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Wanted: a "Ralph Nader" car -- safe, sensible, reliable, efficient, green

The Right Car for Me | TrueDelta

kitsnicket

Reject anything with poor or mediocre safety rating or mpg < 25.
Must seat at least 5, 7 preferred. Convertible cargo space preferred; we move furniture, bikes, and landscaping materials (dirt).
Looking for excellent reliability, prefer excellent mileage.
Current car is 2006 highlander hybrid w possibly bad inverter. Just beginning research with rather poor focus. One alternative is to pay to repair the highlander. Other car is a well-beloved 1999 corolla. Would like a car that will last 20 years/250K miles.
Considered:
car/new price range/used price range/ seating/cargo/mpg/style/negatives/positives

compare highlander: 45K 16K-25K dep year 7 13-83 cf 20-25 suv expensive inverter problem listed as very very reliable
subaru forester 22K - 28K 15K - 20K 5 34 cf 24 - 32 suv/wagon history of head gasket problems, fixed in later years all wheel drive, good safety numbers, manual available
subaru crosstrek hybrid 22k + 21K - 24K 5 22-51 cf 25-33 suv none none
subaru outback 22K - 30K ? 5 35-73 cf 25-33 wagon slightly worse safety numbers than other subarus awd, manual
honda fit 15K - 19K 7K - 15K 5 16-53 32-36 hatch poor crash test up to 2015 manual available
honda fit EV 36K ? 5 16-52 105-132 hatch medium crash test 2014 none
honda civic hybrid 25K 18K 5 11 cf 44-47 sedan "shocking" battery failure rate none
honda ridgeline 30K-37K 20K-30K 5 1500 lbs 15-21 truck reliability good
mitsubishi outlander sport 20K ? 5 21-50 cf 25-32 small suv borderline on safety (lot of "acceptables") manual available, well-liked by owners, 2012 praised
mitsubishi outlander 23-27 15K - 20K 7 34-63 25-32 suv safer than "sport" none
mitsubishi mirage 13K ? 5 ? 37-44 hatch horrible safety none
nissan leaf 29K - 35K 20K - 30K 5 24-30 cf n/a sedan or hatch variable safety results, poor visibility 30 kwh/100 miles * 0.18/kwh = $5.40/100 miles
nissan pathfinder hybrid 35-40K 34K 7 16-80 25-27 suv ? doesn't meet advertised mileage direct competitor to highlander
nissan versa "note" 14K - 16K 8K - 11K 5 ? - 38 cf 25-40 hatch safety is poor none
nissan cube 16K - 19K 10k 5 ? - 58 25-30 toaster pretty good safety, highly rated
honda crv 23K - 29K ? 5 37-70 22-30 suv mixed safety none
nissan juke 18K - 25K 15K - 20K 5 10-36 cf 25-30 small suv mixed safety popular with owners
kia soul 15K-20K 10K - 14K 5 24-61 cf 23-30 toaster reviewers don't like automatic transmission behavior excellent safety, available manual
volkswagon jetta wagon 20-26K 15K - 18K 5 33-67 cf 23-42 wagon poor reliability overall none
honda element n/a 14K - 25K 4 25-74 19-25 toaster only 4 seats/seatbelts we love this car

Preferred Bodystyle(s): Pickup / SUV / Minivan / Wagon / Hatch

Car Needs: Errands about town / Family transporter

Need minimum of 5 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 50000
Maximum age: 10 years

Maximum price: US $ 15000

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Response from avshelden

3:31 pm October 7, 2014

honda element n/a 14K - 25K 4 25-74 19-25 toaster only 4 seats/seatbelts we love this car

Best comment in this forum to date...style=toaster (still laughing to myself)

Having said that, there are a lot of vehicles you listed that I wouldn't think of as seating 5, and least not very comfortably, e.g. Honda fit.

I'm curious where your reliability ratings are coming from. For example, here on TrueDelta, over half of the model years for the Jetta Sportwagon show the green happy face (here).

I also noted your comment to have a car that will last 20 years, and that you are in Connecticut. Granted I live a bit further north, but I would suspect you'll want to target something with rock solid body corrosion performance, or move south. I know when we bought our VW and Audi, both came with a much longer rust warranty than many other cars we looked at.

