Owned Vento & i20 Elite in India, now looking for a family car in USA

This will be our "secondary car" and we'll buy our "primary car", perhaps a hybrid SUV, after a few years.

BHPian karansm4u recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Hi All,

A few months back I shifted to San Francisco, USA for a job and planning to stay here for a longish time (keeping aside visa situations).

As with the relocation the hunt for a car needs to be started and I do not have a deep understanding of the car market here, especially during the time when used car prices have gone up too much last year and new car inventory is at an all-time low.

So please provide advice on what car to buy. Let me pen down some aspects of my personal front which will help folks to advise.

Which car I have owned in India

In India, I bought VW Vento 1.6 TDI back in Jan 2011. Build quality, torque, and handling of Vento was amazing. I enjoyed driving that car and continued to own it till Jan-2023 for an entire 12 years till I relocated to the USA.

Many of my friends, and relatives wanted me to change the car but I could not just sell the Vento and even now I gave it to my cousin so it stays in the family.

It was not that difficult to maintain as on yearly basis I just had to invest a few days to sort things out and I got a trusted FNG mechanic who has done regular services, suspension work and all other necessary maintenance. I have gotten its service done every 10K KM with the best quality engine oil (Liqui Moly Top-Tech or VW 505-01 grade) and stopped going to the VW service center since 2015 after my extended warranty was over.

Even after being driven for ~135,000KM, Vento still looks almost as new. So I do keep my cars for around ~15 years or more (If allowed by RTO) and take good care of them.

My wife drives a Hyundai Elite I20 Petrol and we have had this with us for 7 years and driven very less ~35K KM.

Car purchasing priorities

Eventually, we plan to buy two cars here.

Main: One car which would be a proper SUV that can be taken on long travels and have enough space for luggage, and camping. This definitely needs to be hybrid otherwise fuel cost of running an SUV would be too much. Possibly a 7-8 seater which gives flexibility in having more people when needed.

Secondary: Can be a compact SUV or sedan. Primary use would be local travel, kids school, groceries and smaller office commute.

After many discussions with friends and colleagues, they recommended buying the "Secondary" car first so that it will be relatively cheaper and would not create too much financial burden (especially now that interest rates are pretty high here and since I just relocated so my credit score will take some time to build). Not to mention popular hybrid cars have crazy waiting periods (~ a year or more) and too much dealer markup if one wants to purchase right now. This will also give me 2-3 years and at that time I can get my main car (a relatively costly one) as a used one so getting better value.

So with that in mind I am looking for my "Secondary" car as of now.

  • We have four members in the family. Me, wife and two kids (3-7 years age).
  • I am not too much obsessed with SUV/Compact SUV high stance factor, it might be good to have but I enjoy sedans equally for their drivability and stability. People who have a better understanding can guide me on their experience driving here about the importance of stance, if I am missing any point.
  • Do not want to go electric since for some time (~3 years) this will be my only car and with electric having a limited range, I do not want to constantly worry about that range since for initial years this secondary car will also have to do all the duties including outstation travel which can easily be in hundreds of miles. So all my friends who suggested me Tesla, I have rejected their suggestions. Besides, I never understood the obsession of people with Tesla (or too much technology in cars).
  • I will need to have two child seats in the rear. Even in India, I used to drive with both kids buckled up in child seats.
  • Since I do keep cars for a long period, reliability and easy maintenance are important. I do not plan to go for a German brand here. Of course brands like Toyota, Honda, Mazda etc are preferred and please suggest if there are other good brands.
  • In India, my criteria would be 5-star rated cars so that would do the most strict filtering but here since all cars are safe so just mentioning this for sake of completeness. I am definitely cross-checking and making sure by reading their crash rating so that car safety is not assumed.
  • Planning to buy New. I understand that a used car is a more valuable proposition but in this specific current market, used car prices are still high. They have indeed come down in the last 1-2 months but are still high. So I might just add a few more $$ and get that same car as new and keep it for a long time. Another reason for going New is I do not have enough time to spend on finding good used cars since need to take care of many things in parallel.
  • Need to be only 5 seaters. In case of someone visits, I can always rent or borrow from a friend for time being.
  • Budget is as less as needed. I do have an upper threshold of $35K. I can stretch it more as well but then it is never ending as every few thousand $$ more either there is a higher version of the same car or a base version of a different car.

Cars checked by me so far

Toyota Corolla 2023

  • Corolla seems to be an icon here with respect to reliability.
  • With the 2023 version they have done a pretty good upgrade in many areas (exterior styling & interior along with the engine being 2.0L, 169HP across all variants).
  • Good fuel economy of 35MPG
  • Would cost me ~$26K so budget friendly
  • Seems to be just about the right size with respect to internal space.
  • This can easily run for years and I do not have to worry too much about it.

