Buying a new car, practicality vs fun
December 31, 2015 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a new car. Can you help?

I need to buy a new car to replace my 2006 Toyota Camry, mainly for commuting 15 miles a day and occasional road trips. I typically consider the following factors when buying a car: reliability, price, and safety. Accordingly, I have test-driven a Corolla, Mazda3, Impreza, and 2016 Civic. Out of those I liked the Civic and Mazda3 best, and since the Civic seems to be about $1,500 less comparably equipped that's probably my first choice. However...

There's a Subaru BRZ (a miata-like sport coupe) that parks in the lot next to mine at work, and I've been eyeing it for the past few months knowing that I need a new car. I broke down and test-drove one while I was out looking at practical cars, and it was really fun to drive. It's about $6k more than the Civic, which I can afford. It has a ridiculous backseat not fit for humans, but I don't have kids (nor plans for them in the immediate future) and rarely have more than one passenger. The cabin is louder, interior not as refined, and the ride is much less smooth, obviously.

So I'm wondering what it would be like to actually own a sports car. It was great to test drive, but does the cabin noise and unrefined ride turn into an annoyance when you drive 300 miles on the freeway or when it's a daily commuter? I also try to be fairly frugal. I can quantify and consider the difference in purchase price between the two vehicles, but how much more time/money would repairs and maintenance entail (I guess this is kind of a question specific to BRZ or FRS owners)? Are there other downsides to a sports car to consider, other than gas mileage?

If you've made a similar decision, what did you decide, and were you happy or did you regret it?

[Note: I'm not interested in alternative car recommendations. I've had a hard enough time narrowing this down to my current options]

Thank you!
posted by btkuhn to Shopping (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My friend bought a sports car, and I don't know how it compares to yours, but the rough ride became kind of awful on the winter rough roads. And the sports car tires (um, thinner rubber, wider on the road) seemed to get punctured by pot holes all the time (and were way more expensive than my tires). And when he added an SO and a couple of dogs there wasn't enough space (especially for friends like me who would end up in the awful back seat).

But! In the summer time when the roads were good and no one was stuck in the back seat, it was a Lot of fun. Probably $6k worth of fun over the years. So if your roads are good and your passengers few, have fun while you can.
posted by ldthomps at 8:40 AM on December 31, 2015

The most luxurious car I've owned (such as it is) was an A3 5-door; least was a Lotus Elise; now I drive a BRZ. I just came from the Elise so the BRZ seems plenty quiet for me - note that it deliberately pumps in engine noise, under hard throttle, but not at part throttle. Anyway, regarding commutes and long trips, I think the difference will mostly manifest in long trips. I can't name any one thing that causes this, but the Elise and to a less extent the BRZ are simply more fatiguing to make miles in. Shorter wheelbase, more steering corrections, slightly rougher ride, who knows. The A3, I could go 6 hours on the highway with no stops and no particular fatigue.

Apologies if I'm ignoring your note, but since you listed it, the Mazda3 is supposed to be a real pleasure to drive too. There might be a certain configuration or trim level that you didn't try, or maybe it just didn't inspire you.

Happy to answer questions about the Burzzz here or over PM.

On preview: one thing about the BRZ, it comes with fairly tall, NON sporty tires, for reasons. It's still not a Cadillac but not as bad as the rubber bands on some cars.
posted by ftm at 8:42 AM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

As far as sports cars go, the BRZ/FR-S are pretty damned practical with their biggish trunk area with the back seats down.

Do you live in an area with a real winter? Unless you get snow tires, rear-wheel drive can be a pain in the ass for snow and ice.
posted by hwyengr at 8:57 AM on December 31, 2015

Is the sports car manual (standard) or automatic? My husband's found manual to be a real pain in the butt for commuting - having to ride the clutch in slow traffic. He used to have a Subaru WRX and the clutch was really stiff, made shifting a workout. The suspension was also stiff which made for a very bumpy ride in the winter - our streets get deep ruts in the ice and you feel EVERY bump. Also he liked the speed of his sports cars... and got a lot of speeding tickets. This is literally one of the reasons we didn't get another sports car after the Subaru died.

But he sure does miss having a sports car, and often makes wistful comments about getting another one. They are fun.
posted by lizbunny at 8:59 AM on December 31, 2015

Ages ago (1997) I was going to buy a Civic until I found out that my insurance company categorized it as a sports car and it was going to cost me as much to insure as the del Sol I'd been trying to talk myself out of. So I bought the del Sol.

It was awesome, and fun (I had the VTEC), and really fatiguing to drive on the highway due to a complete lack of sound insulation. And the tires were expensive. So I enjoyed owning it, but my girlfriend (now wife) and I started renting cars for road trips because it just wasn't great being in it for hours at a stretch. But for a daily commute it was actually fine. I never got tired of the clutch.

The only problem I had was that other drivers weren't looking for cars that low to the ground. I got into an accident because somebody turned left in front of me (nearly totaling my car), and I'm not sure how many other accidents I narrowly avoided. You don't realize how aggressive other drivers are until you realize their SUVs have almost a ton on you and they're not really looking for any vehicles smaller than an SUV.
posted by fedward at 9:02 AM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

My experience when I had a GTI (another tidy option in the same class as the FRS/BRZ) was not unlike ldthomps' friend. I lost five tires in a year, at $230-$350 apiece. But if you don't get extremely low profile tires, you're going to do better on that. Also, I think the FRS/BRZ gets a bit of its fun out of having low rolling resistance, lower grip tires that may not be quite as fussy to deal with.
posted by wotsac at 9:13 AM on December 31, 2015

A couple of things to note:

The stiffer suspension (bumpier ride) has its benefits; cornering will be more comfortable at much higher speeds, and steering will be much more responsive than the non sports varieties. Driving a manual transmission in stop and start traffic can be a real chore. I think the BRZ would be all kinds of fun to zip around the city in and still be practical enough to not regret the purchase.

