Tell me about these cars!

It looks like I am going to be in the market for a new car pretty soon (maybe VERY soon, depending on what news the mechanic has for me today). I’ve had my eye on a group of models and I’d love to hear about people’s experiences with them because it will help me decide which one to go with.

They are:

The Mini Cooper, with the CVT transmission. Love the idea and look of this car, but I’ve not taken a test drive yet. Mostly I’m concerned about repair costs – the car itself is reasonably priced, but am I going to be very, very sorry the first time it needs to be fixed?

The Mazda 3-series 5-door. Snazzy little vehicle, has gotten good reviews. But why does it cost $4,000 more than its 4-door cousin?

Another Subaru Impreza. I’ve got the 1993 model now, been very happy with it. Are the new ones just as good?

The Honda Element. Not very attractive, but certainly functional. Anyone out there got one? Love it? Hate it? Worth the money?

The PT Cruiser base model. I had a Dodge Charger once upon a time that turned out to be a piece of junk, so I’m a bit scared of going with Chrysler again. Anyone got any opinions on that?

Also, I’m considering using my credit union’s car-buying service. Good idea, or no?

You’ll probably want to check out car web sites for better reviews but I can comment on the Mazda 3 and the Impreza (WRX).

We tested a Mazda 3 before my GF’s brother bought his Toyota Matrix (which is what I drive).

The 5 door Mazda comes with only the high-end 160 hp engine while the 3 door comes with both the 160 and a weaker 130? hp engine. That, and the Mazda 3 Sport (5 door) has a lot more features. It’s a decent car with lots of high-end features that aren’t included in other cars in that price range (rain sensing wipers, Tip Tronic tranny etc).

The WRX, my friend owns. Very nice car. AWD is overrated (snow handling in very different than your typical FWD car). Lots of crazy power but nothing else special about it. I’d personally get the wagon over the sedan. If you need AWD at least get the automatic. The manual has a locked 50/50 diff which has gotten my friend into trouble (spun out and crashed).

I don’t own of these, but I’ll tell ya what I know:

Mini- High quality, can’t recommend BMW products enough. Fun to drive, stylish, but you may end up paying more because everybody wants one.

Mazda, Subaru and Honda- All make very high quality products. Maintain decent resale, but a 2-3 yr old one would be a good buy. Still should be as new, but the depreciation hit was taken by the original owner.

PT Cruiser- current products bear no resemblance to your Charger. I hear they are okay, but don’t know too much about them. I wouldn’t buy a Chrysler however.

Credit Unions are most likely going to give you better rates than dealer/other financing.

Have fun!

Thanks for your comments so far.

No need for AWD here - I’m in NC so it’s not worth paying extra for. I also wouldn’t get the WRX version of the Subaru - I don’t really think that’s worth the extra $5K either. My current Impreza has 125,000 miles on it and it’s only started to give me trouble the last 6 months or so, so based on that the current Impreza is a strong contender.

I downloaded the spec sheet for the Mazda - looks like most of the extra cost for the 5-door is the bigger engine and 17-inch alloy wheels, plus some other little gewgaws I don’t care about.

gatopescado, glad to hear that the current Chrysler products are better. What a POS that Charger was …

Anyone know anything about what the CVT transmission is like on the Mini? I’ve heard that you don’t get those shift hesitations, which would be good and weird at the same time.

All Subarus are AWD, you cannot get a FWD only version. If you don’t need AWD I don’t think a Suby makes sense. Some Imprezzas have wheel bearing problems. From 1996 or so on they’ve had many, many failures. Don’t know if they’ve fixed in the current model, but they’ve issued new instructions for installing them.

The PT Cruiser is based on the Neon. Nothing spectacular, but fair reliability.

CVT transmissions don’t shift, so there would be no hesitation. It’s like one continuous gear, keeping the engine at peak efficiency or power.

Oh, crap, I didn’t even notice that. My 1993 model Impreza is FWD. Wonder why you don’t get a choice any more <grumble>.

I’m going to make an appointment to drive one of those Minis. And the Mazda, too.

I don’t have the 3, but I do have a 2002 Mazda Protege5 sport wagon, the car that was morphed into the 3. I didn’t know about the larger engine in the 3 - mine’s only 130 hp or so. Although mine’s probably not exactly the car you’re looking at, I’d hazard it might be close.

I love my sport wagon. Love it love it. It’s fun to drive, sporty enough, and yet has four doors for when I’m hauling others around. The backseat’s comfortable enough, but there’s not an overabundance of leg room back there, so if you have 12- or 13-year-old-boys to haul around, you might want to rethink. There seems to be plenty of space for the odd adult crowd that might be riding with me for shorter distances.

I’ve the standard, and it’s got long throws for the shift, which I really like. They do sell an adaptor thingie that you can install for short throws if that’s your thing.

There’s a nice amount of cargo space in the rear, and my 60/40 seats fold down nearly flat, so you can open it up a good deal more if you need to. There’s also a security screen thing that covers the cargo area, which is a nice feature. I noticed recently that the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe’s rear window opens in addition to the hatchback (which isn’t the case on my Mazda - the whole door’s fused), which might be a nice thing if you’re looking for it. Maybe the 3 is different.

There’s been no worries for my baby, other than routine maintenance. Again, love it love it love it.

Make sure you take a look at Consumer Reports - they rate cars and trucks all the time, and you can get a good idea of the average quality of various manufacturers, as well as seeing what problems the past couple of years’ PT Cruisers are having, for instance.

They have all of their ratings and articles online, $26 for the year or $5 just for the month. Well worth it for such a large purchase.


