I have to leave my Chevy Cruze! What should I buy?

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Eva drove a used 2013 Chevy Cruze. She loves the car even though it hasn’t been the most reliable. She’s looking for something fun, reliable, and no older than 2015. What car should she buy?

(Welcome back to Which car should you buy? Where we give real people real advice on buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I currently drive my mom’s 2013 Chevy Cruze. I learned to drive in this car and I am very attached to it even if it is a lemon, in my opinion. I spent hundreds of dollars CPR on this vehicle, drove 200,000 miles and lost oil all over New Jersey. I’m afraid she’s nearing the end of her life, and I think it’s time I started looking for a replacement. Despite all the issues, the Cruze is a lot of fun to drive. It handles very well and has excellent pickup thanks to the turbocharger. The only time I had any driving problems was in the snow. In New Jersey, there are always a few big storms a year that make the roads inhospitable to my little front-drive car.

I feel like when I looked for replacements, I went in two directions. One direction is a nice two-door sports car like a BRZ or a GR86. Something I’d love to drive and flex on my boss driving to work in an ’02 Corolla. However, I am not a good driver. I cannot be expected to drive a rear-wheel drive car safely, and I absolutely cannot drive in manual mode. These cars are not practical, but the desire is there. The second direction is to want a reliable, fuel-efficient AWD vehicle for everyday trips, occasionally in the snow. I really like the RAV4 Prime. It’s AWD, it’s got great mileage, I could even realistically drive to work and come back with a full battery charge and rarely need to refuel. I just hate the thought of having such a big car, especially when it comes to parking. It’s also a bit lame, I’m not a soccer mum yet. More importantly, it’s a bit out of my price range and too early to find a used one.

I don’t really like Kia, Hyundai and Nissan, so none of those brands.

I’m not sure the car I really want exists. A sporty, fuel-efficient, reliable all-wheel-drive vehicle under $35,000 newer than 2015 is a lot to ask. Is there a solution for me? Please advise!

Fast facts:

Budget: Up to $35,000

Daily driver: Yes

Location: New Jersey

Wants: Fun, Reliable, AWD

Will not : A big and boring car

Expert 1: Tom McParland — It’s Not That Difficult

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Eva, if there’s anyone who can give you good advice on the next car to buy, it’s another person from New Jersey. Before getting to the heart of the matter, you absolutely must do not buy a RAV4, not because they are bad cars… quite the contrary. But because you’re someone who likes to drive, I think you’ll find the Toyota a little underwhelming in that regard, and maybe now isn’t the time to make a super rational purchase.

Either way, your desired combination of fun, fuel economy, all-wheel drive, and relatively new for under $35,000 isn’t that hard. I think an Audi A3 does the job just fine. You might be hesitant to upgrade from an unreliable Chevy to a German car, but the A3 generally gets high marks for reliability, and at this price you can get something with an extended factory warranty.

This is a certified Premium Plus 2019 model in a very pretty blue. Of course, Audi is known for its all-wheel-drive system, and that’s paired with a turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out around 230 horsepower. The A3 is basically a fancy GTI with all-wheel drive and trunk, which is a good thing. Fuel efficiency is quite respectable, with Audi achieving 35 MPG on the highway. The used market is tough right now, but luxury sedans are still a value.

Expert 2: Elizabeth Blackstock — Style on a Budget

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Photo: Autotrader

Eva, I’ve really been in your boat for a while. I love driving, but I don’t always want something that is a challenge, but that makes my daily commute much more enjoyable. So I’m opting for an economical car that will be as fun as it is practical: this 2016 Ford Fusion SE in Edgemont, PA.

For less than $20,000, you’ll be able to tick many of your boxes. It’s AWD, it’s got just over 32,000 miles, it’s got decent fuel mileage (22 mpg city/31 mpg highway), it’s got a turbo engine, and it’s got some style too. It’s one of those moderate enthusiast cars, where the right people go and say, “Hell Yeah,” but where you are also not going to attract undue attention.

It’s a bit older vehicle from that time when infotainment systems were a thing but not necessarily a awesome thing, which is my only criticism. Would I still have this bad boy with a smile on a daily basis? Absoutely.

Expert 3: Lalita Chemello — The answer is always Miata

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Eva, I admit it, Tom makes a fair point with his Audi recommendation. It would be fun, practical, above all reliable and fun. But I have something that will do, with an explanation of why you should accept a little compromise. I’m telling you, get yourself a Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Now, before anyone starts moaning, let me explain. You mentioned that you had at one point looked at the beautiful Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86, and honestly, those are still a great way to go. But a Miata, especially if you decide to go after the hardtop, gives you what the BRZ or GR86 can, too, with an automatic transmission and guaranteed fun behind the wheel.

I understand you believe you are not capable of driving a RWD vehicle in the winter, but I have confidence. My first car in my youth had RWD, and it withstood the long snowy Michigan winters. And I’m sure my current RWD vehicle would do the same (once I got it running…). Really, the only time RWD becomes a problem in the snow is if you do something stupid. Also, to further dispel any myths or boost your confidence, any car is great in the winter if you put on winter tires. So my advice is to have more confidence in your driving and don’t honk the Miata (or be prepared to honk)! It should be fine.

Since you didn’t give us a specific location in New Jersey, I’ve done my best to set some options as locally as possible for you. This 2015 Miata is pretty clean, with just over 8,000 miles and even comes with heated seats, which I think is a must anywhere it snows. I also like this two-tone mocha and black interior. If you’re willing to compromise a little on the year (I know, I’ve asked you to compromise once before with the RWD), you might get this little 2013 hardtop, also with heated seats! It also only has 17,000 miles on the odometer, so it’s pretty close to new in this world. Both options leave a little room to buy winter tires!

Expert 4: Steve DaSilva — The answer is always Mazda, at least

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Eva, as the owner of FR-S, my first recommendation would be to follow this dream. You’ve already thought of that, and they’re perfectly functional winter cars with a set of snow tires (and, fun fact, you can fit a full set of snows inside if you fold the rear seats). You said you’re not good enough driver for one, but even without knowing you, I can say that’s not true. These cars to teach driving skills they don’t to require this from the start. Think of them as training wheels for performance riding – easy clutching, communicative steering, perfect for learning (and learning to ride). Here is a perfect one in Bridgewaterwith the much-desired performance package, sneaking just under your budget.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t also address the other aspect of your search: something AWD, practical, elegant and modern. If you like the feeling of boost in your Cruze, but want a bit more power, handling and a nicer interior, there’s an obvious choice: the Mazda3. These have luxury appointments on par with German competitors, but their reliability and price are in Toyota territory. Top trims, like this one Mazda3 Turbo Hatchback in Nyack, NYdeliver the AWD and turbo combo you’re looking for – within your budget, brand new.

Or, there’s always the WRX.

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