We need a new car!

There was a good suggestion in the comments that I have a thread dedicated to suggestions for a new car. I do have criteria: it should be amphibious, it must have tentacles, and the ability to fire a cloud of ink is desirable; it must also at least have mounts in place for a bank of lasers. I need a squidmobile.


Unfortunately, any new vehicle is not for me, but for my wife, Mary (I get to inherit her decrepit Honda Civic). She has different requirements. This would be a commuter car to get her to and from work every day; our first need is for safety, then good gas mileage and efficiency, and of course, price and availability. We’ve heard about Smart Cars, but we are automotive ignoramuses. I call upon the collective wisdom of the Pharyngula hordes to give us car shopping advice!

(Oh, and if it does have squidlike properties…well, maybe she’d let me drive it on weekends.)


  1. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    Good to see you up and about. Consumer Reports says the Honda Fit is a top value.

  2. martiniconqueso says

    It’s pricier than the SmartCar, but we love our Prius. Availability may still be an issue, I don’t know at this point.

  3. flaq says

    Smart cars are a great bet for short daily commuting, but even the occasional 2-3 hour drive on icy midwestern roads makes it sound like you need something with AWD. I’d echo people in the last thread who were talking Subaru — I’ve owned them for years, they’re reliable, it’s relatively easy to keep them running for years and years, and they do just fine in New England winters. (Which I realize are like a Minnesota springtime, but hey.)

  4. Clapton is God says

    “Smart” is not all that smart when you can get 4 seats and 4 doors for less – at least in the UK.

    Any chance of a diesel? Engines are efficient, good gas (diesel) mileage and built like a brick sh*thouse – half a million miles no problem.


  5. charley says

    Subarus are great in snow, efficient and last a long time. They have more problems than Hondas and Toyotas, however. Head gasket$ have been an issue.

  6. Gary says

    I agree with flaq in recommending Subaru. I live in western Pennsylvania which has winters similar to Minnesota’s. I’ve been driving them since ’91 and have never had a problem. If your wife can drive a manual transmission, a Subaru is better yet.

  7. Dex says

    OK, this is just my feelings about things, but ill give you the same advise i recently gave my mom who was in “the market” for a commuter,…do not buy anything right now. Instead try to find some way to extend the life of what ever means of conveyance you are using now, it might take a year but if i were you i would want to cash in on the next wave of electric/hybred vehicles, and the $7500 in gov’t subsidies.

  8. Bride of Shrek OM says

    How about one of the new Indian Tata cars. I believe the airbags, radio, air con and possibly the steering wheels are all optional extras but hey, they only cost $2000.

    Simon, fuck off, you’re not going to piss all over another thread with your babble.

  9. Chris says

    I love my Mazda3 but I would not recommend it for the snow. But if you’re a good winter driver then it’s a really great car. Gas mileage isn’t bad. I got mine fully loaded for $23k.

    My parents got a used Lexus RX 300 a few years back for about the price of a new non-luxury car ($26,000). Great vehicle that’s great in the snow, and Lexus cars last so long and are so durable it was basically like buying a new car. They haven’t had to do anything but regular maintenance on it so far.

  10. Darby says

    If you use a local mechanic, as opposed to a dealership, Subarus can be problematic for parts – ours has been pretty dependable, but any work needed has tended to run an extra week for getting parts. Toyotas are better in that area, and are at least as dependable.

    My wife has gone from an AWD Subaru to a standard-transmission Toyota, and likes the latter more for snow driving.

    There are dependable American cars, but will your dealership, warranties, and resale value disappear if the company implodes?

  11. says

    I’ll suggest my own car, a Hyundai Tucson. When I bought it last year it was rated first in all safety tests among similar vehicles and it gets great mileage for a small SUV–about the same as most smaller commuter cars, but not quite as good as a Civic.

    I bought it rather than a smaller car because I needed more space to haul photography gear around. But now that I’m no longer working in photography, I’d still buy one. It’s spacious on the inside which makes it safer in crashes, but it’s small enough to fit easily into compact parking spaces. There’s just nothing bad I can say about it. Plus the warranty is great and at $17,000 new it’s extremely affordable–I’m sure gently used ones are an unbelievable steal.

  12. Chris says

    Also, great talk last night! I now actually get what it is you actually study when you aren’t just attacking creationists. Cool stuff.

  13. Eric says

    Honda Fit. I have a 2008, and I love it. Amazing gas mileage (I usually get between 2.5 and 3.3 gallons per 100 miles), it’s small and easy to maneuver into parking spaces but still extremely spacious on the inside and with lots of storage room, it has multiple configurations of folding seats down or up to allow for transporting large or oddly shaped items, it has good safety ratings, and it’s not that expensive (Sport model ~ $16,000, Base model ~ 13,000 I think). I highly recommend the car, and as noted above, so does Consumer Reports.

  14. Juan says

    I agree about the Honda fit, but my wife loves her 06 Prius today as much as she did the day she got it. If you drive conservatively, 50 mpg is very achievable.
    So my advice: find a 06 or 07 Prius if you can that’s been well cared for.

  15. Confused says

    I don’t know how they’re built in the US, but Smart cars are really sold as city cars. They have small engines to be economical in city driving conditions. You’ll probably find that they’re less efficient to drive on fast roads, as you might on a commute. I suppose it really depends on how your city is laid out.

  16. Bride of Shrek OM says

    I’m not going mad by my post at #11 people, Simon was here but I think PZ’s wiped him. …or maybe I’m just paranoid. *Gazes around intently with a tic in my left eye*

  17. Dan D says

    I’m a huge fan of Subaru (I’m on my third). An Impreza or Outback Sport (which is basically a chunky Impreza) won’t set you back too much, it’s sure-footed in the snow, and they’re cute, in a totally ugly sort of way.

  18. JackC says

    Another vote for the Prius. I keep full mileage/gas records and after 5 years + ownership, I have over $4000 savings at about 110,000 miles. Safety (commented on earlier) is “remarkable” and the car is just, well, fun! It will in no way endanger you of (positive) acceleration neck injury, but it CAN get out of it’s own way.

    Lifetime mileage beats a Smart car (and a Fit) and intermittent mileage can be much better. Not so good mileage in the cold though, unless you bundle up and don’t use the heater quite so much, but hey – 48 mpg is still way better than 28.

    And it is kind of squid-shaped, though the ink thing is a bit of an issue.


  19. MAJeff, OM says

    I’m not going mad by my post at #11 people, Simon was here but I think PZ’s wiped him

    ‘Tis best to simply ignore the fuckwitted SiMoN (or whatever bizarre combo it uses). Will be wiped and flushed like the toilet paper stain it is. Let it starve and be flushed.

  20. says

    I’ll second the vote for a prius. Best car I’ve ever owned by far. Gets really great gas mileage, and has been extremely reliable and low maintenance. No question I’d buy another one if mine got smooshed.

  21. Katie says

    I would have liked a hybrid of some sort but it was just way out of our price range. Instead we got a brand new Toyota Yaris for about half the price. Incredible gas mileage. It looks small but it’s quite roomy inside. I keep the back seats down for plenty of cargo room. Lots of nice little features you wouldn’t expect on an inexpensive car. The shape of it makes it very easy to clean ice and snow off in the winter. In fact the defrost is so powerful that I frequently didn’t have to do anything but climb inside, let it warm up and run the windshield wipers. It’s a year and a half old now without one problem. My husband is considering getting a second for himself when his car kicks the bucket.

  22. MS says

    I join with those recommending Honda Fits. My wife and I both have one and love them. An astonishing amount of storage for a small car, very well designed. Good mileage. My only caveat would be the snow, not an issue where we live. You might ask some local Fit owners how they do in snow. They’re also a tad noisy. But for the money, it’s an amazing car.

  23. Colin says

    I agree that the prius is a phenomenal car. However how does it fare in a region with much snow? I think something like a Honda CRV would be better for such weather, pretty good gas mileage too.

  24. Steve LaBonne says

    I can haz car advice too? Have any of the Fit proponents driven one in nasty winter weather (I live in the Northeast Ohio snow belt)?

  25. Monkey Deathcar says

    You should get a VW Jetta TDi, preferably a wagon.
    It’s a diesel so it will last 300k miles with very little engine maintenance (likely none). It will probably need suspension work like every other car that lasts past 100k miles. It’s cleaner than a hybrid before even accounting for the dirty batteries that will need replacing. If you’re good you can get 45 mpg in the summer, even better if you’re really good. As a bonus with 236 ft-lb of torque it’s still fun.
    The only bad part, diesel is a little more expensive here in the backwards USofA. It also is more built for highway driving, the Prius is superior for short commutes.

  26. NickK says

    VW Rabbit/Jetta TDI. They’re diesel. 1000 km on a single tank if you’re commuting. Slightly less in city traffic. I prefer the Jetta wagon. Plenty of room. With good snow tires they’ll see you through most winter situations. Up here in Ottawa Canada, ours has been a real trooper for years.

  27. Guy says

    Honda Fit or Civic. Personally I would go with the Fit. You just can’t beat the interior space of a hatchback, and the Fit’s rear seats go completely flat making for a cavernous cargo area.

  28. James says

    Something the other half and I have looked at recently.

    Toyota Corolla or Prius
    Honda Civic or Fit
    Mazda 3
    Mitsu Lancer
    Ford Focus (it should be really cheap now).

    They all made the list to check out. The Subie’s are decent cars, but the extra maint cost (having to replace the tires as an all at once expense, and awd extras) and dip in gas mileage due to the awd keep them off the list for now.

    For us, the tops of the list is the Lancer and the 3. Had a previous Mitsu that treated us well, and the 3’s a pretty peppy car for an econobox.


  29. KI says

    I loved my Acura for the time I had it before it got stolen. Really good in the snow, comfy and it’s a Honda, so you know it’ll last forever. Kinda pricey, though. Subaru with AWD would be really good, if you get one with the rally/sport package it goes like hell and is still gas-stingy. I personally don’t care for electric or electric-enhanced cars, because I think battery technology has a way to go-your Priuses use less gas, but what the hell are you gonna do with all the toxic materials in it when it’s time to junk it? The computers, the batteries, all the mercury switches and crap-it’s more like decommissioning a nuclear plant than parting out an old junker.
    I also see where Jaguar now leads the list (along with Buick, whodda thought) for customer satisfaction and reliability. When I was young, the joke was you needed two Jaguars, ’cause one would always be in the shop waiting for parts to fix it.

  30. james wheaton says

    I wanted a Prius last year when it came time, but none were available. Instead I got a Honda Fit. IT is a wonderful car. Not 4WD though, although FWD isn’t bad in snow/ice. Mixed driving mileage is 34 MPG or so; I don’t know what its highway mileage is. If mileage were nearer 40 MPG, I would say it’s the perfect car.

  31. says

    I’d also like to give a big thumbs up to the Subaru for winter driving. Great cars, and I’ve got an Outback in my sights as my next car. Colorado mountain driving eats a lot of cars, but the ones that can really take it are the Subarus. Especially in the winter.

  32. Observer says

    I do extensive travelling in the Northern Minessotta/North Dakota area. When I’m there in the winter I usually take my wife’s Subaru. I’ve never seen a car that handles winter driving conditions better, but it’s a little junky. The Forester has persistent problems with bearings. I’ve driven my own Acura there in winter, and it’s handled very well, just not as well as the Subaru. It does get better mileage, though.

    Several people from the upper Midwest have told me they’ve been disappointed with their hybrids. They claim the batteries don’t do well in the extreme cold. Don’t know whether that’s true or just their misperception, but it’s something to look into before buying a hybrid.

  33. says

    Based on personal experience, I’d recommend a Honda Civic hybrid. 42 (winter) / 49 (summer) MPG, good in the snow, and very reliable.

    If I were you, I’d also look at the Honda Insight – they’ve remade that model of hybrid for this production year.

    But I would really, really recommend the Prius. It’s more than a car – somebody recently used their Prius to power their house for three days during an extended power outage. Which might come in handy in Minnesota in the middle of winter…

  34. Eric says

    One thing to keep in mind when looking at gas mileage… the jump from, say, 30 to 50 mpg is smaller than even a jump from 20 to 30 in actual savings (3.3 gallons down to 2 gallons per 100 miles, compared with 5 gallons down to 3.3 gallons per 100 miles). So while it makes a difference, it starts making much less of a difference cost-wise once you get into that range. I usual refer to mileage statistics in gallons per 100 miles, because that’s a more practical number. You’re probably going to be driving the same number of miles either way, and this gives you the cost of each one, whereas miles per gallon would be useful if you had a constant number of gallons and wanted to know how far you could go with them (for example if you wanted to know how often you’ll have to fill up, miles per gallon works better).

  35. El Guerrero del Interfaz says

    I don’t even have a car but, before getting in computers, I’ve been a motorcycle mechanic for a few years and I’m still a biker who fixes his own mounts (when tech allows…). So I’m not gonna recommend you any particular brand or make.

    But I’m gonna insist on the ABS/TCS traction control systems. Don’t listen to denialists and make sure that your wife’s new car has at least this technology included.

    As for “smarts”, Citroën has all kinds of mechanisms that, for instance can rectify automatically your trajectory when you get off due to distraction, sleepiness and such. Also things that makes it break automatically when you get too close to another vehicle and such. Although I’m not sure these kinds of cars are available over there (The Mentalist drives a “tiburón” tough, but that’s TV).

    But, remember, above all, get traction control. Don’t accept a car without ABS.

  36. ddr says

    I’ve been very happy with my little Honda Fit.
    Very roomy inside for a small car. It gets 33 mpg around town. We have taken in a few road trip and it did very well. It has been cheap to own and cheap to drive. The new 2009 ones look even better.

  37. says

    Toyota Matrix. 32 MPG with conservative driving, almost 2/3 the cargo capacity of my old Ford Explorer, comfort for 6’3″ and 235 lbs. of me, relatively simple and proven technology with a superb track record, and with as many Corolla-series cars as there are in the US replacement parts will never be an issue. And it looks spiffy, too. I couldn’t be happier with mine.

  38. Bride of Shrek OM says

    Car Geeks!! Car Geeks!!

    *slinks away to sadly stare at my mummy-mobile station wagon*

    (I promise I had a ’61 MGB convertible prior to babies- I had my moment in the sun)

  39. Carpworld says

    Well, i just bought a 1990 Land Rover Defender 110 and it’s AWESOME!!! Built like a tank, put together like a Meccano set and the engine will do half a million miles. Plus, it’s got bags of room in the back – man, you could get at least four mesonychoteuthis and a couple of archies in there easy.

  40. ancientTechie says

    My wife and I just spent a fair amount of time shopping for a car to replace my wife’s old mini-van. Our choice hinged upon overall safety, the ability to move about safely on snow and ice, hauling capacity, frequency of repair reports, and fuel efficiency, in that order. We purchased a Honda CR-V, although the Honda Fit and Toyota Rav4 were certainly worthy of consideration.

  41. MWSletten says

    Late model 4-door Honda Accord LX; very efficient (2003 and later models get 30+ mpg highway) and reliable (highest-rated mid-sized sedan for reliability by Consumer Reports). In your area a 2004 with around 60,000 miles can be had for under ten grand (research as http://www.edmunds.com — see True Market Value). Although it has no tentacles, it is vaguely squid shaped.

  42. El Guerrero del Interfaz says

    As for Smart (with a capital S) cars, they are not for use in the United States. They could be useful for European city dwellers who lacks the know-how or courage to drive a bike. But in the US, they are just out of place (hell, when I lived there, even *I* had a car, and even a full-sized Chevy at that).

  43. Steve Ulven says

    The newer Chevy Impalas and Monte Carlos (and possibly other models) have V6’s with “Displacement on Demand” which during normal operation will only be running on 3 cylinders. I have a 2006 Monte Carlo SS. That has a V8 and it is awesome! It is fast as hell when I need it (ok, want it, haven’t had to flee from the cops yet) to be and still gets 28 mpg on the highway because it is only running on 4 cylinders. From what I’ve noticed it only runs on all cylinders during idle and acceleration, but still runs on 4 during slower acceleration.

  44. KI says

    Ah to hell with practical, get a Catherham Seven! No roof, no doors, no radio, no heat, but you get to look like Patrick McGoohan at the beginning of “The Prisoner”.

  45. Eric says

    Re: Fit in the snow: I drive a stick, so I’ve had very few problems (start sliding? shove the clutch in and you got traction). The only problem is weight – it’s a light car, so on the really steep hill near me on the day they didn’t plow, I had a little trouble going up it. A few other times I’ve slid where other people seemed to be having slightly less problems (though I was going faster than them too). Other than that, I’ve had no problems with the Fit in snow.

    Before buying my Fit I looked at the Matrix, Mazda3, Yaris hatchback, Scion xA (not made anymore), and Scion xD. The Matrix and Mazda3 are a bit more expensive than the Fit (another $5k or so IIRC), the Yaris hatchback is… well, it’s tiny inside there. Big for what it is, but when I sat in the Fit, it felt way bigger. I probably would have gotten a Scion xA if I could have found a used stickshift, but no suck luck. And the xD was more expensive, lower gas mileage, and I really didn’t like the styling of it.. it felt like a tank inside, with the windows really high up, whereas the Fit has really large windows and seemed to have better visibility.

    I can’t say enough good things about the Fit. I bought mine under a year and a half ago, I’m averaging 30k miles per year (at 42k right now – 44k after this weekend), and I’ve only done basic maintenance. I’ve done multiple weekends of 24+ hours driving and been perfectly comfortable with that long in the car. I’ve done shorter trips with five people in the car, but the back seat is a little cramped for long trips with 3 in the back. But even with that many people, there’s still plenty of room in the trunk for luggage.

    Alright, I’m done praising the Fit now… but seriously. I like that car a lot.

  46. Kausik Datta says

    Simon’s trolling the other thread when PZ is not looking. Such a weirdo, that one!

    Anyway, I vote for a Volvo! Isn’t it supposed to be probably the safest car in the world?

    Or, failing that, a blood-red sports coupe Beemer convertible for PZ!

  47. Clemens says

    German cars rock safety. At least they claim that they’re designed for our Autobahnen that (unfortunately) do not have a general speed limit.

    I’d go for a Volkswagen, maybe a Golf or its bigger brother, the Passat. Don’t know if they get the same names over there in the states, though. Mercedes or BMW are more expensive, but that’s just because of the name.

  48. says

    I’m very happy with my 10-year-old RAV4, a car-like SUV by Toyota. A friend also likes his Prius, and Subarus, aside from the parts problem mentioned upthread.