I used to own a 2011 WRX, and while I totally loved that car, it was more car than I could responsibily enjoy in the city. Driving a (really!) fast car slowly isn't all that fun, a trapping I don't think the BRZ would fall into.
posted by axismundi at 9:27 AM on December 31, 2015

I think that, as sports cars go, something made by Subaru would be innately more practical than a (for example) Porsche. Subarus are common enough that it's not a big expense to find parts when you need them, and AFAIK they are all pretty rugged in terms of all-wheel-drive and practical tires. I am a huge giant Subaru fan.

That said, I once drove several Mazda3's long distances (I briefly worked for a Mazda dealership) and they were super-fun.
posted by witchen at 9:44 AM on December 31, 2015

Just got a Madza3 iSport and love it to death. It's not the fanciest car I've ever owned, but it does my daily commute perfectly.

The amount of features you get for the basic trim kind of blew away the other choices for me. 6-speed steptronic AT, ABS, traction, Bluetooth, and a hackable 7" touchscreen info/nav unit. IMO the premium levels didn't add that much more.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2015

Hi! I drove my practical, reliable, cost-efficient, sensible, boring Honda Civic into the ground! 100,000+ miles and it did great, but finally time for a new car. Everyone and their mother warned me against Mini Coopers. Considered their concerns over having to buy premium gas, expensive maintenance, blah blah blah. Test drove Toyotas and Hondas. Nice but boring.

Bought a Mini Cooper last year (20,000 miles on it) that was previously used as a rental car. WAY cheaper than buying new and still under warranty. Cute. Love it. People compliment me on my car all the time. Car runs great. No expensive repairs. Makes me happy every day.

I'm young, no kids. This is the only time for me to realistically enjoy a nice sporty cute impractical car. Good decision, don't regret it. In five years if I have kids, I'll buy something more indestructible.
posted by quincunx at 10:30 AM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

First research of course. But after that I always end up buying what I love on a test drive. It is like dating . . . you know the car when you are in it. And FYI, my Subaru (an Outback), which I did not intend to buy until the all important test drive, is a tough beastie that can go anywhere and is just as reliable now, 9 years on, as the day I bought it. And still a party to drive, too.

Also, I love my cars more after I install my own stereo systems in 'em. It isn't much extra to pay and makes a huge difference.
posted by bearwife at 10:35 AM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think a way to split the difference would be to get the sportier trim in one of the more practical cars. In the mazda3, that would be the 2.5l (personally, I would also recommend the hatchback, but that's a separate matter). In the civic, that would be the new turbo (and possibly the coupe?).
posted by kickingtheground at 2:51 PM on December 31, 2015

but how much more time/money would repairs and maintenance entail

It's not perfect, but Edmunds True Cost to Own calculator provides a way to compare ownership costs between different cars. There are a lot of assumptions built in that might not fit your situation (like miles/year), but it will definitely highlight differences in reliability, insurance, and other costs and gives a good starting point for comparing overall costs.

Obviously it depends on the specific model you select (as well as your location), but comparing a BRZ premium and a Civic EX sedan comes up with a five year cost difference of about $6000, with $1000 of that coming from higher maintenance -- the higher purchase price and the lower fuel economy make a much larger difference than the maintenance.

Personally, with costs that close I would buy the car that made me happy and that was the most likely to keep making me happy over the time I expected to own it. Life is short and happiness is valuable.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:05 AM on January 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

The difference in tire cost might be worth considering. Sports cars usually come with shorter sidewall, harder compound rubber that respond well to spirited driving in warmer weather, but wear faster and almost always should be switched out for dedicated winter tires (and wheels) for adequate slush and snowy weather handling and safety. If the vehicle is rear-wheel drive, this is even more so.

That's part of what makes the BRZ/FRS so appealing- the diminutive size and lower engine power means handling doesn't suffer too badly from the cheaper, less-sporty tires they are equipped with compared to more expensive/more powerful sports vehicles.

Have you test driven an FRS? Essentially, it's the same platform as the BRZ with a few differences- you might notice or not.

Neither car strikes me as too loud or stressful for long roadtrips. Given your parameters of a new-new car, reliable, safe, economical, and sporty I think those are really your best options, or the Mazda3 if you need more practicality. Especially if you are coming from a Toyota Camry, arguably the most reliable but boring-to-drive car, you will enjoy the low-slung, responsive sportiness.

But in the interest of comparison, have you test-driven a V6 Ford Mustang? It feels bigger and sits taller than the Japanese twins.

Also, if you're at a Ford dealership and can drive stick, the Fiesta ST (small) and Focus ST (medium) are thrilling fun to drive, turbocharged hatchbacks- less refined and likely less reliable/more costly to own than the BRZ, but worthy of a test-drive just to see how hot those hatches can be.

Edit: Just saw your edit about no alternatives. Sorry!
posted by Giggilituffin at 10:13 AM on January 1, 2016

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