What kind of car should I lease?
February 2, 2015 1:30 PM   Subscribe

I used to own a 2003 BMW 325i, but it was sadly totaled. I've been intermittently renting cars & working from home since the wreck, and now it's time to bite the bullet and get one. I don't want to spend the money on another BMW. But I do want the next best thing. I have read many articles about buying vs. leasing and I've already decided to lease. I'm in the US.

About me and my lifestyle:
- Most of the time, it will be just me in the car. No spouses, kids or dogs.
- I don't need a ton of room, I'm mostly just hauling groceries and normal stuff
- I am very, very short (so the seat cannot be on the floor like a sportscar)
- I drive about 500 mi/month so I am not worried about going over the mileage on a lease
- It will be parked on the street so I cannot have anything that needs to be plugged in. I'm not worried about parallel parking.

About my preferred car:
- The main reason I miss my BMW is the acceleration and handling, so I don't want something that is ridiculously slow and squishy (I've driven a 2011 Camry and it was fucking horrible). I am aware this may be unrealistic given that I want to reduce costs.
- Despite the above, I need an automatic transmission.
- It has to drive okay in the snow. (My BMW was great with dedicated winter tires.)
- I hate, HATE big touchscreens on the dash. Do all cars have that now? I don't need navigation or satellite and I prefer actual buttons and dials.
- I don't care about number of doors or color
- I don't care too much about features beyond the basics (air conditioning, power windows/locks). I don't need a voice activated phone thingy.
- The best looking cars, to me, are still BMWs. Civics, Corollas, etc are boring to me. I don't like muscle cars either. No smartcars. Maybe a Mini Cooper.
- I've rented 3 cars recently and overall experience from best to worst: Nissan Sentra, Chrysler 200, Kia 5.

Like I said, I have already decided to lease, and I'm researching how that works, but if you want to throw in any tips or links about that, please do so. I've never leased before and have only ever bought one car.
posted by desjardins to Travel & Transportation (39 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would look at entry level VW's. We have a newer Jetta under lease, and it ticks off all your boxes (except your thoughts on how it looks…I can't fill that one in for you). We're also pretty happy with our lease through them overall. We also looked at a Passat, but it was simply too expensive for us at the time (but the build quality seemed much nicer, and the drive was at least noticeably better).

I would also look into their diesel engined cars as well, they're fantastic.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:44 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Test drive a Chevy Volt. Seriously. Be sure to put it into sport mode during your test drive. You'll get a screaming deal on the 2015 models that they are trying to move out before the 2nd gen Volt arrives in the fall. The thing is likely way faster than you expect. More here.
posted by intermod at 1:51 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I love my Civic. I went from a Mercedes Benz to a Honda and I've never looked back. I know what you mean by the mushy drive on the Toyota/Lexus products. Honda/Acura have really tight steering and I love the ride.

If you want one with higher trim, go for an Acura. If you want pep, get the TLX with a V-6. I had an Integra back in the day, it's on an Accord chassis and it was really nice and sporty and comfortable.

I will say that my Accord V-6 was slightly peppier than my current Civic, but I don't miss it, especially on the highway. But you know what you like.

I'm into leasing too! Loving my life now!

Let us know what you decide. I love cars!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Crazy as it may sound but if I were in your shoes and looking to lease I would get Chevy Volt, a car way better than you might think, excellent performance, can't run out of range, just great.
posted by Cosine at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2015

VW GTI? Every review gushes about how "premium" it feels.
posted by Seeking Direction at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

If the performance is really important, you might go drive the Scion FRS or Subaru BRZ... same car, they drive really, really well, RWD, auto 6 speed, fairly inexpensive, pretty economical. Mazda Miata is famously fun to drive, too.
posted by Huck500 at 1:56 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also came in to suggest the GTI... or a Jetta GLI (which I find to look quite a bit nicer than the base model Jetta)
posted by ohmy at 2:02 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lease a BMW. BMWUSA gives some pretty good deals on their leases. It's pretty much their main business model now.
posted by graftole at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nissan Juke. That or Mercedes often has excellent lease deals.
posted by slateyness at 2:10 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Audi A4 or A3. BMW and Audi set their sites on each other so most of the things that you liked about your BMW, you'll like about the Audi plus you get AWD which I basically view as rear-wheel-drive that can deal with winter.

