I recently changed jobs in my organization to become a regional risk manager. This means I am now covering several healthcare facilities in an 80 mile radius of my home. I am reimbursed for some of the mileage. The Ford Escape only gets about 21 MPG in combined driving, so I have been driving my 1986 Mazda pickup to save some on gas, since the Mazda gets around 26 MPG combined.
I decided that shifting 50 times in a mile in the stop and go freeway traffic, in a car with no power steering, airco or decent radio has gotten old fast. The Mazda was just fine for the trip of 10 miles from my home to my office on rural roads before the job move. So I had been pondering getting a small cheap commuter car with good MPG and an automatic transmission. I have a real yen for small station wagons with an automatic transmission as being very practical, but very few of those are being made any more. I have been watching Craigslist and AutoTrader for a nice Escort station wagon or the like, but have not had a lot of luck finding one in decent condition. I don't want to buy an Audi or VW due to reliability concerns, and the older larger station wagons have relatively poor MPG. It is a great pity that Mazda and Honda stopped making their station wagons. Ford is coming out with a new Focus wagon next year, which would have been perfect, but they won't be selling it in North America. It will be in Europe only.
So I have been pondering the Honda Fit or Kia Soul as being reasonably close to a contemporary small station wagon that gets good mileage. Both of these have gotten awards up the wazoo. Not a lot of these are available on the used market, and those that are are surprisingly close to the new car price. I have considered a number of hatchbacks, such as the Matrix, Caliber, Mazda 3 and the like, but they are all smaller or have worse reputations than the Honda or Kia. Based on my reading, I can easily fit one of my road bikes into the Honda or Kia without disassembling the bike.
A number of people have recommended buying a new car through the Costco Auto Program, that apparently gives you the 'best no dicker' price. I signed up through that to look at a Kia Soul. A dealer about 15 miles from me is the local Costco rep for Kia.
I went to the dealer and test drove the Kia, a used Honda Fit (2009) and a used Scion xB (2008). I ended up choosing the Kia Soul + as the best mix of size, fuel efficiency, options and cost. Sticker was just under $ 20,000. The Costco price was $ 17,225, and with taxes and fees, I got a cashiers check for $ 18,164 out the door.
I have now driven the Soul for about 40 miles, and so far, I am getting 29 MPG city driving and 34 MPG freeway. It certainly has quite the commodious interior and all the bells and whistles I would want. I will be interested to see how it holds up, but I went over all the Kias at the dealer with a fine-tooth comb, and I was frankly surprised at the fit and finish.
It is really a shame that more small, affordable and gas-efficient station wagons are not available in the US.