Snickers I agree with you. I have the 2003 Protege 5 and I love it. For me it is the Platonic ideal car with just the right amount of space for passengers, cargo and dogs, yet it is small enough for urban driving. It also feels like a more expensive car with nice detailing and excellent handling.

My only criticism is that the mileage isn’t as good as other cars in it’s class.

I don’t know anything specific about any of those particular cars, so I’ll pass that, except that I believe the Cooper requires premium gas, if that make a difference to you.

I have used my credit union’s car buying service once though and was quite pleased with the results, although it took them a while to locate the vehicle as I specified it. I bought a Mazda truck w/ a 5-speed and A/C, apparently an unusual combination at the time. The price I paid was probably about as good as I would have negotiated, (and I’m a tough negotiator), and the hassle was minimal. As always, YMMV depending on your credit union. By all means, talk to them about it.

Snickers and madmonk28, thanks for the info on your vehicles. The back seat leg room is really a non-issue for me - no kids, just dogs, and we use the minivan to cart them around so I’ll definitely be test-driving the Mazda 3 this weekend.

Tower Dweller, I’ll check to see if Consumer Reports is at the library - if I’m going to buy a car I need to start saving some $. I’ve been very bad about saving money for a decent down payment - that trip down De Nile about the lifespan of the current car is gonna cost me :(.

And thanks for the experience with the car-buying service, Bumbazine. If I settle on the Mazda or the Subaru, I’ll definitely go through them. The Mini would be harder since I’m looking for the CVT model. I did test drive the new Impreza yesterday, and it feels almost exactly like my 1993 model, though there have been improvements in the way the interior is laid out. The Subaru dealer here also sells BMWs, and as it turns out, they take in quite a few ‘pre-owned’ Minis, so I asked them to give me a call the next time they get a CVT version in.

I’m really looking forward to driving that Mazda now!

Thought I’d repeat Tower Dweller’s advice: Consumer Reports is a very valuable resource. If your library has a good back-issue set of CR, then that will work fine. It’ll take some work, looking through indices and figuring out which issues have the info you need, but it definitely can be done.

However, don’t dismiss the idea of looking online. Everything in the printed magazine is available at and much easier to find. You’re about to buy a car, a proposition involving thousands of dollars. Paying $5 to CR for a month of access is chicken feed and may well help you save much more than that.

Ponder, I work at a university, so I just ran a quick check and we’ve got online access to it via our main library, so I’m all set.

I bought a 2005 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS (manual) this year after driving the WRX and the 2.5RS.

I love it. AWD is just what Subie does, but it’s not really a negative. They are great in thw snow. I’m getting about 26 mpg with a split of city/highway.

Thw WRX is a 2.0 liter with turbo, while the RS is a 2.5 liter, no turbo. The WRX starts slow, and has a lot of lag. For most every day driving, I don’t think it’s a great car. You really got to keep it revved to get performance out of it. Expensive to fuel, and insure, too.

The only complaint I have is that the tranny is a little funny. All of the differences between engine and wheels gets eaten up by the transmission because it’s AWD.

I know a guy who has the protege wagon. He loves it.

The 2.5 RS has a 50-50. The WRX has a 45/55 front/rear ratio.

No offense, but I doubt your friend drives well (is he under 20?). The WRX is notoriously DIFFICULT to be able to spin out. That’s actually a complaint that some enthusiasts have about the car – its tough to bring the back end around. I think a more likely culprit is that he doesn’t know how to handle the power.

I could be wrong, but I doubt his spin out was the car’s fault.

Hey bumbazine, try bumping up the inflation on your tires a tad to get some better mileage. My dad bumped mine way up and I got crazy gas mileage that tank. However, he bumped it up so much that I was afraid for my tires (probably unfounded) and had a little rougher ride. I let some of the air out for my own peace of mind, but I’m still doing better on the milage - like 330 miles/tank instead of the 290ish.

However, all the standard disclaimers apply - could be risky and all that. It’s not winter yet, here, so the driving’s fine. But it might be worth a try.

And rp, good luck with the test drive.

Dammit! Madmonk, not Bumbazine. Apologies.

Oh! And one more thing!

When I was looking, I narrowed my choices down to the Protege5 and the Honda Civic (EX? Dunno - the sporty two door one). My husband’s 6’6" tall, and he fits much better in the Protege5. Aside from the fact that I loved it so much, that was a big reason I bought the Mazda - Mr. Snicks had much more room, especially when driving, and that was important to me (not that he drives it much, but there you are). So if you’re tall, that might be nice to know.

**Snickers: ** thanks for the tip onthe tire pressure, how high did you go? It is a great car eh?

romansperson you also might try to look at Edmunds.

Once you have a car picked out you can list your zip and dealers will write you with their best offers.

Good luck.

On the side of the tire itself, it says maximum pressure 52 psi or something like that (at least I think it’s psi - I could be wrong), so that’s what Dad took it to. I didn’t feel comfortable with that, so I lowered it to 43ish (some lower, some higher, but all four in the same neighborhood), which I felt was a happy compromise - the tires didn’t sound so hollow running over road seams (which was what made me nervous) and I still get better gas mileage.

I believe the owner’s manual recommends 36 psi, or thereabouts.

I doubt having the pressure up to the maximum value in a passenger car will cause you any problems, but I just felt nervous with that tire sound.

Overinflating your tires will change the handling and braking characteristics of the car. In addition to a harsher ride, you won’t stop as quickly or corner as well with rock hard tires, possibly making for a very dangerous situation.

Maximum ratings for tires are for the tires, but the rate on your door jam is for the car/tire combination. You can inflate the tires higher than recommended, but you don’t get extra gas milage without side effects. At smaller amounts you’ll just get a harsh ride, at higher amounts you could make your car a menace.