Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Rav4, Elantra or Matrix? What to buy...?

Greetings, fellow CarTalk enthusiasts!

I’ve been used-car shopping for a cheap, reliable and fun hatchback. I finally have 3 good possibilities lined up to look at/test drive tomorrow, all in the same suburb. Each has good and bad points.

I already test drove a Matrix, and really like it, so I’ve been hoping for a Matrix or Vibe (same thing) in my budget.

The Elantra and Rav4 have been on my short list too and now both have come up in my price range in the same dealership area as the Matrix.

I’d like opinions on which of these 3 sounds best, or if I’m missing any red flags. I have Carfax’s for all 3:

1. 2002 Rav4 103k. 1 owner. Accident in 2004 with 15K. Owner kept driving. No real service history. Dealer has done a wheel alignment, oil/lube/checkup, and they say they replaced the ECM module (this is an issue for Ravs, Matrix and Vibes).

2. 2005 Hyundai Elantra GT. 94K miles. Fantastic service history, regular oil changes, tires rotated, etc. Timing/drive belts replaced last year. 1 owner.

3. 2005 Toyota Matrix XR, 113k miles. 2 owners, about 3 yrs each. No Carfax history after 2010 or 78k miles. Dealership says they serviced it and Toyota replaced ECM in January, but it’s not showing on Carfax.

All 3 are at big new/used dealerships, all three are cute, well-equipped, clean etc. The Elantra might seem like the obvious choice, but I wonder how many lifetime miles they have in them? It also might be too small.

The Rav and Matrix I know will go another 50k easy (I do almost all short city driving, some trips to countryside). But I worry about transmission damage from this ECM issue (recent safety recall) even if they have been replaced?

Also the accident with the Rav - is an old accident okay? And the missing history with the Matrix. Something to worry about?

Thanks - I look forward to others’ thoughts on my dilemma!

Awd cars have their advantages, but I would recommed you shy away from them as high mileage and used. The more basic, the potentially more reliable.

DO NOT rely on Carfax! It’s a good guide, and it’s helpful information, but that’s all. A vehicle can have a clean Carfax and still be junk.

Of the three, I like the Elantra because it has a documented maintenance history including a timing belt replacement. Very good. A properly maintained Elantra can last a long, long time.

My second choice would be the Matrix.

I’d skip the RAV4 with crash history. Why do you want to go there?

Your driving (mostly short city trips) falls into the “extreme service” category. Whatever you buy, follow “extreme” maintenance schedule, not the “normal” schedule.

Degosa- All 3 are actually FWD, but I do agree with your point about ‘more basic more reliable.’

mcparadise - good point about carfax - it’s nice when it has useful info - like the Elantra history - but it can certainly leave out a lot too.

I am considering the Elantra because of that great maintenance history. I guess I’ll go see how it drives and feels today and decide! I think I am skipping the Rav, as cool as it looks! Accident history (even though a long time ago) and worse gas mileage are two strikes on it.

Good choice. I feel it’s worth it to go with the newer car as well. Age takes a toll as well as mileage. The RAV is the most efficient space wise but not with gas mileage.

My son has a 2005 Elantra hatchback with 90K miles on it that he bought new. It’s still running strong. He likes it so much that he bought his wife a new Elantra in 2008.

The only thought I have is that if your budget isn’t quite up to speed, offer what you can and hope.

The negative thing will be the phone calls you will get from sales people until you buy or until you die which was standard policy where I worked.

What’s your budget?
You might look at a Mazda 3 or 6 hatchback(the 6 was made from 04 to 08). Those should be fun to drive. If you could afford it(07 base model is $13k according to edmunds), and drive stick, the Speed 3 is a hatchback, but will cost more in fuel economy and need premium fuel to run, due to the turbo charged engine.

Thanks folks! My budget was about 10k (thus no Mazdas considered), and I went for the Matrix. When I drove the Elantra, it was a nice car, handled well and all you’d expect, but it just wasn’t “me”. Every time I’ve sat in a Vibe or Matrix since I started shopping, it has felt like a good fit. So I am now the proud parent of a Cosmic Blue 2005 Matrix, with my mechanic’s blessing.

Anyone who wants to get a 2005-2008, be forewarned that you need to make sure the ECM recall has been addressed before you buy either the Vibe or Matrix.

LOL about the salesmen calling - they’ve been relentless.