Recommend me a new (to me) car - looking for good mpg for long highway commute

Concerned that my 2001 prizm might not be too long for this world, so I’m starting to consider a new vehicle. Just got a new job that involves a 35 mile each way commute daily - almost entirely highway. So I’d be looking for something very reliable, with good highway mpg ratings (30+ at least, prefer high 30s or more). Hoping for under $10k.

Other wish list items: reasonable back seat (doesn’t need to be huge, but something I can occasionally stick small kids in would be needed). Needs to be able to get up to 75mph without too much trouble or getting me killed on the entrance ramp. Either aux input or able to replace the stock radio with one that has an aux (going to depend on my podcasts and music to keep me sane on the commute). I’m 6’3", so needs to be tolerable and preferably comfortable for someone tall driving it!

Don’t really care beyond that. Sporty, not, sedan/hatch, etc.

If I had to go new, I’d probably be looking at something like the 500 or spark/sonic, focus, etc. Cheap and high mpg. But I’d rather go used and save some cash!

So what would you recommend for me, and in getting a used one, what should I watch for on that model?

You will likely get some good suggestions from our forum members, but–unfortunately–those suggestions will probably leave out as many good choices as they include, and may cause you to go up some blind alleys.

Instead of taking random suggestions from strangers who may not be totally objective, I strongly suggest that you get a copy of the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers Guide.

This publication, which is available at larger news stands (Barnes & Noble has it!), lists every passenger car model that was sold in the US over the past decade or so. It breaks these cars down by size category, and also by price category, thus allowing you to narrow the field appropriately.

In addition, this publication tells you the performance & comfort pros & cons of each vehicle, and also contains historical reliability data on each model. IMHO, spending a few bucks on this publication is the most orderly, objective way of deciding which models to look at when shopping for used cars.

Then, make sure that you limit yourself to vehicles that were properly maintained, because poor maintenance is the surest way to get stuck with a car that is prone to breakdown. Personally, I would not buy a used car unless it came with full maintenance records, but even with those records, you still need to have a car vetted by your own mechanic prior to purchase.

A pre-purchase inspection can reveal accident damage that may not be apparent to you, and it can also detect incipient problems that will explode in the wallet of the car’s next owner.

Good luck with your used car quest!

Long commute = diesel vehicle. Get a VW Jetta TDI, 2002 or newer for $5,000-$10,000 and you will save enough to buy the upgrades for stereo and phone.

I think you’d do well to look for a Honda Civic, I’d recommend one with a manual transmission.

Both Hyundai and Mazda have very good direct injection engines. I think the best bang for the buck is a Mazda3 SkyActive with the 2 liter engine. The fuel mileage will be much better than your Prizm and the car will be just as durable. And its really fun to drive. Just bough my wife one.

Your next best chiooice would be a Hyundai Elantra with direct injection, also with great mileage. And a ten year power train warranty.

Any GM cars from Korea or designed in Korea have yet to prove themselves. Prior models have basically been biodegradable transportation. You are very spoiled with a Prizm, which is really a Toyota Corolla. So I’m hesitant to recommend anything that is less reliable or durable.

I would steer away from any Volkswagen turbo diesel, or any other Volkswagen for that matter. The mileage will be great but the other costs such as maintenance and repairs over 10 years will be almost twice as much as the two cars mentioned above. If you trade every 3-4 years or trade when the much shorter VW warranty is up, you could come out ahead.

There are a number of good small cars (Honda Fit, Mazda 2, Hyundai Accent, Toyta Yaris) with high mileage but all are noisy and not good for long commutes.

IF someone talks you into a Volkswagen, trade it when the warranty is nearly up. As for a used Vokswagen that would be the worst of all worlds, with repairs wiping out any fuel savings.

Stop by the local bookstore, pick up a Consumer Reports New Car Preview, and you’ll get comparisons and contrasts of every vehicle on the market. Select some that look interesting to you and go for test drives.

Thanks for the tips so far…

I’ve considered the Jetta TDI, but all the repair cost warnings I hear everywhere are making me leery of that option. The mileage does look nice though… I’m not a frequent car buyer, so I’d rather not go the “trade it in every few years” route. I’m generally a “drive it till you haul it to the junkyard” car owner.

Mazda3 is definitely on the short list of stuff I’d look at if I was going to spring for new. Doubt I will though. And the older ones don’t appear to have as good of MPG as the new ones.

And oh yes, I’ve been spoiled by the Prizm. Bought it with around 20k miles -currently has 120k and the only non-scheduled stuff I’ve had to do is an exhaust and window motor. And it drinks oil, but that’s normal for the prizm and corolla of this vintage.

‘And it drinks oil’ - how much, miles/quart?

My prizm is currently burning maybe a qt every 1k miles. Haven’t really been keeping close track, but I plan to start. That seems fairly common for these cars.

It is considered acceptable, but IMHO it’s only common in vehicles that have surpassed 200,000 miles, and even then it isn’t all THAT common.

I’m 6’-1", and drive 61 miles each way to work, 95% of that highway.

I’m VERY happy with my '11 Cruze ECO with the 1.4L turbo and stick. Average around 40 mpg with a best of 46.3.

MORE than enough power to get you into trouble.

You should go try one out. Rent one for a couple of days, use it on your commute and see what you think.

In fact, I think that’s a good idea no matter what car you are considering.

Everything recommended above is over $10,000 or among the highest cost vehicles for the model year. You might not want to spend any time looking at them. We have 2 Cobalts, and the kids like them. I bought a stripped Cobalt LS with auto transmission for under $10,000 from a dealer last October. If you want power windows and a key fob, you might look at a 2009. You can get a low mileage LT with auto trans for under $10,000 from a dealer. We have a 2009 and a 2010.

Agree the Cobalt is the best deal. My twin daughters each own one, bought used each with about 35000 miles for $6800 and $7300. Both with automatics, one without cruise control. Similar Corollas were $6-7000 more. They may be a better car but not $6-7k better. One with 100k on it and the other with 130k. No problems and about 32-35 mpg.

I’m with @same and @vdc. You really can’t go wrong arming yourself with information from CR. they will address a lot of your concerns. Once you get some used cars in your price range, the library may have some back issues that test these cars. You have a Prism ? I had an 02 and loved it for the reasons you have one. Nothing special but does everything dependinly If you find a car you like,don’t worry about the music hook ups. Just get a sound system at a car audio shop you can live with. Let the car come first.


Ford Fusion hybrid

Good fuel economy

Decent power

Decent backseat room for kids

Consumer Reports likes it

But it’s more than $10K

with the long cruise, I’d put comfort above MPGs any day.
A 2008 Ford Taurus is rated 28 on the highway, and will probably be more comfortable than an econocan, and should be in your 10k budget