Should I go for the really, really new car smell?
September 22, 2012 12:05 AM   Subscribe

I've always heard, "Don't buy a first-run car, wait until the model has been in production for a few years." But, I'm really interested in the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek. Would the fact that it's essentially a jacked-up Impreza offset that rule of thumb? Or should I stay far away from being one of the first US owners of this vehicle?

I'm heading into my third winter up here in North Dakota, and the time has come to let go of my 2002 Toyota Corolla, which doesn't have ABS, let alone any newfangled traction or stability control. So the Corolla is going to my brother and SIL who live further south while I'm starting to shop for a new vehicle. I'm looking mainly at AWD/4WD as I don't get snow days at work (in fact if there's a blizzard it's pretty vital that I get in) so being on the roads before the plows is a possibility.

I'm normally a used car type of person, but am finding that the 2 to 3 year old models of the cars I'm looking at (Subaru, but also Honda and Toyota) are holding their value really well and are not much cheaper than new. I've been intrigued by the Impreza's 2012 redesign which improved gas mileage, and have been researching and lurking on owner forums.

I went and test drove an Impreza the other day, and found out they are in high demand in my area. The 2012 models are pretty much impossible to get. One of the 2013 models on the lot was being held for a woman in Wisconsin who was planning on flying out to pick it up and then drive it home. Another was already sold, and the final one didn't have the features I wanted.

The guy at the dealership was showing me the listing of cars due to come onto the lots, and along with the Impreza, pulled up a Crosstrek that is due to arrive in October. It has the features and color I would be most interested in, and the extra ground clearance seems like a good idea even though there is a bit of a hit on mileage.

However, it is a brand new model, which makes me nervous. There are no owner reviews anywhere, no data on Fuelly. I have read the professional reviews, they seem favorable, although say it's underpowered. (Not sure how much that will matter to me since I've been driving a Corolla for so long.)

I have also been test driving other makes of cars (and rather liked the Nissan Juke, even though it's kinda fugly). However, the Subie cult seems to have taken root in my brain and I'm gravitating towards the Crosstrek, even though the newness scares me.

So tl;dr, is buying a brand new Subaru model a spectacularly bad idea? Has anyone bought the first run of a new car model and regretted it? Or loved it?
posted by weathergal to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think if the new model builds on things the manufacturer has been doing for a long while, you're pretty much OK.

The only thing I see on the Crosstek as newish (we're long-term Subaru owners) is the CVT transmission option; I have no idea if that's new/this model only/has any track-record.

I think you'll be fine, but do a bit of research on the CVT if that's on your wishlist. We've had pretty good luck with our Outbacks and I'm not convinced my bride would ever consider driving anything else.
posted by maxwelton at 12:16 AM on September 22, 2012

Oddball thought: those used models you like that are popular/holding value in your area --- how are they priced in your brother's area? Would it make financial sense to drive the Toyota there, and purchase the replacement there too? Maybe contact a few dealers near him and see what's for sale.
posted by easily confused at 3:35 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

That wouldn't worry me at all. Every company produces a certain number of lemons, so there are no guarantees in life. But it's based on an existing model, and Subaru does good on the quality front. Slap some winter tires on that car and you'll be able to get through some miserable weather just fine.

Do drive another car with a CVT before deciding, though -- I drove an Outback with a CVT and found it a bit odd. You probably won't mind it at all, but it is a bit different and it would suck if for whatever reason you hated it and felt stuck with the car.
posted by Forktine at 5:13 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you'd be fine. Your rule is a good one in general, but it sounds like this is primarily just a suspension mod. So it is more like 90% proven, 10% new. And, Subaru knows suspensions, so been that doesn't concern me. just be sure you are good with the gas mileage. It sounds like a great car for your mission critical moments, but will you still be good with filling the tank if gas is 50% higher relative to inflation in eight or ten years?

We test drove the Impreza last week and it was second on ourmlist to buy, losing out because we chose gas mileage over AWD. Personally, I thought the CVT was pretty smooth and it gets good performance, but do test drive it if you aren't familiar with them it is nothing like a traditional transmission - and those paddle shifters for "gears" are pretty silly as a result.
posted by meinvt at 6:14 AM on September 22, 2012

If the cars are in demand, and there's only one specific car you're looking at, and the dealer knows all this, you'll have absolutely no negotiating power.
posted by myotheraccount at 6:24 AM on September 22, 2012

I think that rule is no longer true, if it ever was. I suspect it was invented by mechanics who don't yet know the peculiarities of a new model.

Regardless, even if there *are* differences in quality for the different model years, those differences won't be as severe as the regular old failure rate in manufacturing. If a manufacturer has a historical 9 in 100 first year failure rate, maybe the first year brings that up to 10 or 11.

