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So after years of grousing and bitching about my existing car, I am determined to make a change this year FOR SURE. And since the Kossack community is brimming over with expertise, experience, and even just amusing anecdotes, I would like to seek your collective advice in hopes of narrowing down the field of candidates, so I can get a durable and efficient (and hopefully fairly green) car. Join me below the orange hood ornament for the parameters...

The current vehicle is a 2004 Sentra, which is actually a perfectly serviceable, if rather granny-ish, conveyance that has given me almost no trouble since I bought it in 2006. My main reason for ditching it now is that it's a 4-door sedan, and I am sick unto death of hauling my bass viol (gamba, not stand-up bass) in and out of the damn thing. Said viol is about the size and tonnage of a cello, in a blocky metal case; sometimes I have to haul multiple instruments, not to mention the usual music stands and other clutter. So the new car needs to accommodate this form of schlepping first and foremost.

With that in mind, what I want to get is a 5-door hatchback. A van or station wagon or SUV would be way more car than I need, and a 5-door would make it possible to haul things out from the side door if parking is tight.

Apart from gamba-loading ease, the parameters are:
1) Has to handle well in snow (I live in MN)
2) At least 30 mpg (hybrid is desirable but not essential, electric is not an option for me)
3) Manual transmission is perfectly fine
4) Preferably used/certified pre-owned--any input on specific model years back to, say, 2010 would be welcome.  
5) Heated seats would be AWESOME (I used to think of them as highly frivolous...until this winter)
6) Good reliability/repair record
7) Not that hideous Kia thing with the disgusting hamster ads

I'm interested in identifying the best model(s) first and then seeing what I can find pricewise. I'll be working with a broker in the area, who is a goddess and will get me a good deal.

Mainly I've been looking at:
-Honda Fit
-Toyota Matrix
-Nissan Versa or Versa Note
-Prius C (or just regular Prius)

I thought about the Mazda 3, but have heard from more than one source that it's absolute crap for driving in snow.

So--would anyone care to weigh in on the relative merits/demerits of the recent generations of hatchback that are out there? Should I consider anything in the way of a Volvo, VW, Hyundai, or other less obvious model?  I'm feeling a bit apprehensive about Toyota right now as they seem to have more and more quality issues these days, though the Prius is awfully attractive for multiple reasons.

Any input is greatly appreciated. I'm not in a huge hurry, incidentally, was thinking of making the purchase in April or early May (there will probably still be snow to drive around in, the way things are going). Thanks to all in advance!

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (17+ / 0-)

    "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

    by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 10:51:39 AM PST

  •  Asdf (7+ / 0-)

    I have owned nothing but Honda or Toyota for 25 years.

    I never saw the inside of a garage other than for scheduled maintenance.

    And all sold over KBB when I got new cars.

    The best way to tell a Democrat from a Republican is to present someone requiring food and shelter. The Democrat will want them housed and fed, even if they be faking need. The Republican will gladly see them starve until all doubt is removed.

    by GayIthacan on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:00:08 AM PST

    •  Car insurance is lower on Toyota. Don't know (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slapshoe, JeffW, FarWestGirl

      about Honda. Don't even know the reason. However, my Toyota Corolla is a 2002. Reading about Toyotas lately makes me a little leery. They usta was bettah.

      •  So says a friend of mine (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        She leased a new Camry a couple of months ago, and she hates it--handles very poorly and just feels lightweight and chintzy compared to older models. Don't know if this is the case with any of their other cars, but it's another reason for leeriness.

        "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

        by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 01:03:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know anything about hatchbacks, but (5+ / 0-)

    I would not neglect looking at a VW.  I've owned several and all have been wonderful cars.  Well engineered, safe, reliable, efficient, and VW customer service is very good.

    "Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself." - Robert G. Ingersoll

    by Apost8 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:02:13 AM PST

  •  I rented a Versa (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, FarWestGirl

    it's comfortable, roomy, but underpowered.  My rental got over 30 mpg all the time I was driving it.

    "Kossacks are held to a higher standard. Like Hebrew National hot dogs." - blueaardvark

    by louisev on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:02:32 AM PST

  •  Subaru XV Crosstrek SUV?? (5+ / 0-)

    All WD, SUV-ish.

    just throwing it out there.

    The better I know people, the more I like my dog.

    by Thinking Fella on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:03:20 AM PST

    •  I love my 5 door Impreza. (6+ / 0-)

      I'd look into a Subaru, for sure.  AFAIK all the Subaru's have AWD, so get the all weather package that would included heated side mirrors and heated seats and then add on a remote start and you are set.