    All good. That leaves the question of sourcing the tentacular option. Surely, someone here has the skill to fabricate some VehickleTenticklz… dare I say there’s also a market for FSMNoodlz?

    Someday, the Squid Package will be an available option, just like the Rhino Package.

  49. kamaka says

    Just lately bought me a Subaru Legacy sedan. We got over a foot of snow yesterday, and I must say, the thing handles snowy roads like nothing I’ve ever driven. Best snow car ever.

    The way the Red River is rising, I’ll be checking out it’s amphibious abilities in the next few days. I’ll get back to you about that.

  50. Oz says

    Why not think outside the square and not get a car? An old MIG 21 can be got at a very reasonable price. Stuff does shoot out the back (a bit like ink), the mileage IS lousy over Mach 1, but your friends will be impressed and so-o-o jealous. The plus is going above the icy roads so you need never collide with another truck…and your wife will never want to drive it either.

  51. Longstreet63 says

    Actually, the Smart is a very nice little car: safe, cheap, and economical. Much roomier than you’d think. Optimized for communting in town, though.

    But it’s an eighteen-month wait to get one.

  52. TheBowerbird says

    Honda Fit, or if you want to drop about 3K more, go for the Honda Insight, which is a new hybrid based on the Honda Fit. About 15-20 more MPG, but again, you pay marginally more. It’s the best priced hybrid out there, and is as fun and versatile as the Fit it’s based on.

  53. Steve LaBonne says

    Re: Fit in the snow: I drive a stick, so I’ve had very few problems (start sliding? shove the clutch in and you got traction).

    Thanks, that’s encouraging. For a long time I have only driven sticks (like the old Saturn I will soon hand down to my daughter) for this very reason- much more control in slippery weather. I’ve survived OK in the Saturn (roughly the same weight) even though it’s not the greatest snow car by any means, and it sounds like the Fit is, at minimum, no worse. (And there are not a whole lot of hills in NE Ohio!) So I’ll keep it on my list.

  54. says

    Wait a minute! You have a Ferrari like all the other biologists. I’m not feeling sorry for you.

  55. Bride of Shrek OM says

    You could get a big black van and drive around righting the wrongs of the ignorant creotards with some of the Pharyngulites. You could call yourselves the A(theist)-Team.

    I would suggest:
    Faceman- Nerd
    Hannibal- Ken Cope
    Murdock -Rev BDC or Truth Machine if he ever returns
    BA- most definately PZ with a whole lot of bling.

    Alternatively you could just drive around solo in a black sports car with red LED lights in the grill with a wise personality and voice that is heard but never seen (Cuttlefish of course)

  56. Conor says

    THE CAR TO GET your hands on is a LoReMo. It stands for Low Resistance Automobile.
    1. It is safe because it has a solid monocock
    2. It is fuel efficient because it is super streamline and it is a diesel (+100mpg)
    3. It has narrow tyres which will help with snow driving. (Look at the finns)
    4. It looks like a Porsche 911
    5. It si due for release next year

  57. MartyM says

    Honda Civic Hybrid. My wife and I just bought one for her. It’s loaded and gets 45 mpg min. Goods deals abound right now.

  58. speedwell says

    I had two Corollas in a row, each for about five years. The first one was destroyed in flood water and I got run off the road in the second one (but I’m OK). They had terrific gas mileage and needed only a tiny amount of maintenance. When I needed a third one, I wanted more cargo capacity (evacuating during Hurricane Rita was not fun with three cats yowling in the back seat on top of a mountain of important-stuff-we-needed). Hooray, the Toyota Matrix is a wonderful, roomy, well-designed body on top of Corolla guts. I couldn’t find a good used one in my price range and could not afford to wait; my second choice was a 2004 PT Cruiser that has almost exactly the same cargo capacity, looks neat (well, I think it does), and surprise! gets really good gas mileage, too. I haven’t had any more upkeep issues than I had with my Corollas. Maybe I got an especially good one, but I’ve been really pleased with it.

  59. says

    I was looking at a Smart car a while back, but two things drove me away. One, you get a tire patch kit instead of a spare. Two, they were only offering a 24-month, 24,000-mile warranty.

    The Yaris gets almost as good mileage, and comes with a spare and a 60/60 warranty, and it only costs a little bit more. The Honda Fit was next choice on my list, because all those airbags weigh the thing down (and cost more, still).

    But I’ve gotta wait until my ’98 Saturn bites the dust. 190K miles on it, still gets between 33 and 36 MPG, and performs wonderfully on snow or ice (even without any sort of traction control or ABS).

  60. JOsh says

    You should check out the small Kias. They’re cheap, drive well, and have great warranties.

  61. KI says

    Since the need for a new vehicle was caused by winter, I would also recommend the best snow tires you can afford. I had a set of Blizzak winter tires, they use steel fibers in the rubber to create little microstuds that make an incredible difference. My buddy who inherited them (They were for my much-missed Acura) is still using them ten years down the road (heh-heh) and they work great! My brother always says, it’s not the car, it’s the tires.

  62. TheBowerbird says

    Honda Fit, or if you want to drop about 3K more, go for the Honda Insight, which is a new hybrid based on the Honda Fit. About 15-20 more MPG, but again, you pay marginally more. It’s the best priced hybrid out there, and is as fun and versatile as the Fit it’s based on.

  63. says

    I’m a former mechanic and I love small cars, I own a 75 mini, but I absolutely cannot recommend a Smart car. I’ve driven one and it’s fun, but unless you live in Manhattan they just don’t make sense. A Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, or Toyota Yaris or even one of the Scion’s. I’m in upstate NY and have seen plenty of snow and will also attest to the ability of Subaru’s in the snow. The non-turbo cars are supposed to be very reliable too. I’m assuming you want something small considering you mentioned the Smart. If you need a bit more space there’s more options including some American cars if you’re so inclined.

  64. James says

    I drive a Honda Jazz (Fit everywhere else, it seems), and really like it. Plus the service that Honda provides is a cut above anything anyone else has provided (Toyota, Ford, Suzuki to name the ones I’ve had experience with)
    Bummer to hear about the crash, but good to hear you’re alive!

  65. nichole says

    regenerative braking DOES NOT WORK IN THE COLD. hybrids are not for our half of the country, sir. you’re lugging around 200 extra pounds of batteries and electric engine when you don’t benefit from regenerative braking. they’re overpriced, and as south park pointed out, they lead to “smug.”

    and i can’t see a honda fit not sucking balls in the snow. i just bought a new honda civic si, the traction control works beautifully and it’s got enough weight to give you control in the winter slop. $18,900. sweet ass deal. rally red! 190 horses! dohc! 4 cylinders, i get 300 miles to the tank. (must use premium, tho.) it’s a beautiful thing, with oodles of resale value when you’re done with it. if you don’t wrap it around another truck, that is. and you could get a squid sticker…

  66. TheBowerbird says

    Honda Fit, or if you want to drop about 3K more, go for the Honda Insight, which is a new hybrid based on the Honda Fit. About 15-20 more MPG, but again, you pay marginally more. It’s the best priced hybrid out there, and is as fun and versatile as the Fit it’s based on.

  67. vairitas says

    don’t even think about a smart car! it would be so wrong for your situation, the u.s. versions don’t get anywhere near the mileage you would think such a tny car would achieve, and there is no room at all for the kids on those occasions when you might want to drive one somewhere i would recommend a subaru.

  68. SteveM says

    Another Prius owner here. We love it, it is now mostly the wife’s car. I think the availability is also very good, there was a huge upswing in demand when gas skyrocketed followed by a plunge in actual sales when gas prices came back down. Does fine in snow, but the point raised ealier about extreme cold is a good one. I can’t say we’ve ever experienced -30F temps here in N.E. like MN gets. But in general, for economical, reliable and safe sedans, you can’t go wrong with Honda Civic or Accord or Toyota Corolla or Camry. Front wheel drive with snow tires on all 4 will handle anything.

    Also, I agree that the SmartCar is not for the midwest. City dweller is its target market. As for safety, the cabin appears to be very safe, but the car is only cabin, there is no crumple zone to absorb any impact. The cage may be rigid, but all that energy is going to be transferred to the passengers.

  69. Bride of Shrek OM says

    Nichole @#76

    “and i can’t see a honda fit not sucking balls in the snow.”

    I’d pay really good money to see that sentence in a car magazine.

  70. damitall says

    The 4WD Jaguar X-type.

    Goes like sh1t off a shovel, but very sure-footed in the snow.Gas consumption depends on how heavy-footed you are.

    I’m sure a prestigious US professor can afford one!

  71. Adam says

    Make no mistake: smart cars are for absolute morons who feel the need to waste money while having as little fun as possible while doing so. At least, up in our neck of the woods, they cost thousands of dollars more than a compact sedan like a Corolla, and you get a lot more car with the Corolla.

    Also, smart cars need traction control so as to not spin out while changing lanes on the highway. That’s how short the wheelbase is. Also, they’re Mercedes diesels, so they cost an arm and a leg to maintain.

  72. HP says

    Another vote for the Honda Fit.

    And if your wife can drive a manual transmission, get the 5-speed. The Honda stick shift feels great, and you can eke a few more MPGs.

  73. KI says

    Nicole @76
    In the winter premium gas isn’t really necessary. High octane gas retards the flame, and in high-compression engines, this reduces “ping”, but when its really cold, you actually want the gas to burn faster and hotter to warm up the engine. Most cars will get along fine on regular gas, unless you live in the mountains or below the fortieth parallel. My Lincoln has been running fine for four years, and I only put in premium for really hot weather in July.

  74. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    PZ, I believe the April issue of Consumer Reports, which is their annual auto buying guide, is at the newstand. All the cars mentioned above in magazine for easy comparison. They even have recommended used cars.

  75. Fernando Magyar says

    Closest I could come to a car design based on a marine organism:

    Inspired by the boxfish, DaimlerChrysler’s new concept car is a super-aerodynamic (drag coefficient of 0.19, while the ToyotaScryve Corporate Social Responsibility Rating Prius is 0.26 and a model of the boxfish gets the high-score of 0.06) diesel 4-seater that gets 70 mpg (US) while exceeding the most stringent European emission regulations (now imagine a diesel-hybrid version!). The engine is a 2.0 liters 103 kW/140-hp diesel (biodiesel anyone?). Even more impressive is how the concept car only used 2.8 liters per 100 kilomters during a test at a constant speed of 90kph (56mph), which translates to 84 mpg (US).

    However it may be time to think very seriously about a completely new paradigm and give up driving our privately owned automobiles altogether. Hard to imagine, I know, but it’s something all of us need to start thining about, the sooner the better.

    Come gather ’round people
    Wherever you roam
    And admit that the waters
    Around you have grown
    And accept it that soon
    You’ll be drenched to the bone.
    If your time to you
    Is worth savin’
    Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.

    Bob Dylan


    Dr Robert Costanza on ecological economics

    Posted by Big Gav on March 24, 2009 – 5:34pm in The Oil Drum: Australia/New Zealand
    Topic: Environment/Sustainability
    Tags: ecological economics [list all tags]
    Dr Robert Costanza, Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics recently gave a talk at Wellington’s Victoria University on the the ecological and financial crises that are underway.

    The video is quite long (55 min) – Costanza’s talk starts 5 minutes in. There is also an accompanying presentation, entitled “The Global Recession: an opportunity to create a sustainable and desirable future” (.ppt 27 Mb).

  76. Ploon says

    Exactly, in the Smart YOU are the crumple zone. It’s no wonder they’re not selling very well here in Europe.

  77. nichole says

    @ shrek’s bride:

    yeah, they should totally let me write those. my saturn sucked balls in the snow. wee cars made of plastic just don’t cut the mustard.

  78. DJav says

    PZ! I think I have just the right car for you -if you’re not afraid of heights, that is.


    You’d be able to glide through the sky like a cephalopod in the water. And the fact it is not jet-propelled as a squid is a minor detail considering the possibilities. Imagine dive-bombing creationists using ink-bombs from a flying squid-mobile! That’s something well worth consideration, I would say. As for the tentacles, I’m sure that something can be done about it.
    Think about it!

  79. SteveM says

    regenerative braking DOES NOT WORK IN THE COLD.

    Why is that? Mine seems to work just fine in the cold.

    … and as south park pointed out, they lead to “smug.”

    South Park hates everything, it’s what they do.

    What’s worse than Prius owners smug is Prius hater’s smug. I see much more Prius bashing than Prius “smug”.

  80. SplendidMonkey says

    Minneapolis Prius driver here. Rolling to 100k this week with very few problems. Had to replace the 12v bootstrap battery once – a lead/acid battery that’s used for jumping and getting the system running. Regen braking absolutely works in all weather conditions, except ice of course (don’t know what nichole is talking about). Mileage is best in warm weather because the engine isn’t losing it’s heat. Avg. 40-50 mpg.

  81. says

    I suggest a six cylinder mustang. They don’t really cost anymore than standard sedans, get about as good a mileage as most sedans (well, as long as you don’t take advantage of the boosted acceleration and great handling), and they’re are really cool and fun to drive. Not very friendly in the winter (I’m in Wisconsin, so I understand) , but it’s worth it to have for the rest of the year.

  82. mosler says

    i love my subaru. so much that i have sold 3 of them to family members, and i dont sell cars, im just a fan.

  83. says

    I agree that the prius is a phenomenal car. However how does it fare in a region with much snow?

    I have one, drive it in Ottawa in the winter. You absolutely need good snow tires (see below), and you obviously don’t get as good gas mileage in the winter–it’s got this clever thermos bottle thing for the engine oil, tries to get more warm starts from that, but this still doesn’t mitigate softer, rougher tires, more slip, less efficient behaviour from the electrical gear at lower temperatures, and drain from the heater.

    That said, it handles just fine, with appopriate tires. I drive it pretty regularly on windy and rough secondary highways and roads, enroute to ski hills. It’s actually pretty good at passing, on the highway, too, if you want to–just runs both motors to do it–but this also plonks your gas mileage, of course.

    Additional catch, however, for back roads: it has a very, very low ground clearance. Cottage roads with deep ruts and a big hump in the middle means you have to be very, very careful, drive with one wheel on the hump, or start scraping stuff off the bottom.

    And re those tires: when I say need, I really mean need. Of necessity, the traction control is very, very aggressive–has to be to protect the electric motors, I’m told. So it’s pretty much impossible to get it to move up a sufficiently icy hill if you’ve still got your all-seasons on. Slip too much, and it just stops trying. Had this happen once when I procrastinated a bit putting them on. Never again.

  84. Fernando says

    A good choice of a car to your wife should be a Passat with the TDi common-rail (if that is sold in USA…).

    –> A good familiar car
    –> whit a good trunk
    –> very good handling
    –> the gearbox (DSG)is very good
    –> great passive and active security
    –> and low diesel consume

  85. Silva says

    The Toyota Prius has octopoid properties – it’s very stealthy. I’m constantly sneaking up on squirrels and opossums in the middle of the road. Pedestrians too. I laugh at the expressions on their little faces when they suddenly notice a large blue car looming over them. (Well, it only looms over very short pedestrians. But still.)

    And it’s very reliable and safe in bad weather.

  86. Sam L. says

    What you need is a Toyota Yaris 4-dr sedan. My parents just got one, mostly because of its excellent safety ratings and after they saw a report that ranked it as a very “green” car, coming in third behind two hybrids. It gets 30+ gas mileage, has plenty of room, and best of all it’s cheap, around $15K as they configured it! Since they aren’t hybrids the Yaris is still available all over, and you can get as base a model as you want. They have had it for a couple months now and love it.

    Besides, you don’t want a Prius. As Jay Leno put it, if we drive this ugly little car it’s okay because we’re being such good citizens, because in America we want everyone to know what we’re doing anonymously to save the environment.

  87. Mu says

    Another vote for the VW TDi, Golf or Jetta, doesn’t matter. They drive great on snow too.

  88. D. C. Sessions says

    Add another vote for Subaru. Yeah, I’m in Arizona (the AC works great!) but I also spend a lot of the winter at altitudes over 9000 feet, where they clear snow from the roads with mining equipment (no joke, really: we went from clear roads the evening of the 24 December to 8+ feet deep on the highways by midnight.)

    My Outback gets about 28mpg highway even with the turbocharger, they have a great safety record and for those who worry about “Made in America,” mine came from Indiana.

  89. Evan Henke says

    Well, it’s no bi-turbo V12 Mercedes roadster, but…

    Get a hybrid or an 4-cylinder. It’s a no-brainer!

  90. speedwell says

    …give up driving our privately owned automobiles altogether…

    Fernando, you’re absolutely right, of course. I’ll be happy to do that the moment my work, my family, my doctor, and my necessary errands are all legitimately accessible by public transportation.

  91. TGAP Dad says

    My opinion is that it kind of depends on your specific needs. How many kids are there to consider? Do you need to pull a trailer? How far is Mrs. Pharyngula’s commute? What type of driving, highway, city or country?

    Assuming no trailering, an occasional passenger (who doesn’t need a car seat) or two, in the midsize range, I LOVE the Honda Accord (4-cyl VTEC with manual trans). For a little extra traction, the Subaru Legacy or. If you need more of an SUV-ish car, Honda CRV or Subaru Forrester. If you need to ferry passengers more often, or visit Home Depot, The Honda Odyssey mini van handles like a sports car and has very good traction.

    I live in mid-Michigan where winters are similar to south-central Minnesota. My family has experience with all of the above cars which are fine in Winter conditions. I’ve driven my old (1987) Civic on an unplowed road covered with a fresh nine-inch snowfall without a hitch, so it should serve you well.

  92. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Definitely Subaru!

    Although the ABS and AWD can’t help you much when you are on black ice going downhill headed for a firetruck parked in your lane, it does keep you going in a straight line, you can slow down without skidding, and allows you to make a reasonably controlled turn onto the shoulder.

    (my knuckles regained their normal color within hours)

  93. Sam L. says

    Oh yeah, here’s a few basic guidelines about cars you might be tempted to buy:

    Anything German – too expensive for what you get, and maintenance is a bitch.

    Volkswagen – if you happen to get lucky, they can be reliable. More often than not, though, they survive on reputation and return customers alone. I know two people who bought Volks and sold their cars less than 1 year and many repairs later, as well as a guy who spends more time in his mechanic’s loaner than his own Jetta.

    Subaru – people who talk about Subaru being reliable just haven’t run into the inevitable transmission and brake problems. At best a decent snow car (I’ve used one in the mountains of NC during some icy days) and really just a trendy pick. Plus, nearly all Subaru owners are awful drivers and oblivious to the rest of the road.

