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Best Choice in a sub-20k Hatch
I've previously driven older models of the Ford Escort and Hyundai Sonata, and spent the summer using a 2006 Subaru Forrester. I really liked the visibility and higher ride on the Forrester, but not the 23-5mpg I'd get. I can't seem to find a cheaper car with similar driving height but better gas mileage.
I've tested a few cars very quickly and I'm having a hard time deciding. I really liked the handling on the Mazda 3, and I LOVE how the exterior looks. But its a bit pricey and the reports I've read seem to indicate it only gets around 26mpg at best. My other vehicle I'm looking at is the Nissan Versa. I drove the SL CVT version and was very impressed with the quality and space of the interior and liked the exterior fairly well. Driving and handling seemed adequate. Taking the conservative end of the fuel consumption estimates, I'd be getting at least in the high 20's for mpg using the CVT.
I guess I have reservations about each car, especially as a fairly new driver. I'm not the most confident driver - is the Versa, with such a small body, a safe and comfortable choice for highway driving? Is a 5 or 6 mpg drop in gas mileage going to put a big dent in my wallet as far as the Mazda 3 is concerned - especially as a student with only part-time income? Are there other options out there for my needs? Thanks in advance for any insight!
(BTW I did test the Honda Civic, the perennial economic favorite. I found the ride to be very comfortable but I missed the hatchback and found the interior and exterior styling to be simply ugly. Seems silly to discount a car for its looks, but I figure if I'm going to put this much money into something I should love everything about it.)