      I've got a 2012 and it's rated for approx 36 highway mpg, 28 city.  I averaged 33.5 over 4100 miles on a road trip around the Colorado Plateau, with 2 bikes and a carload of camping gear.  My worst is what I'm getting right now, is 20 but that is: lowest octane available, 100% city driving, winter fuel blend, my aggressive driving habits, and starting my car 10 minutes before I take my 10 minute commute.  Typically during the Summer I get 27-31 mpg (80% city driving) if I avoid aggressive driving and use a higher octane fuel.

      I LOVE my 5 door Impreza.  The Crosstrek mentioned here, AFAIK is the Impreza with higher ground clearance.  I'd also investigate the Outback, as I just don't know much about them.

      •  I'll check it out (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grover, ER Doc, BlackSheep1, FarWestGirl

        This one wasn't on my radar screen at all, and it sounds promising. Heated seats, mmmmm....

        "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

        by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:31:59 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Subaru was my first thought. (5+ / 0-)

          I'm a Toyota/Nissan girl generally, and well, Hondas rock. But if you need something that performs reliably in snow, I'd be thinking Subaru if you don't want an actual 4WD or AWD SUV.

          As for actual purchases, I've bought my last several vehicles through the Costco Auto Program.  An acquaintance who works in the industry says it's really one of the best (and most hassle-free) ways to buy a car at retail.  Unless you have an in to buying a car at actual verified wholesale  prices, you may want to check it out.  I've always been really happy with it.

          The reason that I mention it is that used cars right now are really expensive, and new cars often come with good incentives including cheap (including 0%) financing.  A family member was looking at a used Jeep that looked like a pretty good deal through an auto broker but it didn't seem like a great deal. Used cars usually have more expensive interest rates. He was going to pay like 4%, I think.

          So I suggested that he check out incentives, then see what the Costco price was. He was actually able to get the same model Jeep, three years newer, with 100 miles ( verses 55,000) full warranty, of course, and 1.5% financing.

          His purchase price was about $1000 more, but with the reduced financing, he almost broke even. But obviously, he is driving around in a brand new Jeep that won't need any repairs for quite a while -- and if it does, they're covered by warranty.

          © grover

          So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

          by grover on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 12:35:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'll check into that (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ER Doc, BlackSheep1, FarWestGirl

            I'm a Costco member but had forgotten about that option, thanks for reminding me of it!

            "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

            by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 01:05:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  while I'm thinking about this ... a diesel (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              slapshoe, grover, FarWestGirl

              Liberty might do what you're looking for, tho I don't know if there are any with heated seats; on the plus side you could get that added on (or DIY with a little help from the forums at AWD, 4 cylinders, standard shift available... 4 passenger doors and a hatch in the back plus a fold-flat rear seat. (I'm not talking the most recent ones but the Gen1 Liberty, here).

              LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

              by BlackSheep1 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:41:14 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Heated seats: I haz them. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                They're great on cold mornings.

                And on long drives, it feels like you've been sitting on a radiator for hours and hours.  There is only so much padding they can put between you and the heating unit.

                Depends how you use your car, of course. But it's something I always like to mention.

                We just bought a car and both said "absolutely not!" when heated seats were mentioned as an option.

                © grover

                So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

                by grover on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 06:41:20 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Even when the heat is off? (0+ / 0-)

                  I mean, it's true that I'm a stereotypical female who's cold all the time, but even so I don't need my buns toasted in all weathers. Perhaps I'll have to rethink that particular parameter...

                  "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

                  by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:19:23 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Oh, I wasn't clear. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    They're lumpier and harder than a regular spring and foam seat is.

                    Yes, once you turn off the unit, the temp is fine. It's the fact that its hard to make a comfortable seat that has heating coils in the middle of it.

                    You don't notice it just sitting in the car or the first 100 miles but after that, whew! My vehicle is the Nissan Pathfinder with all the bells and whistles. I'm sure heated upper end Mercedes seats are better. But at this price point or even the next one up (Acura, Infinity, etc )?  I think they just aren't built for longer trips.

                    For many of us who live in western and northern  states, a lot of trips are longer trips.


                    © grover

                    So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

                    by grover on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 07:31:35 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Frozen butt vs. lumpiness, hmm (0+ / 0-)

                      That could be problematic for road trips, yep. I've been in a few cars with heated seats and they were always higher-end trim levels--and I wasn't in them for all that long either. Maybe if the heater has enough oomph I can dispense with the toasted keister.  

                      "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

                      by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 08:24:34 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

          •  The Forester is a great small suv (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            if you want to take the plunge into suv territory.

            It competes well with Honda crv.

      •  I agree (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ER Doc, slapshoe, Victor Ward, FarWestGirl

        I currently have a Subaru forester, but previously owned an impreza outback. Great vehicle.