    Kia – avoid them like the plague. Ask yourself, when was the last time I saw a 10-year-old Kia on the road? This is the same company that offered a two-for-one deal in my area a few years back. Buy a mid-level sedan, we throw in the shitty one for free!

    Hybrids – would be great, if you can get one. In my area (NC), there are waitlists over two years long. You probably need a car sooner than that.

    Toyota – almost every car on their roster is great. I have a friend with small-engine 5spd. Camry, he gets 40mpg easy and loves it. As I mentioned earlier, my parents have a Yaris and it’s the same story.

    Honda – almost every car they make is great, too. You can’t go wrong with a Civic, and they start pretty cheap. The Fit is also a great little car.

    Good luck! New cars are a tough decision.

  94. BGT says

    PZ, the Smart cars are cool, efficient, and safe little cars, but they don’t have a big dealer network. If you plan to keep the car and drive it till the wheels fall off, you might have trouble getting parts.

    I would recommend from a practical standpoint given where you live go with something from Subaru. They are generally quite reliable, and they have been doing AWD drivetrains for years. They are decent on economy and safety measures. You might have to pay up for a full traction control system on some of their base cars, but that would be a worthwhil addition if the model that you are looking at doesn’t come with that feature as standard.

  95. Tim Van Haitsma says

    I just bought 2 cars and found the Pontiac Vibe to be a good bet. They are really a Toyota Matrix with out the toyota price bump. They are mechanicaly the same thing even made in the same plant. The layout is nice b/c it has the fold down seats and a hatch. 27/36 MPG not to shabby. If you buy a used one you can get it with AWD. I do not think that the new models have AWD but the older ones do.

  96. Scooty Puff, Jr. says

    The safest cars on the road are Saabs. Those crazy Swedes know ice and snow, so their cars get around really well in the winter. My 9-3 is a whole lot of fun to drive.

    Sadly for me, but lucky for you, they’re not great at holding their value, so you could probably get a spectacular deal on one that’s a year or two old.

    Oh, and did I mention they’re turbocharged? And also only four cylinders? So you get safety, power and pretty good fuel economy.

  97. speedwell says

    This is hilarious: the Tango (one person wide). Not a choice for ice and snow, but reasonably priced, exceptional for city driving, amazing gas mileage, astounding pickup, good speeds, and even a little cargo capacity. If only they were available right nowhttp://www.commutercars.com/

  98. nichole says

    regenerative braking:

    the electric engine in a hybrid car kicks on to stop the car, reversing the direction of the electric motor. the torque stops the car, instead of friction between brake pads and brake rotor. this creates a dynamo, and the energy captured here is stored in a chemical storage battery.

    now, the storage battery is what powers your electric engine and runs your car when the gas engine turns off during city driving. and the problem with batteries is that they rely on a chemical reaction to release electrons and provide a current. this reaction is slower in the cold, and the battery discharges quickly because it is unable to keep up with the demand. one benefit: your battery will last longer because unused batteries keep best in the cold. but you pay for it in the end because you lug that 200 lb. battery and electric engine around all winter and you never use it. and weight kills gas mileage.

    i like when someone asks me something i know. it makes me feel smart!

  99. says

    Friend of mine has a Fit, amazingly useful and well-designed car. Though my 20-year-old Civic is still on the job and running fine. For that matter a plain old Corolla.

    Huh. Wish I could have recommended an American model. Obama likes his Ford Focus, but they don’t let him drive it anymore.

  100. Evinfuilt says

    I believe Subaru is bringing their Euro diesel engine over to the US. If you want a perfect snow/ice car, with excellent MPG, you won’t be able to go wrong with one. I have just a 4cyl Outback, and its a wonder when driving in the Rockies during winter (and I love that its got better clearance than all those silly SUV wannabes.)

    Downside to Subaru’s that I can think of. Lots of cheap plastic material inside, and in the wagons you get a lot of road noise echoing. Lastly the new Impreza just looks ugly, so stick with a Legacy.

  101. KI says

    Fernando, your objective may be noble, but PZ lives in a small town in the middle of the prairie. Plus, the individual vehicle has been an important part of late 20th century America-road trips, drive-ins, hitchhiking, family vacations, etc.etc.etc. I can’t see Americans giving up what has become an essential freedom, and if nothing else, the individual transport has liberated vast numbers of people to bigger and more fulfilling existences..

  102. catgirl says

    I’m going to agree with several other posters and suggest a Honda Civic hybrid, which is the car I have been using for the past 7 years (I got one the first year they came out). A hybrid is good for obvious reasons, but I like the Civic because a lot of other hybrids have heavier batteries which can wear out the tires slightly faster.

    I’m personally considering getting a Chevy Volt within the next few years. It’s a plug-in hybrid that can go for forty miles without using any gas. I guess this depends on the electric and gas prices in your area though. Also, I have no experience with this car and don’t know much about it, but it might be worth looking into.

  103. Emaloo says

    I’ll add to the praise of the Toyota Yaris. I have the 4-door version, and I love it. It has a surprising amount of trunk space, and it’s comfortable for long drives, plus the excellent milage and cost. It handles pretty well on ice, but I haven’t ever driven it in more than an inch or two of snow here in Wichita. The only real issue I’ve had with it is that it’s much too easy for backseat drivers to see the spedometer.

  104. says

    Buy a banger with at least 6 months’ tax and MOT, insure it third-party-only and drive it till it falls to bits. That way, you never have to worry about depreciation.

    Anything with manual gears, front wheel drive and an engine of 1.6 (petrol) or 2 litres (diesel) or smaller should be fine. I’d say “Vauxhall Astra”, but I suspect they’re known by a different name abroad.

  105. Lee Picton says

    The spawn has a Toyota Rav4 and he likes it so much he didn’t even want to buy a new car, even though he could afford it if he wanted to. I could use another car, as my 10 yr old Volvo Wagon is getting long in the tooth, but with the economy the way it is, it is now out of the question. As a woman of a certain age (ahem!), I have become addicted in the cold weather to HEATED SEATS. This buggy is for Trophy wife, right? The older one gets, the more comfort becomes an issue. I tried on a Honda Fit, but it felt small, and I had to climb up to get out of it. I can’t say enough about the virtues of a car that sits a little high so it is easy to get in and out of. You have had lots of good advice here, you won’t go wrong.

  106. Evinfuilt says

    Looking over the list I also saw a few others I’ve used in the snow.

    X-Type: And the interior is wonderful, you won’t mind being stuck in traffic if you get this. Too bad we’ll never see the high MPG Jags in North America.

    Passat: I loved that car till I hated it (which happened to be the day after the warranty expired and everything started going to hell.) You can get the TDI right now, its rather quiet and excellent torque.

    You should take a look at the Audi A3, its really just a luxury Golf/Rabbit, but you can get it with Quattro, and the build materials are much better.

    Though now that I’m trapped in Texas, I’m personally looking at a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, don’t think it’ll be very practical up on the snow and ice. BUT one of the best rally drivers out there is switching from a Subaru to it this year for the Pikes Peak Challenge, I have to say that says a lot (Subaru WRX is one of the best cars ever for bad conditions.)

    Lastly, there’s the Mitsubishi Evo-X. Not designed for a professors mind-set, but you’ll always make it to work and faster than anyone else could. Gold rims may turn you off.

  107. nichole says

    mm. go ahead. spend an extra $5,000 on a hybrid whose electric engine you’ll only use in the summer.


    don’t expect any dealer incentives on hybrids, too much demand. so expect to pay more then $5,000 extra, in the sense that you won’t get any kind of deal on one.

    damned hippies and their hybrids.

  108. says

    I’d go with a Honda fit [inexpensive, lots of utility, good gas mileage] or a Subaru impreza [awd, not as much utility or as efficient but plenty safe and comfortable].

  109. says

    Smart Cars are wayyyyy ‘spensive. We wanted one, or a hybrid when we were looking, but they are just too expensive for our meager means. We bought a Pontiac Vibe (same thing as the Toyota Matrix) and we are very happy with it. Ours is All Wheel Drive, so it handles really well in the snow, and it gets pretty decent gas mileage. Plus, it has lots of space. It’s like what would happen if a minivan and a station wagon loved each other very much…
    Of course, if GM does away with the Pontiac line, the point will be moot.

  110. says

    The best cars my family has ever had are Hondas… our oldest are pushing 150,000 and still running fine.

    Maintainence is low so long as you do the basics like getting your oil changed at the right time, and such. They get good gas milage (I average 36 mpg in my 2007 civic), and even the Civic LX with a bunch of the special stuff like the sun roof, controls on the steering wheel, metal hubcaps instead of plastic covers, bigger stereo, etc is only about $17k. Safety features are excellent too (side airbags, ABS, and such).

    I suggest against a hybrid. Repairs are costly if you need them (if you need to replace the battery it’s $2000-5000), not all autoshops can do the repairs, and to make up the cost above a normal car via the savings in gas is non-existent.

    I also suggest Hondas because they have the best resale value of pretty much any other car.

    Check out consumer reports (I think someone else suggested this earlier as well). They have excellent breakdowns for the best cars for whatever you’re looking for.

  111. SplendidMonkey says

    Nicole, the batteries and electric system work just fine in the cold. If your statement were true I would be unable to get my car out of the garage in cold weather. A Prius has no starter motor, and does not have a reverse “gear” (in fact, it has no transmission per se, and no clutch, just a full time planetary gear linkage). When I back out of my garage at -20F, the primary batteries are what are driving the wheels. The engine starts part way down the drive, started by, once again, the primary batteries and electric motor. Once the car has been running for 10min or so, everything including the batteries is warmed up. The reduced mileage is due to heat loss and increased friction.

    p.s. a block heater is a great addition. Use cheap electricity to warm the engine in the AM instead of gas.

  112. MeanMrMustard says

    We’ve been very, very happy with our Yaris sedan. The hatchback is a bit smallish, but the sedan feels almost like a Corolla.

  113. says

    I dunno how much you wanna spend.

    (Are you associate, or full prof?)

    I saw reference to a turbo-diesel Volvo wagon that would seem to answer most of your requirements…being a Volvo, it is designed for northern weather, in any case…

  114. rrt says

    I loves me my Civic Si…probably (?) the best balance of sport, practicality and fuel efficiency out there. Though I would guess the Myers clam would probably prefer the standard model. Note: now available with heated seats for those fine Morris winters!

    I have no experience with the Fit, but yes, I’ve seen loads of good recommendations. Now, on paper the Civic is roomier, slightly more “luxo” and has the same mileage…as far as I can tell, it’s advantages are slightly lower price and high cargo versatility, being a PT Cruiser-style reconfigurable-interior hatchback.. I loved my old PT for that reason, but fuel economy was inadequate for a car that size, at least in automatic.

    Subarus are definitely nice, but pricier, especially as you’re paying for that AWD up front, at the pump (sucks a bit of power) and at maintenance intervals.

    Keep hearing good things about Mazda 3 series, but again have no experience with ’em. Any of the modern hybrids, and maybe especially the coming Honda Insight, are attractive to me (note that those batteries are usually warrantied). The VW diesels are indeed scary-good on MPG, but don’t forget that diesel is pricier. Modern diesels are much better about cold weather.

    And finally, a curveball: If all you really need is a commuter, the efficiency of a roadster (say, Miata or Boxster) will surprise you. I believe the current Boxster still beats my Si for MPG. Of course you’d definitely have to invest in great snow tires then…and maybe a hardtop. Probably still less safe, too… But c’mon! If you’re gonna mount lasers, shouldn’t they be mounted to a Porsche!? Although, come to think of it, I kinda DO think of my Si coupe as an A-Wing…pew pew!

  115. Kevin Klein says

    I rented a Kia Rondo a few months ago and was mildly impressed. It would be a good choice if you need something bigger than a Fit and/or want to be able to occasionally haul something bigger than a suitcase. Not sure about the Kia dealer network in rural Minnesota, however…

  116. Matthew says

    If snow is only an occasional and rare concern, and maybe you can leave the car in a garage when it’s really dicey out:

    -New 2010 Prius (50mpg combined)
    -Honda Fit

    If you’re more concerned about snow (which I would be if I were you) or if the vast majority of your driving is highway anyway so hybrid doesn’t buy you much:

    -Subaru Impreza or Legacy
    -A VW Diesel of some description (I presume they make AWD versions)

  117. peter says

    as a smart car owner, I can say that I have never been happier with a car, and I have been driving it back and forth to Washington ski resorts in the snow (Autosocks love ’em,) for the last couple or three months. rear engine with rear wheel drive tends to make driving it in the snow a bit like a snowmobile. the car is really short so steering can be a bit twitchy. as yet I have not lost control on the snow, and I’ve been behind a few all-wheel drive vehicles that have spun out.

    the mileage is good, (avg 41 with my city driving, with more time on highway I’ve measured 50+,) there’s more storage area than you might think, it parks *anywhere*, accelerates better than you might think, (for some reason people think it’s a golf cart, but no, top speed is 90+, (governed,)) the shifter was reprogrammed for 2009 to be more ‘snappy,’ mine’s a convertible and you can put the top down while driving at highway speeds, the heated seats are lovely. they are build by mercedes, and the quality of fit and finish is quite high, and they are just so gosh-darn cute. relatively cheap replaceable body panels means possibilities for customization…

    that said, I would not necessarily recommend them to everyone. I’m single w/no kids. the one pacific northwest dealer is relatively nearby and does pickups so I’m okay there, no idea what the dealer situation in or around morris is. there is currently less need for the reservation that was necessary for the first year or so of availability, supply has caught up with demand, (at least out here.) I can see a lot of reasons why it might not be the car for a lot of people, all I can do is reiterate that I have never been happier with a car. your mileage may vary… otherwise, I think it’s been raised a couple of times here, you’re probably best off doing whatever click and clack say.

  118. Yagur says

    I just want to put in my two cents:

    I, too, an a right minded liberal working for a non-profit institution living in a cold climate.

    And I, too, looked carefully at Priuses and Hondas and Toyotas when I needed a new car to get to my workplace and back, and supplement our family car.

    And I bought myself a 2006 BMW 330xi with all wheel drive with every bell and whistle imaginable. The seat heaters have heaters.

    I get mid-20s MPG. I spent at least 10K more than I would have on that sensible Honda Fit.

    And I’m happy as a clam on xtacy.

    Oh, and it also works really, really well in the snow.

  119. Steve_C says

    If you need a car just to get around and don’t need to haul a lot of stuff. Get a Mini Cooper with the cold weather package. I want one. Badly.

    An Audi makes sense too or a VW. And you can’t really go wrong with a Honda, I had my happy Honda for years and when I moved into the city my dad took it. He loved it too and he had been driving Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs. The Honda did fine in the NH winters too.

    Subarus are good too, but they never really look great, really boring.

  120. summit jim says

    PZ did specify amphibious
    here in stillwater mn. the amphicar is quite popular
    built in germany from 60 to 64. wish i knew how to do that linky thing

  121. D. C. Sessions says

    you can’t go wrong with Honda Civic

    Oh, yes you can. I love my Civic; I’m about to drive it to work and will until the wheels fall off (at only 170 kmiles, that’s going to be a long time.)

    However, driving home through a snowstorm (Yes, in Arizona) in February of 2007 is why I bought a Subaru Outback. Best auto purchase decision I ever made.

  122. Anisa says

    I have a Honda Fit 2007. It’s cheap and has lots of airbags. It gets about 34 mpg. I love it, but if you have a little more money, I would probably recommend a hybrid like a Prius or a Civic hybrid. You’ll get better mileage.

    Actually, the most amazing thing about the Fit is that you can put tons of stuff in there. Check it out:

  123. nichole says

    hm, how do i get my non-hybrid car out of the driveway because i have no electric motor to start it?? OMG i break lawz of fisicz! no wait, it’s called an alternator. oh. nm.

    i did not say “reverse gear,” i said that to brake the car the electric engine reverses direction and creates torque to slow the car to a stop.

    and of course it has an effing transmission. otherwise the gas engine would explode. see, you have an automatic clutch. it’s still there, you just don’t have to use a pedal. absolutely freaking all cars have transmissions and clutches. except maybe the BMW hydrogen. never seen one of those. no idea how that works.

  124. SMortimer says

    I’ve had my ’07 Honda Fit since 2006, haven’t had a single problem yet. Surprisingly roomy, filling up is always cheap, survived a couple Canadian winters. Love it.

  125. Paul says

    I just went car shopping 2 weeks ago, I looked at Subarus, Mazda3, Scion xC, and Mitsubishi Lancer. I wanted decent gas mileage, bluetooth, and something that doesn’t look so boring.

    The AWD on Subarus are nice, but it doesn’t help you stop when the roads are iced over. Gas miliage is a little on the low side, and options seemed expensive. Drives good though.

    xC felt cheap and plasticy. I was not impressed.

    Lancer was pretty good, I hated the spoiler though. It sat right in the middle of the rear-view mirror, blocking the middle 1/3 of it. Not as solid feeling as Subaru and Mazda3.

    It came down to High end Mazda, or low end Subaru.

    I picked the ’10 Mazda3 GT. Peppy, 29 mpg, solid, tons of luxury features for a good price.

    I don’t know how it will do on snow next winter, but I don’t drive without snow tires anymore. I would highly suggest them to everybody that has a “Winter”.

  126. aratina says

    I say try for a used Toyota Prius. I was lucky to get one for around $10,000 and it has consistently beaten the EPA mileage estimates. You can compare actual mileage results at fueleconomy.gov. Once you go hybrid, you’ll never go back.

  127. Car Geek says

    I would recommend in no particular order:
    Toyota Yaris/Honda Fit: a couple of good small cars from manufacturers with great reputations for reliability.
    VW Rabbit: a little bigger than the yaris or fit, and better standard equipment for not much more.
    VW Jetta diesel: More expensive than the rabbit, but huge torque, great mileage, and bulletproof reliability. You can also do fun things like run bio-diesel.
    Suzuki SX-4: AWD in a small car.
    Subaru: AWD in a bigger car.

    I would definitely avoid a couple of the other cars that have been suggested.

    Toyota Prius: Not a good choice for anyone who needs to drive in snow. The traction control is so aggressive that it cannot go up even relatively mild hills in the snow. It just keeps cutting power until you slide down the hill. Whats worse is that the traction control is built into the hybrid control system, so there is no reasonable way to defeat it. The mileage from the prius also isn’t that impressive when you get right down to it.

    Smart fortwo: Also no a very good choice for the snow. No amount of electronic gizmos can overcome the physics of a rear-engine, rear wheel drive car with an extremely short wheelbase. It is a recipe for spin outs. Ad in that you are paying an awful lot of money for a car than can never carry more than one other person or a small amount of luggage (but not both), and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Thats my $0.02

  128. chris j says

    I drive a Pontiac Vibe too. I love it. It’s much bigger on the inside than it looks. I’m a “big” guy (240lbs, 5’10”) and have plenty of room.

