Help with thoughts on a new car, and stuff
March 1, 2013 4:45 PM   Subscribe

I am thinking about buying a new car in a few months, wondering about model, when to buy, and planning around a trip in June. Advice/Tips/Opinions/Tales/Fact or Fiction Appreciated! (Much more inside)

Sorry, it might ramble a bit. I have looked over past posts, loads of helpful advice in them, but I would also like current info and opinions.

I absolutely love my 1995 Acura Integra Coup, but it is showing is age both aesthetically and in repair cost. In the last year alone work on the Integra came to about half of its value, I doubt the cost will be that high again for a while, but it’s still a shock. The paint is badly oxidized, and the interior is stained in places. A year ago I started a professional career, that combined with increasing repair costs, has driven me to start saving for a new car.

My savings goal has been to put $400 a month away in a savings account for a new car, when I reach $6000 I will use that money as a down payment. I hope to have payments in the low $300’s, so that the car payment + insurance increase will stay below the $400 a month I have been putting away. I reach this goal around the end of May. I am going on a family beach trip on June 15th. If I try to buy a new car at the end of May or beginning of June will I have enough time to get the car, break it in, and have the plates before my trip? If I was going to buy a new car this summer I think it would be awesome to have it for the drive to the beach and show off to my family members… and make the drive much more enjoyable.

-My target price range is ~25,000. I could be tempted to go a bit higher if the right car came along.
-I would like new, not used. If I am going to spend a bunch of money, I want all the features that cars can offer that I have been going without; I want to feel like I am driving a car from the future, not just cleaner looking better painted car then I have now. I have always owned used cars, and love the savings associated with them, but I have a new job in a new city, and I would love to have new car features and new car smell.

-Coupe and/or hatchback
-Manual Transmission
-Good gas mileage
-As much or more fun than my Integra
-It would be nice if it was faster than my Integra
-Good reliability
-Great safety record
-Sun roof
-Push button start (it’s gimmicky, I know…)
-Heated/Cooled Seats
-Backup camera
-Nice Stereo
-Remote start, but I don’t think any manual transmission cars come with remote start for obvious safety reasons
-Traction control, but with on off switch
-Loads of air bags

The car that I have been looking at the most right now is the 5 Door 2013 Mazda3 Grand touring i. It lacks the backup camera and cooled seats, but seems like it would be the most bang for my buck in my price range. The reviews I have read make me practically salivate over it, but every so often I run across a forum post or review claiming catastrophic problems and awful customer service. I try to take those with a grain of salt, I’m sure every car type has some dissatisfied owners who post on the internet. The problem is I am bad at buying anything, especially big purchases that I will be paying for over the next five years. I waffle a lot; it took me 3 hours and three employees at Best Buy to settle on a TV. Anyone have some tips on how I can feel confident or at least less anxious and less apprehensive about buying a new car? Or about spending money in general? For the most part I always end up happy with things I buy, but the research and purchasing process is full of so many unknowns I end up very stressed.

Before I buy a car I need to feel like I have weighed all the options, so here are some other cars I have considered, input on these or other cars I might have missed would be greatly appreciated:

Mazda3 Grand Touring S – I like that it has more power than the i type, but I don’t know if 11 more HP is worth the 10MPG loss. Has anyone test driven the Mazda’s with the 2.0L Sykactive and the 2.5L? How big was the power difference?

Subaru BRZ – I love the rear wheel drive and the horse power. But it’s a bit of an unknown in terms of reliably; I think it might be a tad on the small side for people and storage. To get one with more of the options I want it flies above my price range, and I’m worried the cost of ownership will be much higher than the Mazda. It also seems like a super fun car to drive, but not to own if I was planning on keeping it for 10 – 15 years.

VW GTI - Better horse power then the Mazda, but I think the feature list is a bit lacking compared to the Mazda, and adding on more features puts it out of my price range. Also its storage volume is worse than my Integra’s, and I think its trunk is too small. I am worried that the cost of ownership will be too high compared to the Mazda, but that could just be my preconceived notions about German cars.