        All the suffering of this world arises from a wrong attitude.The world is neither good or bad. It is only the relation to our ego that makes it seem the one or the other - Lama Anagorika Govinda

        by kishik on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 01:56:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Can't beat All-Wheel-Drive (5+ / 0-)

      for driving on snow or ice.    That said, fuel economy won't be as good, and long-term maintenance cost will be higher.  

      My cousin in WI has a Honda Fit, brilliant car, but in the snow doesn't have the weight to get good traction even with Hakka snow tires (the best snow tires from Finland.)    The same would be true for the others except the Prius (battery weight.)  

      "Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army" Edward Everett 1852

      by Alan Arizona on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:24:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh how I miss my Subaru (4+ / 0-)

      It was a WRX STi, so 'nough said.

      But, the AWD was amazing, even in a low sportster like that.  I'm in Ohio and never had a problem.  It was better in snow than my Durango in 4wd.

  •  I'd go with a Prius, Jetta Diesel or Subaru (5+ / 0-)

    I like to get cars around 3- 5 years old, around 50,000 miles or so.  The worst of the depreciation has happened.

    The new Prius C does not get much love - 'C' is for cheap.

    The Prius from a few years ago is pretty nice.

    Toyota has been far more reliable than VW, in general.

    Subarus have done surprisingly well.  Worth looking at.

    Good luck!

    The Fail will continue until actual torches and pitchforks are set in motion. -

    by No one gets out alive on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:04:31 AM PST

    •  Actually, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slapshoe, FarWestGirl

      the "C" stands for "compact". It's almost identical to the standard Prius, but smaller.  The one person I know who has one has no complaints.

      I drive a Prius,and my brother the bass player has the "V", because it will fit an upright bass, amp,bar stool and music stand.
      Or, in his regular life, a table saw and tools.

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:39:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  At first Glance (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, BlackSheep1, FarWestGirl

    I would just like to offer: whatever you choose be sure to inquire the life expectancy of the timing chain. we bought into a kia with only 45000 miles and only to find it First needed to have a timing chain service every 45k miles and that isway too expensive annd unreasonable...  nnow they may have changed that in the nore current years, but just saying, ask

    with that model of a little car which I realize you are not looking at, it also had a glitche where it idled in the summer with ac on in such a manner it felt like there was a problem.  When we had the service dept check this they said. It is the way it woorks with the computer, all I can do is adjust it, BUT, the computer will return ro its MFG standard in a week or so and my adjustment to idle speed will be over ruled.

    So we traded it in for a ice and awesome van. We love it.

    in  hopes this helps you, our experience is shared so you don't need to experience it. Just see if things have changed with kia, they may have fixed the whole issue

  •  You might consider an all wheel drive... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, slapshoe, FarWestGirl

    ..such as the Subaru Impreza. Consumer reports recommends them.

    I'm looking at the 2014 Accord. I'll make a decision in a day or two.

    What is so unnerving about the candidacy of Sarah Palin is the degree to which she represents—and her supporters celebrate—the joyful marriage of confidence and ignorance. SAM HARRIS

    by Cpqemp on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:09:41 AM PST

  •  Subaru Outback (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, grover, FarWestGirl

    And this is coming from a diehard Toyota man.

  •  Fit (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, Skyye, viral, liberalcheesehead

    I love hatchbacks, always have. Have owned (used) VW wagon (really old!!) a Datsun HB, then a Toyota HB for a while then a lemon of a Mazda sedan, and finally bought my 1990 Honda Civic si 3-door new in 1990, am still driving it!

    When it came time for us to get a new car, my musician husband decided on the Fit. We like our 2009 model. We call it the swiss army knife of cars. Not sure it will accomodate your viola and I know nothing about snow but we like it still 4 years later. hmm almost 5 now I guess, damn.

    best of luck to ya.

    If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution. ~ Emma Goldman

    by Lady Libertine on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:19:58 AM PST

  •  If I could I'd buy a Honda FIT. Small reliable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    hatchback but I also live in the Boston area.

  •  If I could (5+ / 0-)

    I would rent the car model I wanted to buy, for a week. Then decide

  •  We are very satisfied with our Prius. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, JeffW, ER Doc, FarWestGirl

    Less than 1/2 the fuel and maintenance costs of our old Passat and, with the back seats down, we can fit 8 ft. lumber in it.

    I live under the bridge to the 21st Century.

    by Crashing Vor on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 11:43:26 AM PST

  •  Always take someone with you- (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, ER Doc, BlackSheep1, FarWestGirl

    someone with an objective opinion.  I always take my brother, because I have a tendency to get ripped off.

    This "Trickle Down" thing has turned out to be somebody pissing on my leg and tellin' me it's rainin'.

    by swtexas on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 12:17:14 PM PST

  •  Yes I'm going there (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In your position I would look  at a Buick Encore. 33mph on the highway and not a bad price. My sister is buying one to transport her dogs in their travel cages. She is short but doesn't have problems loading them into the encore.