But remember the other side of the rule, if there even is one: as they make more and more yearly model runs of the car, their machines wear out, they don't care about that model any more because there is a cooler one being made next door, and they find ways to integrate cheaper parts in place of better ones.
posted by gjc at 6:41 AM on September 22, 2012

As someone who sees a lot of manufacturing, the reason for that rule of thumb is that there are a lot of kinks and issues that are worked out on the first few runs of a new product on a manufacturing line. Maybe the part they thought would be ready in time wasn't and they had to substitute an older part that isn't quite right or maybe there was some portion of the design that the engineers found worked fine on the small lot runs, but in larger production, didn't work as they thought.

I saw this quite a bit with consumer products--we'd realize it after 2 or 3 months of production that something was failing, breath a sigh of relief that it wasn't a big enough deal for a recall (though it still might be pretty annoying for the average user), then make a running change...

We did this for our latest new car--waited until the 2nd year. We were glad we did, as there were a lot of little crappy things they fixed between the first and 2nd year; some based on these manufacturing changes, some based on customer feedback.
posted by chiefthe at 6:54 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Back in 2000 I was an early adopter of the Ford Focus. I was leery about buying a first-run car but thought, "Hey - this car has been in production for years. Europe's had them for a long time now. It's fine, I'm sure!"

I was wrong.

I enjoyed driving that little car but it was plagued with recall after recall. One I remember was the plastic cover over the A pillar had to be replaced because it was impaling people during wrecks. Another involved the front (drive) wheels falling off. Then the dealership broke the tool on my car, resulting in almost two weeks of aggravation.

You have a good rule. Surely you can wait a year or two?
posted by workerant at 7:20 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to jump in and say that I recently replaced a 2002 clunker due to similar snowy circumstances. Looked at the Subarus and the Juke and went Juke. It has yet to snow but do far I'm thrilled with it (especially features to price vs Subarus, and having more performance with the turbocharger). It was way more fun to drive than the impreza and forester, and I didn't want stick so the WRX was out.

The fugly grows on you, and it's been in production since 2010 I believe.
posted by slateyness at 8:36 AM on September 22, 2012

Also a fairly negative WSJ blog review just came out a few hours ago on the Crosstek. You should check that out too to see if any of those criticisms concern you!
posted by slateyness at 8:48 AM on September 22, 2012

Well, Consumer Reports lists "N/A" for the untested Crosstrek, but the Impreza hatchback '11s are their second-rated hatchback -- and every Subaru model (except the newbie) gets a "recommended" checkmark. I'd say the odds are in your favor. Still, if this issue concerns you, you could always take a closer look at the Outback and Forester models that have been pretty well de-wrinkled.
posted by dhartung at 9:20 AM on September 22, 2012

I bought the first year of the Mazda3 (2004) and it is my favorite car of all time. Still running great. That said, I did run into problems getting the oil changed at first, because it had a cartridge type oil filter that oil change places (including Sears Auto, not just talking Jiffy Lube) didn't have in stock. Even AutoZone didn't have the filter for me to buy or order, so I had to get oil changes at the dealer at first.

Otherwise, I've had no problems with buying a first year model.
posted by misskaz at 9:42 AM on September 22, 2012

So all of the core engineering features they list - Boxer engine, AWD system, CVT they have been making for several years in various iterations. There is nothing ground breaking about the drive train. It's based on the impreza platform, which is pretty standard these days, you've basically paying for body work and a higher ground clearance, but it sounds like it is a bit heavier and probably has less get up and get out of here based on the CVT transmission and the weight. I wouldn't buy one without a test drive where I pushed it to see how it accelerated.

In short, it's not a "new" car, just different body styling and interior finishings, try before you buy.
posted by iamabot at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2012

Thanks so much guys, I was tempted to mark them all as best answer.

On easily confused's suggestion, I took a look at the dealership websites in my brother's area (Omaha/Lincoln). Prices seem to be similar, but inventory is greater so I probably would have better bargaining power. The issue is time. It's an eight hour drive down there and another eight hours back, plus some time is needed to do test drives and make a decision. I would need to take time off from work, and since I've already taken loads of time off this summer, that really isn't feasible. Maybe if I'm still looking for a car when I go down just before Christmas.

I have the opportunity to do some extended test drives of the Impreza and Juke, and will most likely take the dealerships up on this. The Crosstrek isn't even on the lot yet, so I would like to compare actually driving that one also, since I imagine it handles a bit different. I still need to test drive the Honda CRV and maybe some other models. If anyone has suggestions for good in snow but decent gas mileage let me know. I've already driven and ruled out the Nissan Rogue and Toyota Rav4. They were perfectly nice cars, I just found them kind of boring. Of course, I didn't have a problem with nearly 9 years of bland with my Corolla. Maybe I'm going through a mid-life crisis or something.

Thanks again!
posted by weathergal at 11:28 PM on September 22, 2012

Like any other business, a lot of car dealers now list their available inventories online: it might help you weed out the total losers before you go down there, and narrow the search to just those dealers with models on hand (whether used or new) that you're interested in. Plus with the new cars, you can as you mention do test drives now, so you can either shortlist or eliminate models that way. Good luck!

(And don't forget Rule #1 of used car buying: if you aren't one yourself, pay a trusted mechanic check a car over before you sign a purchase contract.)
posted by easily confused at 11:03 AM on September 23, 2012

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