We Relocated From London to California! What Car Should We Buy?

A $35,000 budget for something that is low stress and high MPG

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Image: Frazier-Nash (Other)

Charlie and his wife have traded foggy London for sunny California, but they have realized that America’s public transit system isn’t quite to European standards. They are looking for something safe, reasonably practical and low maintenance. What car should they buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario.

My wife and I recently moved from London to West Oakland and have learned that we can no longer rely on public transit to do our errands, especially now that we’ve adopted a dog and prefer to walk him in nature (which our neighborhood lacks). My wife wants something new, safe and theft-proof. I want something I can throw tools and materials in the back of so I’m particularly attracted to boxy wagons and little 90s pickups. We’ll mostly drive this on errands around town, but it’ll need to be able to handle the occasional fire road when we go camping.

Being good Californians, we’re mostly considering hybrids. We don’t have a place at home to charge an EV.

We have a budget of about $35,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $35,000

Location: West Oakland, CA

Daily Driver: Sort of

Wants: Safe, practical, good MPG

Doesn’t want: Something with high maintenance costs.

Expert 1: Tom McParland - My Answer For Almost Everything

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Photo: Kevin Williams

Welcome to America! While our public transit is a bit lacking, the weather in California certainly makes up for it. With a budget of $35,000 there are a lot of options on the market, but as soon as you check that “hybrid” box your shopping becomes much harder in CA due to the demand for those kinds of cars.

While the usual targets like the CR-V and RAV4 hybrid are likely to sell for premiums, consider a hybrid that is not on everyone’s radar, the Kia Niro. While most of my fellow Jalops believe the Miata is the answer for everything, for people looking for a regular car the Niro checks a lot of boxes. It’s a compact wagon-ish/crossover with a hybrid powerplant that gets up to 54 MPG on the highway. It should be able to tackle those dirt roads just fine with the slightly lifted ride, and it comes well-equipped with a ton of features. In terms of theft prevention, certain Hyundai/Kia models have had some issues, but the Niro isn’t impacted.


The only real downside to the Niro is that you will have to wrangle with the Kia dealer network which is notoriously difficult, but perhaps you will get lucky with something like this one where the dealer’s tagline is “time, trust, transparency.”

Expert 2: Andy Kalmowitz - Top Gun: Maverick

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Photo: Ford

Sweet Charlie, congrats on joining the good guys! You will not be sorry. Now that you’re in America, you’re going to need an American car, and nothing does that better (and checks all your boxes) than the Ford Maverick. It also helps that it shares a name with the sickest movie of the last 20 years.

This little truck is exactly what you’re looking for, and unfortunately you’re really going to have to look. You see, here in America we’ve got a lot of smart people, and they all want Mavericks too. Because of that, finding one that isn’t priced billions of dollars over sticker is a tough task. But Charlie, I believe in you. If anyone can find a Maverick close to or at MSRP, it’s you. Trust me, m8, it’ll be worth it.


I mean, a Maverick Hybrid has absolutely everything you’re looking for. Chiefly, it’s a hybrid that’ll manage nearly 40 mpg, but it’s also incredibly safe, new, has a bed to throw all your junk into, and it can handle an occasional fire road. On top of all that, it’s seriously cheap. It starts at under $25,000, and even a fairly well optioned Hybrid model will not break your budget. The only catch here is actually finding one, but again, I believe in you, Chuck.

Expert 3: Owen Bellwood - Stick to Your Wagons

A photo of an Audi A4 Allroad station wagon.
Image: Audi

Charlie, welcome to America! Are you missing chocolate Hobnobs, Giant Wotsits and proper-sized pints? I think they’re the three things I miss most about London life. Well, that and all my friends and family. But I digress.

Another thing I miss about life in the UK is the prevalence of a great estate wagon, which is sadly something that American car buyers have been neglecting in recent years in favor of SUVs and pickup trucks, like the cars my colleagues have suggested. But, if you don’t want to follow the tide, there are still a few nice wagons that should fit your bill.


Obviously there are still some lovely Volvo wagons over here, but finding one in your budget can be a bit of a challenge. So instead, why don’t you check out the offerings from Audi? You won’t pick up something brand new from the German brand for under $35k, but there are some clean A4 Allroad models scattered near you that will manage nearly 30mpg and would suit you down to a T. Or, if you want to stick with your love of 90s boxes, then this 1995 Audi S6 Avant is a real beauty — but might come with a few more repair costs than the A4.

Expert 4: Lawrence Hodge - Fun and Practical

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Image: Acura

First, as a California native and resident, I want to say welcome! Secondly, don’t think that now that you do live here that you have to adhere to some sort of California lifestyle. You don’t. Be who you are, and don’t let those of us who have been here influence how you live. I say that to say you don’t necessarily need to have a hybrid or EV just because you have moved to the Golden State. There are millions of us who don’t and there are plenty of cars out there that can give you a nice balance of practical with good gas mileage that aren’t hybrids.

Plus, who said you cant have a little fun with being practical and efficient? That’s why I suggest the Acura Integra. It’s well within your budget, like this example I found thats just over $33,000. It’s a hatchback so it’s practical. With the seats up, you fit four good sized luggages back there; fold them down and there are 24.3 cubic feet of cargo space, better than a few small crossovers.


Better yet, it’s both efficient and fun to drive. It has the same engine as the Honda Civic Si. That means 200 horsepower from a turbocharged I4. And impressive fuel economy. The EPA says you should get 30 mpg city/30 mpg highway/33 mpg combined. See, you don’t need a hybrid!