Civic or Accord – I love Hondas, my family has been buying them for generations. But recently I feel like they have been coasting on their reputation and the cost of some of their cars outweighs the build quality and long term reliably. I also am worried an Accord or Civic, while good cars, might feel too milquetoast for me (RT podcast reference right their). I think other cars might meet the as fun as /more fun than my Integra requirement.

Sorry if I am rambling and not making much sense. I have managed to already overwhelm myself with comparing options and prices, and the thought of making a decision on buying something that could cost up to $25,000 is stressful. But for some reason I want a new car, especially a Mazda3, I just don’t want to regret buying one, or regret not spending a bit more and getting something different.

TL;DR – I want a new car, ~$25,000. Thinking about a 5 Door Mazda3 i Grand Touring, is that a good buy or will I wish I got the ‘s’, or something else? Can I buy a car at the end of May/Start of June, and take it on a 5 hour drive to the beach June 15th without ruining it? What other options do I owe it to myself to look at? Buying a car is scary and I’m bad a buying stuff, help!

Bonus Question: Tips and antidotes on the car buying process (ie: test driving and negotiation), and breaking in a new car. I know newer cars only claim to have a break in period of 600 miles, but will a 5 hour freeway drive the first month kill it?
posted by token-ring to Shopping (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At least check out the Scion xb. Best car I've ever owned.
posted by 4ster at 5:01 PM on March 1, 2013

I have a 2013 Mazda3 Grand Touring hatchback. It is a SHITLOAD of fun. I love it to pieces. It has heated seats, a sunroof, nice speakers, Pandora integration, good gas mileage, Tomtom navigation, etc. God, I love it.

By the way- I put $5000 down and am leasing it for $249 a month for 3 years. I wanted to stay under $300 a month and while I have always been wary of leasing, it ended up being the right price for me.

You won't regret it!
posted by joan_holloway at 5:13 PM on March 1, 2013

My thoughts on buying new - the only advantage (and it's often a big advantage) is custom designing it yourself from the factory - specifying the trim you want, which fabrics in the interior, colors, sound system, the exact combination of factory options that you want.

All the other advantages of buying new (everything from the warranty to the lower financing rates to the smell to the latest tech features) you can often get from buying a car from the manufacturer that was used for a year or so, and reconditioned by them for sale.

So my opinion is that if you're planning on finding a dealership that has a car you like and buying one of theirs from them, that's just a waste - either get a car built to your spec from the factory, or buy gently-used and skip those break-in miles and save a heap of money.

As for negotiating, can you indulge me in being Captain Obvious for a moment? My biggest lesson is one you already know, but it makes such a difference to the experience: If you are negotiating for a car that you'd buy if the price was great, but would have no regrets walking away from if the price isn't right, then you'll quite possibly enjoy the process. Indulge your curiosity as to what you can finangle into the bargain, what creative compromises you can find. You can't lose, and it's an education in negotiation.
But let your heart get set on a particular vehicle before you own it, and negotiation is going to be a miserable harrowing experience, (and you'll likely get taken to the cleaners as well.)
posted by anonymisc at 5:21 PM on March 1, 2013

I think mazdas are good cars and sporty and fun! It sounds like you've done your research, and after a while you just have to go with your gut and heart.

Getting the car in May and having your trip in June is plenty of time to get it broken in and get the plates for your car.

Mazdas might be different, but when I purchased my first new car (a VW), they told me that the car kind of calibrates to your driving style in the first 800-1000 miles to adjust to your driving style, which gives you better driving performance and better gas mileage. So, try to drive it around your normal route and local roads as much as you can before your beach trip, where the roads and your driving style might be a little different. This is not a huge deal at all, but something to consider.

I also think it is a good economy to buy a new car if you can budget for it. Because people are saving money/not buying new cars as much, the price of used cars has gone up in general, and the price of new cars has relatively gone down a bit and include a warranty. And, if you pay off the car in 3 years, you likely won't be making payments and have repair costs at the same time.

