What cars should I consider? Indecision!

My '95 Neon is in need of retirement after 10 years of semi-faithful service, and I’m stumped by the “what next?” question.

Here are the vitals:

low-mid 20s is as high as I’ll go on price, new or used.

I want something I can plan to keep for 10 years, so I don’t want to buy anything older than 2002-2003.

I like handling. Mushy cars turn me off, as do mushy seats.

However, I’m 6’4’’, and I don’t fit very comfortably in most small/midsize cars. So, my inner driver wants me to buy something small which will offer some sporting performance. But my inner tall man is screaming for some room.
Given all that, my options are all over the map. I could go with something small and sporty, like a Mazda 3 hatchback, and enjoy snicking my way through back country roads with a 5 speed while feeling just so slightly cramped. Or, I could get something like a PT Cruiser, or a Camry, or even a Ford 500 base model and enjoy more room, but less fun. And lower gas mileage, which bugs me.
I’m looking for anybody out there who owns something they think would fit the bill, and who absolutely loves it.

New or used, all comers are welcome. Any interesting suggestions or comments would be greatly appreciated.


Handling, economy and room… Hmmmm.

Japanese cars (Accord, Camry, Mazda) have softish suspensions.

American cars of similar size are fine but a bit bland and soft on handling feel.

My suggestion… VW Passat V6 (with 4 Motion if you drive in snowy winter climates).

I’d also suggest a Volvo XC Wagon but it’s out of your price range.

Oh! A new Hyundai Sonata V6 is a great buy. Not as well handling as a Passat but good ergonomics, quality, warranty (10 years) and price.

May as well look at the new Pontiac G6. It’s an improvement over the Grand AM.

Checking out Hyundai is a great idea. Thanks. They’re a bit formal in styling for my taste, but you can’t beat the value, and I haven’t given them a good look in person.
Other suggestions? Anyone?

So buy used. A four year old Volvo (say, 40K on the odometer) will last you ten years easy, and should run around $20K or less.

I’m in the same position you are, looking to buy around June. So far, I’ve narrowed my choices to the Nissan 350Z, Volkswagen Passat, and GMC Envoy. All 3 would be in your price range and they go from silly 2 seater sports car to extremely pratical SUV.

We’re doing just about the same thing, too. I’ve pretty much decided on either a 2002-04 Toyota Corolla or a 2002-04 Hyundai Elantra. I’ve test-driven both in standard transmission models, and they are both fun to drive. The Elantra actually put me back in my seat with acceleration, but the Corolla was also quite zippy. I considered the Sonata, but they are only available in automatic transmissions around here, and after I test-drove an automatic Sonata, I would only buy the car with a 5-speed. It was just too sluggish for my taste.

I wouldn’t buy a Saturn or a Volkswagen. They get consistently bad reviews all around. The 2001-2004 Nissan Altimas were also a consideration, but they are regretfully not being recommended by Lemon Aid in those years, due to too many problems. Here’s a link to a good car review site.

'95 Neon, eh? Replaced all the engine seals yet?

It did need a new head gasket 3 years ago, but other than that the engine has been rock solid. Just about everything else, however, has needed replacing. I’m on my third radiator, third air compressor, second set of struts, etc., and it’s starting to rust a bit. My vanity threshold is fairly low, but rust is where I draw the line.

I test drove a Corolla, and because of my height I couldn’t find a comfortable driving position. With the seat pushed back far enough to accomodate my legs, I could scarcely reach the steering wheel, which didn’t telescope.

Thanks for the tip on the Sonata. I’ll see if I can find a 5-speed to test drive. I tend to prefer that anyway.

That’s exactly my problem, although it sounds like your tastes are even rangier than mine. I don’t need a true sports car (more like, on Michigan roads a true sports car would be too punishing…), and I don’t like SUVs very much.

But everything in between is fair game, and considering how much a new car costs these days, it’s tough to choose…

Have you considered a Subaru? I’ll admit I’m only 5’10", but I have been in some small cars where my head is tight against the roof. My Impreza, on the other hand, surprised me from the first moment I got into it on the dealer’s lot at how roomy it seemed. I’m not sure what the price tag on a somewhat-used Subaru is, but you could a new one, fairly nicely equipped for about your 25k limit. I’m not sure what to say about the handling–I’ve never felt out of control driving mine, thanks to the all-wheel drive, but it’s definitely not the sportiest handling. Though I don’t think I’d call it mushy. I’d get the 6-cylinder if possible. My little four-banger generally has enough power, but I wish I had a couple more cylinders or a turbocharger in there at times.