You might also consider buying again. So many people lease the BMW 3 series and Audi A4 that there is a huge excess supply of two-year-old versions of them that drives the price down and makes them a really good deal (the entry level Mercedes C-class works the same way if you like Mercs).
posted by VTX at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Subaru Impreza.

(That just came to me in a vision; I've never driven one. But I love my old Outback wagon, and my neighbor has a new Impreza that looks good to me.)
posted by jon1270 at 2:22 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not a VW guy, but I would suggest a Jetta GLI. They're gutsy and handle really well. They're over-engineered, but that's par for the course with any German or European car these days. So comparable to your old car. :)

Also, yes, sadly just about any "premium" or "luxury" car (a la a BMW) will have those stupid touchscreens these days.

Also, have you thought about a Subaru WRX? Fun to drive, great performance, AWD.

Or you might look into Mazdas, the only Japanese brand other than Subaru that really seems to care about performance these days. The new Miata is supposed to be tremendous this year and is getting rave reviews.

Avoid wasting your time looking at Hondas or Toyotas. I love Hondas because they are completely practical. They are also horrifically boring and even worse than Toyotas these days. I test drove a new Civic last week and I almost redlined it when I floored it getting on the freeway. Redlining... at 65 miles an hour. Totally Extreme Driving.

Finally, avoid any car with a CVT. Automatics can still be fun even if they're mush boxes, but CVTs are even worse. Horrific performance, they make your engine sound like a lawnmower, they create great gas mileage, but it's a mess.
posted by Old Man McKay at 2:30 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

A thing about leasing. You may be tempted to pay money down to keep the monthly payment low. Don't do this.

When you lease you automatically get Gap Insurance. Basically it pays the difference between what you owe on the car versus what it's worth at the time of the loss.

So let's say you put $3,000 down. You're in a store and a light post falls over and totals your car on the way home from the dealership. Boo! Your Gap Insurance will make it so that you're not out of pocket for anything further, but you can kiss that $3,000 goodbye.

Now, lets say you don't put anything down and you finance 100% of the car. No problem, that same loss is still covered 100% and you walk right back to the dealer and get another car. You're not out anything.

It's a matter of how much risk you want to assume.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:34 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Why not buy another low-mileage mid-2000s BMW? Those are pretty cheap relative to the new cars you're considering.
posted by killdevil at 2:43 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jeep is about to release a new...thingy called the Renegade. It is based on the FIAT panda (kinda) that is also the basis for the FIAT 500L. It is small, tallish, distinctive and should be great in the snow. It starts at 17k for the basic 2wd small engine version and then up to about 30 k for the top of the line trail rated version. They will sell a boat load (s). This is kinda outside most of the recommendations on this page but could be an interesting choice. I don't know when they will release them, but they keep saying soon. If you can't wait, take a look at the new cherokee. In many ways the renegade is the small version of the cherokee (for the non car people anyway-they only share a 9 speed automatic transmission-the rest are unique parts and engines). My MIL is on the waiting list and decided to wait for it instead of buying a Mini.

I...don't like VWs. Most of the people who get one have a tale of woe and tears about the experience at some point, and I DO NOT like working on them. This experience is based on VW's of the late 90 and early 2000 and some really archaic bugs/vans.

I like BMW's and if you are leasing you don't have the long term maintenance cost issues that plague high end German cars. I owned a 5 series for about a year and really liked working on it, it was a very well made, great driving car. If it wasn't for the aging/cost maintenance curve I would have kept it indefinitely. The 2 series is their new little car if you haven't kept up on BMW's and it is lower cost and generally gets good reviews and is well liked, might be worth looking into.

I now own a Juke (recommended above). I got the very rare 2wd-manual version and it is great-accelerates well, handles well, is big enough for 2 people and 3 small dogs road trip. We had a loaner awd-automatic (cvt) for week (problem fixed -was a broken piece-a weird flukey problem nothing wrong with jukes) and we HATED it. The turbo engine interacts in a way with the cvt to make the car very frustrating to drive. It lags, stumbles and hesitates in a way that completely destroys the fun, hot hatchback feel of the manual version. It turns it into a RAV4/CRV.
posted by bartonlong at 2:49 PM on February 2, 2015

You're looking for a good handling non-BMW non-econobox? Mazda 6. None of the drab styling of the other Japanese sedans, and pretty much every car Mazda makes, even the SUVs, is the best handler in each respective class. Mazda has reminded me of BMW of yore, when they just wanted to build good handling, non-flashy cars.

