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I've been car-hunting for almost a month now, since my 2005 Honda Accord went to the big highway in the sky... the clutch burned out, on top of a few other issues, so I decided to sell it "as is" for a fair amount of cash.
I pretty much have things narrowed down, but can't decide between two specific choices. A little about my driving habits and wish-list first: I commute almost 40 miles round-trip usually in light freeway traffic (I live in the Bay Area but work odd hours/days), no snow or ice falls here, and I take frequent driving trips to Southern California + occasional Tahoe/Reno trips. I've driven a manual transmission since forever and would like to stay with that, since I just find them to be more fun & like being in control. I don't want anything huge, but do want the extra cargo space of a hatchback, since I have a 47lb dog and large-ish musical instrument to carry around regularly. And if it matters, I am a 37 year-old single woman with no children, who likes to drive as fast as safety/traffic allows. So no "tin can" cars!
My credit union approved me for a loan up to $15K, plus I have another $3K for down payment, giving me a total budget after tax & title of $18K - but I REALLY don't want to spend that much!! So here are the two specific cars (actually on lots nearby) I need to decide between ASAP... comes down mostly to price vs practicality/longevity, since I like how both drive and look.
2010 VW Golf 2-door hatchback, 5-speed manual w/ 30,689 miles - $12,995
2011 Mazda3 s Sport hatchback, 6-speed manual w/ 35,176 miles - $15,777
Both are at big-name car dealerships, and the Mazda is a certified used car (so comes with a limited warranty and inspection). I think the VW is a better deal, but the Mazda might be a better car with longer-term reliability, safety, etc. On the other hand, I've had a VW before ('99 Passat), and absolutely adored it for the first 5ish years... after that it started to have problems, but I've heard the product has improved in the years since. Is that true? Keep in mind that my budget is VERY tight, and that extra $3000 even over 5 years of payments would make a noticeable difference. Is it worth that extra money for the Mazda?