    Gas mileage is good, I like the older look with the rack on top, the new ones aren’t as pretty to me. And my friends find it a comfortable ride too.

  129. says

    I live on the Canadian East coast, and I regularly see Smart cars in town. City Hall bought a small fleet of them too.

    However, I’ll go with the others and recommend a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla (or Matrix).

  130. says

    Get a Subaru and you’ll never have to worry about driving in Minnesota winters again. I drive a Forester with all-terrain tires and it goes over or through snow and ice like a dream. For what Mary wants I’d recommend an Imprezza or an Outback Sport.

  131. says

    OMG i break lawz of fisicz! no wait, it’s called an alternator.

    Erm… no. I’m not sure why I’m even responding to this, as with what respect is due, I doubt anyone here is going to take you terribly seriously, now, but I believe the component you’re thinking of is the starter motor. At startup, yer alternator’s not much help. (Except insofar as it charged the battery beforehand…) But the point made in the post to which you’re responding, which you clearly failed to grasp, is that actually, Priuses don’t have starter motors. They use the main electrical drive motor, which does work fine at that temperature. If it didn’t work in winter, you couldn’t go anywhere. This much is quite correct.

    (Oh, also, cooly enough, they use that main drive motor to spin up the gasoline motor during travel, too, and since it’s a big ass motor doing the spinning up, not a little starter, it cranks it up to full torque damned fast, which is one reason hybrids can start and stop their gasoline motor so promiscuously–startup is fast, easy, and the gasoline motor is running at peak efficiency in nothing flat.)

    Anyway, my take: Nichole’s not entirely wrong, but is vastly overstating things. The battery is less efficient at cooler temperatures, so this is part of why hybrids are less efficient at lower temperatures. But then, so are conventional drivetrains. And, not coincidentally, the advice for driving hybrids in the cold is the same as for conventional drivetrains: bin your errands so you’re not making a lot of short trips (these are the worst: efficiency is poorest as things are still heating up), don’t overuse the heater or defroster.

    More to the point: anyone seriously considering a hybrid, if their local winter is severe, might want to check with local owners, read web forums re what gas mileage hybrids do tend to get in that specific climate. It will be lower in the winter, sure.

    (I can’t help there–don’t monitor it that closely–though I can certainly report mine does use the electrical motor lots in the winter, for what that’s worth.)

    Oh, and re the Prius’ transmission: it’s an oddity, for what it’s worth. See this bit here.

  132. Vidar says

    Forget the car, get an SR-71 Blackbird instead.
    Let’s see the cops get to you when you scream by at mach 3.

  133. Jim says

    Anyone who lives in the northern part of the US and doesn’t drive something with 4wd is just tempting fate. I never enjoyed winter as much as I did this year in my new used Ford Explorer. Gas milage is a bitch (less so in newer models), but at least I always get where I’m headed.

  134. says

    I recently bought an ’09 Honda Fit – actually my girlfriend and I traded in both our cars (her ’04 Scion xA and my ’06 Honda Civic Coupe) for it because she lost her job and started going back to school. This arrangement has worked out pretty well, but that’s beside the point. The point is the new Honda Fit is a great little car. It doesn’t really feel that little on the inside, I think I feel like I have more room in the Fit than I did with my Honda Civic coupe, and there’s much more visibility. I looked at the Yaris but I hate that the gauges are in the center and it doesn’t have the safety features of the Fit.

    The Fit also has an acceptable amount of power. The sport model has nifty little paddle shifters and alloy wheels. I seem to be averaging 33-34mpg, but on the freeway last weekend the car was telling me I was getting a goof 40mpg.

  135. n] says

    @ AJ:

    i get sarcastic when people spell my name wrong. (monkey man, not you.) uh, and i’m not overstating anything, and i never said they had starter motors. that was the other dude.

    your alternator is much help, as without it your battery would be unable to provide current to the spark plug to provide fire to the cylinder to turn the piston and get the whole business going.

    and i’m not anti-hybrid, electric motors are wonderful. that whole, 0-60 in no seconds flat thing is nice. and if you live in california, or texas, or florida, or really just south of the mason-dixon line. basically, a hybrid is certainly a great option. it should prove to be a wonderful stop-gap in solving this country’s dependency on foreign oil, and a nice thing to do for the planet to boot.

    don’t judge a book by it’s internet blog postings, son. (aerospace engineer by trade.) ((not the one who was responsible for that S-92 crash last month. i know what happens to the ductility of titanium in an oxygen system!! pffffft.))


  136. JBlilie says

    “safety, then good gas mileage and efficiency, and of course, price and availability”

    Given these (very admirable) criteria, you are going to have a realy hard time beating a used (somewhat newer than the current) Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.

    We love our Toyota Camry; but it’s probably bigger, more expensive, lower mileage than the spec you are looking for.

  137. Professor Peewee says

    My two cents…I’m in Manitoba and own 2 older model Ford Focus…es…(Foci?)

    Pretty good gas mileage, great handling, solid, roomy (get the hatchback, or even the wagon) definitely need snow tires for six months of the year, but with that one modification do really well in the slippery stuff; haven’t been stuck once, even on the 20cm wet snow blizzard we had this week. Ours have been very reliable, and they’re a lot cheaper to buy (and maintain and repair) than a Subaru or an Audi…

    Pontiac’s Vibe (basically a re-branded Toyota Matrix)is also nice, especially if you can find one of the all wheel drive models.

    I’d love a smaller hybrid sometime, but with the winters around here there are too many times when you need the extra weight/wheelbase/power combination.

  138. Michael says

    You can’t go wrong with a Toyota Matrix. My parents have had one since they came out and have never once had a problem. Great mileage, too.

  139. Heather says

    We love our Prius. Awesome gas mileage, comfortable, plenty of room for us to carpool and drop off our kids at the sitter’s house along the way. Very reliable, great resale value – I can’t imagine driving anything else!

  140. says

    I don’t know a lot about cars, but I do know what kind of cars my dad (who does) has been buying for my family since I was knee-high to a grasshopper: used Volvos. Can’t get much safer than those tanks, especially in the snow. If you get it used, it’ll be affordable and will still last another decade or so if you take care of it. And it’s by no means a hybrid or smart car, but it’s not actively bad in the gas consumption department. Plus I find the boxy shape of the older Volvos way more aesthetically pleasing than the annoying curves of most modern cars.

  141. says

    Hondas are decently priced, decent gas mileage, and reliable – we have a 2007 Accord that has been the best car either of us have had. Has a little light and letter code to tell you when things go wrong, but the only issue we’ve had in 2 years are oil changes every 5000-6000 miles and rotating the tires every 10,000. They redid the design of the Accord in 2008, so a used 2006 or 2007 might be worthwhile though they’re hard to find since people hang on to them like they’re gold.

  142. JBlilie says

    My 1994 Civic DX coupe is the best snow car I’ve ever owned. (MN winters and Seattle winters and mountain driving.) Not to mention that it was a very respectable rough/unpaved road car. (I’ve driven a Sub Forrester and we also have a 4WD Toyota Tundra — only used for hauling, moving, heavy off-road work: we have acreage.)

    (1.5l DOHC injected high-rev Honda mojo, 102 HP at about 4000-6000 rpm, goes 50-80mph in no time, not so good at 0-60, but still plenty peppy for 45 mpg, never done less than 30 mpg in any circumstances (even with bikes on the roof destroying the aerodynamics) . Just a great car. If it had AC (moved from SEA to MN), cruise, and power windows, we’d never replace it. No good on steep slippery roads (no low-end), but great in everything else.)

  143. Scott from Oregon says

    I’ve been eyeballing the progress of these babies for awhile now–

    Too good to be true?

    We’ll see…

  144. says

    A Honda Fit would be a great choice, but since it has only been sold here for three years it is likely that a used one won’t be any great discount off a new one. If you go for all wheel drive with squid like beauty, I drive a Honda Element. Look at one and think, “that’s perfect except it needs tentacles”. You should be able to find one with side airbags for about twelve thousand. subaru “boxer” engines take themselves apart as you drive, much like the old air cooled VWs.

  145. says

    Having thus far failed twice to pass the test for the final stage of my driver’s license, I’m obviously no car expert. However, my partner bought a 2007 Honda Fit this fall and drove it throughout a very snowy Toronto winter, and still loves it for the mileage and comfort and the unexpectedly large cargo space.

  146. Julie Stahlhut says

    We always start with Consumer Reports, and pre-select models that have the features we want and are rated Excellent or Good for overall reliability. Then we go out and test-drive some top candidates until we find the right one. Just went through the process while hunting for a late-model used car early this month, and we picked a 2007 Mazda 6. We haven’t had significant snow or ice since then, so I don’t have any personal testimony of how well its anti-lock brakes perform. Of course, as I’ve posted before, we like Mazdas. Our 1989 626 LX, that got totaled in 2005, had 250,000 miles on it!

    We have a full online subscription to CR because we use it for other purposes, but if you just need it for one thing, I think a day pass is about $5.

  147. Phyllis says

    consumer reports. there’s something for everyone (and a few where you wonder why in the world anyone buys them at all). then a can of paint and the help of some of those tuners who will totally trick whatever you choose out with tentacles and ink.

  148. Cary says

    PZ, does your budget allow for an Audi A4? The newest model generation gets great mileage and they are extremely safe, and they have a wonderful AWD system as well. Pair an A4 with a good set of winter tires, and you’re unstoppable.

    A4s aren’t cheap, however. Subarus are great as well, but they aren’t exactly mileage kings.

    I believe you should get SOMETHING with AWD, yes, AWD doesn’t help you brake but it can help you maneuver away from dangerous situations, avoiding them in the first place. What will help you stop is a good set of winter tires, and nothing else.

    Priuses are total fail for MN winters. Their stock tires are absolute junk in the snow and putting sticky winter rolling stock would just decimate the mileage.

  149. MikeM says

    Now, we all knew this was coming…

    Except I expected it to be like when you were laptop shopping, where you’d have it narrowed down to two or so choices. I expect you’d have at least narrowed the scope for us.

    I mean, gosh, it’s for the Trophy Wife, so it’s gotta be a Porsche Cayman, right? I’m guessing probably not.

    I personally like front-wheel drive cars in the snow, and sort of expect that you’re looking for something other than pure entry-level. Say, the $30k-$40k range. I’d buy Japanese. With those as starting points, I think the Acura TSX is a wonderful car.

    But you gotta have snow tires all-around. That might be my biggest single recommendation. One retailer, and I risk getting myself banned, is tirerack.com; they’ll walk you through the entire process, and ship you 4 nice wheels, tires and wheel-covers for prices you can’t beat. Best tire website in existence; we got tires for our Escape there, and I estimate it saved at least $200 off Costco prices.

    Which leads me to an oddball recommendation for you: Ford Escape Hybrid. Psst. PZ. It’s a Toyota (to some extent). It might be the best hybrid bargain there is.

    But perhaps the most natural suggest here is an Evo. I whacked myself on the forehead when I thought of that. It has a really cool feature: An automated manual transmission. VW has these too, but I think a Mitsu should be more reliable than a VW. Plus, Evo is short for Evolution. These are really, really hot cars. Porsche speed in a 4-door.

  150. Azdak says

    A friend of mine got himself a Versa about a year back and has been very happy with it, so if you’re looking for a decent, relatively affordable car, it’s definitely worth a look.

    I love our Jetta — it’s reasonably sporty and damn-near bullet-proof. Good in the snow, for a 2WD, too. The diesels are appealing, too, especially if you do a lot of highway driving (in-town, 10 min or less trips, perhaps not so much, which is why we went with the gasoline version).

    For a snow car, I’d have to echo others’ Subaru endorsement. Or maybe a 4WD Volvo. Actually, go with the Volvo, if for no better reason than the Freudian Slip potential.

  151. nichole says

    yeah, i think the honda elements are really cool looking.

    nobody’s said saturn yet. i had tremendously good luck with my saturn, great design. although i heard gm is selling them off :.(

  152. SteveM says


    As others have pointed out, once the Prius is running, the batteries are kept warm. Regenerative braking does work in the cold otherwise the batteries would never charge in the cold, because the same motor (running as a generator) is used to charge them from the engine as from braking.

    Second, automatic transmissions and CVT do not have a clutch, they have a torque convertor. It has a similar function but operates very differently.

    your alternator is much help, as without it your battery would be unable to provide current to the spark plug to provide fire to the cylinder to turn the piston and get the whole business going.

    Wrong, you have the role of the alternator and the battery backwards. The spark really comes from battery, the alternator is there to recharge the battery as you drive. When starting the car the alternator is useless, try starting a car without a battery, yet you can start and run a car without an alternator (for a while).

  153. Brendan says

    From what I’ve heard, SMART cars aren’t so great. My 2 door 2008 Civic gets the same or better mileage, has 4 seats, a more powerful engine, and will essentially turn into one gigantic airbag if I hit something. Also, the brakes are GREAT!

    I’d go with the Civic ANY day over the SMART. More (better) car for the money, and similar (if not better) mileage.

    Good hunting!

  154. KI says

    Scott, I’ve been following the various aircars for a while and have great hope for the technology. The problem seems to be that nasty refrigeration when a gas expands causes the various parts to get out of tolerance and you start to lose power. The French bought a few for the Paris airport, so now we’ll get some real-world use and improve the concept. I have great hope for the rotary-style that is being developed in Australia, and I understand that Tata Motors in India is putting a lot of work into the piston-and-crankshaft model.

  155. EricJuve says

    I would vote for the Subaru. They work better in the snow than a 4wd Toyota, and they are very reliable. I live in the NW and they are about as common here as any other make so getting service is not an issue, that my not be the case in your neck of the woods.

  156. SplendidMonkey says

    n] – do a little research before spouting off.

    Prius facts:
    – no transmission (i.e. no gears that change ratio)
    – no clutch of any kind (engine< ->electric motor/generator< ->wheels connected 100% full time)
    – no starter motor (electric drive motor/generator does this)
    – no alternator (electric drive motor/generator does this – in reverse)

  157. Brendan says

    From what I’ve heard, SMART cars aren’t so great. My 2 door 2008 Civic gets the same or better mileage, has 4 seats, a more powerful engine, and will essentially turn into one gigantic airbag if I hit something. Also, the brakes are GREAT!

    I’d go with the Civic ANY day over the SMART. More (better) car for the money, and similar (if not better) mileage.

    Good hunting!

  158. Dan says

    Go for the Subaru – Forrester, Impreza, or Outback. Decent mileage, great on snow & ice, stylish for wagons, and among the cheapest to buy of AWD vehicles.

  159. Liberal Percy says

    A MINI Cooper gets top-10 mileage and is great on ice and snow (Nebraska). We’re on our third one – a Clubman. Driving is FUN! MINI owners are a great group. http://www.miniusa.com is a hoot – they even have games. The warranty is great – it’s based on BMW’s, as is the solid engineering.

    The Clubman has lots of room if you need room for more than 2 people. We had a convertible until the grandkids got too big (even more fun.) It was a great “midlife crisis” car while being practical.

  160. MScott says

    Recommendation: Honda Fit (http://automobiles.honda.com/fit/)

    * Safety: IIHS (http://www.iihs.org) 2009 Top Safety Pick (w/ optional ESC). Only minicar to get the 2009 Top Safety Pick (more info: http://www.iihs.org/ratings/ratingsbyseries.aspx?id=593)

    * Mileage: 28 mpg city/35 hwy (http://www.fueleconomy.gov/)

    * Price: $15,000 (cheap) – $20,000 (loaded)

    I started researching replacement cars about 2 years ago when I was having some concerns with my current vehicle (which I’ve ended up sticking with, for now anyway). Did a lot of research on the web, including with my Consumer Reports subscription, and picked out the Honda Fit.

    Although I do not own one, it’s on my list as my next car (barring something new) and it was what I recommended to some close friends when they asked my advice on a new car (they needed one on short notice), and they’ve had theirs for just over a year now. They’re so happy with it, that they ended up buying a second one for their mother (wife’s side).

    They test drove against a slew of other minicars and small cars. For the other minicars in particular, they felt the Honda handled the smoothest and gave the most comfortable ride (they said “it didn’t feel like a subcompact).

    I rideshare with them every day in this same Fit, and nothing’s changed my mind about it being my next car once my current one gives up the ghost.

    They’ve also taken it camping with 2 adults, 3 kids, and enough tents and camping gear for a weekend trip. The Fit has more carrying capacity than any of the other minicars and approaching small SUV/wagon capability.


    About the Smart Four Two:

    I seriously looked at the Smart Four Two, since I was looking for something inexpensive but that would get gas mileage approaching a hybrid (with none of the downsides). Since my main need was commuting, I thought this might be a good choice.

    Things that decided me against it:

    * Consumer Reports dissed it pretty heavily on the basis of road noise and vibration. Although they seemed more-or-less ok with it overall, they singled this out as a definite down side to it.

    * When you look at the mileage for the Smart Four Two, and then compare things like how much cargo space you’ve got, seating, general utility, etc. It comes up seriously short. http://www.fueleconomy.gov rates it at 33/41 mpg. For something that stripped down, that strikes me as pretty weak. The fit and other subcompacts come pretty close to that for a heck of a lot more car. This *should* be a lot better than it is, in my opinion, when you compare how much more utility and flexibility you can get with a more mainstream minicar for only a bit less fuel economy.


    About Hybrids:

    Some things to keep in mind if you’re considering a hybrid:
    * The extra cost of hybrids, even with the government kick-backs and incentives, is not offset by the money saved from the increased fuel economy. To single out the Toyota Prius (48 city/45 highway), the annual fuel cost is currently $622. The Honda Fit’s annual fuel cost is $925 (figures from http://www.fueleconomy.gov). Compare the starting price of the Prius at $22,000 to the Fit at $15,000 and you’d need to keep the Prius for 23 years to recover the price difference in fuel savings.

    * Hybrids do poorer in cold weather, so if you live someplace that has real winters, hybrid fuel economy will do a bit less than the expected average for you.

    *The extra power system and batteries take up room, so if you have any use or demand for carrying capacity, they’re going to have a bit less room than an equivalent non-hybrid.


    Fun Fit Facts:

    * It can hold an alpaca (as per one of their advertising campaigns from a year or so ago).

    *At least as of a few months ago, they actually appreciated in value. Resale value for used Fits was higher than the new car price. They’re that popular. (Although that can also make it hard to find one; when I was helping my friends shop/test drive for one last year, we had to drive over 100 miles just to find a dealer that had one [and only ONE] on the lot.)

