We all spend a lot of time in our cars. Some of us spend more than we’d like. But cars are a necessity, even in the often walkable, bike-friendly Bay Area, so why not get the car that’s best suited to your lifestyle and the place you live?
This is our list of the five best cars for San Francisco, no matter whether you’re a city dweller who rarely explores the rest of California or a commuter looking for a great way to get into the city and still be able to park. Whatever your needs, we’ve got you covered with these five cars.
If you’re in the market for a new-to-you car that still has lots of city life left in it, you’ll want to take a look at the Fiat 500. Yes, the Smart ForTwo has a lot of adherents, but it’s unrefined, cramped, no fun to drive, and, considering all of this, often overpriced. The Smart is still one of the best options around for parking in tight city spaces, however, so definitely keep it in mind if that’s your priority. But the Fiat 500 is nearly as small, twice as cute, and much more refined as an all-around car. It’s also much more compatible with smartphones and other tech, making your daily car life much more entertaining. And with brand-new prices starting under $20,000, used Fiat 500s are often very affordable.
So you live in the city, you ride your bike or walk or drive your beat-up Smart ForTwo everywhere during the week—what do you buy to get out of town on the weekends and go have some adventure? A great bet is the Subaru Forester. With plenty of space for you, your friends, your dog, and your gear, the Forester is still surprisingly compact on the outside, making it a great mix between smart city and burly outdoor car. Plus, it’s all-wheel drive, has considerable ground clearance, and can take you to nearly any place in any national park you’d like to visit.
Living downtown just isn’t for you, as you prefer your yard, your garage, and your little league, even if it does mean a longish commute to get to your downtown job? Well, fear not, there’s a car for that. One of the best you can buy right now, especially if you need it to do double family duty on the weekends, is the Ford Fiesta. It’s kid-suitable, fun to drive, very affordable, and sharp-looking, too. It looks just as comfortable in the suburbs as it does in the city. If you look hard enough, you might even find the Fiesta ST for sale on the used market, which will satisfy your speed tooth while still being economical, easy-to-park, and under the radar of most cops.
You really can’t go wrong with a minivan. Yes, men, your friends may pull your man card; women, your friends may think you’ve given up. All of your friends are wrong. Minivans are, far and away, the most practical vehicles of modern life. The doors slide open, rather than swinging, to give you easy access even in tight parking spots; they hold tons of people or tons of cargo, making them great both for party night and for the work week; and they also often have some of the best in-car entertainment around, no matter if you’re entertaining 2-year-olds or 28-year-olds. Specifically, look for a Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, or Chrysler Town & Country that fits your budget.
So you want a fun car for the weekends, something that can take you and a special someone to the hills for a getaway—but you want to get there in style, and you want to do it fast? There are a few good answers here, but the best bang for your buck is going to be the Chevy Corvette. Look for the fifth- or sixth-generation cars (1997-2004, 2005-2013) for the best deals and the best performance. With their rear hatch cargo area, Corvettes can carry a surprising amount of luggage, and their balanced chassis and powerful V-8 engines are among the best at any price—and easily one of the best ways you can spend $25,000 on speed.
Before you go off and buy the first car you see, however, be sure to take the time to make sure that specific car is a smart buy. It wouldn't hurt to refresh yourself on some of our used-car shopping tips either. Also, we recently compiled a list of some of the best used car values around--regardless of where you live.
automotive freelance journalist