Oliver and his wife teach on a reservation in New Mexico, the commute is 60 miles each way. He is a bigger guy and is finding their 2018 Impreza uncomfortable for the long ride. They have a budget of around $30,000 and really would prefer a new car. What should they buy?
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Here is the scenario:
My wife and I teach together 60 miles away from our home in New Mexico. Because the school is on a reservation, we can’t buy a house there, so moving closer isn’t an option. We bought a 2018 Impreza based on safety and gas mileage, but I’ve about had it with how tiny the thing is; I’m 6'5" tall, weigh 220 pounds, and have a blood condition that puts me at increased risk of DVT (blood clots). I’ve already experienced one triggered by driving in 2016 — not a fun time.
It needs to be comfortable, safe, and have good ground clearance/handling. (The roads are bumpy. We’ve destroyed the lower front fascia of the Impreza and sent many a hubcap hurtling off into the desert at speed.) AWD or 4WD is a nice-to-have for when the dirt roads turn into soup, but not necessary since we get 280 days of sunshine out here.
I’d like to spend less than $30K all in and get decent gas mileage. The Impreza has amazing gas mileage considering it’s AWD. We only spend about $220/month on gas when commuting. I know I’ll be giving up some of those savings, but don’t want to end up doubling my gas expense.
Due to the insane mileage, we rack up and the generally whupped condition of the used inventory out here, I’m only looking at new. Getting stuck down there due to a breakdown would result in an extravagant tow bill and many, many hours of waiting around in the hot desert sun or freezing desert night.
Budget:Uup to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Farmington, NM
Wants: Safe, Comfortable, good MPG
Doesn’t want: Something too small, or too old
Oliver, I spent fifteen years teaching in a public school, so I know firsthand how exhausting the job can be and that long commute doesn’t help. Having a comfortable ride can make all the difference in how you feel at the end of the day, it also helps to have access to some good music, but that part is easy.
While there are plenty of decent used cars in your budget, many of them have inflated prices and it just makes more sense to buy new even if that means spending a bit more than you had planned. You probably want to focus on the compact crossover segment that will get you a bit higher off the ground and provide more space compared to your Impreza. There are a ton of options in this zone, but finding one with great MPG for sub $30,000 is tricky.
I would suggest trying out the new Ford Escape Hybrid. Ford’s compact CUV gets a bit lost in the crowd with most folks preferring the imports, but the all new model is a big improvement over the outgoing car. You said you don’t need a lot of fancy stuff, so this SE trim will give you all the basics, plus the hybrid powertrain will get up to 44 MPG city and 37 MPG on the highway. This one is 2WD, but going to an AWD version will carry a premium. If you can score the right discounts, you can probably come close to your $30,000 all-in price.
Oliver, my recommendation for you is sort of what you already have, but bigger and taller. I’ll say up front though that I did break your “no used cars” rule, though I think it was justified in this case. There’s a 2020 Subaru Outback Premium just within your budget about 50 miles north of you in Colorado, sporting just 13,734 miles on the clock, a spotless record and — most importantly — a Subaru certified pre-owned label. With that, you’ll get 6-year/100,000-mile powertrain coverage, which should hopefully allay some of your reliability concerns.
As for the Outback itself, it’s all-wheel-drive of course, and gets slightly above-average gas mileage, at 26 MPG city and 33 MPG highway. That’s not stellar, but it’s better than many other crossovers that fit your criteria and budget, yet are also large enough to comply with your need for roominess.
As Tom notes, you have quite a few options in this space, as a $30,000 SUV is currently one of the most popular cars in America and automakers literally can’t make them fast enough. Many people that buy SUVs simply don’t need all that capability, but you have some very good reasons to.
Given your criteria, it doesn’t sound like you want anything too interesting, and by interesting I mean possibly unreliable, like a Jeep. Which is why I will recommend the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which starts at $28,800, and on which all-wheel-drive comes standard. The fuel mileage is a combined 40 mpg, according to the EPA, which is among the best you can get in this segment non-plug-in-electric-car edition.
Also, it is a Toyota, so you won’t have to worry about it for years. Also, it is a Toyota, so if anything gets scuffed up there’s no reason to get too upset. Also, it is a Toyota, so you would expect its resale value to hold.
As you know, the car market is a little bonkers right now, so if your local dealer doesn’t have much inventory, it’s wise to expand your search farther out, sometimes a lot farther out. Good luck!
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