Monday, April 10, 2006

Your Vote Counts!

Or maybe not, but your input is appreciated. For the last, oh, I don't know, three years perhaps?, I've been thinking about a new vehicle. My trusty Honda Accord has 170,000 miles on it now, and while it still runs quite well (and will for another 100K, I'm sure), I've had it nearly 12 years and it's time for something new---something new before grad school starts again in August. Now that my lovely bride is working again, it's also now financially viable.

Anyway, for the longest time I wanted a rugged SUV, something with great ground clearance, fun to drive, four doors, and that I could fit in. So vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota FJ Cruiser are a possibility, but Toyota 4Runner and Nissan Xterra are not: not enough head room in those.

The recent trip to Baja, in our friend's 2000 4Runner---which I drove over rocky dirt roads and enjoyed, even sans the headroom---seemingly cemented this desire for an SUV, even with the guilt of the worse gas mileage.

But the other evening as I was thinking about grad school, which will take at least two and more likely three years as I'll continue to work full-time, I had an epiphany---or at least a good slap in the face of reality: An SUV right now would be just dumb, as 95% of my driving, at least, will be commuting back and forth to work/school and carting the kids around. Sure, with an SUV I'd go out of my way to find some trails (as I've done in the past; I've owned and very much off-roaded three SUVs previously), but I just won't have the time for that like I would if it wasn't for school.

So, the car search was revised, and I've narrowed my choices to the following three: Subaru Outback i Limited Wagon, Mazda Mazda3 s Touring 5-Door/Wagon, and Honda Civic EX Sedan. The Outback is the 'premium' selection, at least in pricing, with an MSRP of about $29,000. The Mazda3 MSRP is $19,300, and the Civic MSRP is $19,600. Those include delivery. The Outback and Mazda3 I'd get in 5-speed, and the Civic in automatic.

What I want is a fun-to-drive, economical, and flexible vehicle. And, since I suspect I will eventually get an SUV for those Mexico and related expeditions after grad school, three or more years from now, I'm thinking about leasing---something I've not done before.

Here are the vehicles ,with some pluses and minuses. I like the way all of them look and drive, though they're all a bit different in each category. What I need from you is your input: thoughts, experience with the vehicles, recommendations, etc.

2006 Subaru Outback i Limited, 5-speed with 173 hp, 23/28 est. MPG - $29K MSRP
Pluses: 8.5" of ground clearance (very impressive for a wagon/sedan), leather interior, and an awesomely large sunroof (sunroof is a definite requirement), fairly fun to drive and very flexible, attractive instrument cluster, fit and finish is excellent, Subaru reliability
Minuses: Price, no cruise or radio control on steering wheel itself, tiny foot area for clutchwork, windows not framed, small center armrest, gas mileage is worst of three options here

2006 Mazda Mazda3 s Touring, 5-speed with 160 hp, 26/32 est. MPG - $19,300 MSRP
Pluses: Price is best, most fun of all three to drive---steering wheel and shifter are perfect, excellent fit and finish, fairly flexible space with hatchback, sporty looking and feeling, attractive instrument cluster, lots of cup holders, longest warranty of three (4 yrs/50K mi)
Minuses: Should get better gas mileage, interior only available in black or variations thereof (not preference here in Southern Arizona), white (the color I prefer) is difficult to find

2006 Honda Civic EX, 5-speed automatic with 140 hp, 30/40 est. MPG - $19,600 MSRP
State-of-the-art interior and dash (works well for me, but not for some others;
see this link for images), Honda reliability, excellent fit and finish, most comfortable driver of the three, outstanding gas mileage
Minuses: No 5-speed manual fun (there is a five-speed manual transmission that's hard to come by, but automatic just seems appropriate for this car), rumor has it that the otherwise excellent factory CD player skips the first half-second of each track for some reason, no discount off MSRP because it's so popular, 45-60 day wait to get vehicle

I also could purchase, so am looking at used vehicles, especially for the Subaru. There's one I really like with only 7,500 miles just five or six hours west of here---it's willow green with the tan interior, asking $23,750 ($1,000 less than it was just three days ago, since he's had no bites except from me, and I declined yesterday... for now). I'm also in no hurry at all, so waiting for the Civic, for example, really isn't a problem. Ideally, though, I'd like to purchase by the end of May.

So if you've made it through all of this, what do you think?


jd said...

I would add a fourth option. The Subaru WRX wagon. It's as big as the Mazda and Honda, but has all wheel drive like the Outback, but is less expensive. The best part though is it is a way more fun to drive than all three cars. 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds, geat handling. Excellent for lonely desert drives.

I've owned one for 5 years, and have had zero maintanence issues. In fact, after 60,000 miles, I am still on the same set of brakes.

The only drawback is gas mileage due to the twin turbos. I average 23 miles a gallon.

Let me know if you have any questions on leasing. I used to work for a leasing company, and have leased at least a half dozen cars. Good luck with your choice.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Thanks JD. I think we've decided to purchase. I'm not sure I'm experience enough of a midlife crises to get the WRX, though I know it's a little rocket. Actually, the bigger challenge is finding one in my price range, and with a sunroof. But there's a silver 2004 at the Ford dealership on the way home, so perhaps I'll give it a drive and may revise my list accordingly, thanks!

A. D. said...

i also like the wrx if you're going to go subaru at all. though there are a few more maintenance issues with turbos and such. cool factor, though.

i feel like the outback is much more of a station wagon/boat than the sport compact hatch that the other two are. that gas mileage is comparable to what i get in my truck.

other than that, i'd probably think honda civic as an establishment—though i have a few friends who are in love with their mazdas and the extended warranty is designed to make up for the reservation of choosing a less established brand.

i don't know that i'd compromise stickshift if you'd really prefer it. gas mileage bonus there too.

A. D. said...

ps — i'm going to send you an e-mail about tucson.

Simmons B. Buntin said...

I think---per my most recent posting---that I'll *try* to wait for the 2007 Civic Si 4-door sedan. It won't be quite as much a rocket as the WRX, I'm sure, but I like the design a lot better. I appreciate all the great input, though, and will keep folks posted!

In the meantime, it's another 5,000 miles or so to rack up on the 94 Accord!