Is there an Apple of carmakers?
September 26, 2013 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Which carmakers these days (that sell in the US) have really good build quality? I'm thinking high quality interior materials, excellent fit and finish, as well as well thought out interior components like control layouts, displays, and compartments? Maybe carmakers (or models) that are known for little surprising details? I'm now starting to look for a smaller sedan or maybe hatchback/wagon under $40K. Some of the models I'm looking at so far are the Volvo S60/V60, Subaru Legacy/Impreza, Toyota Prius, Audi A4, maybe BMW X1.
posted by jroybal to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tesla is the Apple of car makers. Like Apple products, they do not come cheap.
posted by GuyZero at 8:29 PM on September 26, 2013 [18 favorites]

posted by spilon at 8:35 PM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have a look at new Hondas. Civics really are built comfortably and thoughtfully these days. Honda's days of sporty zippy little cars are gone... they're almost all comfortable and upscale (of the three main base-level Japanese manufacturers, Honda is the most upscale by far).

Also, the new Ford Fusion actually is built quite well, and borrows elements from Aston-Martin and Jaguar. A surprisingly well built car with a nice interior, great pick-up, and good build quality... it's nice to see a domestic car that isn't a pile of plastic crap.
posted by Old Man McKay at 8:40 PM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Audi have some of the best interiors in their price class, and to a lesser extent VW. Lots of well-thought-out details like all-red interior lights to save night vision, clever storage, and intuitive controls. Older BMW and Mercedes are this way but in recent years complicated electronics seem to have trumped simplicity and ease of function.

I'd say the same about older (90s) Volvos and Saabs, but you mention that you're looking for a newer car. I will say the build quality of Subarus is not at the same level if you're considering BMW, Volvo, and Audi— they're great cars but the interior finish and function is just not as nice.
posted by a halcyon day at 8:41 PM on September 26, 2013

I just rode in my boss's Lexus IS and was surprised by all the nice details. The front seats are fully adjustable (height, back and seat tilt, lumbar support, heating/cooling) and you can program a button to move the seat to your "custom" setting. Super comfy. She reports that it handles really well in rain and snow, too.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:42 PM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would get a lexus if i was in the market for this sort of thing. The comparison to really make here in the "apple of XYZ" isn't just that they're well thought out an well designed, but that they also last. There's plenty of early 90s lexuses(lexii?) still driving around with no real issues. A lot of the older mercedes, BMWs, etc were befallen with or totally taken down by expensive gremlins.

Toyotas last forever, and a lexus is just a classy toyota. They also make a small semi-cheap sedan. The IS sedan starts at 35, and the CT which is a little wagon starts at 32. I would look no further.

Volvos, also, are not what they once were. They were awesome and indestructible with the rare problems and general maintenance being a bit expensive, but now they're just tiresome pits of mess like new mercedes... which went through the exact same transformation.
posted by emptythought at 8:57 PM on September 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honda, baby, all the way.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:14 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mechanic says that based on his observations, Lexus/Toyota manufactures cars that require the fewest repairs.
posted by elf27 at 9:18 PM on September 26, 2013

Lexus cars are pretty boring to drive, but they have nice finishes and there are not a lot of upgrades/customization. That's reminiscent of Apple. Infinitis are very similar to Lexus in fit and finish, but much more zippy and fun
posted by 26.2 at 9:24 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It used to be Saab, which bundled a lot of functionality and good design into a reasonably-priced package, but I'd say Subaru probably does that now. Luxury car brands don't make sense as a comparison, because Apple is not really a luxury brand — like Saab and Subaru, even if their goods cost a little more, their goods actually do more for the price and have better design.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:27 PM on September 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

"... Some of the models I'm looking at so far are the Volvo S60/V60, Subaru Legacy/Impreza, Toyota Prius, Audi A4, maybe BMW X1."
posted by jroybal to travel & transportation

You've posted such a large range of vehicle types and sizes there, that I'm afraid your big problem is going to be comparing apples to oranges, so to speak. But boy, if you're willing to consider something like a BMW X1, you really ought to be looking at something that did a lot better in the 2013 J.D. Powers initial quality ratings, like a Cadillac Escalade (might be over your price range), or a Chevy Tahoe, or, on the smaller end, the Buick Encore. BMW didn't place any makes or models in that quality ranking, at all. Nor did Audi, VW, Subaru, or Volvo.

Really, GM quality is a helluva lot better today than what you think it might be. Drive some, and ask the people that own them.
posted by paulsc at 9:38 PM on September 26, 2013

spilon: "MINI."

