Recently a good friend was in touch as he was looking to replace his aging and failing car. Not too picky, he's looking for all the typical stuff; good gas mileage, running engine every time, maybe room for a future family, and a comfortable ride. I answered questions for a few weeks and this past weekend accompanied him to the dealerships to see things in person. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures, but here's a quick recap of my thoughts on the experience and the cars we checked out:
1. Mazda, I love you guys, but why aren't your dealerships open on Sunday? It was the only day I could meet up and help convince my friend your more fun driving cars are worth buying, but nope. When you're in the new car buying mindset, it's hard to wait ANOTHER WHOLE DAY to get back and test drive stuff if you've found something you're happy enough with elsewhere.
2. Kia, seriously, what's going on with your fuel efficiency across the board? We didn't even test drive their vehicles which, with a 10 year warranty, good looks, and lots of features, they seem like a good enough choice for non-enthusiast driving. Whatever, there's millions of hamsters to sell to in the world.
3. Why didn't we stop and look at that Alfa Romeo 4C there! Wait, go back! Nooooooo....
4. Toyota. You make incredibly reliable cars and are a leader in quality control across industries, but even my non-car guy friend gets turned off when the main sales pitch is "we retain more re-sale value over time, so when you want to sell it, you'll get more money back!". Really? The best part of your car is that it's the easiest one to get rid of? Well, I guess that sounds about right. I have to give credit for still offering the manual transmission in the Corolla...and then take all those points away for still offering drum brakes on all but the top trim level Corollas. Yeah, I know they work okay, but come on, 2016 is here and I find it hard to believe the cost of rear discs is going to hurt sales.
5. Honda, well, you guys are Honda and you're appliances are fine I guess. They blend the a balance of mild-style, acceptable fuel economy, comfortable enough ride, and really nice packaging to keep people buying their toasters...I mean cars or whatever. I will give major credit to the Fit and the new Fit-based HR-V crossover for their "magic" folding rear seats. If you haven't checked them out, they're pretty freakin' cool.
6. Man, those Alfas look cool.
7. Mazda, why are you closed on Sunday?!
8. Subaru. Also, Sunday, it's a business day. Luckily Carmax had a current generation Impreza to check out. Man, for a hatchback car (or as the slightly lifted version; the Crosstrek), they have a great amount of passenger and cargo space. The all wheel drive even puts down the power better than other similarly powered cars and if you must have the CVT version, it gets really impressive gas mileage for an all wheel driver.
9. After some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience with GM cars from the last 10-20 years, we skipped the domestic dealerships. I'm still a big fan of the Fiesta (even the turbo model averages 31 with my moderately lead foot), but that's okay, it's not my car we're shopping for.
So in summary, he ended up with a Honda HR-V. As someone with children in the future and not a Stig enthusiast, I think it will be a good choice. Yes, as much as it hurts to say it I think the Honda will be a car he'll enjoy for a long time.
I would have chosen a new Mazda3 hatchback. They have great styling and superior fuel economy while being one of the few brands still offering an actual automatic transmission instead of a CVT.
Runner up would be the Subaru Impreza. They've got a ton of space inside, all wheel drive for winter trips up north to visit relatives, and STILL delivers similar gas mileage to other comparable cars.
Final note: both the Impreza and the Mazda3 offer a manual transmission, and if I were in the market for one of these more straight-forward cars, I'd choose to swap my own gears and still come autocross the crap out of it. Both cars are in the price range of the Fiesta ST and were on my list last year.