Monday, May 19, 2014

New Car Shopping: 2014 Edition

Amber officially becomes "six months pregnant" after Memorial Day. And as has been planned for quite some time now, that means it's time to buy a new car!

Here's the basic idea. Right now, we have two compact cars: a Honda Civic and a Mazda 3. When we go on week-long road trips (as we tend to do from time to time), we fill the car to the brim, and it's a struggle to fit everything we need. And this is with just one kid! What will it be like when we have two kids? Well, the bottom line is, we'll need a bigger car for the next road trip. I've settled on the "small SUV" category (also known as "crossovers"). Small SUVs get pretty decent gas mileage these days, are affordable, and I don't think we'll need anything bigger than that. So, we'll trade in the Civic for a small SUV, and in the meantime try to keep the Mazda 3 healthy for another few years for in-town driving or shorter road trips.

Consumer Reports is my go-to magazine for pretty much everything, and they do a great job with cars. They recommend the Subaru Forester above all other small SUVs (by quite a bit), followed by the Honda CR-V, and then the Mazda CX-5. The Toyota RAV4 would have been recommended if not for a failure in a certain kind of crash test, but I still think it's worthy of consideration. There's also the newly redesigned Nissan Rogue, which was too new for Consumer Reports to include in their most recent car issue, but a later issue gave it the same overall rating as the Mazda CX-5. So, those are the five cars I'll be starting with*.

(* - The Ford Escape has been recommended by many, and as nice as it would be to buy American, the Escape's Consumer Reports reliability score is too low. Reliability is most important to me, given that I would like to get 10 years / 200,000 miles out of this thing. All five of the brands listed above make reliable cars these days, although that hasn't always the case. Just ask my mom about her 1985 Nissan Sentra!)

Test driving five different cars might be overkill, maybe we can do some online research and narrow it down to, say, three. In no particular order, here are the things that are most important to me (at least among those things which can be researched online, as opposed to subjective things like "handling", "feel", "vision", etc.)

All Wheel Drive: This is a priority for me. All Subarus come with AWD standard. With the others, AWD will cost me an extra $1,000 or so, and that's $1,000 I'm willing to spend.

Rear Camera (to help with backing up): Consumer Reports recommends that if you get an SUV, you should get one equipped with a rear facing camera in order to make backing up easier and safer. As someone who's run into stray recycle bins backing out of my driveway before, I agree, so like with AWD, I'll only be considering cars with a rear camera. A rear camera comes standard on all of the cars I'm considering...except the Mazda CX-5, for which I'll need to get the next trim level up, which will cost a few extra thousand dollars compared to the base model.

Fuel economy: All five get basically the same fuel economy (give or take 1 or 2 MPG), and they all take regular unleaded. But if we're interested in splitting hairs, the Rogue has the best fuel economy (25 city, 32 highway), and the RAV4 has the worst (22/29). Perhaps the bigger deal is fuel capacity: the Forester and RAV4 have the largest tank (15.9 gallons); the Rogue has the smallest (14.5 gallons). The CX-5 and CR-V have a 15.3 gallon capacity.

Interior room: This is important, since the need for more room is the reason we're getting a new car, after all. The Forester has the most passenger room, but the least trunk space. On paper, the Rogue is generally the best, with the most trunk space and a moderate amount of passenger room. The Forester has the most passenger room, but the least trunk space. The CR-V and RAV4 are similar to the Rogue, but slightly smaller on both counts. Meanwhile, the CX-5 has the least interior room and the least trunk space. But, these are just numbers on paper. The test drives will give us a better feel here.

Horsepower: All in the 170-185 HP range, although the CR-V and the CX-5 (at least the CX-5 model which has the rear camera) are tops. Horsepower is nice to have, but...I can't justify making decisions based on this alone. Otherwise, I'd be strongly considering the 250 HP version of the Forester. Wee!

Variable intermittent windshield wipers: This may sound like a trivial thing, but Amber's Mazda 3 has variable intermittent windshield wipers, where you can vary the time between wipes while on the intermittent setting. My Honda Civic does not have this, and I want my next car to have it. Given the trim levels I'm considering, variable intermittent windshield wipers come standard with the Forester, Rogue, and CX-5...and not the CR-V and RAV4. As much as I want this feature, I can't justify the extra $2,000 or whatever for the next trim level up on the CR-V and RAV4. Sad face. (The other features offered on the next trim level up don't really do it for me. For instance, I don't need or care about a moonroof.)

Outdoor thermometer: Another trivial thing, but Amber's Mazda 3 has one, and my Civic doesn't. Fortunately, all five cars come with an ambient temperature display standard. (Well, I don't actually know about the RAV4, but...spoiler alert: I'm not getting the RAV4.)

Real time fuel mileage data: I've had this on some rental cars, and being a stat geek who's also obsessed with fuel mileage (and driving my car the right way in order to maximize fuel mileage), I want real time fuel mileage data on my new car. The CR-V and Forester have this standard; the CX-5 does not; don't know about the RAV4 and Rogue.

Brand loyalty: I'm reasonably happy with my Honda Civic, so does that mean I'm more likely to stick with the brand and get the CR-V? ... Not necessarily. You see, the thing is, Hondas are boring. I'm not particularly excited about the prospect of getting a CR-V. And, like, everyone has one, it seems. It would be incredibly lame for me to get one also. I'm pretty much looking for any excuse not to get one. However, if there are things about the other cars that I can't get past, or if I'm offered a good deal on a CR-V, I'm prepared to take it.

Price: I did the whole "build my car" thing on each car's websites, looking for the options / trim level I wanted (including All Wheel Drive and the rear camera), and here are the numbers:
- Subaru Forester: $23,195
- Nissan Rogue: $24,140
- Honda CR-V: $24,370
- Toyota RAV4: $26,105
- Mazda CX-5: $26,215

Bottom line: Given the options I want, the CX-5 and RAV4 are the most expensive, and they also have other shortcomings compared to the competition, so I can pretty much eliminate them right now. That leaves the Forester, Rogue, and CR-V.

So, I'll test drive those three cars sometime after Memorial Day. On paper, I think this is pretty much the Forester's to lose. But when I test drive the Forester, I'll try to act like it's not already my preferred choice, so that maybe they'll give me a better deal. In theory, it'll help that I'm currently driving a Honda and that I'm mostly happy with it. That will give me better leverage with non-Honda dealers, because I can be all like, "Well, my Honda has treated me pretty well..." Wish me luck!


James Allen said...

You know which way to go.




Spartangoogle said...

As for interior room, when your Dad, I and Paige in her car seat are in the back seat of the Subaru, it is a tightish squeeze. Not like your Civic though. Might want to take the car seat along when test driving. Dad used to take his golf clubs to test trunk size.

Diane Wilson said...

I agree! There are lots of things to consider before buying a car. Some people are biased about brand names, so it's better to list down the pros and cons, if you're out to compare. Anyway, how did the test drives go, and which car did you go with? Keep us posted, Chris. All the best!

Diane Wilson @ Fletcher Chrysler

Newton said...

Each time I am in the market for a new vehicle, I always go through the same routine. The first thing I do is search online for rebates, then i make sure to compare prices from a few dozen dealerships. I bring all my homework with me and tell the salesman that I am making only one offer or going down the road.

Newton @ Fiesta Nissan

Eleanor Nelson said...

How exciting! You have a new baby on the way and a new SUV in your future. You should definitely stick to your plan on getting a rear camera. All those kids will be blocking your rear window. I love the rear camera in my vehicle. You see more with less effort. It makes driving so much easier.

Eleanor Nelson @ Performance Auto VA