I think I may have found my next car… anyone drive a Toyota Prius?

One of the benefits of being home in Little Rock is that I can thumb through back issues of Consumer Reports – my mother has a subscription. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m saving up to buy a new car. So I found the annual auto issue of CR and thumbed through it. One car seemed to stand out from the crowd – the Toyota Prius.

The Prius is a four-door hatchback which is about the same size as the Saturn SC2 I drive now, but a little bit roomier inside. It’s an electric/gas hybrid that gets an impressive 44 MPG. Furthermore, it had the highest customer satisfaction ranking of any car included in CR‘s survey – 95% of Prius owners said they were satisfied with their car, even beating out the Chevrolet Corvette at 93%. After adding an option package to get electronic stability control, it looks like a new Prius would cost me $23,970.

Does anyone who reads this own a Prius? If you do, I’d appreciate it if you’d shoot me an e-mail and give me your thoughts on the car.

Basically, here’s what I’m looking for in my next car:

1) I really prefer walking to driving. So I’m not looking for a car that’s loaded or fancy or top-of-the line. I’m looking for something that will get me from point A to point B without breaking down. So, good reliability record is important.

2) Peppy acceleration, because when I do go from point A to point B, I don’t want to be stuck in traffic behind Grandma.

3) Good air conditioning is a must. This is Memphis and it gets hot here. I’m not one of those people who will turn off the air to save a mile per gallon or two. I want my A/C.

4) Automatic transmission. I never learned to drive a manual shift and frankly don’t care to.

5) At this point in my life I absolutely refuse to use debt to pay for a car… so, no financing options, I want to be able to pay cash. Which means I want my next car to be reasonably priced. I was hoping to keep it under $20K, but after looking at what’s available it looks like I’ll be lucky to stay under $25K.

Other models I was considering before reading Consumer Reports:

VW New Beetle – Compared to most cars in its class, comes with a lot of standard features, including a V6 engine. It’s a classic design that will never go out of style. The only car I seriously considered that I could have had for under 20 grand. But: It’s small, it doesn’t get the gas mileage you’d expect considering its size, and reliability is below average. The only car I looked at which didn’t come with an automatic transmission as standard equipment.

Pontiac G6 – I had one of these as a rental car for a day and enjoyed driving it. But, it comes with a 4-cylinder engine as standard equipment, and I’m not willing to put up with a 4-cylinder in a car this big unless it’s a hybrid. Upgrading to the V6 would bump the price into the $23-24K range, in which case it makes more sense to go with the

Buick LaCrosse – I’ve always thought this was a sharp looking car. Since Buick is something of an upscale line, the base LaCrosse would come with everything I need – wouldn’t need any option packages. Cost would be $23-24K. Reliability is above average and I’ve always been fond of Buicks.

Toyota Camry – Of course, you can’t go wrong with a Camry. But like the Pontiac G6, I’m not willing to settle for the base 4-cylinder model. Upgrading to a V6 would push the price above $24K, and if I’m going to go that high I might as well spend a couple grand more and get the hybrid model.

Chevrolet Monte Carlo – Again, the engine puts the price out of reach. I consider it a sin to buy a Monte Carlo with anything less than a V8, but the V8 is only available in the SS package, which would push the price to around $30K. That’s really more than I want to spend on a car. Too bad… the Monte Carlo is one of the few American cars with a very good reliability record.

There are a couple of other options. One is to keep driving my Saturn SC2 until it dies, and right now it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near that point. The interior is starting to fall apart though, as it enters its 13th year. It’s getting a little embarrassing to have passengers see my car. The engine and transmission, though, seem like they could last until the car turns 20.

Another option is to buy a car that has been driven as a rental for a year… that’s a trick that radio host Dave Ramsey has always recommended. As Dave says, cars can depreciate as much as $8,000 in the first year, and why not let someone else take the loss? On the other hand, I kind of like being the first and only owner the car has ever had… that way I know everything that has ever happened to it. Also, I suspect if I go with the Prius, the rental-car route doesn’t make as much sense because I doubt those cars depreciate much at all in their first year.

And finally, I’ll close this post with a couple of cars I wish I had owned:

1992-97 Cadillac Seville – the late ’80s Seville was a crappy little car, basically a Buick Skylark with different door handles and a V8 and a computer. But in ’92 they finally got it right and put out a car that had sleek lines and was a real trendsetter. A lot of its technological advances can be seen in GM cars to this day.

1994-96 Chevrolet Impala SS – this car was a total badass. It was basically the Chevrolet Caprice with the police package, with slight modifications. A gigantic, powerful car that could have revived the era of the muscle cars if the mood of the times had been different. I know people put 24-inch rims on them and turn them into hoopties and drive them all over downtown, but nevertheless I like this car. I always thought the redesigned, smaller Impala released in 2000 was a disappointment compared to the mid-90s model.

Wouldn’t buy these cars used though… they’re too old and they’re GM models, which means their repair record likely sucks.

Anyway, if you have thoughts on the Toyota Prius or know of any other cars I might want to consider, shoot me an e-mail. Heading back to Memphis tomorrow (Friday) afternoon.