  161. Guy Incognito says

    Somebody should submit PZ’s name to that MTV show Pimp My Ride. Watching a tattooed gangsta rapper transform Prof. Myers’ vehicle into a squid-mobile would be comic gold.

  162. Chris J says

    Just looked at the Pontiac site, they’ve brought back the AWD model. 22k base MSRP.

  163. Paul K. says

    We picked up a new Mazda 5 about a year ago, and are very happy with it. Lots of cargo room and quite fuel efficient. No problem driving in in Winnipeg winter weather, either.

  164. Epikt says

    My past two work cars have been Honda Civics. The first, a ’91, got close to 40mpg (a large fraction of my commute is on an interstate). The second, a 2000 Civic Si, gets around 30. I generally think well of them. I’ve had some issues, but not enough to keep me from considering another one. The Civics have grown over the years, and they’re not really subcompacts these days; the Fit has taken over that market niche for Honda.

  165. Fernando Magyar says

    Speedwell @ 106 and KI @ 118,

    Im well aware of how difficult it is to change and what it is like to live in a small town where the only option is a car. BTW I still own and drive an ICE vehicle myself it’s an old Ford Escort 5 speed manual transmission, though my yearly driving is now well under 5K miles and my motto is “Ride a Bike or take a Hike” Yes, I live in sunny Florida and don’t have to deal with snow and ice. I try to take the train to Miami whenever possible and I live close enough to the supermarket that I can walk, bike or roller blade.

    However my point (you could check out the link) was that it is time to start working on changing things, this has nothing to do with being noble, it has to do with gut wrenching fundamental change to the current paradigm. If you don’t accept that the paradigm needs changing, well that’s another issue altogether.

  166. MikeM says

    One of the car magazines (I can’t remember which one) started calling the Smart For Two the “Smart For Who?”.

    I hate to slam ’em, but… Well, just compare the Smart with the Fit. Compare the mileage, the performance, the handling, the braking, the room, and the fact that the Fit has an actual back seat.

    To me, the Smart just never made economic sense. That’s what the motorhead magazines have concluded, too.

    After looking over some of the suggestions more closely, yeah, you need to check out the CR-V and the RAV4 (not the V-6!), too.

  167. kestrien says

    My Toyota Corolla is the best car EVER – but perhaps a Highlander would be better for the snow? The Corolla did great in Missouri snow, has fabulous gas mileage, and hasn’t had a single mechanical problem in 5 years & 50,000 miles. Best car ever!

  168. Voldemort13 says

    I heard that there the new Priuses are selling cheep now that gass prices have gone back down to normal. This sounds like the best time to get one.

  169. aginghippie says

    ICE! SNOW! (Ann Arbor, MI variety) Vehicle primarily used by beloved spouse (Marilyn).

    I’m very happy and relieved that she drives a Subaru Forester. Pancake/boxter engine means low center of gravity. AWD is very cool. All safety, all the time.

    Me? I have a ’92 Caprice cop car and a 1975 BMW R75/5. Safety *is* relative, after all.

  170. Eowyn says

    I love my Toyota Yaris. Great gas mileage, very roomy inside despite what it looks like from the outside, and real cheap, too. It’s perfect here in Delaware, but might not be ideal in a snowier state… mine doesn’t have ABS or a rear defroster.

  171. KI says

    Fernando, you seem to get it, and I agree that an overdependence has built up over the years, but I can’t help it, I like cars. I like the way they look, sound, smell and I love to drive and ride and go fast. I love racing cars, luxury cars, even rock-crawling trucks. It’s a technology I just can’t get enough of, and I’m probably more like a heroin addict than a rational person when the subject comes up.

  172. Helioprogenus says

    @Everybody who voted for TDIs, #29, 30, 97, 100, and 123.

    This car’s not a bad choice, considering the fact that I’ve been driving a 2006 VW Jetta TDI. For a diesel, it has the quietest ride of any diesel, street noise is at a minimum with the windows up, does great mileage, has a lot of torque and power, so snow wouldn’t be a terrible problem. The best option would be DSG, which is a computer controlled manual shifting car. You can either shift gears yourself, without having to worry about a clutch, or just let the car do the shifting for you. It’s quite the refined car, yet, the problem is price. I don’t know what PZ’s idea of affordable is, but if he’s looking for a great car under 30,000, this would be it.

    The problem with the Prius is the lack of power in the snow. There might be some struggle with moving the car with snow and ice, so I’m not sure how it would handle in the snows of Minnesota. The choice would be a sedan or wagon, and ultimately, that PZ, should you choose to accept this fine vehicle, would be yours.

  173. MikeM says

    Hmmm. Splended…


    Sorry, but the Prius does have a transmission. It’s a variable-ratio automatic.

    The big argument I’ve read about for the Prius in cold weather is in regards to the heater. Interior heating requires a warm engine; that’s the way it’s always been. To get that, it means you’ll be using the engine way more in the winter than we here in NorCal will (it’s going to be 73 here today).

    In general, the colder the climate, the less a hybrid works like a hybrid. A diesel probably makes more sense in colder climates than a hybrid does.

    But I’m still not sure we have proper parameters for your vehicle search. I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that PZ is looking for a pure entry-level car. So, the Fit, the Yaris, the Versa, the Rabbit… I think it’s safe to assume you’re looking for something not quite that basic? We don’t know, PZ! Clarification, please!

  174. BCReason says

    ABSOLUTELY nothing but a 4WD or AWD. I will never purchase a 2WD drive vehicle again as long as I live where there is snow.

    I live near Toronto one of the few places that gets more snow than Minnesota.

    I have a Chevy Astro AWD and it’s a tank. In 10 years I’ve never been even close to stuck. Going up steep overpasses on snowy mornings I’m doing a slalom around stuck cars.

    Just wonderful!

    I’m thinking of replacing my front bumper with a big piece of oak timber and just pushing those cars out of my way.

    To bad GM doesn’t make Astros any more I’d definitely get another one. This ones starting to rust out.

    I like those smart cars but I couldn’t even think of driving one in winter. I guess if it gets stuck you just pick them up and carry them away. I’m thinking of getting one and putting it in the back of my Astro to use as a spare. That way if I get a flat I can just pull it out and drive for help.

  175. ctenotrish says

    I have a 2000 Chevy Tracker that I just love – small, so I can park it just about anywhere, four wheel drive that I use when the roads are bad, and not too bad on mileage. Trackers aren’t being made anymore (I think), but if you and the Trophy Wife are planning on used, it may be worth your while to look into one of those. I haven’t had any serious repair issues. I just keep up with the oil changes, and that is pretty much it. I also have a 2005 Park Avenue, which I bought in no small part for the seat heaters. Seriously. In-seat heaters in our fine northern plain winters are key to happy travels. :)

  176. MikeM says

    One last question before I move on to handle a system problem for my users…

    Do you have pictures of your wrecked car?

  177. Voldemort13 says

    I heard that there the new Priuses are selling cheep now that gas prices have gone back down to normal. This sounds like the best time to get one.

  178. says

    Unfortunately, any new vehicle is not for me, but for my wife, Mary (I get to inherit her decrepit Honda Civic). She has different requirements.

    I can’t go through all the comments to see if anyone has pointed out this obvious fact, but you will ALSO be inheriting the vehicle under discussion right now.

    And, it should be a Subaru. Just a matter of deciding what kind of Subaru.

  179. Praetorianstalker says

    Considering your descriptions of the lost land of Minnesota, maybe the rig from Damnation Alley may be more of what you need…

  180. Roman says

    Honda Fit
    Best economy car out there. Good mileage, versatile interior, drives great, 5 star crash rating

  181. nichole says

    the electric motor SERVES AS AN ALTERNATOR when it reverses direction. (you know a dynamo is an electric generator, yeah?) and yeah, you can run a car without an alternator. till your battery dies. which, if it’s never being charged, will be shortly. you can run a car without a radiator for awhile too. you can run a car without wheels for awhile. (done that.) the rotors wear away rather quickly however. i would recommend against it.

    and i’ll repeat: without a transmission, kablooie goes the gas engine. you has one. trusts me. and it has a clutching mechanism. otherwise the dogteeth on the collar would look like a redneck’s grill in short order.

    didn’t say hybrids didn’t work, didn’t say the electric engine never kicked on. said it rarely kicks on, and for shorter durations because of the effect of cold on chemical reactions within the battery. and considering the mileage lost because of the weight of the humongous battery and extra engine, you don’t end up ahead. didn’t say it had a starter engine. was saying it has two engines: one gas, one electric. that’s why they call it a hybrid.

    anybody got a problem with that?

  182. Dawn says

    I looked at the Civic, but ended up buying the Suzuki SX4. I love it. Lots of trunk space, plenty of headroom if you are tall. Great gas milage..I get 28-31 mpg with my commute to work, mixed highway/city. On long highway trips I am getting 33+ mpg.

  183. Praetorianstalker says

    Or summon a Cthonian whenever you need a ride (that gets you the tentacles at least).

  184. jfwells says

    Not sure if anybody has mentioned it yet or not, but for all their small size, Smartcars are not that efficient. Something like 38 MPG. You can do better than that with a TDi Jetta (my choice, but it is warmer here than MN – would only be good if you have a garage for it), Prius, Fit, Hybrid Civic, and many others. Smartcars are a bit of a novelty, though.

  185. says

    Decently big budget and lots of city driving: Toyota Prius.
    Lots of long-haul driving: Toyota Corolla (hybrids don’t do so well on highway).
    Lots of rural or rough-ground driving: something by Subaru.
    Significant hauling, as for moderately large squid or zebrafish tanks: a smallish SUV, maybe a Highlander or Escape hybrid.
    Basic, small transportation: A Yaris, Fit, or Smart.

    I’m presuming the kids are good to take care of their own transportation these days…

  186. Togusa says


    In general, the colder the climate, the less a hybrid works like a hybrid. A diesel probably makes more sense in colder climates than a hybrid does.

    AIUI, diesel fuel gels in cold weather without the use of additives, and one’d have to run a diesel vehicle for quite a bit to get it up to temp.

    Here’s a webpage chronicling the experiences of a Minnesota-based Prius owner: http://john1701a.com/

  187. speedwell says

    …this has nothing to do with being noble, it has to do with gut wrenching fundamental change to the current paradigm. If you don’t accept that the paradigm needs changing, well that’s another issue altogether.

    Are you aware I’m a libertarian? I have no fear of changes to the paradigm, thank you. I only have a fear of being the first person to change when nobody else is interested, and then not be able to go to work (my boss would oh so love that) or run basic errands.

    Get back to me after you’ve moved to the UK and “shifted their paradigm” by conscientiously and nobly pioneered right-hand-side-of-the-road driving.

  188. Fernando Magyar says

    KI @ 196,

    I’m not much different from you and I indulged my personal addiction to the hilt by owning some very nice Alfa Romeo sports cars in the past. I really like to drive fast and be in control. However I agree that your allusion to this being like an addiction is probably not too far from the truth. I can’t back this up with a scientific study but I bet there is an endorphine rush associated with the experience.

    Not to mention all of the cultural memes of status and success associated with cars etc. etc…

    However a quarter of a century ago I was able to quit smoking, about four years ago I went cold turkey on my television. I think I’m better off for giving up both of those things. I’m working on giving up my private automobile addiction as well, not there yet, I still need to go to a few more Autoholics Anonymous meetings. I have recognized that I have a problem, that’s the first step to recovery.


  189. says

    Don’t get a Smart, they’re horrible little cars that cost way too much and deliver absolutely nothing.

    Here’s my three picks:
    Efficient reliable shitbox – Honda Fit. Nothing special in any way, kinda ugly, but cheap and reliable.
    Efficient reliable midrange – VW Jetta TDI. Nice car, available with a DSG transmission for under $24k, and diesel efficienty.
    Not-so-efficient reliable snow car – Anything Subaru. The AWD system is well known and depending on the model they can be very fun cars. Obviously fun and efficiency tend to be inversely proportional.

  190. Quidam says

    I’ll add a vote for Subaru.

    I live in the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary. I have three Subarus (all with ABS). The first has 295,000 Km, the second 248,000 and the third I’ve only had 3 months and has 11,450. Other than maintenance I have had to replace a set of plug leads and a water pump seal. All are still in daily use and in good condition.

    I would recommend a Subaru to anybody who lives in a snow zone or puts on a lot of miles.

    The Legacy & Outback models are ‘made in America’ in Kentucky I believe and they do an acceptable job of bolting Japanese parts together. I bought the 2.5i SE wagon as my Christmas present, but they have discontinued the Legacy wagon so if you want a wagon you have to buy it as the Outback.

    I looked into hybrids before I bought my last Legacy, but for the type of driving I do (highway and mountain roads) the fuel consumption benefits just are not there. I would welcome a diesel but the only choice in a small diesel in the US car is the Jetta. California nixed diesels with its emission controls, but maybe we’ll see some more..


  191. Stevenb says

    I’m very happy with my Hyundai Elantra though I’ve put less than 1000 miles on it.

    It’s got a ridiculous number of air-bags. Head restraints that could stop a bowling ball and adjustable seat-belt height. I bought the nicer package which comes with Electronic Stability Control and steering wheel controls so you don’t have to remove your eyes from the road.
    It’s big inside.. it’s comfortable.. I’ve got chronic lower back pain so comfort level was a deal breaker for me.
    It’s a traditional design 4-door which is what my wife wanted (I like the Honda Fit myself.. the interior has a unique setup with the back seats)
    I’d suggest the spoiler, which we got. Aside from looking nicer it lets you see where the end of the trunk is when backing up.

    Gas Mileage is good.. fantastic compared to my Infinity G35x.. but that’s not saying much (the infiniti is good on the highway though)

    The control layout is, for the most part, brilliant. Hyundai uses big dials for features like the temperature. They’re easy to toggle without removing your eyes from the road. My biggest complaint is that the radio buttons are too sensitive. If you hold them in for just a couple seconds, you reset the pre-set. They designed to tap. They need to double the time to set.
    Audio is good.. also important to me.. but like other makers the stereo is not upgradeable without seriously modifying the dash.

    Performance is good for a car in this product slot with this mileage. It’s punchy off the line and then it trails off where a larger engine would continue to surge. The dealer said it’s much better since they moved to Electric steering so any earlier Hyundai experience may not apply.
    The brake pedal feedback is a bit jarring when the ABS goes off but, from the passenger seat, the ABS is actually quite smooth.

    I think it’s a very nice looking car. It’s also got a fantastic warranty.

  192. says

    A Smart Car has no room for luggage or groceries. Would it have killed them to put a small trunk on the back? Also, I think it’s not massy enough for accidents. Heavier vehicles generally have better outcomes for passengers since they don’t change speed/direction so quickly in an accident.

    The step-daughter recently got a Yaris and is very happy with it. I’ve had a couple of hatchback “5-door” Toyotas and was very happy with their reliability. I don’t know the new models, but I love hatchbacks for their flexibility in carrying cargo. Our last couple of cars have been mini-vans twice the cargo space of a sport-ute for 2/3 the price. (You might not need that much space, with the kids moving out, but they can easily be converted into a small camper. Uh… back to reality.) Definitely get snow tires on their own rims.

    I second the notion of taking some Ibuprofin for day-after sore muscles.

  193. KI says

    But but but…cigarettes are bad for you, and cars are liberating for the common people. Really, the freedom to go anywhere is one of the greatest advances in human history, and going back to a life where no one goes more than ten miles from their birthplace is so 12th century. That said, I’m all for mass transit and high-speed rail and improved people-moving that doesn’t require huge amounts of petroleum, and I would prefer our cars to be non-polluting as possible.
    If you could get a Tesla, for instance, would that change your mind?

  194. nichole says

    oh it’s a continuously variable transmission.. oic.

    ::footmouth:: sorry monkey.

    those things suck tho, i thought they went the way of the rotary engine. and the yugo.

    automatic transmissions are practically bulletproof, the design doesn’t need to be improved upon.

  195. sbandyk says

    almost forgot..
    We had a lot of trouble getting a red Elantra late last fall. There weren’t any in Illinois or the neighboring states. Apparently Elantras sell like hot-cakes so you get what you get.

    it took a couple days to get a properly equipped Silver Grey model in.

    One last thought.. the Bluetooth is nice but the hands free sound quality is mediocre. You can, however, tell it to dial a number by reading off the digits.. pretty essential.

    OK.. one more last thought.. I mentioned the Fit and my need for comfort earlier. I really liked the Fit but Honda has a problem with putting decent seats in anything but completely pimped models. The Fit seats are straight-back. It’s the Frank Lloyd Wright of car seats. They weren’t bad for me if I slid my but into the crease of the seat but otherwise I wasn’t impressed.
    That’s the main reason I gave my 1998 Honda Civic to my niece (other than my being an awesome Uncle). The seats were pretty horrendous. They were designed for someone who was 5′ tall.

  196. Keviefriend says

    Dr. Myers,
    IDK what kind of car met it’s demise the other day, but I know neither of our Subarus would have behaved in such a way.
    Although, I don’t know how willing I would be to have one off warranty, especially since your wife is a confessed automotive ignoramus.
    Given that set of facts, my family has always had great luck with Mitsubishi. My mom is on her second Galant, which isn’t as good of mileage as a Lancer, which is probably same/similar as the Civic, and probably a little roomier.

    Honda is a great brand, and if she does love it that much, then get another. My favorite teacher ever is on her third (one rusted to death, one got hit by a drunk parked on the street) and won’t hear of switching.
    If your wife can drive a real car, so much the better. If she can’t, I generally shy away from used, off warranty automatics (I don’t know if you’re thinking NEW or “new to you”).
    As for the civic, those are good little cars, might nickel and dime you to death in old age, but that teacher I had always said “The repairs I have to make 4 times a year never total more than the payments I was making on it new, and I’m saving on insurance”.
    Just a thought.

  197. Chris G says

    I’ve owned a Subaru, and it was great, but for the last six years I’ve been driving a Kia Spectra every day (well, most days) and it has been excellent. Comfortable, acceptable fuel consumption (in the 8L/100 km range)and rock solid on the highway.

    As you can see from all the comments here, there really isn’t a totally horrible car being built today. I make two suggestions, regardless of the car you choose: 1) – get a block heater. It makes a HUGE difference in starting and warm up on those -25°C mornings, and I’m still on the original battery!; 2) – buy a set of winter tires, mounted on their own rims. They are probably the single best thing you can do to stay right side up on the road when it’s cold/icy/snowy.

    Now, a custom cephalopod paint job is something that I’m sure you’ll invest in, regardless!

