Mary lives in South Philadelphia and really loves the usability and compact size of her Scion xB. But the box is getting older, and it’s time for a replacement. She needs something that is easy to fit into tight spaces but can still accommodate four adults and a dog. With a budget up to $15,000 what car should she buy?
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Here is the scenario:
We have a 2005 Scion XB with about 150,000 miles on it that we got in 2006. It’s an ideal city car, it parallel parks beautifully into tight spaces, fits the kids and the dog, plus some groceries and other stuff. It has been super low maintenance, which is important to us. We drive short distances in the city every day, and drive 20 miles out to the ‘burbs a few times a month. We occasionally go on longer trips. We have a kid starting college in the fall, so we need to be able to transport her and all her stuff 200 miles round trip. We love the XB and hate to give it up, but it’s starting to need a lot of repairs, plus it rides pretty rough so is uncomfortable on long trips.
It cannot be much bigger than the 2005 XB, we need to be able to parallel park into tight spots, have I mentioned that enough? This might go without saying, but A/C is an absolute must. We can spend up to $15,000
Budget: up to $15,000
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: Easy to park, somewhat spacious, reliable
Doesn’t want: Something too big
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Well, Mary, first the Eagles let you down by not bringing home a Super Bowl trophy, and now you have to replace your beloved xB. There seem to be some conflicting parameters, as any car that is going to be comfortable on a long drive and move a college kid’s semester full of junk is not likely going to be compact enough to fit in tight spots. However, the ease of parking looks to be your top priority, and you could always rent a trailer or utilize a roof box for those infrequent road trips.
I know you prefer your boxy rides, but the best choice also has the best name. It’s the Honda Fit. Arguably the most appropriately named car from the Japanese brand. Tight parking spot? It will fit. Need to take four adults around town? They will fit. Doing an IKEA run? With the trick folding back seats… most things will fit. Inventory is fairly plentiful for these compact Hondas; just watch out for the less-than-reputable dealers near the city. Here is one over the bridge in NJ with less than 64,000 miles for around $13,000.
Mary, I’m going to be honest with you: Buy a Honda Fit. That’s the right choice for what you’re looking for. However, if you decide the right choice is not quite what you want, I’ve got a great backup. May I introduce to you the Jeep Wrangler JK two-door?
I know what you’re thinking: It’s way too big for what you’re looking for. Mary, don’t be silly. A two-door JK Wrangler is only two inches longer than a Fit. Wild, isn’t it? You can ask my Jalopnik colleagues; I’ve long felt a two-door Wrangler is an underrated city car. Small dimensions mean you can find parking, and off-road capable suspension means dealing with those trash-ass Philly streets will be a breeze. On top of all that, a two-door Jeep is way cooler than a Honda Fit. I mean, Jesus Christ, you can take the doors and the roof off! That’s sick as hell! It’s going to have plenty of room for all your stuff since it’s pretty much just a big box.
Now, finding a JK Wrangler in your price bracket isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it can certainly be done. I found you this one located in New York, not terribly far from you. It’s three grand under your budget and boasts just 68,000 miles on the clock. It is a manual though, so if you cannot drive one I don’t know what to tell you... other than the fact there are dozens of automatics available. Mary, make the wrong choice: Buy a JK Wrangler.
It hurts me to say Andy is right, Mary, but in this case, Andy actually is right. Because he agrees with Tom that you should buy a Honda Fit. And the car you’re looking for is 100 percent the Honda Fit. But this wouldn’t be much of a column if we all recommended the same objectively correct vehicle, so yet again, we’re forced to come up with alternative suggestions.
Since you like your Scion xB so much, why not consider the Kia Soul? It’s even boxier than the Honda Fit and arguably Kia’s version of the xB. It’s a little bit bigger than your Scion, but it’s still pretty small compared to a lot of the other cars on the road today. Plus, it’ll have room for your family and stuff and should make the drive to drop your kid at college no problem.
Unfortunately for you, $15,000 won’t buy a new Kia Soul, but there appear to be plenty of used Souls for sale in your area that are all within your budget. If you’re up for a short drive, maybe consider this one in Manahawkin, NJ that’s just under $13,000 and only has 51,000 miles on it. It also happens to be green, which is a great color and easy to spot if you ever forget where you parked. Or just buy a Honda Fit.
Mary, if you’re going down a gas-powered route, then the Fit is a great shout. It’s a cool little car that can be parked in even the smallest of spaces. But, this is 2023, so you don’t want to be tied to something that runs on an ancient fuel. You need to go electric.
What’s more, if you’re just using your car to tootle ‘round town and occasionally hit the ‘burbs, then an EV is perfect for you. At your budget, there are a couple of really good options out there. First, you could go for this Nissan Leaf, which is a smidge bigger than your old Scion, but will cover 107 miles on a charge, so can handle your 200-mile round trips with just the one stop for power.
But, if you want something really fun and small, like Collin says, you should get a Kia. But not the one he says; no, you should get a Kia Soul EV. It’s got all the creature comforts you need in a modern EV, and it comes with cutesy looks and a barrage of great color options. Unlike the Leaf. Personally, I like this red and black one from 2017, which will cover the majority of your drives with ease and will just need a few extra coffee stops whenever you have to make the long trip to visit your kid at college.
Mary, the powers that be here at the jello picnic website have decreed that I have to disclaim this recommendation. I need to tell you that parts for 1990s Japanese imports can be hard to come by, and that driving on the right hand side of the car can make left turns across traffic feel perilous. All this I readily admit — for a staid, practical car that meets your needs, buy the Fit.
But you didn’t ask a staid, practical car website for car buying advice — you asked Jalopnik. I think that means you want something a little unique, a little out there. After all, the xB itself was an oddity upon release, so I’m willing to bet you want to replace it with something that has some real character. Lucky for you, that’s easy to find. We just need to take a little trip to a country where space is constrained.
In Japan’s bustling urban centers, everyone faces the same problem you do — fitting the biggest amount of practical, usable car into the smallest parking space possible. The country responded with the keijidosha classification of cars, where every cubic centimeter is used to its fullest advantage. The kei class gives us absolute beauties like this: the Honda Acty.
Four adult-sized seats, plus a cavernous rear space for your dog. It’s four-wheel-drive for those Pennsylvania winters, and this one has less than 90,000 miles on the clock — barely break-in mileage for any Honda, let alone one built before the era of planned obsolescence and cost-cutting.
Mary, you’ve got good taste. You drive a weird, boxy car from a dead brand, and you love it. Why not keep that spirit alive with a car even more interesting and unique than your Scion?