I Need a Roomy, Fuel-Efficient Ride for Louisiana Swamp Roads! What Car Should I Buy?

Image:  Subaru
Image: Subaru

Stuart is a history professor in Louisiana looking for a comfortable but fuel-efficient commuter that can handle a 160-mile daily round-trip commute as well as some swamp roads. Stuart is a tall fellow, so he’s not comfortable in most of the high-MPG compacts. What car should he buy?

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Here is the scenario:

I need an automobile that’s roomy but also fuel efficient. My daily commute is 160 miles. Most of it is highway, but there are some swamp roads involved (literally in a swamp. I see at least one roadkill gator a week, no lie). Although this should be fairly simple, it’s complicated by the fact I’m 6'4" and of a lineman body type. I simply do not fit or am not comfortable in most fuel efficient small cars. As much as I would love to buy a Prius or similar small car, that isn’t happening due to my size. In addition, my wife and I just had a child, so we need more room for his car seat and other stuff that inevitably comes with children. I currently drive a 2017 Rav-4, which is reaching the limit of what I can fit in.

I tend to prefer Toyotas because they are well-built and reliable but I could be swayed elsewhere. However, I will not buy any Chrysler products. I am looking to spend under $50,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: Under $50,000

Location: Hammond, Louisiana

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: Comfort, Reliability, Good MPG, some ground clearance

Doesn’t want: Anything from Stellantis/FCA

Expert 1: Tom McParland- The Other Toyota Hybrid

Image:  Toyota
Image: Toyota

Given your good track record with Toyotas, the logical answer seems to be a new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. The only problem with that approach is that the RAV4 Hybrid seems to be the logical solution for practically everyone else looking for a compact and fuel-efficient crossover. A quick search reveals only 18 RAV4 Hybrids for sale within 300 miles of you; all of those listings have stock photos, which usually means those cars are already sold.

However, there is another Toyota hybrid that does pretty much the same thing, but doesn’t seem to be quite as popular: the Venza. While advertised as a “mid-size” crossover it’s basically the same size as the RAV4, but a hybrid powerplant is standard which returns up to 39 MPG combined. Some folks say the Venza is a bit nicer on the inside but has less usable cargo space compared to the RAV4. Within the same search radius, there are only 18 Venzas, but about half of those listings show live photos of cars on the lot, so your chances are a bit better to actually snag one.

Expert 2: Bob Sorokanich - The Other Other Toyota Hybrid

a white 2021 lexus rx 450 h parked on a city street at night, viewed from the front left corner of the car
a white 2021 lexus rx 450 h parked on a city street at night, viewed from the front left corner of the car

Stuart, you’ve got a long drive on some mixed roads, and your budget puts you right in a very sweet zone: You can either go with a brand-new midrange car, or splurge on a lightly used luxury machine. I say you should pamper yourself. Get in a nice Lexus.

Specifically, a Lexus RX 450 H. The RX is basically a jazzed-up Toyota Highlander, which means it’ll definitely be reliable and it’ll definitely be comfy, even for your gator-wrasslin dimensions. The hybrid RX is sort of an odd duck — Toyota simply slapped a hybrid system behind the 3.5-liter V6, giving the familiar old naturally-aspirated engine a little jolt of extra horsepower and torque — but with an EPA rating of 31 mpg city, 28 highway, it’ll be a relatively efficient way to get the shoulder room and cargo space you need.

With your budget, we can go one of two directions. Here’s a very nice 2020 RX 450 H with just a tick over 26,000 miles for $48,000. That’s in the very upper reaches of your budget, but you’ll basically be getting an almost brand-new Lexus for your dough. If you rather save some of that money for gas and alligator stew, here’s a previous-generation 2015 model with 67,000 miles for just under $31,000. There’s one minor downside when you’re shopping for late-model pre-owned Lexuses: basically all of them come in white with a tan interior. But hey, if you save a few pennies on purchase, you could get a sweet gator-skin vinyl wrap.

Expert 3: Collin Woodard - Not a Toyota Hybrid

2023 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
2023 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

Bob and Tom both made great suggestions, and honestly, if it hadn’t already been picked, I probably would’ve suggested a used Lexus RX. It’s a great combination of luxury, fuel efficiency, and extra ride height. But if the swamp roads you’re driving down every day get muddy or flooded enough to justify something a little more rugged, or you’re intimidated by the cost of repairing a luxury SUV if you ever hit one of those alligators, I may have the solution.

Typically, vehicles that are more focused on off-roading aren’t very fuel efficient, so it wouldn’t make sense to suggest something like a Toyota 4Runner that doesn’t even get 20 mpg on the highway. Especially since you drive 800 miles a week just to go to and from work. The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, however, is rated at 90 MPGe and should be well under your budget unless the dealer tacks on a massive markup. Actual mileage will vary depending on how frequently you plug it in, but even if you don’t charge it at all, it’s still rated at 35 mpg combined.

The obvious issue here is size. It’s not nearly as large as the Venza or RX, and you happen to be quite large. If you got to my suggestion and immediately thought, “Nope. Not gonna work. That’s way too small,” I totally get that. And as a 50th-percentile male in pretty much every way, I can’t guarantee you’ll fit inside comfortably. But I did find an old Reddit thread where almost everyone, including people claiming to be taller than you, said they had no complaints. So if you like the idea of something that can go a little further off-road than the Toyotas while still getting great gas mileage, it might be worth a test drive.

Expert 4: José Rodríguez Jr. - The Toyota Hybrid to Rule Them All

Photo:  Toyota
Photo: Toyota

Stuart, even at the risk of making this list lean heavily in favor of Toyota, I’m going to recommend the upcoming Toyota Crown. The Crown is due for release early next year, so your timing is impeccable given that the Crown is coming back to the U.S. for drivers who want what you’ve outlined nearly down to a tee.

The 2023 Toyota Crown is comfortable, reliable (as far as we know), efficient and it has extra ground clearance over standard sedans. I’ve spent some time around Houma, Thibodaux and Raceland, so I know what you mean about alligators. Trust me, the Crown will give you that higher ride you want so you can better see those gators to avoid them.

When I drove the Crown, I knew it would be a quirky car that some folks will shy away from, but it’ll be a nice change of pace from the many crossovers on the market, and from your RAV4. And given that it sits at the very top of the Toyota range, it’ll probably offer you luxury on par with a used Lexus.

Depending on which trim you go for, the Crown will also be a hoot to drive. The only caveat is the top-trim Crown Platinum breaks the budget, starting at over $53,500. The base-model Crown XLE starts at around $41,000 and the model above that, the Crown Limited, starts at $46,585. Both of those models are within reach, but since the car isn’t in dealers just yet, I’d recommend checking under your couch cushions to stretch the budget enough for the Platinum. This one takes the comfy, roomy, efficient formula and adds a bit of fun with a drivetrain that does a great impression of a rear-wheel drive sports sedan.

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