And, it sounds like you are really going to love and take care of this car. I'd recommend getting a good vacuum and cleaning job after your beach trip just to make you feel better about not having sand in the interior/carpet, or salt on the exterior from the sea air. Again, not a huge deal, but it will probably help you feel better about the car and help keep it feeling new for a longer time.

Best of luck to you! Enjoy your new car!
posted by shortyJBot at 5:25 PM on March 1, 2013

Response by poster: joan_holloway, is yours the i or the s? (Skyactive 2.0 or 2.5L?)

anonymisc, I would probably have to order it from the factory if I went with the Mazda. A search of local dealers did not yield any in the model I want with a MT.

Also, any idea on lead times if I order one? Does it take days or weeks to arrive?
posted by token-ring at 5:26 PM on March 1, 2013

For a little bit more than that, you can get a Mini Cooper S. (If you eschew some of the features, you can get one for around $25K, but that's the base model.) The gas mileage is pretty good, and the S version is *stupidly* fun to drive.

It's not cheap to maintain - it's full of BMW branded parts. But even after 8+ years, I still get a little squee of happiness when I floor it as I merge onto a highway and feel the engine power.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:29 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mine is the i (2.0). I have read various places that the s model is not worth it at all because the gas mileage STINKS in comparison to the i model.

I live in Washington and the color I wanted (blue) wasn't available in state so the dealer had someone drive one up from another dealership three states away. Aside from the drive over to here, it had never been driven before. I got it within 5 days. Maybe see if an option like that is available when you go to the dealer?
posted by joan_holloway at 5:32 PM on March 1, 2013

Also, any idea on lead times if I order one? Does it take days or weeks to arrive?

I think it depends on whether there is a backlog of orders. I would assume weeks, but possibly months. They should be able to tell you though.
posted by anonymisc at 5:32 PM on March 1, 2013

Response by poster: Ok, one more for anyone in the know:

I was just told by a friend to look into the 2014 Mazda3's. Since there is a rumor that they will have the option for the new 2.5L Skyactive motor from the Mazda6. Since a release day has not even been announced yet, is their any chance they would come out within my target time frame?

Also, its rumored the Mazda3's will no longer be assembled in Japan, but instead in Mexico. Am I better off getting the current one sooner, knowing that that production line has been in operation for a long time and they have the kinks worked out. Or take a chance on a 2014 design coming from a new production facility?
posted by token-ring at 6:09 PM on March 1, 2013

You are not going to go wrong with the Mazda's. They are not that unique blend of awesome the integra/civics were in the late 90's (i am a bit of fanboy for Hondas of this period-not so much for the current ones). I also think you will be just fine with the Subaru BRZ (or scion FR-S, almost the exact same car) and I would expect about the same reliability and cost of ownership out of them. The subaru/scion is going to handle better, way better than the mazda and somewhat better than your integra. It does not have an abundance of power but it isn't slow either. Some other cars to look at-Nissan Juke (I was in the market with almost exactly your criteria about a year and half ago). It looks kinda...different and a lot of people don't like it but no one claims it is boring or milquetoast. It has a decent amount of room for how small and light the car is in reality and it fits nicely in your price range with all the options you want and it has a usuable rear seat (unlike the BRZ). I also looked at the Huyndai Veloster (the turbo is the one you want) and now I would really seriously look at the Subaru XV Crostrek. You also might be able to get a WRX for that money. Ford is coming out with a Focus ST that is supposed to be really awesome and in your price range.

As for great used car in this price range I would look at a cherry 350z (a real step up from the integra) if you can get by with two seats. If not the g35 is great choice.

My experience with anything from Germany is they have outstanding performance and comfort and do really feel different driving than any other nations cars, especially when it comes time to pay the repair bills (and it is always time to pay them for german cars). Some people have great luck with them. I have not. (a mix of volkswagens and a BMW).

