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Reliable, fun, 4 door commuter, MT only

The Right Car for Me | TrueDelta

A member in California, United States

Looking to replace a 97 Civic that was rear-ended badly (rear seats pushed into front seats...glad it was just me in the car). It was a great, reliable car with 312k miles with normal maintenance (and lots of torn CV boots). Fun to drive, good handling (mild suspension work and upgraded wheels/tires), just a great, tossable car. I would like another fun, safe (see: previous car's rear seats), reliable car for the long loooong haul... 10+ years, 200k+ miles. I feel like a Honda Civic Si is basically the answer, but am open to suggestions. I will probably test a Honda Fit as well. I've tried to convince myself that a Ford Focus ST or VW GTI could do the job, but I have a feeling that the cost of maintenance for both cars would be significantly higher. Long-term (aka non-warrantied, 6+ yrs old) VWs and Fords feel risky to me, but unsure if that's true or just my feeling.

Reliability is definitely the largest driving factor here. Next is maintenance costs since I plan to keep it for so long: I'm sure most cars are "reliable," just some require significantly more maintenance or simply cost more on parts. Good fuel economy is a definite plus since it'll be a commuter car, so long as it can go 300+ miles on a tank. Cargo capacity is important too as I often need to transport bass guitar gear. It worked okay in the old Civic but a better way to store stuff would be nice, especially considering how much the passenger area got crushed in the accident (good thing I didn't have any of that stuff at the time!). Good handling trumps raw power here, but maybe that's because that's all I know. I can be convinced otherwise. If there was a "fun to drive" option, it'd probably be here.

So lemme hear it! What options did I miss? Used is definitely an option, though some of the more desirable options (Mazdaspeed3) are harder to find and/or may not pass the Reliability or Maintenance test (would a Subaru be reliable for more than 6 years? do I want to change spark plugs on a boxer?)... Thanks everyone!

Preferred Bodystyle(s): Coupe / Sedan / Hatch

Car Needs: Family transporter

Need minimum of 4 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 80000
Maximum age: 6 years

Maximum price: US $ 25000

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Response from mwcten

10:24 pm June 17, 2015

A Mazda 3 might be an option; especially since you're in CA where their propensity to rust isn't as big an issue.

I'm with you on the VW/Focus concerns.

If you're serious about the safety issue, your previous rear ending notwithstanding, you really want electronic stability control; which I believe is standard on '13 and newer cars.

The Civic Si could be nice, but I've always found their short gearing annoying (buzzy on the highway); not sure what the gear ratios on the new models are like. I think you'll like a Fit, though - it's a way better handling car than a '90's civic with great interior space.

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Mazda Mazda3
Honda Fit

Response from mkaresh

8:08 am June 19, 2015

Given your criteria, I'd buy either a Mazda 3 s (with the 2.5-liter engine, only offered with a manual from 2015 on), a Civic Si, or--as an outside possibility--a used Acura ILX, if you want a somewhat more upscale car.

The Mazda and Honda have a much different feel, partly because the latter has much lighter steering. Have you driven both? You might have a strong personal preference.

The Ford or VW should be okay for six years or so, but beyond that is iffy.

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Mazda Mazda3
Honda Civic
Acura ILX

Response from mkaresh

2:11 am June 21, 2015

Good suggestions. I forgot to menation the Mazda3. Are Mazdas good for the long run? I have yet to test drive anything. The 2.5L is tempting but I feel like the Mazda3i Touring really hits the sweet spot for content vs cost. It'd be nice if we could get the larger engine without all the extra equipment (and cost). I have yet to test drive stuff but will keep an eye out for the steering feel between the two. Not sure an ILX would be worth it, the extra lux/features don't appeal to me much. Plus i don't know if the ILX has an LSD so it seems a bummer to trade sportiness for lux iMO.

For the safety concerns it was more a nod to something that is "strong" enough to better handle a similar accident. So something with good crash scores, but I think lighter cars are always going to have an inherent disadvantage. I assume smaller cars like the Fit are engineered to protect its occupants but it makes me nervous sometimes when I think ab it. That said, I'm not too concerned with stability control. FF cars are typically fairly stable and like you said most/all newer cars will have it by default.

if I open the "used car" can of worms, a Mazdaspeed3 would be fun but I'm not sure if I trust a used turbo car (guess I gotta decide if I trust a Mazda first). :) Plus I've seen way too many forum posts about "going back to stock." A 2.0L Si would be fun too but those cars are nearing 5yrs old (2011 was the last 2.0 si I think) so I don't know if the added maintenance is worth the better engine and the hassle of finding a clean example.

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Response from mkaresh

10:51 am June 21, 2015

No LSD in the ILX. Sounds like that one can be scratched.

Lighter cars do have an inherent disadvantage. Frontal crash tests inherently assume that the other car is the same weight. This said, the latest Mazda3 and Civic aren't all that light. They're as heavy as midsize cars were 20 years ago.

I also wish the 2.5 were offered in lower trim levels. I do think the current generation of the Mazda3 will be more reliable long term than the previous generations. Those could be prone to rust, but this won't be an issue where the roads aren't salted. I wouldn't count on long-term reliability with the MS3.

I'd like to also suggest a Ford Focus SE with the Sport Package, but it's far too soon to tell how these will fare in the long term.

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Response from Member2828

11:30 am July 8, 2015

I had a chance to sit in and drive a Civic Si and a Mazda3 i Grand Touring hatchback MT. Both drive very nicely, slight edge to the Si. The Mazda3 fails the "family interior check" though. I felt the Mazda3 felt cramped in both passenger and rear seating. I also did not see a lot of utility to the cargo space behind the 2nd row; the hatch slopes down sharply, so it's almost like a sedan-trunk-sized space anyway. The only benefit is the hatch opening is much larger than the trunk opening. Granted, I did not compare Mazda3 hb to sedan, but the "hatch is great" argument is losing ground to me. Sat in an older Mazda3, for comparison's sake, and it felt even smaller.

So Mz3 is out, down to Civic Si. For better or worse, I started kicking around the idea of finding a 2009-11 Si to get the 2.0L engine and save some money... any thoughts on this? More recent Si's, 2013-14 (don't want 2012, the dud year for Civics), are too close to the same price as new, so don't seem to warrant the risk of buying used. Help me out in this used vs new debate!

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Response from mkaresh

11:45 pm July 8, 2015

I like the idea of the high-winding 2.0-liter, and also prefer the styling of the earlier car. But the new one does have considerably more torque. It sounds like the next step is to drive one of the earlier cars and see how much you like it compared to the current one. As long as you don't buy a car that has been abused you can't really go wrong with either. With a used one I'd personally prefer a private party sale so you can get a sense of the owner and view the maintenance records.

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Response from mwcten

8:25 am July 9, 2015

I'm personally a fan of used as opposed to new, and also of paying cash for a car; not financing. You can get a '09-11 for half the cost of new. Sure, you're off warranty with used, but if you don't have the financial margin to replace a $4k engine or transmission (not likely anyway, but it could happen), you should probably be looking at more like a 10 year old car in order to cut costs. But if you have money in the bank, the used car will leave you with more money in the bank and probably provide you with the same driving happiness. Mustachecalc has a little section of their website for checking cost of ownership (it ignores interest, however).

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