I Need To Move On From My Hand Me Down Chevy Cruze! What Should I Buy?

Eva has up to $35,000 to spend on something fun, reliable, and fuel efficient.

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Eva has been driving a hand-me-down 2013 Chevy Cruze. She loves the car even though it hasn’t been the most reliable. She is looking for something fun, reliable, and not older than 2015. What car should she buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I’m currently driving my mom’s 2013 Chevy Cruze. I learned to drive in that car and I’m very attached to it even though it is a lemon, in my opinion. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars doing CPR on this vehicle, put 200k miles on it, and I’ve been leaking oil all over New Jersey. I fear she is nearing the end of her life, and I think it’s about time I start looking for a replacement. Despite all the issues, the Cruze is very fun to drive. It handles very well and has great pick-up thanks to the turbocharger. The only time I had issues with driving is in the snow. In New Jersey, there are always a few major storms a year that make the roads inhospitable for my little FWD car.

I feel when I’ve been looking at replacements, I’ve gone in two directions. One direction is a cute sporty two door like a BRZ or a GR86. Something I’d enjoy driving and flex on my boss who drives to work in a ‘02 Corolla. I, however, am not a good driver. I cannot be expected to safely drive a car that is RWD and I definitely cannot drive manual. These cars are not practical, but the desire is there. The second direction is wanting a fuel efficient, reliable, AWD vehicle for daily commuting, occasionally in the snow. I really like the RAV4 Prime. It’s AWD, it’s got great mileage, I could even realistically get to work and back on a full charge of the battery and rarely need to fill up. I just hate the idea of having that big of a car, especially when it comes to parking. It’s also a bit lame, I’m not a soccer mom yet. More importantly it’s a bit out of my price range and it’s too soon to find one used.

I don’t really care for Kia, Hyundai, and Nissan so nothing from those brands.

I’m not sure the car I really want exists. A sporty, fuel efficient, reliable, AWD vehicle under $35K, newer than 2015 is a lot to ask. Is there a solution out there for me? Please advise!

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Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $35,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: New Jersey

Wants: Fun, Reliable, AWD

Doesn’t want: A big and boring car

Expert 1: Tom McParland — This Isn’t That Hard

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Eva, if there is anyone that can give you good advice on which car to buy next it’s another person from New Jersey. Before we get into that, you should definitely not buy a RAV4, not because those are bad cars… quite the opposite. But because you are someone who enjoys driving, I think you will find the Toyota a bit disappointing on that front, and perhaps it’s not time yet for the super-rational purchase.

Anyway, your desired combination of fun, fuel-efficient, AWD, and relatively recent for under $35,000 isn’t all that difficult. I think an Audi A3 fits the bill nicely. You may be hesitant to go from an unreliable Chevy to a German car, but the A3 gets generally good marks for reliability, and at this price point you can get something with a factory extended warranty.

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This is a certified 2019 Premium Plus model in a very nice blue. Of course, Audi is known for its all-wheel-drive system, and that is paired to a turbocharged four-cylinder that makes about 230 horsepower. The A3 is basically a fancy GTI with AWD and a trunk, which is a good thing. Fuel efficiency is pretty respectable, with Audi getting up to 35 MPG on the highway. The used market is rough right now, but luxury sedans are still a value.

Expert 2: Elizabeth Blackstock — Style On A Budget

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Eva, I’ve been very much in your boat for a while. I love driving, but I don’t always want something that’s going to be a challenge so much as it’s going to make my daily route way more enjoyable. So, I’m opting for a budget-friendly car that’s going to be as much fun as it is a practical machine: This 2016 Ford Fusion SE in Edgemont, PA.

For under $20,000, you’ll be able to tick plenty of your boxes. It’s AWD, it has just over 32,000 miles, it has decent fuel mileage (22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway), it has a turbo engine, and it also has a little style. It’s one of those subdued enthusiast cars, where the right people are going to say, “hell yeah,” but where you’re also not going to draw undue attention.

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It’s a slightly older vehicle from that era where infotainment systems were a thing but not necessarily a great thing, which is my only criticism. Would I still daily this bad boy with a smile? Absolutely.

Expert 3: Lalita Chemello — The Answer Is Always Miata

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Eva, I will admit, Tom makes a fair point with his Audi recommendation. It would be fun, practical, mostly reliable, and fun. But I have something that will fit the bill, complete with an explanation as to why you should accept a small compromise. I’m telling you, get a Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Now before anyone begins groaning, let me explain. You mentioned you had at one time looked at the lovely Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86, and honestly, those are still a great way to go. But a Miata, especially if you decide to pursue the hardtop, gives you what the BRZ or GR86 can also provide, with an automatic and a guaranteed fun time behind the wheel.

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I understand you believe you’re not capable of driving a RWD vehicle in the winter, but I have faith. My first car in my youth had RWD, and it toughed out the long, snow-filled Michigan winters. And I’m sure my current RWD vehicle would do the same (once I have it running…). Really, the only time RWD becomes a problem in the snow is if you’re doing something stupid. Plus, to further dispel any myth or raise your confidence, any car is great in the winter if you throw on some winter tires. So my advice, is have more confidence in your driving, and just don’t hoon the Miata (or work up to hooning)! You should be fine.

Since you didn’t give us a specific locale in New Jersey, I tried my best to scope some options out as locally as I could for you. This 2015 Miata is pretty clean, with just over 8,000 miles and even comes with heated seats, which I find are a staple in any place that experiences snow. I also love that two-toned mocha and black interior. If you’re willing to compromise a little on the year (I know, I’ve already asked you to compromise once already with the RWD), you could get this little 2013 hardtop, also with heated seats! It also has only 17k miles on the odometer, so it’s fairly close to new in this world. Both options leave a little room to purchase some winter tires!

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Expert 4: Steve DaSilva — The Answer Is Always Mazda, At Least

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Eva, as an FR-S owner, my first recommendation would be to follow that dream. You’ve already considered it, and they’re perfectly functional winter car with a set of snow tires (and, fun fact, you can fit a full set of snows inside if you fold the rear seats down). You said you aren’t a good enough driver for one, but even without knowing you, I can say that’s not true. Those cars teach driving skill, they don’t require it from the outset. Think of them as training wheels for performance driving — easy clutch, communicative steering, perfect for learning (and learning to drive stick). Here’s a perfect one in Bridgewater, with the much-desired performance pack, sneaking in just below your budget.

But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also address the other side of your search: Something AWD, practical, stylish, and modern. If you like the feeling of boost building in your Cruze, but want a little more power, handling, and a nicer interior, there’s a clear choice: The Mazda3. These have luxury appointments on par with German competitors, but their reliability and pricing are in Toyota territory. The higher trims, like this Mazda3 Turbo Hatchback in Nyack, NY, offer the AWD-and-turbo combo you’re looking for — under your budget, brand new.

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Or, there’s always the WRX.

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