It does have a touchscreen (that's hard not to get unless you go super-entry level), but the rest of the interior looks fantastic.
posted by hwyengr at 2:50 PM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I love my Impreza Hatchback. It's one step down from the WRX. I am a lead foot and I like it.
Also all wheel drive which is very handy in snow.
posted by readery at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2015

Mini! Mini! Mini! I've had two and I LOVE them. They've got BMW engines, are SUPER peppy and fast, have no weird electronic things on the dash, and I live in Boston and have all-weather tires. The car is fine in the snow. Mini dealers are super great; they have cool loaners and great service.
posted by kinetic at 2:55 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I went through this process in the summer. My tradeoffs were fuel efficiency and driver engagement (mostly handling more than power for me). Plus, opposite of you, I'm a big guy and I wanted a compact that was a pleasure to sit in for long drives.

It came down to Mazda3 vs. VW Golf. The 2015 redesign of the Golf wasn't out yet, and I fell for the Mazda's handling hard, and for its high level of interior comfort (the seats are fantastic) and sophisticated tech package, agreeing with a lot of the automotive press that it was the pick of the litter in 2014.

Now I'd definitely look at the Golf, however, since they significantly improved the fuel mileage with the 2015 redesign (Mazda did this t0o, just a year earlier). I suspect that the Golf is probably more comfortable for a shorter driver too, with a short, downsloping hood and low angle windshield. The Mazda has a long, curvy hood and a sharply sloped windshield. I can imagine it being less of an organic fit for a shorter person -- as in hard to see over the top and judge where the front of the car was. (On the other hand, I feel completely claustrophobic in a Mini Cooper and like I am looking out the top 25% of the windshield no matter what I do with the seat.)

Everything else involved tradeoffs I didn't like or spending a lot more money.

6 months in and I adore the Mazda. I went for the 2.0l motor, and I I would reconsider and get the 2.5 now for a slight mileage penalty, but more power. Otherwise it handles way better than anything I compared it to and has been a blast to drive while averaging close to 37mpg with about 70/30 highway/city.

However there is no way to get the 2.5 motor without the tech package that includes the big obtrusive dash-mounted touchscreen, which some people hate, but I have come to see as the only logical place to put such a thing (Mercedes agrees of late) for safety. The base and just above base trim levels on the Mazda replace that with a dash-top radio (that is pretty ugly).

It is quite hard to buy a more luxurious car *without* a lot of tech these days. And some of that tech is really an improvement -- lane departure and blind spot alert, city smart braking, lane following headlights, etc. The touch screen is weird at first, but you get used to it and then it becomes handy (Mazda, like a few other manufacturers, disables touch interaction above 5mph, but the voice and command-dial navigation, stolen from an Audi concept, work great).

I also think current Subarus are great if you value traction above handling.
posted by spitbull at 2:57 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and yeah, if you can spring for a bit more and want more juice, the Mazda6 is a truly sweet car, handles as good as the 3, with more power, super comfortable, absolutely gorgeous lines in my opinion in the current design generation. Same dash-mounted touchscreen but that can be avoided in the lower trim levels, and even those will have a 2.5 and plenty of juice. I didn't need the extra space and couldn't justify it, but the 6 is a great ride.
posted by spitbull at 3:07 PM on February 2, 2015

Subaru wrx sti
posted by ennui.bz at 3:18 PM on February 2, 2015

Infiniti G37x, 2-3 years old, dealers happily lease you used cars now. AWD and does well in snow, super peppy and yet handles solid as a rock, good looking and spacious inside and out.
posted by MattD at 3:56 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding G37.

One of the smartest guys i know loves driving silly sporty cars he'd constantly be tinkering with. He always had an old 300zx turbo or something and a couple motorcycles. When he finally got his first Big Boy Salary Job, he did a bunch of research and went out and bought a used G35.

Whereas something like a lexus is just a squishier japanese mercedes, an infiniti seems to be essentially a japanese BMW... with all the things that means. The parts are cheaper, it fucks up less, i think the insurance is even cheaper. It doesn't look like a bmw, but i think it still looks pretty nice. And it absolutely checks the awesome handling and power boxes. My friend got the manual, but it seems that almost every single one sold is an automatic so there's tons out there. And it's the fun newer style of automatic with a "manual" mode, etc.