I can't find any reliability results here, and they are a bit old now, but with your comments on convertable space, I am tempted to suggest a Subaru Baja. Reading your overall post, it sounds like you should really go with the Element if you can live with the seating (I'm assuming if that was a deal breaker it would not have been on your list)

X

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Subaru Baja
Honda Element

Response from mkaresh

3:49 pm October 7, 2014

The "20 years" requirement makes any hybrid a little dicey. They longer you want to own a car, the more sense it makes to keep things simple.

The only non-hybrid seven-seater with good mpg is the new Nissan Rogue, but its CVT transmission might not be a good bet for 250k. So it's going to depend how much you want that extra row--which is very tight in the Rogue. And the Highlander, for that matter.

The head gasket issue affects Subarus as new as 2009 so far. Plus 2011 Foresters have leaking valve cover gaskets (a cheaper thing to fix). And in general Subarus can become somewhat expensive to maintain after 100k. Otherwise, aside from the the lack of a third row, the 2014+ Forester seems a good bet. Outstanding safety ratings.

Honda Fits have been extremely reliable.

Have to run, will try to complete my thoughts later...


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Response from mkaresh

6:58 pm October 7, 2014

Thanks, and I will look up the Rogue and Baja (never heard of it!) Yeah, 4 seats is a deal breaker. My mother has an Element; sometimes we make two kids share a seatbelt, but that's not good. If it had 5 seats, my car problems would be solved.

Reliability reports are from forums and truedelta. The "poor reliabilty overall" on jetta was just short-hand for several bad model years.

ps -- good recommendation -- Baja is right up our alley and there is a nice one nearby for a good price -- but alas, it only seats 4.

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Honda Element

Response from avshelden

7:15 pm October 7, 2014

The Baja is a variant of the Outback so given the other comments on Subaru reliability and the fact they will be about 10 years old, I'm not so sure they'll fit all of your criteria. http://www.cars.com/subaru/baja/I still like them as a very useful alternative to a pickup and not a traditional SUV

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Subaru Baja

Response from mkaresh

7:39 pm October 7, 2014

Recent VWs seem a decent bet for the first six years. Currently reliability ratings start to head south with the 2007s.

Even with Hondas and Toyotas, the larger, more complicated vehicles tend to be less reliable than the smaller, simpler ones. A Pilot doesn't have nearly as strong a record as a CR-V, and the Fit could be most reliable of all of them. Same with Highlander vs. RAV4 and Yaris.

Unfortunately, real-world safety and interior capacity go in the other direction.

You do have a wide range of sizes. How often will you use the additional space inside a Highlander or Pathfinder?

If you don't really need a largish vehicle, a second-gen Scion xB might be a contender. Not much love for these, so used values could be reasonable. The four-speed automatic is a weakness in terms of performance and fuel economy, but if you get the manual that goes away--and the price could be especially good. Camry mechanicals, and more interior space than you might expect. Cargo volume with the seat folded is nearly a match for the CR-V. IIHS Top Safety Pick. The 2008s in our sample have required very few repairs in the past year.

Specs comparison with the Element

Update: I've checked prices on autotrader.com, and these lose value very slowwwlllly. Dealers can't negotiate, but they can reduce the fixed asking price, and some dealers are asking under $16k for new ones. Looking at used ones, 2012s don't seem to go much lower than $14k, and the asking prices on low-mileage 2008s run around $12k. $4k for six years of depreciation is crazy low. This said, there must be someone who needs to sell a manual xB out there who hasn't been able to find a buyer, and is more flexible.

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Scion xB

Response from mkaresh

10:06 pm October 7, 2014

Response from mkaresh

10:15 am October 8, 2014

It's not a Toyota, it's a Scion :)

You didn't mention that there was a war on, and there's the beloved Corolla. Ticked off by the inverter issue?

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Response from SVO

6:15 pm October 17, 2014

The Element and Xb are where I was going. Neither is cheap used. If you are serious about 250k miles then a first gen Xb with a manual is it. Engine has no timing belt to replace. Oh, and Subarus are not green- terrible fuel mileage relative to size and weight.

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Response from svtcarboy

2:53 am October 19, 2014

When it comes to the long term reliability and durability of a vehicle, the most important factor is going to be the care and maintenance you put into it. Nearly every car is very reliable and durable in this day and age (if you look at the records, even those considered relatively unreliable have what would have been amazing reliability in the past).

That said, have you looked at the Mazda5? It is another rather "toaster" type vehicle that has a third row of seats, good fuel economy, and a generally good overall experience.

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Mazda Mazda5
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