Avnika is an infectious disease epidemiologist that commuting once again. She needs something comfortable with good fuel economy that also won’t make her motion sick. With a budget of up to $25,000, what car should she buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I’m an infectious disease epidemiologist finally beginning to commute again after two years of WFH. Turns out I’m not a fan of commuting, so I’m looking for a car where I won’t dread my morning commute.
We had two cars pre-pandemic, but gave mine (a mid-2010s Corolla) up when we realized we wouldn’t need both cars anytime soon. For whatever reason I’m finding myself more prone to motion sickness - even while I’m the driver - in the car we kept (a zippy i3). Soo that’s been a fun twist to deal with as we test-drive cars.
We also want to use this car for longer road trips, so getting good gas mileage is important to us. Our current car is great for city driving on a single charge but for longer trips, once we activate its range extender, we have to stop every hour for gas.
We’re not planning on kids, so no need to think about more than two seats. I’m prone to migraines triggered by persistent low-frequency noises and bright light. Motion sickness as described above, induced/worsened by feeling the bumps in the road and harsh stops/starts in traffic.
I’d like it to be on the smaller side with a tight turning radius, have minimal road and engine noise while driving, and be comfortable enough to avoid getting bounced around as you navigate the many potholes in our area.
Given all my driving-related quirks, figuring out a good car for me to drive has been... difficult. Please help!
Budget: up to $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Atlanta, GA
Wants: Comfort, good MPG, quiet
Avnika, this is certainly a challenging combination of traits to find at this price point. Given issues with motion sickness and the feeling of being “bounced around,” something a tad higher off the ground than your old Corolla with more suspension travel should alleviate that feeling a bit. Of course, you also don’t want some giant SUV as those are going to be thirsty and not maneuverable.
Once again I am going to recommend the Kia Niro as it seems to have the perfect combination of space, comfort, and fuel efficiency. It’s a weird mix of hatchback/crossover/wagon and sits a bit higher than similar cars. The standard hybrid powertrain will get up to 50 MPG without the need to charge it. The major downside is that these aren’t exactly cheap, and a base LX model has a starting price of just over $25,000. You can find used ones closer to $20,000 but those are going to have some higher mileage. If you can push your budget, new is probably the way to go.
Before I get into this, let me just say that I was about to suggest something fun to drive. It was the last gen Honda Civic Si. But given your issue with motion sickness, that suspension setup on potholed roads wouldn’t have done you any good. So you need something that’s comfortable and gets good gas mileage.
Enter the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The previous generation specifically. Speaking as the owner of a non-hybrid trim of this generation I can tell you that its very comfortable. It’ll eat up highway miles with smooth ease. And with this being the hybrid model, you can literally almost hear nothing. Gas mileage is excellent too. EPA estimates put it at 46 mpg on the highway, but some people have gotten close to 50. And this generation is within your budget. The downside to the Sonata Hybrid? Its no canyon carver. And its not quick by any means. But it’ll get you where you need to comfortably.
Avnika, sorry about your motion sickness. Tom is right that certain traits may reduce the harshness of the ride, and the onset of your symptoms. I would have recommended something with a longer wheelbase that might have a plush drive like a land-yacht. But since you want something on the smaller side with good fuel economy, I’ll recommend this 2015 Lexus CT 200h.
It comes in under budget at $19,894, and has OK mileage at 85,747. That’s a far cry from new, but the CT is a good car that probably won’t give you any headache or migraines as far as breakdowns. It’s also not a fast car, sharing more with the Toyota Prius than its sporty looks would imply. One of the big criticisms of the CT 200h was it failed as a sporty hatchback and as a fuel-sipping hybrid, but I think the CT200h could give you the quiet, comfy ride you’re looking for. The fuel economy isn’t all bad at 42 miles per gallon.
If you don’t like the color of the one I recommended, you can find these all day under budget. The CT 200h never quite caught on in the U.S., but that could be an advantage for the right buyer. You could scoop up a CT cheap and unworn.
Avinka, you’ve fund yourself in an interesting niche of car offerings. You need something smoother than an economy car, but not waterbed-wallowy like a luxobarge. Something compact enough for tight turns and city traffic, but big enough to not be bouncy over rough roads. What you need is an entry-level (but not cheap) luxury car, built to the exacting specifications that come with a certain L-shaped badge — a Lexus IS, to be specific.
The IS is Lexus’s smallest four-door, so it toes the line between compact sportiness and smooth cruising. It’s not as taut as an RC or as lumbering as an LS, so it should fit neatly into the middle ground you want. Being a Toyota product, it’ll have not only the reliability you’re used to, but quite possibly the infotainment — they never really seem to update that. This IS 250 in Conyers, GA has the smallest engine the IS offered, for fuel economy, and it crucially lacks the F-Sport suspension that would make the car a nightmare for your motion sickness. Sure, there’s an accident on its history, but that means you can get a lower-mileage example without stretching your budget.
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