Nick and his girlfriend live in Los Angles and shared a very nice Honda Civic Hybrid until a falling tree branch put an end to their Honda. They have an insurance payout of about $14,000, but are feeling overwhelmed by the lack of quality selections in the market. What car should they buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I was doing a home workout when I heard a crash, and went outside to find that our 2013 Civic Hybrid got smashed by a falling tree branch! A couple of days later, our insurance company informed us that it’s been totaled. So, they’ll cut us a check for about $14,000 and we’d like to keep the cost of our next car in that realm.
We had only had the car for a couple of months, having just bought it from a family friend for an excellent price, and really enjoyed having an efficient and reliable ride after years of palliative care for an increasingly rickety and unreliable Corolla. Now we are overwhelmed by the sudden need to find another car in this market.
We are a couple who find one car between us is enough—I work from home and my girlfriend has a short commute, 5 days a week. On the weekends we like doing day trips and going hiking, throwing in the occasional camping trip. It would be great if we could fit a couple of bouldering crash pads (big foam cushions, basically) in it.
First and foremost, of course, we need reliability, since it’ll be our only car, and we’ve paid our mechanic quite enough over the past few years.
We’d like to have more space than the Civic afforded us (pretty small trunk and rear seats that did NOT fold down), but we don’t want a gas guzzler, either. We also have a dog, so four doors are a must.
It doesn’t have to be great to drive—maybe when the market cools down we can add a car that’s a bit more fun, but we’ve really got to prioritize these days. It’s also got to be an automatic.
Budget: Up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Los Angeles
Wants: Automatic, Reliable, More space than the Civic
Doesn’t want: A manual
That is some bad luck with the tree falling on your Civic. Of course, finding another hybrid in the sub-$15,000 market that isn’t going to have super high miles will be a challenge, but there are a number of fuel-efficient gas-only cars available at this price point.
If you were happy with your Honda, but could use a bit more usable space, the sub-compact Fit might be your solution. Despite being technically “smaller” than the Civic, Honda was able to do some packaging magic with some cool folding rear seats to allow you to fit almost anything you need into this fun hatchback. Of course, the other bonus is you can fit into almost any parking spot due to its compact size and good visibility.
These aren’t super common, so you will have to cast a wider net. Here is a 2016 base model with some cosmetic issues, but you may find better luck with the second-generation cars like this red one or this blue one.
Sorry about your car, Nick. That’s a real bummer, but you don’t have to mourn for too long. That’s because I’ve found you the perfect vehicle, and it’s one most people forgot existed: the 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid. This white one is even local to you in LA.
It checks every single one of your boxes. It’s well under $15,000. It’s an automatic. It’s got a lot more space than your old Civic, and it’s reliable. I live in New York City, where it’s not uncommon to see these Escape Hybrids driving around as taxis with well over 350,000 miles. My brother has a similar 2010 Mercury Mariner that he’s beat the shit out of, and it still runs great.
Is it the flashiest vehicle in the world? Hell no, but it’s exactly what you’re looking for. Oh, and this specific one has under 50,000 miles, zero accidents and one owner from new. It’s perfect for ya, pal.
Nick, my answer to the tragic death of a car is usually to try again with the same exact car. I think there’s something in there about mortality and my futile attempts to outrun it, but I won’t tell you to buy another Honda Civic Hybrid. Instead, I’m going to recommend this 2015 Mazda Mazda3, or this other one.
There’s no good reason you can’t have a car that’s practical and fun to drive, while getting excellent fuel mileage. The Mazda3 won’t outdo your late Honda hybrid in that department, but gets pretty close for being an ICE-powered car! The Mazda3 can wring up to 40 MPG on the highway out of its SkyActiv engine, which, by most accounts was stout and reliable. So, no trouble at the mechanic.
I recommend sticking with a hatchback version of the Mazda3 because it’ll give you comparable space to that of the Civic, but adds the practicality of the rear cargo area for your climbing gear and doggie treats. I would rather put you behind the wheel of one of Mazda’s bigger cars like a Mazda6, but we lost our chance to own a new Mazda6 wagon in the U.S. after 2008, so you’d have to go back a few generations for the long roof. The Mazda3 hatch will have to do.
Nick, there are few things you need in a new car. Reliability, space, and an automatic gearbox. But why settle for the needs, when there are so many things you want? You want something that can take you camping, something that might be a bit interesting to drive — why wait until the market cools down, when your practical vehicle can also be your fun one? Luckily for you, there’s a vehicle out there that meets your needs and your wants: The Mitsubishi Delica.
The Delica has bubble-era Japanese reliability, and more space than any Civic could ever dream of. This particular one is even an automatic and four-wheel drive, with more than enough torque, traction, and space to be a full-blown camping rig. You don’t want a gas guzzler, and this Delica is 2.5L turbo diesel engine — stay out of boost, and you’ll see great fuel economy.
Admittedly, it’s a little far from you over on the west coast, but that gives you the perfect opportunity to test its camping chops with a cross-country road trip to bring it home. Buy the fun car now, Nick, you never know when your next chance will be.
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