Geez, MINI's are almost exactly the opposite of the requirements. The control and display layouts are intentionally quirky, the design choices on the mechanicals are needlessly over- or under-designed (run-flat tires, $350 batteries that require reprogramming(!), direct-inject fuel systems). The thing about Apple products is that they Just Work. This is not how I would describe my MINI. It's a fun car and great in other aspects, but build/design quality is not one of those.
posted by Runes at 10:22 PM on September 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

Honda's days of sporty zippy little cars are gone... they're almost all comfortable and upscale
I'd say the Fit qualifies as a zippy little car. but I'd agree that Honda's cars are well-made and consist of quality materials despite generally being on the inexpensive (<>
I do miss our Saturn SW2. We had it for thirteen years, and only in the last year did critical engine and structural parts start to fail. We got 150,000 miles out of it, but we'd heard of some people managing to get close to 300,000. It was also a very nice car--Saturns were well-known for maintaining their value for a surprisingly long time. I was incredibly sorry to see Saturn shuttered.
posted by tully_monster at 11:43 PM on September 26, 2013

I'd say Lexus. Toyota quality is really high, and the Lexus is the same but better. The new IS is really quite sexy and I also like the RX which manages to be suprisingly non-ugly for an SUV. All my rich friends are buying the Tesla model S however.
posted by w0mbat at 11:45 PM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mercedes C-class. I love that car - wish I could afford it. It has lots of nice features on the inside. It doesn't have a touch screen dash, but it has this cool little knob in the middle that makes everything easy to navigate. Also, you can adjust the degree your seat pops out so your back is more comfortable. It's also a smooth car to drive.
posted by cyml at 11:48 PM on September 26, 2013

aaargh, I shouldn't have tried to express "less-than" with a symbol in my previous comment. What got omitted above was that we compared the Fit with two other cars that were supposedly nicer and somewhat more expensive--the Honda's components were as good or better than either of theirs, and it has proved very reliable. It's a very well-designed little car with a surprising amount of space despite a compact footprint, and it is endearingly cute besides.
posted by tully_monster at 11:57 PM on September 26, 2013

Lexus has always been brilliant for comfort, thoughtful design and engineering, and reliability -- you would be amazed by how many old Lexuses are on the road in the Middle East, where conditions tend to obliterate cars.

Relatively new versions of some models (IS? GS?) are widely agreed to be at least a little more performance-oriented, not so much the Japanese Buick.

People are also raving about the Mazda 6 and the Mazda 3, in large part for the things you desire, and because they are reliable.
posted by ambient2 at 1:24 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember being surprised at how cheap the interior of the Prius felt the first time I sat in one.

For your price range, I would recommend the 2014 Inifiniti G37. Infiniti is offering it for $4000 less than the previous year's model for the 2014 model year only (part of its plan to usher in the G37's replacement under a new name, the Q50.) It's comparable to a BMW 3 Series in both performance and build quality, but is thousands less and is much more reliable.

If it interests you, the G37 is sold as a Nissan Skyline in Japan, a brand with 50+ years of history that is generally thought by car enthusiasts to be the best car line to ever come out of that country (or any country, depending on whom you ask).
posted by Kevtaro at 3:01 AM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I work for a company that owns thousands of cars and would only get a Japanese car. We definitely see that they seem to be the most reliable. My favorite car given the realistic constraints of my budget is a Mazda3 hatch. The redesigned 2014 looks amazing! And they are really fun to drive.

If you want a sportier feeling car, try the Scion FRS.

Depending on your commute pattern though, perhaps you should look at a Chevy Volt. It's a solidly driving car. The interior controls are whackadoodle though.

If you must have a luxury car, Lexus or Infiniti. They'll be solid and reliable.

Are you looking to lease or purchase? How long do you keep your cars? How much do you actually drive? Do you need a personal car?

If you're just going to lease something and then get rid of it in 3 years and have money, you don't really care about the long term reliability; get something fun. A friend has an Audi TT, and it's a great car. Audi's interiors are great and the drive is amazing. At least for now... ;)

Also, be sure to do some test drives. Try before you buy is a good life lesson.

There is so much wrapped up in cars and choice of car. It's crazy.
posted by reddot at 5:10 AM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It used to be Saab, which bundled a lot of functionality and good design into a reasonably-priced package, but I'd say Subaru probably does that now.

Unless things have changed in the last couple of years, Subaru interiors (at least in the less-than-WRX Impreza and Legacy/Outback) are pretty cheap and plasticky.

Having said that, there are a lot of cars where you can get a nice enough interior by buying a fancier version.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:00 AM on September 27, 2013

I've owned two Mercedes, and by far I've LOVED my Honda/Acura products more.

I'm insane about my base model Civic right now. Comfortable, luxe on the inside and I have a backup camera.

I went from an Accord V6, which was super-fun to drive, down to a Civic, mostly because I'm one person and I don't drive that much. Husbunny went from an Element to a Fit. Ditto.

I can't say enough good things about Honda, and they feel more expensive than they are.

Test drive a few, and check out Acura too.

The steering is like a dream!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:33 AM on September 27, 2013

I had an Accord V6 of the generation before the current one, and the bang for the buck is really good, or at least was at that time. Of the cars you specifically mentioned, the BMW X1 is quite fun to drive, gets great mileage and is a nice small size for an SUV (the 3-series sedan, while ubiquitous, is also a good option), so are the Audi A4 and Q5. The Audis are a bit more high-tech but the BMWs feel sportier. Personally I think the Prius feels real plasticky/cheap on the inside and is probably not what you're looking for.
posted by karbonokapi at 9:02 AM on September 27, 2013

Truedelta is what you need for actual statistical analyses (reliability/build quality is not just one person's car being nice!) rather than individual anecdata
posted by lalochezia at 2:10 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

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