Small Cars and Highway Driving

I am currently looking at a couple smaller cars to replace my aging Subaru, but am somewhat hesitant if I’m going to be going 2 hours on the highway for a commute.

My question is to folks here that maybe have experience with Hyundai Accents and/or a Ford Focus size cars.

Specifically I am looking at a 2007 Hyundai Accent SE and 2008-2009 Ford Focus.

My other idea is to go with another Subaru Impreza or Legacy. I feel more than confidant with cars that size, but cost goes up and MPG goes down.

Just looking for general thoughts and advice.

Forgot to add on my concerns, but I guess the crux is that the smaller cars.

  1. Stability on the highway in regards to moving among larger trucks and so forth. Wind and inclement weather.
  2. Engine. Would I be better served targeting a larger engine? The Hyundai has a 1.6 at 110 HP or so and the Focus a 2.0 at 130 HP. What is your view on that much “getup” as it isn’t exactly a race car.

The Focus is very similar in size to the Impreza, so I don’t see any significant difference there. The Accent is a bit smaller than either of those cars.

I make 500 mile round trips on the PA Turnpike on a regular basis, and I see LOTS of Ford Focuses and Hyundai Accents, all of them cruising at 75 mph or more with no problems. Trucks and weather have no apparent effect on these cars, from what I can see.

My son and his wife have a Focus and they have no problems driving it on the highway. I think you’re worrying for nothing. I suggest you buy the car that best suits your needs.

I tend to agree with your assessment, but wanted to hear from other folks that might have experience driving these cars. Not as much worry as it is intrigue.

Thanks for the pointers!

I’ve done so many trips in my little xB (first gen) from SoCal to Vegas, Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Yosemites I can’t even count them. It has a 1.5L engine. Sometimes I pushed it up to 100 mph, sometimes I did the whole trip to San Francisco at 50 mph with trucks flying by(mpg curiosity).

Stability is a problem in any cars without sporting intention. Our last 92 Corolla with its flimsy suspension and no steering feel got blown around by heavy gust. I have no problem in my car, despite a taller profile. On the other hand, I’ve had some interesting experience driving a BUS in heavy wind. If you look beyond the North American big car society, you’d see European make do on the autobahn just fine with small cars with smaller engines.

No matter what we say, the best thing to do is rent a small car and see how you like it on the hwy.

Great point on the Euro driving…definitely puts things in perspective. Makes me think back to my time over there and the driving, which is spot on to what you said.

Maybe the big car society thing is on it’s way out. You gotta figure with the economic times and gas at $4 last year, it took a serious hit. Add on the hybrid models coming out and maybe, just maybe, efficiency will triumph.

If this is about saving money, your first consideration is NOT TO BUY AN AWD car. They consume more fuel than an equivalent 2 WD vehicle.

Last year my wife and I took a 2 1/2 week vacation in the East. We rented a 4 door Hyundai Accent and thoroughly enjoyed driving it. It does NOT wander at highway speed, and is not buffeted by trucks. The gas mileage was great, much better than my wife’s Nissan Sentra, and all accessories worked fine, especially the A/C. We spent all day driving this little machine and did not feel tired. The noise level is actually better than a Ford Focus.

Older Hyundai Accent models were not great, I agree. The newer models are also way above average in reliability, much better than Chevy Cobalt and Ford Focus.

Newer models Hyundai Accent should also cost much less than any Subaru to maintain and repair.

You really owe it to yourself to rent one of these for a few days and see for yourself whether this is your kind of car.

I have taken many very long trips including cross country with two kids in a 1970 VW Beetle. I survived.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s some of the small cars were sensitive to wind. Of course some large cars were, including a friends large Buick I drove on a long trip. The three cars I have driven on long trips that I really disliked included a Ford Van, a large Lincoln and that Buick.

I would take any car made today over any of the cars from the 60’s or 70’s. (Well I guess I never had a Rolls or big Mercedes)

I would not worry about the cars you have listed. I do suggest you try to test drive anyone you are considering on the highway, ideally on a windy day.

Good Luck

Depending on what your comfort level is with their somewhat spotty reliability, the small VW’s are probably the nicest compact-type cars for highway driving.

Thanks for the point. Really was hoping to hear from someone that has driven a recent model Accent. Also awesome to hear that the engine noise is significantly improved compared to the Focus, as that is a major complaint I have heard about taking the Focus on the highway.