It's still a nissan, and it breaks in the stupid ways my partners nissan does(power seats shitting up, sensors dying inexplicably and repeatedly while the repair shop goes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) but hey, it's nice to drive, mechanically reliable, looks pretty cool, and likely costs you way less than a BMW.

I looked in to buying one when i thought i had a way higher paying job lined up and they seem like a freaking great value used. He drives his a LOT and it has 173k or so miles on it and is still doing great. I have a friend(and her partner) with BMWs that wrung out, but... her dad is a BMW certified mechanic.

I can't really think of anything else that really fits that "drives like a BMW, is still luxurious and cool looking, but is more practical/sensible" corner.
posted by emptythought at 4:09 PM on February 2, 2015

Response by poster: Okay, so on googling around, it looks like Mazda has a leasing special on the 3 this month, but the down payment is around $2000 (which I can swing, but obviously don't want to). Is that negotiable or will the dealer tell me to fuck off?
posted by desjardins at 4:10 PM on February 2, 2015

I looked at both the Mazda 3 and the VW GTI a few years ago, and I thought that the build quality / feel of the VW was about the same or better, and the Mazda seemed weirdly expensive for what it was.

I got a great deal on a previous model year's GTI when I bought mine and it's been a great car. 78k miles and counting, no plans to replace it anytime soon.

The Chevy Volt is neat, but I don't know why you'd buy one if you couldn't plug it in and it was going to be guaranteed to run in 'gas mode' all the time. That seems to defeat the point.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:19 PM on February 2, 2015

I would get a seventh generation Honda Accord with the V-6 engine (2002-2007 models). Accords are vastly better than Civics and Camrys in terms of performance and handling. A V6 will get 0-60 in seven-ish seconds like your 325i did and the Accords are always on the Car and Driver 10 Best lists because they are practical, reliable do-anything vehicles that also reward drivers like who expect a level of performance. It will also be much cheaper to maintain than a BMW (or VW).
posted by Kwine at 5:33 PM on February 2, 2015

It should be negotiable. If memory serves (as a former car salesman), you can opt to put $0 down, it's totally your discretion. It just scales up the payment. The $2,000 is just the down payment they need to make the payment nice and round with the other factors that go into the cost of a lease.
posted by VTX at 5:40 PM on February 2, 2015

I just bought a new Impreza hatchback and I'm happy with it, but based on your criteria it wouldn't be my first recommendation. Instead, I'll join the chorus recommending the Mazda3, Mazda6, Golf, GTI, or WRX.

Why not the Impreza? Mainly performance. The current models have acceleration that is adequate, but far from best-in-class. In Consumer Reports tests it did 0–60mph in 9.4 seconds (compared to 6.6 for the GTI, 8.2 for the Mazda3, and around 7 or 8 for your BMW). Most trim levels come only with an automatic CVT, and even if you can get one with a stick, it won't be as good as Mazda or VW's. The Impreza's steering is fairly responsive, but doesn't give much feedback.

On the other hand, the Impreza might still be worth considering. It has one of the best safety records of any small car, and it has a roomier back seat and better visibility than the new Mazda3 hatchback. It's a good-handling, practical car, and the AWD can be nice to have. I wrote a lot more in this recent thread.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:52 PM on February 2, 2015

Oh, I almost forgot about the other Subaru option... The 2015 Subaru Legacy is The Wirecutter's best midsize sedan, and also Consumer Reports’ top midsize sedan. It handles great in or out of the snow. It has well-designed controls and good visibility. And it's one of the only regular-sized cars to have a driver death rate of zero deaths (!) per million registered vehicle-years according to the IIHS. The only downside is that it looks kind of boring on the outside and like the Impreza is not super-peppy.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:04 PM on February 2, 2015

I'm not sure about leasing possibilities since they don't make them (for America at least) any more but I drive a Volvo C30 and it sounds exactly like what you want. I can only not vouch for it in in the snow as I live in California but it's a Swedish car and they seem to have snow...
posted by marylynn at 8:37 PM on February 2, 2015

Another vote for Mini! We have a 2011 2-door Hardtop "Justa" that's a base model and a 2014 4-door Countryman All4 S. I can't say enough good things about the Minis.
posted by dancinglamb at 12:37 AM on February 3, 2015

If I could lease any car, I would most likely choose a VW Golf GTI. I'd be a bit wary about buying a new VW because any electrical problems that might appear eventually can end up damn expensive to fix. But when you're leasing one, you don't have to worry about that.

