Stuart is a history professor in Louisiana looking for a comfortable but frugal commuter who can travel 160 miles round trip daily, as well as some swamp roads. Stuart is a tall dude, so he’s not comfortable in most high-MPG compacts. Which car should he buy?
This is the scenario:
I need a car that is spacious but also economical. My daily commute is 160 miles. Most of it is highway, but there are some swamp roads involved (literally in a swamp. I see at least one roadkill alligator a week, no lie). While this should be pretty easy, it’s complicated by the fact that I’m 6’10” and have a lineman body type. I just don’t fit or feel comfortable in most economical small cars. As much as I’d like to buy a Prius or similar small car, it’s just not for my size. Plus, my wife and I just had a kid, so we need more space for his car seat and other stuff that inevitably comes with kids. I currently drive a 2017 Rav-4, which is reaching the limit of what I can fit in.
I tend to prefer Toyota’s because they are well built and reliable, but I could go elsewhere. However, I will not buy Chrysler products. I want to spend less than $50,000
Budget: Less than $50,000
Place: Hammond, Louisiana
Daily driver: Yes
want: Comfort, reliability, good MPG, some ground clearance
do not want: Everything from Stellantis/FCA
Expert 1: Tom McParland – The other Toyota Hybrid
Given your good track record with Toyotas, the logical answer seems to be a new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. The only problem with that approach is that the RAV4 Hybrid seems to be the logical solution for practically everyone else looking for a compact and fuel-efficient crossover. A quick search reveals only 18 RAV4 Hybrids for sale within 300 miles of you; all of those listings have stock photos, which usually means those cars have already been sold.
However, there’s another Toyota hybrid that does much the same thing but doesn’t seem to be quite as popular: the Venza. Although advertised as a “mid-sized” crossover, it’s essentially the same size as the RAV4, but a hybrid powerplant is standard and together yields up to 39 MPG. Some people say the Venza is a bit nicer inside, but has less usable cargo space compared to the RAV4. Within the same search radius there are only 18 Venzas, only about half of those listings shows live photos of cars on the lot, so your chances are a bit better of actually holding one.
Expert 2: Bob Sorokanich – De Other Other Toyota Hybrid
Stuart, you’ve got a long drive on some mixed roads, and your budget puts you in really sweet territory: you can either go with a brand new mid-range car, or splurge on a lightly used luxury machine. I say treat yourself. Get into a nice Lexus.
To be precise, a Lexus RX 450 H. The RX is essentially a polished-up Toyota Highlander, which means it’s sure to be reliable and comfortable, even for its alligator-wrasslin dimensions. The hybrid RX is kind of the odd man out – Toyota just slapped a hybrid system behind the 3.5-liter V6, giving the trusty old naturally aspirated engine a small jolt of extra horsepower and torque – but with an EPA rating of 31 mpg city, 28 highway, it will be a relatively efficient way to get the shoulder room and cargo space you need.
We can go two ways with your budget. Here is a very nice RX 450H from 2020 with just a tick over 26,000 miles for $48,000. That’s in the upper echelons of your budget, but you’re essentially getting an almost brand-new Lexus for your money. If you’d rather save some of that money for gas and crocodile stew, here it is a 2015 model of the previous generation with 67,000 miles for just under $31,000. There’s one small downside when you’re looking for last-model pre-owned Lexuses: they’re pretty much all white with tan interiors. But hey, if you save a few pennies on purchase, you can get yourself a sweet gator-skin vinyl wrap.
Expert 3: Collin Woodard – Not a Toyota Hybrid
Bob and Tom both made great suggestions, and honestly if it hadn’t already been picked I probably would have suggested a second hand Lexus RX. It’s a great combination of luxury, fuel economy and extra ride height. But if the swamp roads you drive on every day get so muddy or flooded that something a little rougher is warranted, or if you’re intimidated by the cost of repairing a luxury SUV if you ever hit one of those alligators, then you’ve got I might have the solution.
Typically, vehicles more geared towards off-roading aren’t very fuel efficient, so it wouldn’t make sense to have something like a Toyota 4runner that doesn’t even get 20 mpg on the highway. Especially since you drive 800 miles a week to get to and from work. The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, however, is rated at 90 MPGe and should be well under your budget unless the dealer tacks on a massive raise. Actual mileage will depend on how often you plug it in, but even if you don’t charge it at all, it still has a combined rating of 35 mpg.
The obvious issue here is size. It’s not nearly as big as the Venza or RX, and you’re pretty big. If you took my suggestion and immediately thought, “No. Not gonna work. That’s way too small’, I totally get that. And as a 50th percentile man, in pretty much every way, I can’t guarantee you’ll fit in comfortably. But I found an old Reddit thread where almost everyone, including people who claim to be taller than you, said they had no complaints. So if you like the idea of something that can go a little further off-road than the Toyotas and still get good gas mileage, it might be worth a test drive.
Expert 4: Jose Rodríguez Jr. – The Toyota Hybrid to rule them all
Stuart, even at the risk of leaning this list heavily in favor of Toyota, I’m going to recommend the next one Toyota Crown. The Crown is coming out early next year, so your timing is perfect given that the Crown is coming back to the US for drivers who want what you’ve outlined down to the last detail.
The 2023 Toyota Crown is comfortable, reliable (as far as we know), efficient and it has extra ground clearance to spare standard sedans. I’ve spent some time in Houma, Thibodaux and Raceland so I know what you mean by alligators. Trust me the Crown will give you that higher ride you want so you can better see those gators to avoid them.
Driving the Crown I knew it would be a quirky car that some people will shy away from, but it will be a nice change from the many crossovers on the market and from your RAV4. And since it’s at the top of the Toyota range, it’s likely to offer you the same luxury as a used Lexus.
Depending on what trim you go for, the Crown will also be a hoot to drive. The only caveat is that the top trim Crown Platinum goes over budget, starting at over $53,500. The base model Crown XLE starts at about $41,000 and the model above that, the Crown Limited, starts at $46,585. Both models are within reach, but since the car isn’t in dealerships yet, I’d suggest looking under your couch cushions to stretch the budget enough for the Platinum. This one takes the comfortable, roomy, efficient formula and adds a bit of fun with a powertrain that makes a great impression of a rear-wheel drive sports sedan.