you will need to put that in yourself. Personally I think a high quality audio system in a car is a waste, the audio environment inside a car is terrible. Road noise, tire noise, wind noise and the basic poor acoustical materials inside a car ruin a really good system.

But many factory systems are acceptable. I was really impressed with the one in the new Sentra. Funny because that is a lower end model than the Altima, but it had a better sound system, complete with an ipod (actual ipod) interface, usb and com ports in the box between the seats.

The Sentra was also listed #2 in Consumers reports, behind the Hyundai and way ahead of the Civic.

It’s hard to know how much space you need for your musical instrument without knowing what it is. If it’s an electric instrument we need to know the size of your amp, too. Probably any hatchback would work, but maybe not for a sousaphone or bass viol.

I agree with jt, we need to know what you’ll be hauling around to get a better idea of what to suggest.

You might try looking at the Nissan Cube, Scion Xb and Kia Soul for high capacity cars.
For better audio systems, you’ll be looking at higher trim models. I really like the Bose system in my Mazda, but I hear good things about the Infinity system in some other cars(not sure which make carries that brand radio).
If you value audio quality, though, you’ll want to avoid small cars, as they’ll allow more road/wind noise to make its way inside the cabin. My old Civic was REALLY bad about letting road noise into the cabin. Even with tires that were rated as very quiet tires, road noise was almost unbearable on the chip’n’seal roads around here; I had my radio at half volume and the noise was still loud enough to drown out a good deal of the music, and I normally listened to the radio at 1/4 or less