Never thought I’d say this, but the new Saturn looks cool:


I did, actually, and I like them. I think the newly redesigned Legacy is beautiful - kind of like a not-so-poor-man’s Infinity. The Impreza is a bit small inside for me, I’ve found, plus the styling is a bit too tricked out. I would definitely consider getting a legacy, or even one of the outback variants. The main problem around here (Michigan) is that Subies are very popular because of the snow, and they have been selling for above sticker at the local dealer. Considering that they’re priced higher than most of the competition to begin with, it adds up.

Yep. Too bad it’s only a concept at the moment :frowning:

I think the Impreza is the Ricer’s vehicle of choice. We would also love to get a Legacy, but the prices here (Calgary) are the same as Michigan - they start high, and they stay high for a long, long time.

We replaced the head gasket (?) on my husband’s 1997 Neon, and the next day it needed another seal replaced. We sold it to his parents, and they have replaced every engine seal on it. Looking at Lemon Aid, apparently the Neon manufacturers knew about the engine seal problem; they just didn’t care enough to do anything about it.

I knew that the first model year of the Neon ('94-'95) was built with a head gasket that Chrysler knew would go bad while they were still using it, but I hadn’t heard about it being a problem with subsequent years.

I have a friend who sold his '96 Neon to his father just a couple of years ago. Why anyone would do that to a loved one is beyond me. :wink:

Random extra Neon-bashing story:

Two years ago, I rented a new Neon because mine was in the shop. It broke down in the grocery store parking lot later that afternoon. 300 miles on the odometer. :smack:

Have you test driven the Mazda 3? I love mine, but I can’t speak for head room since I’m only 5’ 2". I can tell you there are a number of seat and steering wheel adjustments on mine, and I’ve been able to adjust it so I am comfortable (in some cars I have to use a seat cushion in order to sit up high enough - don’t have to do that in the 3). You might be able to do the same.

I did, and I absolutely loved it. I’d go for the hatchback version with a 5-speed if I did that, and I’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s fun, it’s cute, and it’s built like the Volvo it’s based on (S40).

It was a tight fit for me, though - not enough leg support or room in the front, and I couldn’t even fit in the back. For a while I was pretty sure I’d buy one, but the more I think about it, the less sure I am I want to be driving around in a car I have to fold my lanky self into every day.

Actually, Car and Driver recently confirmed that it will be built as a 2006 model, and will carryover almost all of of the concept features, including the interior, exterior, 250 hp DOHC V-6 and 6 speed automatic transmission.

Seems very promising - I’m in the market, too, and will definitely take one for a spin.

Yes, it would start to suck if you had to squeeze yourself in every day. Maybe a used S40 then? Even the new ones aren’t awfully pricey, and you’d definitely have a car that would last awhile.

My husband had the same problem. I’m a little surprised you fit in the smaller Subarus. He couldn’t even get behind the wheel of one. He did fit in the Forester, though. Nice car. I couldn’t even reach the clutch on the manual and I wanted a manual so we didn’t buy it.

The Mazda 6 had a very nice feel in the showroom. Didn’t end up test driving it.

We’re going car shopping this weekend with my mom, so I’ll see if we run across anything that seems reasonable. (She wants to drive a MINI and a PT Cruiser for fun, but she’ll probably end up with more of a luxury car.)

I was in nearly the same boat as you in September. I’m 6’3" and needed a new, fun car. I was driving a 1997 Audi A4, which was an absolute joy to drive but a completely miserable POS to own. F*** Audi. :mad:

I thought about the Elantra GT Wagon, which I liked. You may also want to consider a Subaru Impreza, which comes standard with pretty good handling and a 165hp engine. they start at around 18, you could get a nice one in the 22-23 range. How you fit in it would be the only hurdle there.
I would up giving up on the fun to drive angle and just went with practical. Guess I am getting old. Went with a 2004 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab long bed. With incentives and a whole lot of bickering I got it pretty well equiped and walked out with a sell price of 21k.