I drive an old Golf (19 years old this year), and the handling and acceleration are excellent. I'm usually one of the first cars out of the intersection to get up to speed. My brother's friend has a GTI and it's a great drive, I've heard.

I'm not sure about what the dash and consoles are like, but I think they're still pretty simple. A friend of mine drives a 2013 Polo and I didn't notice anything particularly flashy about the inside. I drove a Mazda (I think. Or a Hyundai?) a few times last year and the console and steering wheel were covered in buttons and lights and knobs and switches. It was horrible. I probably would have noticed if my friend's car was like that.

Good luck with choosing a car!
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:55 AM on February 3, 2015

I love my Mini and it hacks Wisconsin snow just fine. I have the six speed S version which has great handling and acceleration, but I can't speak to the automatic.
posted by carmicha at 2:34 AM on February 3, 2015

I've got a 2011 GTI (which too is awesome in the winter tires I recently asked about on MeFi) and love it. The new 2015 GTI looks awesome. I'll probably hold on to mine for 2 more years, I'll be at about 100k miles then and trade it in.

Want more oomf? Flash the ECU to go from 235hp to 316hp (probably not something I'd do to a lease). If you really want to lease though and want something faster, there's the new Golf R which comes with 292hp and all wheel drive.

Go with the DSG, it's the VW/Audi version of an "automatic" transmission ... smoothest shifts I've ever felt (better than my old Mini's CVT), no torque converter, etc. Drives faster than a traditional manual transmission too. (The 40k service on it is pricey, but you're leasing, what do you care?)

In terms of deals, I'm not sure, I've used truecar.com in the past to help with buying price, but I've never leased. Their website seems to help with leasing now too.

The VW place by me wants $2k down and $275/mo for a GTI according to their own website.
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:07 AM on February 3, 2015

I have a 2012 GTI and love it. I wouldn't go with the DSG unless you've tried both the DSG and the true manual. I'm in the camp that says if you want a driver's car (snappy handling and acceleration) there is no replacement for the sliding-a-bolt-on-a-gun sensation of changing gears with a true manual.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:35 AM on February 3, 2015

I have a Infiniti G37 (rebranded as the Q40 in 2014) and it compares well against a BMW 3 in terms of acceleration and handling - plus it is a more comfortable car. They are leasing for about $280 /month now. But since you are talking about leasing the Jetta GTI is worth taking a look at. I would normally steer people away from Volkswagen because they have reliability issues, but with a lease it should all be under warranty. The Infiniti has a bigger engine and more horsepower (3.7 liter, 328 hp), but the Jetta is a smaller car and the 2.0 turbo is a lot of fun.
posted by rtimmel at 11:10 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I looked at both the Mazda 3 and the VW GTI a few years ago, and I thought that the build quality / feel of the
VW was about the same or better, and the Mazda seemed weirdly expensive for what it was.

If it was more than 2 years ago, you were comparing prior versions of both cars that have since been significantly redesigned. Mazda way upped its game on the redesign of the 3 for 2014. VW matched for 2015. But both cars run the full range from 17K stripped to 30K loaded fully powered. I'm biased of course, but I drove both and the 2014 (and 2015) Mazda3 feels solid as a rock and way more composed than the 2008-13 design (I drove a bunch of those in recent years too).

I think you could make arguments about the build quality of either marque or either car. But almost all reviewers have noted that Mazda's build quality has gone way up in the last couple of years. One thing to look out for however, is that beginning in later 2014, Mazda's Mexican plant came online producing the 3, and many US M3s are now Mexican made. Supposedly they put great effort into replicating the robotics and assembly processes of their Hiroshima plant, but I made a point of finding a Hiroshima-built M3 last year and I think they are getting to be scarcer now. Those guys have been machining motors in Hiroshima for almost as long as Mercedes has in Stuttgart. I'm not sure how I'd feel about buying the first year or two's run from a brand new lower-cost factory. Ask your dealer if you're looking at Mazdas -- the VIN number tells you where the car was made.
posted by spitbull at 12:59 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

On a similar note, VW shifted production of the GTI from Wolfsburg to Mexico for the 2015 models, too.
posted by hwyengr at 1:10 PM on February 4, 2015

Response by poster: I ended up leasing a 2014 Ford Focus SE hatchback after renting one and loving the handling. It's got everything my 2003 BMW had (including heated leather seats) and more; if it had a bit more horsepower I'd never think about the BMW again.
posted by desjardins at 9:14 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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