OH and the location assembly of cars is mattering a whole lot less than they used to. Every honda accord sold in Japan is made in Ohio I believe. And every BMW suv is made in south carolina. All honda Fits sold in the US (a metafilter favorite) is assembled in Mexico. Most fords are assembled in mexico these days as well I think. It don't matter.
posted by bartonlong at 7:33 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Subaru BRZ is a joint venture with Toyota so I'm sure it will be fine in term of reliability and from the reviews I've seen, it should a hoot to drive. A 2009 Subaru WRX would be a good choice for a used car in that price range.

What it sounds like you need to do is go and take some test drives. Plan it out and drive them back-to-back over the same route if you can manage it.

Don't worry about the license plates, you'll have a permit to stand in until the plates show up (21-days in most states, I think). You'll just need to time to break it in a bit (which is usually only the first 500 miles) once you take delivery. The manual transmission combined with wanting all the toys could mean a factory order which, in my experience selling new Nissans, often takes months. It would be nice to have the new car to take to this event but it's more important that you like the car.
posted by VTX at 8:03 PM on March 1, 2013

You might think about used cars, too. I mean, I've pretty much picked out my next car in the same price range as yours: a 2005-2007 Porsche Boxster S. I mean, a new Accord or a used Porsche, which one's going to make you smile more each morning when you start it up?

If you absolutely want brand new, I'd get the BRZ.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:08 PM on March 1, 2013

I drive a BRZ and can attest that it's as fun and well-engineered as advertised. First car I've ever owned that I drive just for the sake of driving. Aside from a couple of first model year quirks, I haven't had any reliability issues. Increased cost of ownership has been limited to slightly higher insurance rates, the premium fuel requirement and an additional set of wheels / winter tires. If you live somewhere warm, that last one won't necessarily be an issue.

At the Limited trim, you'll hit most of your "wants". However, it'll push your price closer to $28K - $29K. I paid right at $30K for my loaded Limited AT, but that's back when dealers had one or two on the lot at a given time and would sell them in a matter of days.

My only real complaint is the same one most people have: it could use an additional 50hp. That said, I'm finding this less an issue the more I drive. It's still a very quick car.

Long story short: if you're interested in the BRZ, it's worth a test drive.
posted by jal0021 at 8:35 AM on March 2, 2013

The Toyota version of the Subaru BRZ (Scion FRS in North America) won Top Gear's car of the year, Top Gear's Coupe of the year, and Clarkson's Car of the Year and of course is getting rave reviews by drivers the world over. I believe the Toyota version is slightly cheaper. I wouldn't worry about reliability. I have owned first model year Toyotas and compared to the stories I hear about other cars, the reliability is outstanding.

I've also owned Mazdas and love the way they drive and find them close to equal in terms of reliability as Toyota/Honda. That said, this was a number of years ago but I loved how tight and rigid the Mazdas tended to be. I understand that in recent years Honda and Toyota have been softening up or Americanizing their cars in the North American market so though they are reliable are not fun to drive at all (see the modern Civic for example). I don't know if Mazda has followed suit outside of the MX-5.
posted by juiceCake at 9:01 AM on March 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for all the advice!

I got up this morning and decided to hit up the Mazda dealer around the corner. I test drove a 2013 Mazda3i GT. I loved the look, the feel, the features, the trim, and the dash. But it defiantly felt a little slower then I would have liked. Not slow per-say; it was zippy, but not as fast as I had expected. I'm not sure if that was it just seeming slower due to it being way quieter then my current car and me not used to that transmission+clutch, or if it could just use a few more horse power (probably a bit of both).

Tomorrow I think I am going to hit up the Honda dealer and test drive an Accord Coupe and a Civic SI. Then look for a Subaru dealer and try out a BRZ. After all of that I am gonna think on it for a week or so, then go back to the Mazda dealer and try a Mazda3s and see if the 2.5L has enough kick for me. Hopefully after all of that, plus some time cool down time making a choice will be clearer.

I might end up waiting a bit longer and seeing if they Mazda announces a Skyactive 2.5L for 2014. If not, then the prices on the Accord or BRZ may have dropped a bit as the year goes on.
posted by token-ring at 3:00 PM on March 2, 2013

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