Need a tiny reliable city car

I went from Phoenix, AZ all the way to Tacoma Seattle…

And now my beloved '93 Toyota T100 is far too large for the narrow streets, and impossible to parallel park.

I need advice on a very small, easy to park, incredibly reliable car. I’d prefer to stay with Toyota if I can (every non-Toyota I’ve ever driven was a maintenance nightmare), and am eyeing something in the late 90’s, early 00’s (used enough that I’m not fretting about cart-dings, new enough that I’m not expecting to replace the engine and/or tranny any minute now).

The problem is that it seems like there is a gap in that age range for a tiny hatchback. The Tercel hatchback was discontinued in 1991, and the Yaris hatchback didn’t debut until 2005.

Edited to add:
I commute with mass transit, and just need something for running errands to places the bus doesn’t go easily, and for picking up groceries heavy enough that I don’t want to shlep them on the bus

The 90’s and early 2000’s were bad for small cars. The mentality, in the USA anyway, was “How big can you make it, and can you make it bigger than that, please?” This was the era of the 19-foot Ford Excursion.

1999 Honda Civic hatchback?

Only two brands I’d consider would be Honda and Toyota. I’ve owned both a Civic and a Tercel. Both are probably ideal for your needs. Truth be told, the civic is much more refined then the Tercel.

+1 @shadowfax - the Civic hatchback would be a good choice, also a Fit if that’s in the budget.

There are 3 cars I would mention that fit the bill. The Toyota Yaris hatchback is small and extremely reliable. But it has a choppy ride. The next one, which is the one I would buy, is the Honda Fit. Very compact but extremely roomy inside with the backseat down. Also very reliable. My third choice would be the Mazda2, a hatchback that handles like a sports car and is also very reliable.

You owe it to yourself to drive those three at least. The’re all very good choices.

There are others, but most have a spotty reliability record, or like the Fiat 500, no record at all. If you are used to Toyota reliability those would likely be a disappointment

I would recommend you look at the Scion xd. It has the very good Corolla motor but is Yaris sized with none of the annoying features. It comes with much more standard equipment, is just as economical and one the few cars from Toyota that s a blast to drive. It is suppose to be a city car that does well on the highway too.

@dagosa Good point! I had forgotten Toyota’s counter culture cars. There is actually a minicar now, called the iQ. It;s the size of a Smart Car. Not sure it is for sale country-wide by now but here it’s sold through Scion dealers.

I was going to recommend the Scion IQ.
It has a miserable ride quality, but…then again…so do all of the other tiny cars, due to their extremely short wheelbase.

However, if somebody is looking for a car that is incredibly easy to park in tight spaces, and that comes with the great reliability and high build quality that we have come to expect from Toyota, the Scion IQ does combine those attributes. In Europe, it is sold as the Toyota IQ.

Unless I lived in NY I’d get a ‘normal’ compact, like a Fit. Not worth putting up with a TINY car.

I too think the Fit is going to be your best bet.

The fit is a great car. But an early 2000 Toyota is either the xA or the xB.

The Fit looks great, but it is out of the budget, unfortunately.

I can probably get $2,500-$3,000 out of the truck from someone who wants a super-reliable truck for work or trekking gear to the mountains.

Taking out a loan for the rest on a car that I’ll likely only drive 1,000 miles per year is not an idea that fills me with joy.

Looking a bit older- since the Fit had such good recommendations, anyone know anything about the Mazda 323?

I got one of those as a rental when the truck was in the shop for a new A/C, and it felt like a roller skate, but a roller skate is what I need now… The residential streets up here are so tight that there’s only one lane, and if someone else is going the other way, you pretty much have to parallel park to let them pass. (Or worse yet, if there aren’t any spots near either of you, one of you has to back up to the closest intersection)

@texases is right !
I never liked the mini cars. In Europe with their very narrow streets, perhaps. But you are going from a large truck to a compact which is more then sufficiently small enough in American cities. Minicars though great for small cities have so many deficiencies, including the obvious, space, they aren’t worth it. They don’t cost that much less if at all, their performance is abismal in most and their highway mileage isn’t that great because of their poor aerodynamics. They are short and like any vehicle moving through fluid medium, longer is better. A Fit or Yaris or Scion xd size would be sthe smallest I could ever recommend. And Corolla or Civic size would be much better…should you really want to travel anywhere. Just a humble opinion.

I think the Toyota Echo was made during those years. That would be an excellent choice. The Echo followed the Tercel, and preceded the Yaris. The problem is that people who own Echo’s don’t want to sell them – precisely because they have proved to be both fun to drive and reliable. I believe the Echo is only available as a sedan, not a hatchback. If you can find an Echo, and the sedan body style works for you, it should be near the top of your list. The Honda Fit and Toyota Scion line would also be great choices. Avoid the Aveo.


I agree that the Echo is reliable.

But FUN ? ? ? ! ! !

The Tercel and then the Echo had their names changed or one reason IMO. They were dreadful cars. That’s an oft used carmaker strategy…change the name and use the same car to get a temporary sales boost till the public catches on. It worked with Chysler, somewhat, for years.

The Geo Metro sounds like a good option for you if you can find one that has been well cared for and isn’t being eaten alive by rust. These were only like $6000 new so many people didn’t really take care of them. Many have shot engines now. They also didn’t put a lot of effort into rust-proofing the metal so they tend to rust.

These are super small and fun to drive, kinda like an oversized go kart. They also get like 50+ MPG if you get a manual 3 cylinder. They are a breeze to work on and you can do just about everything yourself. Plus, they are cheap so you won’t worry about door dings! Just do the basic maintenance and keep the oil fresh and you will be happy. Sure, finding one without any repairs needed is quite hard BUT you can do it!

@dagosa. Where do you get the notion that the Tercel and Echo are dreadful cars? Sure they don’t have a sporty ride, they can’t haul lots of people and their belongings, but for the purpose for which they are intended they are tough to beat. These vehicles are sparse on the used market because owners appreciate the reliability and economy provided by the Japanese sub compacts. The used prices for them reflect this fact as well. You routinely see Tercels and Echos with 200K miles and more on the odometer. Go ahead and tell me a comparable domestic sub compact? Chevy Aero? Dodge Neon?


I used to have a '96 Kia Sephia, it was a disguised Mazda 323, got it for almost free since it had been in an accident. It had 80K miles. I fixed the accident and some regular maintenance items and drove to 140K miles without any problems. It was a small car, wife would always say I look funny in it. They do have a timing belt that could add to the cost.

I agree with @cwatkin: start watching Craigslist for a Geo Metro hatchback. For the around town errands they’re fine. I have a friend who owns two of them (and two classic Corvettes). The tiny two seat Metro convertible is his daily driver. Just don’t take it to a demolition derby, you’ll lose big time. ;=)