    Born in Oklahoma Raised in Ohio Escaped to Meechigan!!!

    by MI Sooner on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 12:23:50 PM PST

  •  Why is electric not an option? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I am curious what your logic is here?  That really ought to be the first choice absent substantial reasons otherwise

    •  I live in an apartment building (4+ / 0-)

      ...not even off-street parking, so charging it doesn't seem readily manageable for me. Of course I don't object to electrics in principle.

      "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

      by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 01:08:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  charging is indeed a bottle neck (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slapshoe, grover

        Unless there's a public charging network that you can use during the day, then that's tough.  I live where public chargers are relatively plentiful, so I don't really need my home charger all that much.  That's too bad.

        (and my brother and ex wife both adore their Honda Fits)

        •  Yeah, I wish it were easier (0+ / 0-)

          There are a dozen or more stations around the metro, but not near me--mostly in the downtowns (Mpls/St Paul). And I work at home, so I'm not routinely out and around. However, our mayor is enthusiastic about electrics (the city's fleet includes several already) and I expect that the situation will improve steadily. Maybe it'll be a workable option for the next car I get after this one though.

          "There you go, givin' a f*ck when it ain't your turn to give a f*ck." -- Bunk Moreland

          by slapshoe on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 03:27:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well I will feel out of place (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, BlackSheep1, FarWestGirl

    But I have had very good luck with a Dodge Grand Caravan. We are a Chrysler family owning 4 of them at the present time 2 Sebring the van and a Dodge plow truck .  I live in North Western PA and have gotten around just fine in the winters with both the cars and the van            

    Dogs and Philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards (Diogenes)

    by Out There on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:02:40 PM PST

    •  good on ya, Out There; I drive a 1997 Ram 1500 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slapshoe, FarWestGirl

      2wd auto. Turned over 195,505 miles on the odo today.

      Love that vehicle. If I were to change anything, I'd opt for a better stereo and the Quad Cab back doors.

      (oh, and some of that snazzy Bright Electric Blue Pearl Coat Metallic  blue paint MoPar puts on some things. The Light Driftwood Metallic on mine's a little sun-faded, now.)

      LBJ, Van Cliburn, Ike, Wendy Davis, Lady Bird, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:47:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Been very happy with two last-gen Priuses (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, etbnc, FarWestGirl

    Had a new 2006; replaced it in 2010 at ~90,000 miles with a still-new leftover 2009, which now has 145,000 miles. Nothing other than routine maintenance. This has all been Minnesota driving, including, (for the last 3 years,) 107-mile commutes from north of Brainerd to Hibbing. Currently averaging 43 mpg in the winter. Handles the winter roads well, as long as the snow depth doesn't exceed the ground clearance (about 6".) It goes through larger drifts, but if the general snow depth is too much, it bottoms out. Surprisingly good off-road performance last year, when I slid off an icy road & went into the ditch. When I regained control, I was still moving well, so I just drove back up onto the road & kept going.

    -7.25, -6.26

    We are men of action; lies do not become us.

    by ER Doc on Wed Mar 05, 2014 at 02:20:11 PM PST

  •  Prius, Prius C, and snow (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, FarWestGirl

    Mine is a three Toyota, two Prius household. I mostly drive a Prius C, which is my favorite car, ever.

    We also have a 2010 regular size Prius.

    In this unusually icy and snowy North Carolina winter, the little Prius C has coped better than the regular size Prius. Both have very low ground clearance, however, and might be prone to dragging in deeper snow.

    Toyota reliability: That's the reason we have three of them.

    Tip: Spend $20 for Consumer Reports online
    . Look at the reliability ratings of the cars you're considering. They're based on owner surveys (which I've filled out several times over the years). I've ruled out a number of vehicles over the years because of the reliability ratings reported by CR's owner surveys.

    Given the snow requirement, the Prius C might not be your first choice. (Athough I drove a two-wheel / rear-wheel drive pickup in Wisconsin winters with few problems; snowplows make all the difference.) For folks in other climates, I would definitely recommend either Prius.


  •  Icy I-5 drive about 30 years ago (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slapshoe, FarWestGirl

    left one lasting impression: all cars were sliding side-to-side to some extent, except for the one in front of us:  the cheapest, ickiest model of Subaru (4WD) hatchback. That thing tracked like it was on dry pavement.

  •  Subarus & Toyotas are my first choice for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    reliability, mileage & handling.

     It sounds like you've gotten plenty of good feedback, let us know how it worked out for you.

    Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. ~The Druid.
    ~Ideals aren't goals, they're navigation aids.~

    by FarWestGirl on Thu Mar 06, 2014 at 11:10:19 AM PST

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