  198. says

    If you do test-drive a small car, be sure to sit in the back seats as well. I accepted a ride with a colleague once in her tiny Hynundai (Geo?) and found that I, at 5’5″, could not sit upright in the back seat and hold my head vertical.

  199. Virgil says


    Our 2003 subaru (impreza wagon) has been nothing but trouble. It needed completely new brakes at 20,000 miles (all discs rusted through). The heater dropped out at 25k and it took the dealer 3 weeks to fix it. Tires were bald at 26k. All the heat-shields on the exhaust keep coming loose and vibrating. It makes a noise like a tractor when idling in the cold, and it’s not particularly great handling in the snow – the extra weight makes stopping it quite tricky even with ABS. The floor of the trunk collapses into the spare tire well, the upholstry is impossible to keep clean. It goes through wiper blades like they’re made of candy. The bolts holding the seats to the floor are all rusted and look like they’re about to give out (probably due to salt from our shoes in the winter). Repair costs are not cheap either. Gas mileage sucks too – 18MPG in the winter with city driving, maybe 26-28 on a long-haul highway trip in the summer.

    Maybe we got a lemon, but everyone I know with a subaru round these parts complains about similar stuff (gas mileage, noisy engines, vibrating heat shields).

  200. Fernando says

    To much people confudes the small size of the Smart with lack of security in an acident.

    Its false.

    The smart is one of the though cars in case of acident.

    But personally i dont buy one.

    Very small to a family, very dull to drive and the gearbox its pure crap…

  201. Sven DiMilo says

    I don’t get the car thing. When I’m driving, I like to feel like I’m operating a machine, not relaxing in luxurious splendor. I want to shift my own gears, thanks, and crank down the windows with muscle power. I am happy to turn a key to start it and to enter the locked door. My only luxury is a CD player. I also prefer to be able to open up the hood and have some idea what I’m looking at and what part does what.

    Currently driving a 1996 Jeep Cherokee (which I obtained in 2001 when I finally gave up on my 1971 VW bus). Love the option of 4WD, and have driven across the entire state of Connecticut in high-range 4WD during a pretty serious blizzard. Have also gotten across some scarily sandy washes in the Mojave that would have eaten my bus alive. My favorite design quirk is that the dashboard light that informs you that you are in 4WD reads, almost nonsensically, “Part Time.”

    All that said, my semi-ex-wife drives a Subaru Outback wagon and loves it.

  202. snoozebar says

    The Fit’s a great car, much more practical (and cheaper!) than the smart car. I have a 2007 model and love it. Well designed, runs nicely, easy to park and you can actually fit four adults in it. I can’t attest to its ability to drive in the snow, as I live in California.

    My husband has a Subaru Impreza, which he loves and has driven in the snow. It works great. He loves that car, and they’re very reliable.

  203. says

    I just turned in my 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid for its 180,000-mile checkup – no problems. When I set the cruise control for 60 MPH in the morning, I get to work with 52 to 54 miles per gallon. (Evening rush hour drags the day’s MPG down to 45 or so.) My wife and my daughter also drive Honda Civic Hybrids, and I would buy another one in a heartbeat.

  204. SteveM says


    the electric motor SERVES AS AN ALTERNATOR when it reverses direction. (you know a dynamo is an electric generator, yeah?) and yeah, you can run a car without an alternator.

    your original statement was that you needed the alternator to start the engine. My reply was that you do not. As for running without an alternator, I’ve done it and how long you run depends on how much electricity you’re drawing in your accessories, to just provide spark you can go pretty far.

    didn’t say hybrids didn’t work, didn’t say the electric engine never kicked on. said it rarely kicks on, and for shorter durations because of the effect of cold on chemical reactions within the battery.

    You said “Regenerative braking does not work in the cold” (and capitalized all of it). That is more than saying it doesn’t work as well as in warm weather. Second, the batteries are kept warm, so the argument about less efficient chemistry does not apply.

    And stop being so damn condescending, I have not been talking to you like you are 3 years old.

  205. Naked Ape says

    Up here in Winterpeg, my wife and I get out and about in a Camry. I believe they have incorporated Tardis technology in the ’07 and later models since they appear larger inside than out. We traded in our 2000 Bonneville on this car and the Camry is much roomier (especially for tall folks)

    Get a set of snow tires on one of these and you can drive past all the stuck SUVs with their all season tires and get twice the gas mileage to boot.

  206. LightningRose says

    PZ, I live in Colorado (we met twice last year at the Wynkoop Brewery) and I wouldn’t consider living in snow country without 4WD or AWD.

    4WD will generally give you better traction than AWD in adverse conditions, but you can’t use it on dry pavement without scrubbing the tires and running the risk of breaking some very expensive drive train components, so I generally recommend AWD for most folks.

    Yeah, I think a Subaru would fit your needs nicely.

    BTW, today we’re experiencing the worst snow storm in over 2 years. About 12 inches (30 cm) of snow between 4 am and noon, with another 6 to 12 inches expected by noon on Friday.

  207. Free Lunch says

    I’ll be happy to say I’ve had no problems in my Accords, though I’ve been remiss about using snow tires. That’s generally not a problem here in Madison, though driving on ice in Indiana is an adventure all its own.

  208. Nerd of Redhead, OM says


    How about a Hummer or a Peterbilt?

    You going to pay for it? If not, no.

  209. SteveM says


    automatic transmissions are practically bulletproof, the design doesn’t need to be improved upon.

    I agree, but the Prius transmission has to do more than connect the engine to the wheels. It has to connect two engines to the wheels and to each other (and actually it appears to be 3 engines, 2 electric motors and one ICE) and distribute the power every possible direction.

    For “normal” drivetrains, there does seem to be a concerted attack on improving the automatic. Double acting automatic clutches and such that try to give the convenience of an auto without the power loss of the torque converter. Porsche’s PDK transmission is supposed to be fantastic, better than both automatics and clutch/manual transmission.

  210. Guy Incognito says

    BTW, today we’re experiencing the worst snow storm in over 2 years.

    I’m part of that “we’re”. It’s snowing sideways! Wasn’t it 70+ just a few days ago?

  211. Jadehawk says

    If you could get a Tesla, for instance, would that change your mind?

    I don’t think electric cars would work too well in the Frozen North, at least not in the foreseeable future, since everything battery-powered/electric has a habit of not functioning well between November and April. Even most regular cars refuse to start at least a couple times each winter, and a lot of people aren’t able to roll down their windows for most of the winter if they have electric windows (why would you want to roll down in a window in -20F weather, you ask? well, how else are you supposed to order from strbucks/Mcdonalds/drive-thru of choice? you don’t expect people to actually get OUT of their cars?! :-p )

  212. GregV says

    Don’t overlook the Hyundai Elantra SE. It’s Consumer Reports #1 sedan for a good reason – price/value is very good. ESC, ABS, all that good stuff.

  213. nichole says

    @ steve m.

    it doesn’t work in the cold. it’s on the razor’s edge of cost/benefit when running optimally. the highlander hybrid will save you about $1,392 in gasoline over five years. you spend more initially on the vehicle which leads to higher financing costs and sales tax, and you spend more in maintenance. they depreciate faster. the insurance is more expensive. financially, it’s a fail. (even with the federal tax credit.) it’s nice for the environment. (until you need to dispose of that battery.)

    it’s a problem with the batteries that are currently in use. i’m very, very tired of people who are nuts for hybrids. the current generation is just not that great.

    i’m sorry i’m a jerk. i’ve been trying to work on that.

  214. says

    Smart Cars are perfect here in London, but in rural Minnesota you might want something that won’t get blown away on a windy day or buried in the first fall or snow. They’re city vehicles. Another second hand Honda might be more suitable.

  215. Otto says

    Do you want to buy new or used?
    A car’s value takes the biggest dip during its first year, buying an one year old car would be a good choice.
    How long do you keep a car?
    I drive a 1986 BMW325, bought about 12 years ago, BMW still has had all the spares I have needed.
    I do enjoy driving this car. It does need the right tires in winter, snow tires or, not quite as good, all season tires.
    With those this rear wheel drive car handles very well indeed on snow and ice.
    It has ABS, my initial joke about that was that I now slide straight thru icy intersections instead of sideways.
    Then I was able thanks to ABS to avoid what I thought was an unavoidable crash. Now I would not buy anything without ABS.
    Good and regular service important. I have here in Minneapolis in walking distance a good mechanic, Alexander Imports and a good body shop, Best Body Shop.
    Most body shops here will not do rust repair, only collision, BBS does do both and very well, too. They also have a great system of rust proving older cars with an oil/asphalt mixture that really crawls into all corners and keeps humidity and rust away.

  216. JSug says

    You should definitely check out the new VW diesel Jettas (TDI trim). Traction and stability control are standard, and they get amazing fuel economy. They’ve also re-vamped their emissions control, so they’re 50-state friendly now. It won some “green car of the year” award.

  217. ??? says

    You going to pay for it? If not, no.

    I think PZ can afford it. Academics are well into 6 figures a year, right?

  218. DragonIV says

    Snow tires. I drive a 300hp modified Grand Prix through the winter (yeah, yeah, I’m killing the planet, I know) as a commuter in upstate NY (read: we get a fair amount of snow and ice). With dedicated snows, I never get stuck, never spin out, and honestly the traction control and ABS very rarely engage. So, get something you can swing, that fits the bill for what you need it to do, and buy *good* snow tires for it and only run them in the winter.

    Other than that, I usually tell people to buy used to avoid the hit on depreciation, but with the price of new cars these days, it’s not as big a deal. LOL!

  219. Quidam says


    Our 2003 subaru (impreza wagon) has been nothing but trouble. It needed completely new brakes at 20,000 miles (all discs rusted through). The heater dropped out at 25k and it took the dealer 3 weeks to fix it. Tires were bald at 26k. All the heat-shields on the exhaust keep coming loose and vibrating. It makes a noise like a tractor when idling in the cold, and it’s not particularly great handling in the snow – the extra weight makes stopping it quite tricky even with ABS. The floor of the trunk collapses into the spare tire well, the upholstry is impossible to keep clean. It goes through wiper blades like they’re made of candy. The bolts holding the seats to the floor are all rusted and look like they’re about to give out (probably due to salt from our shoes in the winter). Repair costs are not cheap either. Gas mileage sucks too – 18MPG in the winter with city driving, maybe 26-28 on a long-haul highway trip in the summer.

    Maybe we got a lemon, but everyone I know with a subaru round these parts complains about similar stuff (gas mileage, noisy engines, vibrating heat shields).

    I have to say that my experiences do not match yours in the slightest. I get the tire wear the tire manufacturer warrants – to get that kind of wear all the wheels must be out of alignment. My 2000 (295,000km) Legacy has had one set of new brake pads, my 249,000km Forester is still on its factory set. Quite how wiper blade wear is related to the car is beyond me. I use my car for my own business and track the mileage carefully. Over the last four years I averaged 8.1 l/100km (29 m/US gallon, 35 m/UK gallon) The Forester gets 8.2 l/100km (28.7 m/USg, 34.5 m/UKg) This is comparable to the Mazda 3 GT (a smaller vehicle but with similar power)

    If the trunk carpet is collapsing into the wheel well than either the pressed fiber sheet is missing or – and considering the alarming rust you describe – the whole car was dropped in the ocean. None of my Subes has any rust.

    You talk of the ‘extra weight making stopping tricky’. The Impreza hatchback weighs 1390Kg, for comparison the Mazda 3 GT weighs 1381kg. All I can suggest is if 9 kg makes that much difference then don’t ever go shopping.

    Being a 2.5l 4 cylinder they do make a distinctive sound. Much nicer than a Harley though :)

    It’s obvious you have had a bad experience, but you’re not sounding reasonable.

    I’ve owned 2 Fords, 1 Triumph, 1 Toyota, 1 Datsun, 1 Honda, 1 Mazda and 3 Sunarus. Of those the Honda was the worst by far, but it was bought used and hadn’t been well treated. The little Toyota Tercel 4wd wagon was the best, we got 365,000 km out of it, but Toyota don’t make anything like it now.

    The blue Mazda MPV was the closest to a cephalopod when it got old. When you drove away after idling at a light it would leave a dense blue cloud of oil-ink smoke the exact shape of the vehicle.

    The last three vehicles I’ve bought have all been Subarus.

  220. BruceJ says

    If the Trophy Wife likes her Honda, get her a Fit. Great mileage, and the legendary Honda reliability.

    We’re about to buy one to replace our 28 year old Civic Wagon.

  221. says

    How about a Scion xB? I know it’s just a Yaris with lots of room, and it doesn’t handle side winds very well, but they are cheap, and get acceptable gas mileage.

    I wouldn’t let a trophy wife anywhere near a Subaru. A Forester has a 50-50 chance of turning any female into a lesbian (NTTAWWT). I don’t know why, it just works that way. There may well be a doctorate in it for anyone doing that study.

    Did you get an estimate on getting your old car fixed? You can do a lot of body work done for the price of a new car.

  222. says

    RE: Hybrids —

    1) Priuses scoot around in Minnesota winters just fine. At least they do in the Twin Cities.

    2) Hybrid batteries are lithium-ion, not lead-acid. Much better for the environment, plus they can be refurbished.

  223. MikeM says


    The ratio is changing, just not in the way you expect it. That’s a great article you link to that explains how it works, by the way. Very interesting.

    It changes ratios by having the motor/alternator changing the direction and speed of the outermost gear on the planetary gearbox. That’s sort of the way a conventional automatic works, but with a conventional automatic, you don’t have the option of changing the speed and direction of the outermost gear (a function that can increase the energy consumption or produce electricity, by the way).

    I still think, however, that the biggest problem with hybrids are the batteries. Also, if the Trophy Wife is looking for a logical replacement for the Civic, the most logical replacement for it is a Civic. Everyone has varying tastes, and I doubt she’d like an Si, but that’s what I’d choose if I was getting a Civic.

    Whatever you get: Dedicated snow tires mounted on their own wheels, all the way around.

    That actually leads to the next problem on the Prius, though: Tire life and potential tire replacements have been an issue for customers. I was shocked when I saw how fast the tires wore on my parents’ Prius. They didn’t last long. So people want to get away from those tires, and when they do, the mileage drops WAY off. It’s a challenge.

    I strongly suspect that between needing snow tires, the cold weather and eventual tire-replacement issues, the Prius probably isn’t a great car for the snow belt.

    Acura TSX. Around $30k, and upmarket from the Civic… And it’s a very practical car, too.

  224. nichole says

    @ phoenix:

    hybrid cars use nickel metal hydride batteries. the only car with a lithium ion battery bank that i know of is the all electric tesla. (which is smoking hot. and also like $150k.)

    there ain’t enough lithium kicking around, son. a lithium battery of that size costs more than a whole prius.

  225. says

    If you can’t lay your hands on a ’67 Mustang than I’d lean toward the Honda Fit or Civic, Toyota Matrix, Scion XD, or possibly Hyundai Elantra (don’t know anything about the latter, except that Consumer Reports rates it very high overall).

  226. Nea says

    Another vote against Subaru and especially the Forester. I got rid of mine when it cost me $5,000 in repairs in a six-month period *plus* new tires *plus* standard maintenance, and the mileage is iffy at best. I’ve never had to replace a bearing or a head gasket before, and this one didn’t even have 110,000 miles on it when both (plus brakes) went. I’d been making sure it had all the proper maintenance too.

    The new car is a Toyota Yaris, the 4-door hatchback, and I couldn’t be happier. Plenty of room – that tiny trunk can hold 6 full bags of groceries with the seats up; with the seats down, I have close to the hauling capacity I had in the Forester. Mileage is phenomenal; a 2 1/2 interstate highway drive took less than 4 gallons of gas. Plus it has Toyota reliability and safety behind it.

  227. MikeM says


    Actually, on the Prius, the batteries are Nimh.

    The “plug-ins” will use some sort of lithium batteries, and it turns out there are environmental concerns over them, too.

    Road and Track magazine had a long, technical article regarding the benefits and drawbacks of lithium and nickel based batteries some time ago. I used to wonder why they couldn’t just put a plug in a Prius, and instant plug-in. It has to do with deep-cycling, which you can’t really do with nimh batteries.

    So you go to lithium batteries, and the costs skyrocket.

    It’s not an easy equation. When I added it all up, I came up “Diesel”.

  228. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    I think PZ can afford it. Academics are well into 6 figures a year, right?

    Maybe for chaired professorships at research universities, where a person is expected to bring in $$$$$ in research funds and pubish three-four papers a month. For associate professors at teaching institutions? What hallucinogen are you taking? PZ has reported his income. Do a search.

  229. DrCogSci says

    If weather is an issue, I *highly* recommend the Subaru. Probably not an Impreza, but a Legacy/Outback or a Forester. The AWD is impressive, and the estate styling is befitting of a sweater-wearing liberal professor. :)

    All the Japano-boxes are a good idea, Toyota, Honda, etc. but considering the cause of the write-off, AWD is the way to go. The Mitsubishi Lancer isn’t a bad idea, but I seem to recall it having dodgy space in the… er… “trunk” I think you guys call it?

  230. SteveM says


    Whatever you get: Dedicated snow tires mounted on their own wheels, all the way around.

    That actually leads to the next problem on the Prius, though: Tire life and potential tire replacements have been an issue for customers. I was shocked when I saw how fast the tires wore on my parents’ Prius. They didn’t last long. So people want to get away from those tires, and when they do, the mileage drops WAY off. It’s a challenge.

    I strongly suspect that between needing snow tires, the cold weather and eventual tire-replacement issues, the Prius probably isn’t a great car for the snow

    Isn’t it a bit unfair to knock the Prius for needing snow tires when you recommend them for any car?

    As for tire wear, I haven’t noticed any difference on my Prius, nor do I buy any special tires for it and did not see any significant change in mileage. Fast wearing tires are typically high performance sports tires which the Prius is anything but. I can’t explain your parents’ experience, but it doesn’t match mine.

  231. Nea says

    Er, that was supposed to be “2 1/2 hour interstate drive.” The mileage is great in a Yaris, but no car will get you across 2 1/2 states without a fillup or two!

  232. SteveM says

    [damn, blockquote failed]


    Whatever you get: Dedicated snow tires mounted on their own wheels, all the way around.

    That actually leads to the next problem on the Prius, though: Tire life and potential tire replacements have been an issue for customers. I was shocked when I saw how fast the tires wore on my parents’ Prius. They didn’t last long. So people want to get away from those tires, and when they do, the mileage drops WAY off. It’s a challenge.

