I'm moving to Boston this fall and would like to get the smallest car possible that can handle the winter weather. I'll live in Cambridge and work 30 minutes outside the city, and will commute daily. Gas efficiency, compact size, and safety are my top concerns. Would something like a Smart car or small Fiat be adequate with snow tires? What would you recommend? Any help is much appreciated!
Tires are more important than the car. Put four real winter tires on a car and you will be OK. My Dodge van got me around fine during my MIT years.
Smart and Fiats have the worst reliability ratings. Get a gently used Toyota, Honda, Nissan, etc. and put on winter tires. Used car condition is more important than make or model.
My general recommendation would be something like a Corolla or Civic. Regardless of what you think city driving in Boston will be like, to go anywhere else you will have to drive highways at higher speeds and you will appreciate something bigger then a Smart car that actually gets better mileage doing it. Corollas are the king of student cars for reliability and cost to operate IMHO.
the roads around boston are scary and the traffic moves fast and selfishly. they don t slow down much in bad weather. I don t think you would be safe in your first two choices of smart car and fiat. you will need to speed up your normal driving unless you already drive in crazy traffic
I’d forget the Smart Car and Fiat angle to this. There are much better options out there.
My vote would be for the Corolla mentioned by dagosa. No contest…
Parking in Cambridge will be a PITA. I lived and parked there for several years. You have been warned. If there’s any way to reach your work via public transport, I would recommend doing so.
I’d also look at the new Honda Fit.
I would buy whatever you want for personal use and check out the “T” scheduled for commuting. You haven’t visited hell until you’ve tried to find a parking place in Boston in the winter. And if you DO find a shoveled out spot, you had best not try to remove the lawn chair. That’s a sign that “this is MY space”, and removing it can be more dangerous than challenging a Hell’s Angel.
There is no way I’d commute into Boston if there was any other choice. And the “T” (short for Massachusetts Transit Authority) does run trains to the communities on the Boston outskirts.
As others say, proper tires and a reliable car should be your priorities. . Out of the really small cars have problems. The Smart rides badly and has slow, jerky shifts. The gas mileage isn’t even that great. The 500 is cute, but modestly equipped, slow, and overpriced. The Scion I is a triumph of clever engineering, but the interior feels like it share. The seats are tiny and toy like and there is no real backseat you can use. And, like the others, it’s slow. The Mini is well put together and drives well, but the interior is just too cute by half and the price is crazy high. It also is only suitable for shorter people. I’m six feet even and this is one of the only cars I can’t get comfortable in. The Chevy Spark fits real people fairly well, but only of they’re thin and don’t mind bumping elbows. Biggest question mark is reliability, which I expect to be bad. All recent Daewoo/Cheviot have been poorly made. The Ford Fiesta drives well if slowly, but isn’t very reliable and us surprisingly cramped. The styling is nice. The Nissan Versa is fairly roomy, but otherwise thoroughly nasty, designed and made for the developing nations, not the USA. The Toyota Yards looks nice, has acceptable room for the class, but is slow, loud, and handles badly. And it’s not even all that cheap. Toyota can do better than this. Just tear apart a Fit to see what they did right.
So what is good. The Mazda2 may be the cheapest, smallest car I’d consider. It’s related to the Fiesta, so drives well and has slightly better performance than the Fiesta even with a smaller, less powerful engine. The inside is very plain and plastic, but the ergonomics are good and it feels roomy. The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio feel like they’re from a different category, despite similar prices. They are roomy, have nice interiors, and have modern drivetrains. Nothing much to complain about. The Honda Fit is the class of the small car field. No, it’s not as cheap as some, but it is incredibly roomy and versatile, drives well, and is efficient. My only complaint has been the ugly dash with its poor ergonomics, but the recently unveiled 2015 Fit has a much nicer interior, so now maybe I have nothing to complain about.
All of these are basic fwd cars. If you want awd, the Subaru Impreza may be your best bet, but you’ll pay more to buy it and at the pump.
In addition to the reality that the so-called Smart car rides poorly, shifts with a pronounced jolt, and gets gas mileage that isn’t very impressive for something that small, it also requires the use of premium gas.
IMHO, except for the ability to park it anywhere, the “Smart” car isn’t such a smart choice.
You haven't visited hell until you've tried to find a parking place in Boston in the winter.
There are over 5,000 few parking spots in Boston/Cambridge then there are cars. During a good winter…the streets are impossible to pass or park on. Take the T when ever possible.
Get the car you want. Boston doesn’t get a lot of snow (about 30" year)…so most of the time streets are clear. You just have to get use to the extremely rude drivers…far worse then any other place I’ve driven in around this country.
“You just have to get use to the extremely rude drivers…far worse then any other place I’ve driven in around this country.”
I have lived in the NY metro area for my entire life, and have driven in NY & NJ for almost 50 years.
Even with the extreme congestion in this area, and even with the legendary lack of skill of NYC drivers, I have to say that it is rare to encounter somebody in this area who is as rude and aggressive as so many drivers in the metro Boston area seem to be.
That’s why I would like to amend my suggestion on a Corolla…make that an older Corolla. Boston is a “funny” place. A great place to live but a tough place to be in, especially with a car…if you can figure that out. It’s an old city with a valiant attempt to keep it’s history while trying to accommodate cars. It’s like an Americanized version of cities in Europe where streets fit for cars and getting from point A to point. B are an afterthought. I also feel, this situation breeds poor driving habits. I mentioned this before but when on ramps and off ramps converge and cross at 55 mph and you have to get to a ramp two lanes over in 200 yards through traffic, you would expect only an aggressive, inconsiderate driver can do it. Unlike most modern cities, ther is some organization to the traffic patterns where you can make some kind of a plan to get from point A to point B. In Boston, make sure you have two or three alternates depending on the time of day. The only dependable ways it seems are walking…and running while looking both ways and the T. Parking in Boston is not a problem if you have a defined place to go with a parking garage like a hospital or Fenway, very late at night when things close up, lots of money or only as far in as the train stations.
I recommend a Prius or a little Fiat. As long as you put good winter tires on whatever you buy, you should be fine.
NYC roads are designed so much better. It’s a grid pattern.
Many of Boston’s roads are old cow paths that wind around. Then they build other roads that connect to the old roads. I rarely drive in Boston. I’ve taken my kids to many Celtics and Red Sox games in Boston…we just take the T or the commuter Rail. At least Boston is a very walkable city…and the T is decent.
I think that many people commenting here didn’t catch that you’ll be “reverse commuting” from Cambridge to your job outside the city. Possibly traffic will be better in that direction, although I have no personal experience on that.
For what it’s worth, small cars generally do pretty well in the snow (until you run into ground clearance issues), as they often have narrow tires. As others have said, using the right tire is key.
I agree with the comments to step up to the next car size. If you’re driving 30 miles, then a “city car” isn’t ideal for you.
I think that many people commenting here didn't catch that you'll be "reverse commuting" from Cambridge to your job outside the city.
I didn’t catch it. It depends on where the commute is. If it’s South of Cambridge or West of Boston…the commute is still going to hell. And even if it’s north…the traffic won’t be good. Still have to deal with rude obnoxious drivers traveling 75mph+.
I missed it too. That does address the parking concern.
Thank you all! Very helpful!
they do , do a good job clearing the snow quickly off the main roads and exits in eastern MA, there are a lot of independent guys with plows on their trucks that have their own areas to clear and they do it early and often