Toyota Camry 2023

  • Camry is obviously a better car than Corolla in many aspects sharing several benefits of being from Toyota.
  • Fuel economy would be little less ~30-31MPG
  • Cost would be around ~$33K
  • Space is pretty good.

Toyota Corolla Cross 2023

  • Jacked-up version of Corolla with high Ground-Clearance and low mileage.
  • For some reason has not appealed to me that much.
  • I will still test drive it for sure but this would only make sense over Corolla sedan if Ground-Clearance is a huge advantage which I am not sure about since road conditions here are pretty good.

Toyota RAV-4

  • RAV-4 Hybrid is like one of the world's best selling vehicles. Unfortunately, I can only plan to buy a gas-only since too much waiting for RAV-4 Hybrid.
  • I have not test driven it so will update the thread OR make up my mind about RAV-4. If someone has first-hand experience then let me know.

Honda Civic

  • Liked the looks, interior and felt better.
  • Driving was also pretty good.
  • Honda is also a very reliable brand so I have no worries from this point as well.
  • Might cost me a bit more than Corolla, somewhere around $30K and instinctively it then competes with Camry on value proposition because the price difference is not too much.

Honda CR-V

  • Test drove friend's CR-V.
  • Definitely looks like a very all-round car.
  • Cost would be around $35K. Bit on higher side than I would have liked for a secondary car.

Honda Accord

  • I have not test driven it yet.

Mazda CX-5, CX-50, Sedan 3

  • Amazing interior quality and driving dynamics.
  • Feels more engaged.
  • Seriously killer looks
  • Only fear I have is based on reviews I saw many people complaining about their low fuel efficiency. No one in my friend circle has them so cannot even validate this claim.

These are the only cars I checked online, taken test drive of several of them and will be making a decision in 2-3 weeks' time.

Interestingly this is creating three sub-categories and the summary problem statement goes like this:

From a utility perspective, a car which would be used as an only car for the first ~3 years and post that will become a secondary car with limited usage. For a family of 4 which category makes more sense?

  • Sedans like Corolla, Civic etc? Which might have just about enough space for four people with two child sears and later on you can spend saved money on getting the next car.
  • Sedans like Camry, Accord etc? Which have ample space and even after 3 years can easily do all sorts of duties with ease. You spend more but also get more value.
  • Compact SUVs like CR-V, RAV-4, Subaru Forester etc? Same logic as camry/accord but the form factor is Crossover. Do people suggest that high-ground clearance is a must?

Here's what BHPian shankar.balan had to say about the matter:

Considering your post, I believe you like keeping your cars for longer periods and you are a family of four. This works well in the US because they don’t have strictures like the ones our NGT are imposing on us.

I would suggest if this is to be your only all-purpose car in which you wish to commute as well as travel and explore, it makes the best sense to buy a nice spacious SUV. Don’t forget your kids will grow taller year by year and you don’t want them all cramped up. You will need luggage space. When you embrace the US lifestyle and see the opportunities for camping out and adventure and exploration and road trips and barbecues and sports and National Parks/ Scenic Spots and all sorts of things which are different from India, you will definitely find an SUV to suit you better.

Also, you are in the US. Car Mecca if I may. Pricing is reasonable. Fuel isn’t too frightfully expensive. USA is NOT a Diesel market so Petrol is the way to go. Great used cars are available in plenty. You’re absolutely spoiled for choice. Powerful Big cars are easy to get and easy to drive on those roads.

I would work with the Japanese brands, to begin with and consider the American ones too. I think you would do well, apart from Honda and Toyota, to consider Mazda and Altima and Acura and all. They are a cut above the run-of-the-mill. And perhaps expand your horizon a little to include Ford, GMC, Chevrolet and Jeep/ Chrysler too.

Try CarMax. They are good. You can also consider buying used from the good reputed rental car companies like Alamo, National, Hertz and all.

Wishing you all the best. Above all, enjoy your time and your new car and your new world.

Here's what BHPian vb-san had to say about the matter:

Below are my suggestions:

  • Mazda CX-50: Neat little crossover, and the new age Mazda models oozes quality. And this is one brand which has not lost its mojo in the sea of technology.
  • Honda Civic: The new Civic looks good and should provide a fuss-free ownership experience. I believe you even have the Civic Si there which comes with 6-speed manual (though, considering that you are based in SF, a manual transmission car will be an adventure of its own

Though you mentioned that EVs are ruled out, CA is an EV state with good charging infrastructure. And for that reason, I would suggest checking out the Tesla Model 3.
Happy shopping!

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