    I strongly suspect that between needing snow tires, the cold weather and eventual tire-replacement issues, the Prius probably isn’t a great car for the snow

    Isn’t it a bit unfair to knock the Prius for needing snow tires when you recommend them for any car?

    As for tire wear, I haven’t noticed any difference on my Prius, nor do I buy any special tires for it and did not see any significant change in mileage. Fast wearing tires are typically high performance sports tires which the Prius is anything but. I can’t explain your parents’ experience, but it doesn’t match mine.

  233. Eidolon says

    Guy, Lightning:

    I am also part of the I-25 blizzard. Hell, I’ve been on dives with better vis than this.

    To cars – Fact one – any make will have the occasional road apple. I have had great luck with Mitsubushi, Acura, and Dodge. I thought my Toyota was a POS. I do nearly all my own work but very few repairs have been needed on my three favs.

    Fact two – AWD/4WD is certainly a good way to go, but not the only way. My wife has a TL-S Acura with Blizacs and it has proven very good in snow, as long as it has clearance.

    Ski Lake Eldora (Colorado) and Subaru is clearly the locals choice.

    Fact three – American brands are not the crap they might have been at one time.

    Fact four – given good care, most cars will outlast your interest in them.

  234. MikeM says

    No, SteveM, it’s not, and it’s because it’s a Prius.

    Part of the reason the Prius gets the mileage it does is the tires themselves. Do a google search on “prius replacement tires”, and this is a big issue for them. People change to different brands, and get a 10% drop in mileage. And it’s because the original tires are very low rolling resistance, which leads to very short tread life.

    This doesn’t seem to be an issue with, for example, a Civic. I’m sure those don’t come with ideal tires, but when people put on something else 25-40k miles later, the mileage is not affected. The Prius is unique in that you either get bad tire life (and 50mpg) or good tire life (and 46mpg).

    The truth… Is out there (cue hokey music).

  235. VJBinCT says

    I love our Toyota Prius, and the new Honda Insight seems almost as good for 10-15% lower price. But remember, Hummer may go byebye as a brand in the next couple of months, and you could have an impressive lawn ornament dirt cheap.

  236. SteveM says


    This doesn’t seem to be an issue with, for example, a Civic. I’m sure those don’t come with ideal tires, but when people put on something else 25-40k miles later, the mileage is not affected.

    Its not affected because it didn’t come with special tires to begin with. The point is, I don’t see how the it is unique to the Prius that its oem tires give higher mileage than other “stock” tires.

    The Prius is unique in that you either get bad tire life (and 50mpg) or good tire life (and 46mpg).

    The physics of the tire and rolling resistance doesn’t care that it is a prius or a civic. If it is more efficient on the prius it will be more efficient on the civic. The Prius is only “unique” in that it comes with those tires. Put those tires on a Civic and I’ll bet you get a mileage boost at the expense of tread wear just like the Prius.

  237. Jim says

    BeE amerikun by amerrycan! Get you a honkin big ol pickin’up truck! I read that dealerships are folding up all over small-town USA cause they are stuck with great big trucks they can not sell. Should be able to get a deal as the inventory is sold off along with the office supplies/furniture/buildings!
    You could be a one family economic stimulus package keeping the monster running.
    And in the deep snow you will hardly even notice the crunching noises as you cruise over all those bitty little high mileage jobs.
    (me? oh no, if i can not ride my bike i walk to work)

  238. Paul Johnson says

    Efficient? Honda Fit, Ford Focus, cars like that.

    Good for snow i would choose Subaru. I would choose a used forester probably. They are great. mostly good visability, great handling, awd.

    if you purchase a smart car you will almost definitely regret it. maybe if they cost a third of their price it would be close to worth it.

  239. becca says

    I’ve got a 2004 Honda CR-V. Reasonably good mileage, great in Michigan winters at least, and it seems indestructible even when a bus backed into it at speed. I’ve got well over 150,000 miles, drive over 200 miles a week, and never a problem (so far)

  240. El Guerrero del Interfaz says

    I did not thought about it at first but, as you mentionned the Smart, what about a Renault Twingo? Small outside and big inside. Unbelievably so. Seats 4, even 5 if not too fat. Pretty convertible too. We fitted a rock band’s equipment in it, drums included (and only one person, of course, the driver). And quite reliable too. I bought one to my daughter, then it went to my son and has more than 200.000 km by now and still strong. Never a big problem and the new ones have all the goodies of bigger cars including ABS and such. And very geeky too. Better iPod connection than a beemer and lots of gadgets.

    Try it, it will surprised you. It did with a die-hard old biker like me (not enough to make me switch to cars but for me it’s a religious issue and I’m quite a fundy on this question).

  241. ZK says

    ancientTechie @48
    I drove a Honda CRV for a while (in the arctic no less[1]). It wasn’t much good TBH.

    No idea about fuel economy, I didn’t much care at the time (we had gone north for a short holiday).
    Handling was poor, even for that size of vehicle I expect something a more responsive and precise when I turn the wheel.
    Performance was sluggish, perhaps they sell models with larger engines? Dunno.
    Comfort was just about acceptable but only just, particularly after a few hundred km by which time it was somewhat uncomfortable.
    It was a box on wheels, it drove, and that’s the best I can say about it.
    Shame really, I had a fully specced Honda Accord for a couple of years and that was much better.

    That said, I had rented the CRV from Hertz so maybe it was suffering from the Rental Car Blues, despite having less than 20,000km on the clock. Or maybe is was underspecced? Dunno.

    [1] OK, so it was mid summer, on asphalt roads, so I can’t comment about handling on ice or snow.

  242. Erick says

    If you are considering a new hybrid I would suggest this: Taking into account the carbon and other pollution created by manufacturing a new car your impact on the environment will be less if you buy an economical used car and take care of it. A new hybrid is just an overpriced status symbol. Case in point; I bought a 1993 Buick century with 180k miles on it for $1000, I put another $2000 into it over the next three years I owned it and put on another 100k miles. At 25mpg, this was not the most fuel efficient car on the market, but I believe this was outweighed by keeping a car on the road that may have otherwise been relegated to the junkyard.

  243. MikeM says

    SteveM, I generally like Toyota. Good, solid reliable cars, good mileage, and so on. But the tires they use on the Prius are a different situation. I’d even go so far as to suggest some level of dishonesty on Toyota’s part with their choice of OEM tires.

    I had the same issue to an extent with our Escape. This was the brakes. The original ones were lousy. I switched to Akebono pads and Ferodo rotors; problem solved. Ford could have done the same thing for about $10/vehicle. It bothers me that they didn’t.

    Anyway, we’re scaring PZ now. PZ, look into this one yourself and decide whether it’s an issue or not. I see we have people swearing by or swearing at Subarus here, too.

  244. SplendidMonkey says

    Is there an environmental impact to buying new if the choice is between new and used? Buying a new car is not going to force a drivable junker into the heap before it’s time, someone is going to want it (FSM bless them for that). I would say it’s more down to preference than what’s best for the environment. I bought my ’04 Prius used, hitting 100k mi. this week. I’m probably going to keep driving it until it can’t be fixed. On the other hand, it might be better for the environment to junk a brand new Hummer than to ever drive it. Recycle it into 3 or 4 efficient cars.

  245. Eric says

    Quick calculations on fuel economy. I get 38-40 per tank in the summer, and 32-34 per tank in the winter (combo of highway and street), but I’ll just go with the official numbers since I don’t know what kind of numbers the Prius actually gets.

    Prius: 48 mpg highway = 2.083 gallons/100 miles
    Fit: 34 mpg highway = 2.941 gallons/100 miles
    Difference: 0.858 gallons/100 miles

    Assume gas at $3/gallon, as a conservative estimate in case it goes up. Then for each 100 miles you drive, you’re paying about $2.57 more for the Fit. So out of 200,000 miles, you’d pay $5,140 more for gas – less than you’d save by buying a Fit instead of a Prius. I’ve also heard the maintenance can be expensive for the hybrid parts, but I won’t vouch for that.

    Even for exclusive city driving where the Prius excels, the Fit still only costs you $8,000 more for gas over 200,000 miles, putting the Fit Sport and the Prius Touring at about the same price (assuming they both make it 200,000 miles).

    Environmental effects and maintenance aside, the cost of the two is pretty close to the same, with the Fit coming out slightly ahead.

    Just thought I’d toss that in, since there’s a lot of talk about mileage but not much calculation going on.

  246. Eidolon says

    All depends on how much you drive the beast. My 2500 Ram Diesel doesn’t have to go far but when there is a need for high clearance, high load capacity, or pulling little wee cars out of the ditch, there is nothing better.

  247. John says

    If your looking for the environmentally responsible choice, buy a used car and wait 2 years for the latest generation diesels to arrive here. It is unfortunate but Hybrids are basically about publicity. Modern diesels avg. 75 mpg and put out far less pollution than any hybrid on the market. We probably wont see them here for another couple years.

    If you really need a new car now. I would recommend a MINI. I have had mine for 3 1/2 years without issue. And it is insanely fun to drive.

  248. tim Rowledge says

    I ran a 97 Honda CRV from new until last august. It did 25mpg under every condition I threw at it – solo commuting, 5 up + dog + camping supplies up the Sierras, whatever. When we moved north it dealt with the snow and cold just fine, including getting up our steep icy hill when jeeps and stuff were being left at the roadside.
    When it started rattling too much I sold it for about 25% of what I paid for it 12 years before and got a Subaru 09 Forester. That is currently doing 35mpg and handled the past winter with no problems at all; 4ft of snow, parked outside in -5C weather etc. Sure, the interior quality isn’t quite as good as the old CRV but for the same outside dimensions I have a surprising amount of extra space for the model planes and woodworking supplies. It has heated seats too, which unsurprisingly the california model crv didn’t.

    As for nasty words for the Smart – I’d be careful if I were you. My neighbour is a nurse working assorted shifts and she tootles around in her little smart-rollerskate. Not once over the winter has she failed to make it to work or back home, through snow and slush, day or late night. IIRC she has a 30 mile journey each way.

  249. Desert Son says


    How cool would you and Trophy Wife look in one of these?!?!


    Sure, price prohibitive, maybe. But throw in a driving cap, a scarf, some goggles, all together with your beard behind the wheel of that!


    Or you could always buy something sensible, reasonably priced, environmentally conscious, and good for Minnesota winters.

    Still . . . fun to dream . . .

    No kings,


  250. says

    I own both a Subaru Outback and a Honda Fit.

    The Fit is decent as a commuter car here in CA. The back seat is right over the back wheels, though, so don’t figure on anyone riding back there for very long. (Or else make them do so on an empty stomach.) Has some nice features, and is a great car for the money. I’d be hesitant to get it for driving in the snow, though.

    Subaru gets decent mileage for a larger vehicle, and back when we lived where there was snow it was excellent for that. As a trophy wife myself, I can wholeheartedly recommend it for your wife. They age well, too, which means that it’s not unreasonable to consider used. The biggest sticking point I can see is that Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades. Which means that if you’re not careful, the Bad Astronomer will use your new squidmobile as an opportunity for more astronomy talk.

  251. 'Tis Himself says

    Desert Son,

    The problem with convertibles like the Mercedes SSK is that Minnesota gets cold in the winter. We don’t want PZ freezing his fingers off, then he couldn’t type and the blog would be in trouble. Think of the Pharyngulite minions.

  252. simbol says

    I made a calculation comparing Honda Civic LX versus Prius and considering 12000 miles/year and price “out of the door” of $ 18.000 and $ 22000 respectively; 30 mpg Honda versus 45 mpg Prius. Honda Civic won for gas $4/gal in the fisrt 8 years. For gas $3/gal in the fisrt 10 years an for gas $2/gal for the first 15 years. I did not include depreciation, but depreciation is a plus in the case of Honda and I’d say that getting a Prius for $22.000 is like a tour de force while is very easy to find an Automatic Civic for 18 grands. So I bought a Civic 2009.

    Excuse my english.

  253. peter says

    I vote for a Subaru! They fit all the requirements (well, depends what you want for gas mileage–they do about 25-30), and have the added bonus of being amazing in the snow.

  254. Mark F says

    I’ve been driving a ’95 Honda Civic since I arrived in Bemidji in 1999 (Bemidji is 4 hours farther north in Minnesota than PZ, for you non-Minnesotans). Very reliable (still – after 170,000 miles and one impact with a deer), very fuel efficient (still gets 35-40 mpg on the highway), and nice handling.

    It’s only front-wheel drive, but it’s a fine snow car. I drove home from the Twin Cities last April during one of our record-breaking April blizzards. For the last 10 miles, the snow was so deep it was coming over my hood onto my windshield, but I made it home.

    My experience has been that winter performance is at least as much a function of tires as it is of the car. Good snow tires like Nokians (made in Finland – they know…) are worth a lot.

  255. Newfie says

    I would imagine that a few of these have been driven into water. And likely have their own cephalopod denizens.

  256. Fingerhula says

    If it were for you, PZ, I’d nominate a McClaren. It has a triangular seating arrangement with the driver at the front, center. That leaves one seat each for the requisite angel and devil on each shoulder.

  257. Newfie says

    and since it’s an open thread, this just made me laugh.
    Funny take on Vince the ShamWow guy. NSFW Language

  258. James says


    The new vs used isn’t as easy as it used to be. Used car values are holding better right now than new. Add in financing charges are typically higher for used, and you should get a longer warranty with new.

    It was that way several years ago too. When the other half and I went looking for mini-van, and it was cheaper with everything figured in to buy new vs a year old used.

    Plus we tend to trade in our cars just before they die, so any remaining value is looooong gone.

    The old BMW’s are a thing of beauty… have a friend that keeps one running by doing the work himself (plus he’s somehow able to find enough of similar ones that have died to keep his running.)


  259. Wayne says

    This is interesting: of the 298 comments, there were 8 recommendations of American cars, 9 if you count the ’62 Studebaker in comment 298. I’d estimate about half to two-thirds of the comments didn’t make a recommendation, so that works out to between 6 and 9% of the recommendations are for American cars.

    I realise this is a self-selected group so it isn’t representative of the population as a whole. Still, you can see why the big three are in trouble.

    My recommedation: Honda or a Volkswagen diesel.

  260. David says

    Honda Fit is the best car on the market. But given that you live where the snow can get pretty bad, I’d suggest a Subaru. I had an Imprezza WRX once that was unstoppable in bad weather. And their wagon body style is very useful.

  261. foxfire says

    Alas, late to the party again. I was busy filling my 2003 Subaru Forester with books for the annual local library book sale. Before I owned the Forester I had a Subaru Outback for a number of years, which I also loved (no problems on New Jersey snow covered roads). The Forester appears to do well on snow too (although not much of that on the Central Oregon Coast).

    If I was looking to buy a new car now, I’d look at the Forester AND the Toyota RAV4. In Consumer Reports reviews, the RAV4 slightly beat out the Forester. They are both nice looking vehicles, although one could wish for better gas mileage.

    PZ, looking at your criteria for Mary:
    -Safety-wise, both Forester and RAV4 well equipped, although I doubt they would win out in a direct head-on with, say, a Ford Explorer. I know my Forester is quick and can out-maneuver a bigger, heavier car. It is great in rain/wind due to the All Wheel Drive (AWD – PZ-wife gotta have!) and does just fine in the snow too.
    – Fuel-wise, Consumer Reports the RAV4 slightly above the Forester. Overall, in the low 20’s. Nothing like the Prius
    -Reliability-wise (is that what you mean by efficiency?), I’ve never had a problem with the Forester – I did get a notice to have my drive chain checked at 50K (not there yet). With my previous Outback I received a recall notice on some engine thingie, which I took to a dealer, they fixed free of charge and no problems. Latest CR ratings show excellent marks for both the Forester and the RAV4
    -Price-wise. the Forester and RAV4 are about the same – from low $20K to upper $20K’s.

    Finally, you might want to consider Nerd of Readhead’s recommendation (#2) for the Honda Fit. I checked out the CR ratings too, and the gas mileage is great. It’s a pretty car (I’ve seen several and wondered what they were – they are adorable!) and the reliability ratings are all excellent. I end up hauling around too much heavy stuff (I treat my Forester like a truck) to consider the Honda Fit, although if I were in a different environment, I’d consider the Fit too.

  262. 'Tis Himself says

    I have a 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse which I like, but it doesn’t do well in snow.

    I told my wife that my mid-life crisis required that I either get a sports car or a mistress. We went to the car dealer the next weekend.

  263. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    ‘Tis, the Redhead likes sporty cars, so we had a Horizon TC3 for 19.5 years (the first years were in da Yoo Pee, handled well in snow with good snow tires), and then I got a Ford Probe (almost the same size) to replace it. That’s a mere youngster at 11 years old now.

  264. Epikt says


    They age well, too, which means that it’s not unreasonable to consider used.

    Subarus or trophy wives?

  265. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    Subarus or trophy wives?

    If one has a trophy wife, the answer is obvious. They never age. :-)

  266. says

    Considering their size, the Smart doesn’t get any better milage than the Scion Xb, and the Scion is much larger. Pluse, the Smart demands premium gasoline. Its a waste of money.

    Sorry if someone already noted this.

  267. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    Speaking of trophy wives…

    A toast, to the grand lady who risked life, limb, and remaining family car to rescue our intrepid leader and get him to the airport on time. To Mary Myers, Trophy wife extraordinaire. (Raises tankard of fuming 4 day old grog.)

  268. Dean Pentcheff says

    We recently (a year ago) went through the same loop. We are incorrigible geeks, so became thoroughly exhaustive. Eventually, we ended up with three categories of car that might be interesting: hybrid, utility, and cute. All had to obey the low-gas-mileage commuting constraint (we have a Jeep Cherokee for the field).


    Hybrid: tie (Honda & Toyota), but they’re damned big sedans.
    Utility: Honda Fit was by far the best of this bunch.
    Cute: Mini Cooper (non-S).

    We ended up with the Mini and have been absolutely delighted ever since. More interior room than you’d think (though not as cavernous as the Fit). Good mileage (38 mpg for real). Very low maintenance (first oil change at 18,000 miles). And it’s beautifully stupid looking. We love it.

  269. says

    I’ll give two options.

    You can buy my used 2005 Prius or, like me, order one of the ultra-awesome new third generation, 2010 Prius.

    Drop me a line if you want to know more. I’ve driven it. It’s an amazing vehicle.

  270. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    (are you gonna share that poison, Nerd?)

    With Patricia gone try the back door of the saloon. You better hurry, or the grog will be eating through the barrel. Fortunately, UPS left a larger order of tankards. If everybody hurries, I’ll make it like the barrel exploded.

  271. says

    scion = ugliest thing on 4 wheels.

