Ask Autosavant: Car-Buying Advice

By Chris Haak

We at Autosavant often get emails from readers (actually, more often, we get spam, and not from readers, but I digress). Some of the messages are kudos for a job well done, some are comments or critiques about something that the individual saw on our site, and some are questions. You can always contact us via email at letters@autosavant.com. Today, in the interest of public service, I’m copying and pasting one of those letters here (with its author’s permission), along with my public response. If you have suggestions that either the letter-writer or I haven’t considered, by all means, please share them in the comments section.

I’m in the market for a new car, and need expert advice! I’m driving my 2003 Hyundai Accent, but it’s got over 100,000 mi. on it now, and we want to replace it soon. My spouse wants something with all-wheel drive (so we don’t have to do the all 4 tires switch-out every season), and something bigger. I LIKE a small car, and want a car, NOT an SUV, NOT a station wagon, definitely NOT a van, maybe one size up from the Accent for compromise, with my only “want” being cruise control, which this Accent does not have. Any suggestions? I was thinking Hundai Elantra or maybe Sonata, or maybe Subaru Legacy or Impreza. I liked my Taurus and my Chevy Impala, too! I need help! I’m not sure what to even start looking at. Any suggestions would be welcome! – A.J. in PA

Dear A.J.,

The first time I read your letter, I thought that you were leaving the field wide open and that we’d have to first narrow your choices a bit. But if all wheel drive is important to you, and cost is as well, your choices are much more limited – and primarily to Subarus or Suzukis. If you want an small, inexpensive Subaru, your choice is the Impreza. The Impreza doesn’t dazzle in terms of interior quality (there’s a lot of hard plastic, for example), but it’s an honest little car that is very well-built and would serve you well for far more than 100,000 miles. One of my top-five favorite rental cars ever was a low-end Subaru Impreza that I received in Detroit, of all places. The Impreza starts at $18,190, but adds another $1,000 for a four-speed automatic.

Suzuki is also pushing all wheel drive down to the masses. The cheapest way to get it is in the tiny SX4, which starts at $17,709 ($18,684 with a CVT – which works kind of like an automatic, but is more annoying). Unfortunately, the SX4 is only available with AWD in its wagon/hatchback body style; there is a front wheel drive only SX4 sedan that starts around $14,000. The very good Kizashi midsize sedan is available with all wheel drive starting at $22,609 if your budget allows a little flexibility.

If you decide that all wheel drive is not a necessity, that opens plenty of doors for you. I would not recommend a new Impala, since it’s basically a ten year old car that’s still being built on top of old technology. The Taurus you mention is new for 2010, but is a big car on the outside with fairly limited interior space, given its footprint, and also gets expensive quickly. Sticking with smaller cars, I personally preferred the Elantra Touring to the regular Elantra (which is, of course, one size up from your Accent), since it’s a little nicer than the regular Elantra, though I haven’t driven the regular Elantra (and you said no wagons).

The Sonata is all-new for 2011 and just hitting dealers’ lots, which means you can probably find a good deal on a 2010 model. The 2011 is very boldly styled with many improvements, but it won’t just blend into the crowd like the older model will do. (Not sure which is your preference, and the new Sonata’s look, which I like, is somewhat polarizing). Other small cars that we’ve liked have included the Volkswagen Golf TDI, Mazda3, and Nissan Versa.

You may want to look through our reviews archive at http://www.autosavant.com/reviews for anything that might catch your eye. When car shopping, I use http://www.truedelta.com to look at reliability stats (their data set is limited but closely parallels to the results at larger organizations such as Consumer Reports; it’s also free to get the data if you agree to provide quarterly updates to the site on your own car’s repair history). Finally, http://www.carsdirect.com has an easy-to-use way to price out the options on a new car and sometimes get a guaranteed low price at participating dealers without any negotiation needed.

Among the cars discussed above, here are their review links:

2010 Hyundai Elantra Touring
2010 Mazda3 Grand Touring 5 Door
2008 Nissan Versa 1.8SL Sedan
2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5 GT
2010 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium
2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
2008 Suzuki SX4 Crossover Touring
2010 Suzuki Kizashi 6MT
2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

We’ve only talked about new cars so far. There are lots of good bargains to be found; one place to look is our used-cars page, at http://www.autosavant.com/usedcars; we update that page monthly. Good luck and happy car shopping! Remember, if you have additional comments or suggestions, feel free to add them below.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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