Carlos is relocating from Switzerland to California. He will need to buy a car that can handle family duty. He is looking for something quiet and comfortable but doesn’t want to spend a lot on fuel costs. With a budget of up to $50,000 what car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario, from Carlos:
I’m moving to California from Switzerland to be close to my newborn daughter’s family and I’m not taking my current car. I need something capable of easily stuffing in a baby stroller, groceries and fitting a backward-facing baby seat (not the case with my current car), easy on gas (hybrid preferred), feasible to park in San Francisco streets. No gas guzzlers, my wife would veto them. I love cars with very quiet interiors. Nothing past warranty, I’d prefer to get a new car I’d keep for a while. I am looking to spend up to $50,000.
Budget: up to $50,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: San Francisco
Wants: Quiet, Comfortable, Fuel Efficient
Doesn’t want: A gas guzzler
Welcome to America Carlos! You are likely to be disappointed in our chocolate and healthcare, but when it comes to a selection of crossovers and SUVs there are plenty of great choices to pick from. This is a tough market so you will want to be flexible on your options and creative as to how you source it, but with a $50,000 budget, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
My gut reaction to your scenario was to suggest a Lexus RX 450h. It’s a midsize crossover that will offer plenty of space for the kiddo and gear in addition to checking all your boxes for comfort, reliability, and fuel economy.
But you noted that you would prefer a brand new car that you would keep for a long time. Luckily, Toyota will sell you what is essentially a Lexus RX hybrid without the luxury badge. You need a Toyota Venza. This mid-sizer sits in between the compact RAV4 and the three-row Highlander. It is hybrid only and Toyota claims up to 40 MPG for city driving. That is pretty excellent compared to the 450h’s 31 MPG.
The Venza is pretty much the same size as the fancier RX and offers a more up-to-date tech interface. While the RX hybrid has a starting price of $48,000 before options, making new ones difficult to find within your budget, a fully loaded Venza Limited tops out around $45,000. Here is one nearby with a “reasonable” markup given the current conditions, you may find a better price if you cast your net wider.
Welcome to America, Carlos. And San Francisco, where I hope you enjoy how cheap it is to live in Northern California. Tom, who is a very wise man, was so close to getting the correct answer, in that he almost recommended a Lexus but then didn’t. And he recommended a crossover on top of that!
Anyway, for $50,000 and good fuel economy, I would walk into your closest Lexus dealer and see what the situation is with new hybrid Lexus ES, specifically the ES 300h F Sport, because you deserve it. It starts at $45,450, which leaves you plenty of room for options, it gets 44 mpg combined, and, because it is a Lexus, it will last forever. Sure, it has that big dumb grille, but, on the other hand, it is a midsize executive car and you have almost an executive-sized budget. And, with a Lexus, you’ll fit right in in San Francisco.
You may also be tempted to buy a Tesla Model 3, because it is within your budget and there are a lot of charging stations in California, but wouldn’t you rather do the classy thing instead?
I hate to recommend a car I’ve recommended before, but I know how important a quiet cabin can be if you spend a lot of time in your car. And, allegedly, so does Acura, who claims that it combines active-noise cancellation (like in wireless headphones!) and active sound design to eliminate road noise. So, I’ll suggest a 2021 Acura TLX.
The TLX is almost too quiet, but that’d be good for when the baby is napping. Plus, the TLX is a full-size sedan with a generous back seat and trunk to fit both the stroller and baby seat easy. You said you want to keep the car a long time. A Honda or Toyota ought to suit. Or an Acura or Lexus, if you want to be fancy.
The TLX is available either as a four- or six-cylinder car. Stick with the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, and skip the AWD. That’s the thriftier model as fuel consumption goes (though not hybrid thrifty), getting up to 31 miles per gallon on the highway. A four-cylinder FWD TLX will also cost less than its sportier siblings and will slot right into budget, starting around $37,500. You could even splurge and get an A-Spec or Advance model.
I think the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is your answer. If people talk about the styling (which honestly isn’t bad), hit them with the numbers: 50/54/47. That’s the mileage rating of the Sonata Hybrid. It’s probably some of the best fuel economy numbers of sedans in its class. You won’t win many stoplight races with its 192 combined horsepower (150 HP 2-liter I4 combined with its electric motor and a battery pack), but its fuel-sipping efficiency makes up for it.
With it being a Hyundai you’ll get a ton of features for your money too. Things like a solar roof that not only charges the battery and add over two miles a day to its EV range, but it also allows the car to jump start itself if it were to go dead. It also offers a full suite of advanced driving safety systems like lane keeping and brake assist, all wrapped in a luxurious interior.
All this wont break your wallet either. Fully loaded, a Sonata Hybrid comes in just under $37,000. Though you’ll have to search for that kind of price as some dealers are charging a little more.
I’ll be honest, finding your next car took more searching than I expected. My first thought was the Volvo XC40 Recharge, but while those are approaching your budget on the used market, there simply aren’t many to be found in San Francisco. I then looked for the Honda Clarity, but that too is nowhere to be found near you. There is a very classy-looking BMW 530e with a certified-used warranty in your neck of the woods, but you want something to keep for a long time — that normally disqualifies the double kidneys.
So, the answer comes to this: The Lexus NX 350h. The NX is smaller than the Venza and even shorter in length than the ES, which could mean the difference between finding a tight street spot and making another lap around the block. Here’s one in Lexus’s fantastic Grecian Blue color, en route to a nearby Lexus dealer. Nothing outlasts a brand-new Toyota product, so don’t be surprised when you find yourself passing that NX down to your daughter in sixteen years.
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