Ryan is from Ohio and has a long commute. His 2006 Honda Accord is approaching 300,000 miles and reaching the end of its life. He wants something that can handle the miles but also make the drive a bit more enjoyable. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I work 120 miles round trip from home (half highway and half Indiana back roads), and my trusty 2006 Honda Accord (300k miles) has done a wonderful job, but is starting to feel sluggish and several maintenance items have begun to become more costly, and the gas mileage and performance do not bring me joy considering I have to be in it for 10+ hours a week.
While I have a baby and 2 big dogs, the wife has a new SUV to cart her and all the supplies around, I would like more of the sedan, wagon or hatchback, with the latter two allowing us to take trips if we wanted. I have a lifted Jeep (’06 LJ 6-speed Rubicon) for the snow to really bad winter weather, but with the 12 MPG it isn’t a reasonable solution to the drive. I just want to feel excited for the drive again and not like the current slog.
I want comfortable, reasonable gas mileage, some pep for the backroad passing, and modern amenities if possible. My budget is up to $20,000
Budget: Up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Wants: Comfortable, good MPG, fun
Doesn’t want: A gas-hog SUV
Ryan, that seems like a heck of a slog, but the good news is that there are plenty of cars that will get the job done. The tricky part is finding a vehicle that balances comfort, fuel, economy, reliability and fun. The other key factor you want to consider is reliability. With that kind of commute, you are going to blow through your warranty in no time. So you will need something with low running costs as the mileage piles up.
The clear answer to me is the Mazda 3. You already know the compact Mazda is a staff favorite. It may not have the same level of performance as a hot-hatchback, but it’s still fun enough to zoom around the back roads. Mazda claims the 3 will get up to 35 mpg on the highway. Here is a lightly used 2019 sedan with a package that comes equipped with leather seats, a slew of modern safety tech and other upgrades that will make the long drive a bit more livable.
That is quite the commute, Ryan! Let’s see if we can find you something that will fly on the highway — at legal speeds, of course — and be fun to drive on the backroads. You are coming from the reliability of a Honda, so I think you’ve put in your dues and are ready for something a little riskier. But not too risky.
You said you’re open to a hatchback. That’s all I need to recommend the one generation Volvo C30. This hatchback from the Swedes will be a comfortable car, a unique addition to your stable and more or less a reliable one. No, it won’t touch the Accord on that front, but neither can a lot of other cars. Reliability is important, but you also need a car that will make your commute something to look forward to. I don’t think you’ll feel stuck in the C30. In fact, it may feel like an escape pod every morning. If you put the C30 on a steep grade it almost looks like it could blast off into space. The design has aged very well.
It won’t actually be taking off since it only makes 227 horsepower, but it seems like a fun drive nonetheless. It’s a Volvo, so it’s very safe, has modern amenities and gets decent miles per gallon on the highway. The estimated EPA figures are 24 miles combined (21 city and 30 highway).
Your budget will buy a low-mileage and well-cared for C30 and then some. An R-Design would be great, but a Polestar C30 like this one at Carvana is almost a unicorn. It was listed on various outlets and looks like it may have gotten a bite, but you never know! In any case I hope the C30 has your attention.
I say this a lot, but you should really get a lightly used Golf GTI, like this one. I used to have a similarly brutal commute and I can’t think of too many sub-$20k cars I’d rather do that much driving in. It’s reasonably fuel-efficient, quick enough to pass, entertaining on back roads and you’ll have no problem with the dog, wife and baby if you have to load everyone up in a pinch. I would suggest springing for a set of Michelin PS4S summer tires and dedicated snows. The all-seasons our GTI came on were hard as a rock and really diminished the ride.
I’ve had your commute before. If you do that commute in a sucky car then it just makes your whole day miserable. So let’s get you something you can have some fun with between shifts. It also looks like you’d like this car to work for a weekend getaway. So how about a reasonably quick wagon?
The beautiful Buick Regal TourX is a car we felt to be deeply satisfying. It won’t make you the fastest guy in the office, but it has more than enough power to make multiple highway passes if you have to. The TourX is as quick as some cheap sportscars with its 6.3-second 0-to-60 dash. And best yet, the wagon body gives you ample room for your family.
This one is slightly above budget, but I bet you could negotiate with the dealer.