Good reminder on the AWD. I knew that going in but have also been weighing the fact I am a New Englander, and drive predominantly around Northern Mass and Northern NH. Also my past experience with my Impreza has been so satisfactory that I am somewhat of a Subaru loyalist, though for this cars commuting mission the parameters are a little looser.

Great to hear about your experience. Thanks for the tip!

Small cars are more aerodynamic than SUVs, so with turbulence created by large trucks and strong winds, I believe you are better off in a small car than an SUV. SUVs have a larger contact area on each side for wind to push you out of your lane. In addition, the smaller width of a small car gives you more wiggle room inside your lane.

Regarding engine size, I think power-to-weight ratio is more important than horsepower, torque, and engine size. The only way to judge “getup” is to test drive the cars in question.

Regarding overall safety, you will be fine in any car with a five star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Heck, even four stars would be enough for my comfort level. Equating vehicle size and weight with safety is a myth.

I drive a 1998 Civic, and although it doesn’t have side impact air bags, I feel pretty safe and stable.

The winter tires are so good now that many AWD owners are switching back to 2 WD. The cost of a set with extra wheels is much less than spending the extra money on gas, maintenance and later repairs on AWD vehicles.

Good idea for an alternative. Will definitely keep that in mind if I go the small 2WD route.

If the OP is concerned about safety, he should be aware that the Accent is not very good at protecting its occupants in the event of collision. For just a few dollars more, you can buy a Hyundai Elantra that is actually more reliable than the Accent, only gets one mpg less than the Accent, is more comfortable, and is better at occupant protection than the Accent.

In the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety’s 3 categories of occupant protection ( IIHS offset frontal impact test/ IIHS side impact test/ IIHS rear impact test ), here are the relevant scores for the Accent, the Elantra, and the Focus:

Accent: Acceptable/Poor/Poor
Elantra: Good/Marginal/Acceptable
Focus: Good/Acceptable/Good

And, regarding reliability, the newest generation of Focuses (Foci?) is just as reliable as the Accent, but neither the Focus nor the Accent is as reliable as the Elantra. For my money, the Elantra is an outstanding value.

Forget size as a determinant of wind stability on the highway. Go for test drives.

Aerodynamics, suspension design, wheel and tire selection, and even wheelbase and tracking width are far more critical than size alone. Some of the most stable vehicles are the smallest, and some of the least stable are the largest. And then there are extremely stable large vehicles, like the H1 or the S-class Mercedes.

Take what you like for a spin. Pass a few trucks and see what happens. Even better, take a test drive on a windy day.

Get a Pontiac Vibe or Toyota Matrix with the 1.8 liter engine, you won’t be disappointed.

You have been spoiled, even with the older Subarus. Cars with AWD tend top feel more stable at speed than smaller fwd compacts. The Impreza has the same drive train as the Legacy and will feel stable as well. We constantly debate about AWD… IMO they are superior in almost every way, summer and winter to front drive handling and stability given comparable size cars and tires. The difference in good traction conditions though is not great enough for many to justify the added cost. It’s ALWAYS a personal decision but you will be safer in winter but just marginally so in summer with awd in NE.

Personally, if I were spending time in a car, I’d opt for an older 4 cyl Camry or Accord which pushes 30+mpg highway easily…you will enjoy that 2 hr. commute and the difference in in gas usage over a Hyundai or Focus in 4 cyl is not that much (check mileage figures low 30’s Camry; mid 30’s Focus). An 05/06 Camry/Accord with low miles can be had for the same price as a new Hyundai or focus and I feel will give you as many years of service and are much more satisfying to commute in.
At least, I’d try one out BEFORE I decided to see what I’d be missing. Nothing mentioned so far IMHO combine economy, safety, comfort, stability and value as a Camry/Accord for commuting over time.
Even when gas prices are high, there’s a reason they still out sell many compacts.

Here’s an idea.

I commute 31 miles each way in my Scion tC. It’s exceptionally wind stable, exceptionally reliable (Camry engine), great ride, tracks great on the highway, good mileage, and downright fun…especially withe the sliding glass moonroof opened up! Oh, and it’s about $17K delivered.

I have 108,000 miles on mine and it’s operated flawlessly. As has my son’s…he liked mine so much he bought one.

I like that idea! Will give it a look see.

If the OP is interested in reliability, he would be very disappointed in the difference between a VW and a Subaru. VWs do drive very nicely, but they do need more maintenance than most other cars, are more trouble-prone than any of the Japanese makes (for that matter, they are more trouble-prone than some US brands), and then we have the reality of the REALLY bad service provided by VW dealers.