“What car should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would online editor Alex Nishimoto drive? Keep reading for the answer, and see other editors’ picks here.
I’ve already gone over in detail why I would (and did) buy a Honda CR-V for my growing family. But if for some reason I ever left this job and the press car privileges that come with it, I’d need a set of wheels for myself. I’d probably buy something used if that ever happened. But if I had to pick a new car, what would I get?
First, a recap of my needs. As a married thirty-something with a child, a mortgage, and one car payment already, I’d want my second car payment to be relatively low to ease the impact on our budget. I’d also want four doors, a roomy back seat, and reasonable cargo capacity to accommodate my son’s car seat and other essential baby gear. And because he’ll be in the car sometimes, it needs to have excellent safety ratings. Lastly, I’d want a car I can enjoy driving—something that handles well, has decent power, and preferably comes with a manual transmission.
That’s a tall order, but there are a few cars that fit the bill. The Volkswagen Golf is one. I’d say the GTI, but that hot hatch’s starting price is approaching $30,000 these days. The standard Golf, with its new 147-hp, 183-lb-ft 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4, would be a fun, affordable option. But I love a good bargain, and there’s one car that offers more power and arguably more fun for less money than a top-trim Golf SE: the Hyundai Elantra GT N Line.
The N Line trim replaces the previous Sport in the Elantra GT lineup, and it offers a 1.6-liter turbocharged I-4 good for 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. That’s routed through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (for $1,100 more). I’m a huge fan of the manual in this car and its sedan sibling, the Elantra Sport. The buttery-smooth shifter and no-guesswork clutch feel make it one of the easiest modern sticks to drive—something I’d definitely appreciate on my 40-mile round-trip commute. One downside of the manual is a lower EPA fuel economy rating of 23/30 mpg city/highway versus 25/32 mpg for the dual-clutch. Both those numbers are on the low side for warm- and hot hatches, but Hyundai’s 1.6-liter turbocharged engine has consistently outperformed EPA ratings in our Real MPG tests. A manual Elantra Sport recorded 28.2/36.9 mpg on our real-world test loop, while a manual Veloster Turbo R Spec saw an astounding 28.9/42.8 mpg. And as a bonus, the 1.6 turbo only requires regular fuel.