I Need a Car That Can Manage the Potholes and Flooded Streets of New Orleans! What Should I Buy?

Image:  Hyundai
Image: Hyundai

Elaine lives in The Big Easy, and her Hyundai Accent Hatchback is a bit worse for wear. She wants to replace it with something that is also easy to park but also has better ground clearance for the worn and wet streets of New Orleans. What car should she buy?

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Here is the scenario.

Looking to replace a 2016 Hyundai Accent Hatchback that’s seen better days. Living in New Orleans, I need something with a high ground clearance (to avoid floodwaters AND potholes) but also reasonably priced. My experience with repairing cars goes as far as replacing windshield wipers, so anything low maintenance or easily rolled into the shop is best.

A nice sized trunk would be nice to lug around gear bags for my rec women’s soccer team or big order pickups from Sams, but otherwise nothing too major. Ground clearance is the major factor for me. I also would prefer something a bit unassuming as car theft is pretty rampant in the city.

I have a budget of up to $30,000 but no EVs as I have no place to charge it.

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $30,000

Location: New Orleans

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: Ride height, reliable, not flashy

Doesn’t want: An EV

Expert 1: Tom McParland - The Benchmark for a Reason

Photo:  Steve DaSilva/Jalopnik
Photo: Steve DaSilva/Jalopnik

Sourcing a small hatchback with a little bit of lift isn’t a big challenge, but the devil is in the details. A lot of automakers offer similar products at this price point, but you will want to dive into the specs to see which one offers the best combination of height and cargo space. The Subaru Crosstrek boasts the highest ride height of the bunch with 8.7 inches of clearance. However, its 21 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats isn’t super generous when compared to the new Honda HR-V.

You really can’t go wrong with the Subaru, though, and there’s an updated model due to hit the showrooms soon. It’s not a “fun” car, but it will do the job you need it to do just fine. With a starting price of about $25,000 sourcing one in your budget shouldn’t be a problem, but you may want to stretch your dollars a bit and go for the Sport model with the larger 2.5-liter motor that gives the small crossover a bit more pep for highway passing. Add a sunroof to the Sport, and you are just shy of $31,000. If you don’t want to wait for the 2024 car, the current model isn’t dramatically different, and you can score one with a plain color right now.

Expert 2: José Rodríguez Jr. - Try the Corolla Cross...trek

Photo:  Toyota
Photo: Toyota

Greetings to you in NOLA, Elaine, home of the best food in America. I hung around Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish as a kid and visited New Orleans often with family! I can see why you want ground clearance, but since you’re in the city, I’d rather recommend something like the 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross than, say, a Toyota Tacoma, which has a generous 9.4 inches of clearance.

Also, a quick disclaimer: Toyota will release a Corolla Cross Hybrid in the near future, but we don’t know what the pricing will be for the new hybrid.

In any case, the Corolla Cross has the same ground clearance (8.1 inches) as the Toyota Rav4. Toyota designed the Corolla Cross with higher ground clearance and seating position in mind, and the difference between the Cross and regular Corolla is appreciable. But the Cross is still a Corolla, which means you’ll have a reliable and unassuming vehicle that will fit all your kit and groceries.

A new Corolla Cross starts at about $23,000 (not including delivery), so you would be comfortably within budget. I recommend opting for a higher trim, such as the XLE, and strongly suggest going with an AWD model. These will send up to 50 percent of available torque to the rear wheels, which makes the Corolla Cross feel spry and capable. You’ll also appreciate the better traction when it rains down in Cajun Country. Bon temps!

Expert 3: Andy Kalmowitz - Add Some Zoom Zoom to Your Life

Photo:  Mazda
Photo: Mazda

Elaine, both of the vehicles my colleagues recommended are excellent choices. Truly, if I was able to get into this post and give my recommendation earlier, either of those two would have been my top choice. But here’s the thing: they beat me to it. Because of that, we’re getting a little creative. I give you the Mazda CX-30.

I haven’t driven this exact car, but I have driven its bigger brother, the CX-50. It’s an excellent vehicle, and from everyone I’ve spoken to, the CX-30 has a lot of that same charm and capability. One thing it absolutely has an edge over the first two vehicles is its looks. The CX-50 is a handsome little crossover. It certainly looks more premium than its $22,000-ish base price would suggest.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if it was also a better handler than those other cars since that is the Mazda way. That probably matters to you since you’re asking Jalopnik about what car you should buy. Unfortunately, that good handling means you’re trading off a bit of ground clearance. It’s only got 6.9 inches of clearance as compared to the other two cars’ 8.1 inches, but that’s really okay. I promise. It’s still more than enough to deal with the rough roads of New Orleans.

So Elaine, my dear friend. Buy the Crosstrek or the Corolla Cross, but if you don’t want to do that, buy the CX-30. You won’t regret it either way.

Expert 4: Collin Woodard - Be the Queen of Anonymity

2019 Honda CR-V
2019 Honda CR-V

Elaine, I’d love to suggest something interesting such as the previous-generation Infiniti QX50 that I found near you, or a 1990s Suzuki Jimny. But something tells me you don’t actually want a luxury crossover built on a sports car platform, or a right-hand drive import with questionable reliability and parts availability. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So you want something that will work reliably and is less likely to get stolen. I say lose yourself in a sea of anonymity. Buy something you could easily lose in a parking lot. Buy something so common that you might come back to where you parked it and have to check the license plate to make sure you’re not trying to get into someone else’s vehicle. Get a Honda CR-V.

Now, if you’re set on buying new, you’re going to have to get a base CR-V with front-wheel drive to stay within your budget. With destination, an all-wheel-drive CR-V LX will be $1,205 too expensive. But I’d also argue a brand new CR-V is going to stand out more than you’d like it to. Instead, go used and get the previous generation. This one might have more miles than you were hoping for, but it’s well within your budget.

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