Dominic has a 2008 Kia Rondo that has treated him well. But now it’s time for something a bit more recent, a car with some modern safety tech so that he can feel more comfortable with his teenage daughter at the wheel. It also needs to be comfortable for taller people but manageable for a new driver. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario -
I have an old ’08 Kia Rondo that helped raise 2 kids, but now it is time for a newer, safer and more reliable car. I need a car that I can drive to work, but can also be driven by my 16-year-old daughter. I’m 6'-0" tall and my daughter is only 5'-2" so a huge truck or a tiny city car is not going to work.
Since a new driver will be behind the wheel, I need the car to be safe and reliable. I would love a hatchback or smaller sedan that my daughter can drive, but not so small that I can’t comfortably fit in it. I would love our new car to be fun to drive, can eat highway miles and be good for new drivers.
I also do some long-distance driving to job sites and will commonly move equipment around, but nothing major.
I am looking to spend up to $25,000.
Budget: up to $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Wants: Compact but roomy, safe and reliable
Doesn’t Want: Something too big or too small
The Kia Rondo is not a car that most remember, but it was a neat vehicle from a brand that wasn’t so well respected back in 2008. The Rondo was a solid wagon with a taller profile that gave it almost a crossover look. Kia has come a long way since the second Bush administration, and the brand offers some seriously competitive vehicles.
The Kia Niro is sort of the spiritual successor to the Rondo, as it doesn’t fit easily into one category. It’s bigger than a hatchback and technically a wagon, but visually doesn’t seem like one. It sits higher off the ground but doesn’t offer AWD like most crossovers. Its standard configuration is a hybrid, but plug-in and full EV versions are available.
We found it to be both fairly comfortable and fun to drive, and the added space means it can probably haul whatever gear you need. According to this Reddit thread, taller drivers found it to be plenty roomy, and its compact dimensions mean novice drivers can handle it easily. Since it’s a newer car, you can easily get ones with all the latest safety tech, and finding quality examples for sub $25,000 is easy. In fact, you can find some great, low-mile examples for under $20,000.
Well Dominic, as much as I hate having to do this again, you’re forcing me to recommend a lightly used GTI. There’s plenty of room in ours for two car seats, the big dog, the small wife who usually drives and the large dad who is me. It’s massively fun to drive, safe and efficient. This one has plaid seats, the good transmission and you have a little room left in your budget.
Wow, you’re looking for a new, safe, reliable car. This sounds like you’re on the hunt for something sensible, which tends to be a pretty tough ask around these parts. I myself typed “new, safe, reliable” into the Car-Recommend-O-Matic built into my cerebellum, and my body responded by staring out into nothingness for 30 minutes, with a dribble of drool forming a small pool on my collar.
Clearly, I’m not built to provide this kind of guidance, which is why—when I came to after my mini-coma— I began writing about the Jeep-A-Trench.
The Jeep-A-Trench was a hydraulically deployable trench digger powered by the power-takeoff (or PTO for those of you who have been initiated) affixed to the rear bumper of a Willys CJ — either a CJ-2A, CJ-3A, CJ-3B or CJ-5. The power takeoff is essentially a gearbox (with its own shifter) bolted to the Jeep’s transfer case, along with a driveshaft that sends power from that gearbox to another reduction on the rear bumper. There’s usually an engine governor on the carburetor to allow for speed adjustment of whatever equipment the PTO is powering.
Here’s a peek at how it all works:
What does this have to do with your need for a new vehicle? Well, there is an amazing CJ-5 Jeep-A-Trench for sale not too far from you.
It costs $3,500, which is way below your budget. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a title, and that’s problematic if you want to drive this thing on the road. But why would you want to do that? Just keep this in your yard, and let your daughter tinker with it and dig some incredible trenches — you can’t tell me she wouldn’t have a ball.
In the end, you’d have a happy, more mechanically skilled daughter and also some exquisite trenches. And really, what more could you want?
To help your daughter get to the hardware store so she can repair this old Willys, maybe grab something like a Golf TDI wagon. Diesels are good. Wagons are good. Diesel wagons are better than good.
My first thought, like Rory’s, was to recommend a used Volkswagen Golf GTI, but that is also a little obvious, a little cliched at this point in car history, so I will instead suggest the newer, cooler kid on the block: the Hyundai Veloster N. It is slightly over your budget with a starting price of $27,600, and you might have a hard time finding even a new one in eastern Pennsylvania, but it’s a bit of an office favorite around here. I’m guessing it’s a great car for learning how to drive a manual shift, too.