    Yup. But I buy a car to get to and fro and to haul what I need to haul. Considering the price/fuel milage/cargo capacity the Scion is a pretty good deal. I don’t care if people think I’m driving a motorized toaster.

  272. Newfie says

    I have a 2007 Mitsubishi Eclipse which I like, but it doesn’t do well in snow.

    If it wasn’t for all the hills here, I’d have had no problem with my 03 Mustang. I had 4 really good studded snow tires on it too. Fine on most days, but in heavy snow and ice, it takes really good driving skills to get around.
    The 06 Focus with traction control is like a tank. Again, with 4 really good studded snow tires. 4 Wheel drive cars are highly over rated for winter driving, unless you’re a rally driver, IMO, and instills a false sense of security. Front wheel drive with proper tires will get you where you need to go. If it can’t.. you shouldn’t be on the road in those weather conditions.

  273. Jadehawk says

    *sneaks into saloon*

    aaaanyway, since someone stole my Nano idea already, I’m gonna suggest a Trabi. and if you don’t know what a Trabi is, go and watch “Goodbye Lenin” NOW! ;-)

  274. says

    I’m a big fan of Subaru (although I’ll be driving the (old, gen-7) Mitsubishi Lancer once I get my driving license), and I do suggest that there might be one difference between the hard-wearing ones and the non-hard-wearing ones.

    I do know that a lot of Japanese cars meants for the Japanese market have a much shorter cycle lifetime than the ones meant for domestic export, as it is assumed that they will be scrapped after a shorter number of years, due to the Japanese laws on car ownership. Is it possible that those of you with the ones which wore out faster might have gotten a domestic model? It’s not impossible to imagine, especially from parallel importers.

    (In general, do be wary of getting Japanese cars that way, unless, like my colleagues, you know how to recognise them from the chassis and part serial numbers.)

  275. gardenguy says

    I have a three year old Honda Fit with 66,000 miles. I live in the Berkshires of western Mass where it snows and there are hills.
    I did go for snow tires on the front and have not been stuck.
    I have had no problems with the car and love it and agree with everything others say above with one exception.
    The wipers suck. They get icy and are very hard to clean off. I have been too lazy to look into after market ones but promise myself I will for next winter.
    Gets average 34 mpg up and down and all around.
    Air con lowers mpg during Jul-Aug and warm up idle a tad in winter (to 31-32).
    Hope to go 200K until plug in hybrids rule!

  276. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    *sneaks into saloon*

    *Drags Jadehawk out the door wearing Tyvek bunny suit, gloves and half face respirator*
    Dang forgot to tell people to knock. This 4 day old stuff is potent.

  277. says

    Are the wipers in the ’09 Fit new? I think they are. The wipers in my ’06 Civic seemed neat but were streaky as hell, the wipers in the ’09 Fit seem much better than them.

  278. says

    @Epikt- Nerd of Redhead had the answer exactly right. ;-)

    So many hybrid fans! We weren’t convinced that the cost premium was worth it for the kind of driving we do. Ymmv. Of course, if you do get a Prius there is the danger that you will be bringing the same smug pollution problem we have out here in the Bay Area.

  279. Eidolon says


    You are correct in your eval. of the number of posts vs. country of mfg. I disagree, however, with your conclusion that this somehow shows the innate superiority of imports. We own and have owned both American and import trucks and cars. Having done most of the work on the lot of them, US stuff is neither much better or worse than the imports.

    The criteria most have considered here is high fuel economy and AWD. Since there are not present US products that meet these requirements, you get Subaru/Fit/ yada, yada, yada.

    For those who love the Prius, consider first the environmental cost associated with the batteries in both production and disposal. Next, consider the ownership cost when those need replacement. Finally, the smaller issue of tires.

    If you can go with some what lower mileage requirements, there are big 3 crossovers that are every bit as good as any import, price for price. If it is a commuting car, quite honestly, mileage is not that big a deal. If you drive 100 miles a day, a bit more so.

    PZ owes it to himself to check into the US crossovers as well as the imports, including some of the second level marks like Acura and Lexus. Not only lots of nice stuff, but also safer with attitude control.

  280. NFPendleton says

    Toyota Yaris all the way. I call mine “The Silver Cricket.” Reliable, affordable, safe, fuel-efficient, and dead sexy. Four door or liftback.

  281. Chief Angry Cloud says

    A Subaru Impreza is a freakin’ tank in the snow, even with the stock all-season tires.

    It wont fail you. It may, however, rust. :(

  282. JamesG says

    I’ve been lurking for a while and I have enjoyed PZ as well as a number of insightful commentators here. I’d like to echo the many people who suggested looking into VW’s line of turbo diesel (TDI) cars. I drive an 03 Jetta Wagon TDI and I love it. The torque is amazing and I can drive over 700 miles per tank highway (Boston to Detroit no fillups). The newer TDI’s do slightly poorer fuel economy but have nicer features, more power, less pollution and less noise.

    If you do get a TDI, you’ll find there is a nationwide group of TDI enthusiasts at http://www.tdiclub.com. They can help with questions, maintenance even upgrades. There are usually get togethers all around the country and someone local willing to help out for a beer. Not that you’ll have trouble but I’ve found it nice to avoid the dealer and I’ve learned how to do most of my own maintenance and some upgrades. The only long term maintenance issue is a timing belt every 100K miles.

    Although you’ll find it easy to smoke tires given the torque, the modern diesels do not blow smoke from the tailpipe. But if PZ wants to leave an ink cloud, consider a TDI and get upgrade the ECU firmware.

    I won’t discount hybrids, like the Prius, for city driving and short commutes in temperate climates. But I found that a turbo diesel fit my requirements for fuel economy, driving comfort, performance, and fun. And anyone that wants to do science can even make their own fuel

  283. John Sully says

    I’m one my second Subaru and have been very happy with them. They have both been trouble free, however the first one died in an accident after 130,000 miles. California Highway 17 is a bitch. I got my first one because I hated putting chains on and off in the Tahoe area when I went skiing on the weekends. For the last 9 years I have been living in Montana where we have snow on the ground from October to April and I can’t say enough about how good a Subaru is in the snow, even with all season tires on. If you put on four snow tires they are invincible (but carry a shovel if the snow is deeper than about a foot).

    If you are buying a new car, I would recommend something with all wheel drive, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control. However, even with all of these high tech features you need to remember that at the limits of traction, on dry roads or ice, your car can only do one thing at a time — brake or steer — trying to do both at once results in a car which goes straight ahead. Also, if you have anti-lock brakes, you should not pump them. Just cram the pedal to the metal and the ABS system takes care of the rest, if the pedal is pushing back against your foot, the ABS is working. If not, then press harder. Unless your name is Mario Andretti you cannot do better. On icy roads, I have found that speeds much above 20(!) MPH result in overly long stopping distances, even with all the latest doodads.

  284. says

    Another vote for Subaru! In my driving life, I’ve driven 3, and all have been impressive in all weather climates (even the non AWD one back from the early 90s) and all retain their value very well!

    The one thing my family has noticed, however, are the catalytic converters have failed in the most recent 2 (98 & 99 Legacies/Outbacks), which isn’t a HUGE problem if MN doesn’t care about emissions standards (my state doesn’t) but are pricey to replace. My 99 Outback (100K miles as of last week) has some rusty rotor plates, but nothing that is unsafe or terrible – I’m just saving up for those repairs.

    Other than that, we tend to buy these Subarus online with 70Kish miles, and sell them again at 180Kish miles – and we never have a problem selling them again – people are desperate for them. Not only that, but at 180K miles, they’re still working fine with regular maintainence. Buy an Outback that’s a couple years old with 30 or 40K miles on it, and you’ll have a car you really fall in love with, as the commercials say. They’re right!

  285. aratina says

    Priuses aren’t for everyone, but there seems to be some misconceptions being put out there from non-owners.

    The tire issue with the Prius, for one, is just not an issue anymore. It may have been a problem from 2001 to 2003, but now you can buy tires for the Prius as cheap as you can for any other car. Prius or no Prius, keep those tires inflated. During the last election, I watched my mileage improve by 5 mpg in real-time after inflating the tires on my Prius properly.

    As for the batteries, it seems to be all talk. I’m not sure how many Priuses have ceased functioning from dead batteries, but consider that many Priuses that quit working may still have good batteries that can be resold. (You can also replace the cells separately rather than the whole battery if a few cells do go bad.)

    Since Priuses are built as hardy as most other family-size Japanese cars, they last up into the 200,000-mile range, allowing you to buy four to five-year-old specimens at minimal cost and still get a long life out of them.

    The EPA estimates for the Prius are also quite incorrect. “City” driving, with many starts and stops, tends to be very short (unless you are in a major city) so it necessarily uses more fuel due to the cold engine (which is true in any vehicle). Cruising on the highway often is a two-way endeavor, and because what goes up must come down, if you lose mileage going to a place, your gain is even more incredible coming back (sometimes staying above 50 or even 75 mpg on average) because the engine is basically idling most of the way (Prius engines stay on after 42 mph).

    But most of all, nothing beats having a silent vehicle, and you don’t have to have a Prius to know what I’m talking about. I believe that Honda hybrids also shut off the engine when at rest and Ford hybrids use the same Hybrid Synergy Drive that is in the 2004+ Priuses. I think the silence factor alone makes the Prius one of my favorite vehicles and is well worth any extra costs that *might* come into play but probably won’t.

  286. tim Rowledge says

    As for the batteries, it seems to be all talk. I’m not sure how many Priuses have ceased functioning from dead batteries, but consider that many Priuses that quit working may still have good batteries that can be resold..

    .. and if the pack does fail (or the car is otherwise totalled) Toyata pay a bounty for the pack since they can recycle the materials.

    I once saw some insane Hummer fanboi trying to spread the ‘news’ that Toyota would charge $20k for a replacement pack, that they were single-handedly responsible for making part of Canada into a moonscape of total pollution meltdown and… well, you get the picture. Turns out that even the briefest analysis revealed that all the Prius’ made would account for no more than 1% of the annual Sudbury mine output of nickel. And although Sudbury was once a pretty glaring example of industrial pollution it is apparently now a poster boy for cleanup. And Hummers do not have a lower lifetime cost than a Prius. And they suck.

  287. says

    I haven’t read all 330 comments but I’ll join what I hope is a tsunami-chorus of people shouting: Toyota Corolla. you can’t go wrong. We have a ’92 and an ’07 and they are amazing. The ’09s get 53 mpg on the highway at 120km/h (65 i think that is in archaic units), my ’92 still can squeeze out 40mpg and it has 297 thousand kms on it. They are faster, safer, handle better, have better gas mileage and are prettier than any other compact on the road. Drive one long enough, and you won’t want to drive anything else.
    If you figure you need AWD, the new matrix has a Subaru drivetrain in it (Toyota bought a large chunk of Subaru last year).

  288. El Guerrero del Interfaz says

    You’re gonna be busy weighting all the info the Pharyngulites hordes has given you. However, besides the guys who recommended you a Reliant (check it…) or a Peterbilt, this has been rather boring. We need to change that. So here are three not so boring options. One is even rather squid-like and has a name to match: the Zeus from SideBike (it’s what I’m gonna buy when I’ll be no longer able to drive a 2 wheeler).




  289. johannes says

    I live in Finland and the weather we have sounds similar to yours. What ever car you buy make sure you invest in a good pair of winter tires for example: http://www.nokiantyres.com/products

    I would personally go for a German car (either Audi, BMW or VW). I’ve driven a BMW 1-series quite a lot now and it feels very good in both icy conditions an in the summer.

  290. Eidolon says

    El Guerrero:

    I do like the Spyder. Saw one locally – looked like a kick in the ass to drive.

    The comments about the Prius battery pack are interesting. Anybody have actual info as to costs?

    As for safety, stability control has been a popular item on our Acura TL-S. Costs more, but a suitable ride for PZ’s trophy wife to commute in. Also very good in snow with proper tires.

    With respect to opinions about cars, they are much like belly buttons – everybody has one and they are about as valuable. Good luck PZ.

  291. MadScientist says

    No! Not a smart car! Every Smart Car I see seems to have an exceptionally stupid driver.

  292. says

    Can you name the truck with four wheel drive?
    Smells like a steak, and seats thirty five?
    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down
    It’s the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown
    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    Twelve yards long, two lanes wide,
    Sixty five tons of American pride!
    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    Top of the line in utility sports,
    Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!
    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    She blinds everybody with her super high beams
    She’s a squirrel-squashin’, deer-smackin’ drivin’ machine
    Canyonero! Canyonero!
    Whoa, Canyonero! Whoooooaaaa!

  293. Audrey says

    I live in Europe where Smart cars abound – and went to grad school in Minnesota.

    Smart cars are great! But I’m not sure that the clearance they have would be sufficient in a Minnesotan winter. It would only take about 6 inches of snow to ensure you were stuck!

    However, the Office of Energy Efficiency at Natural Resources (Canada) offers some tools you might want to use for selecting your next vehicle: http://www.nrcan-rncan.gc.ca/com/subsuj/tratra-eng.php (Unlike the EPA, they haven’t been underfunded for the last 8 years ;) )

  294. Angela says

    Here in the lightly frozen regions of southwestern Virginia, we have a Honda CRV (a light SUV) with real-time four-wheel drive, recently paid off! and we have been very pleased with it. The highway MPH is in the mid-20’s which is not anywhere near a Prius or my Prism, but is a good compromise between size and safety and fuel efficiency. We have two rug rats to haul around so we probably have more space requirements than you.

  295. johnb300m says

    i don’t want to sound cliche…..but have you driven a ford lately? I was completely astonished how far they’ve come at last year’s and this year’s Chicago autoshow.

    definitely look at some AWD ford fusions. nice cars, decent price, decent mileage for a midsize car. I think the ford company will be around for a good while longer. they seem to be doing the right things.

  296. KI says

    Back again, two comments.
    Jadehawk @245, I was asking Fernando (of Florida) if he would drive a Tesla. It would be impractical (and probably too expensive) for a Minnesotan. Not that I wouldn’t take one if it were given to me.

    Minis are really fun and economical, but if the snow is over 5 inches they are snowplows – they sit kinda low, which is why they corner so sweetly.

    It would seem that the choice of vehicle will be difficult – so many good cars these days. I guess the big things are dedicated snow tires and heated seats, front-wheel drive (or AWD) and ABS. Best of luck, may your quest prove victorious.

  297. IceFarmer says

    Hi PZ,

    I’ve worked in the auto industry for several years (really putting my anthro degree to good use I know). I was the guy to recommend Subaru in the previous thread as well. Get an AWD (be wary, not all are equal, most people don’t understand the differences between them, most are part time systems which you do not want).

    For your needs, steer clear of the smart car. Smart car = shitty winter driving.

    I’ll reiterate what I said yesterday.

    1. Get a Subaru (either a nice new one or a well maintained older one)
    2. For the winter months get a nice set of winter rubber on extra rims like Nokian Haakapellitas (not sure if I spelled that right). And run your tires seasonally.

    I’m from Canada so I’m used to all driving conditions. If you’ve got questions about buying cars, email me for some free advice. It doesn’t matter whether you want a domestic or an import. May help you save some cash too.

  298. JGG says

    Get a modern car. That is: a hybrid. And the brand who has the most technological development in that area is of course Toyota, with the Prius. Fantastic car!

  299. says

    I have not needed a car for the last 20 years or so (living in Japan the trains are more efficient/safer/cheaper) and my last car (in NZ) was a 1951 Morris Minor. My NEXT car, however, I want to be something like this. The perfect commuter car, with the added bonus that it looks like something out of the Jetsons.

    It’s not coming out until next year, though.

  300. says

    Whatever you do, don’t buy a diesel and burn food-based biodiesel in it! Here are a couple of cars to think about, the new Insight, the new Prius, and if you can wait a little longer, a hybrid version of the Yaris is on the way, which should be the cheapest of them all. Think also about a Honda Fit and regular Yaris for low cost and high mileage.

    I posted an article on these cars yesterday:


  301. Rrr says

    Glad you’re OK! Sorry I’m late to the party.
    (It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw… :) Si&Ga )

    A large minority seems to recommend you give Trophy Wife a Fit.
    May I humbly suggest getting an n:th opinion on that?
    Bottle of Bubblies? Bubbly Bath? Both?

    How about another Volvo? Most of them are FWD now (or AWD). Or a Saab? Always have been FWD, good fun. Sturdy things, pretty reliable even used. Not too bad mileage. Might be uncertain supply for spare parts in US, but in teh Skändinävian Stätes there must surely be some dealers around.

    And winter tires in winter, please! On ALL WHEELS!!Eleven!

    Around where I often drive the road authority has started experimenting with a mixture of salt and sugar for de-icing also at lower temps. Now if they would only add a little dill, my car would much resemble pickled salmon in spring!

  302. woodsong says

    I know nobody’s commented here in a few days, but I just wanted to put in my two cents worth…

    First (as many others have said), I’m sorry to hear about your accident, glad you’re OK! Better than my husbeast, he broke an arm when our Corolla wagon got totaled last October. :-( He’s recovering, and should be completely back to normal in a few more months.

    Our replacement car requirements were 4: fuel efficiency, reliability, low repair cost, and cargo space. We are now the happy owners of a FWD 2006 Matrix (stick shift). While I haven’t yet calculated our highway gas milage, we get ~28-30 mpg for city driving (not quite as good as the old Corolla, but they don’t make those wagons anymore–or rather, they don’t sell them on this continent!) My one (serious) complaint: our model has no rear window wiper!!! If you get ANY hatchback, a rear wiper is a MUST. And yes, it handles reasonably well in snow. While I have slid a few times on curves at low-but-slightly-too-fast speed, a touch of gas pulls the car out of its fishtailing very nicely, and we’ve been readily able to climb fairly steep hills with several inches of unplowed snow.

    Having rented a 2-door Yaris for the week while we awaited the insurance settlement, I have this to say: check whether the driver’s seat slides forward to allow rear seat access before buying one! The one we rented didn’t, which is excessively annoying when carrying passengers. Other than that, I found it a good car, and had we not needed wagon-size capacity, I would have happily bought one.

    A good friend of ours, who lives in a snowier locale (Syracuse, NY, as compared to Ithaca) drives a Subaru. While he likes how it handles snow, repairs are more expensive and the fuel efficiency isn’t as good. He’s been doing research to figure out what his next vehicle should be, and has decided to buy a Honda Fit. He said that overthe expected lifetime of the car, the increased mpg of the Prius does not pay off the sticker price difference when compared to the Fit.

    Good luck with whatever you buy. May your next vehicle serve you well and safely!