Looking to buy an SUV as my first new car ever.
May 26, 2007 10:11 PM   Subscribe

The time has come to buy a new car, and I've got a LOT of questions with regards to cost, options, leasing vs. buying, and haggling. Also recommendations on Toyota Highlanders and Mazda CX-9's...

I currently own a 1996 Chevy Blazer. It's come to the point where it's starting to cost me way too much money a year to maintain (not to mention the gas consumption is horrendous). I've started looking at cars and I had two in mind before I even ventured out:

-Toyota Highlander or Highlander Hybrid (leaning away from hybrid since the savings doesn't really justify the extra cost)

-Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring

Basically here is what I'm looking for in my new car:

-Decent mileage city/highway
-Preferably an SUV (I'm 6'4" and smaller sedans don't fit me too well)
-Excellent track record, options, reliability etc
-Decent sound system
-Navigation system

The Highlander is a nice looking car, and has a positive recommendation from friends/family. My parents own a Lexus and an Acura SUV and are very happy with both. I've heard the Mazda CX-9 compared a lot to those cars.

So today I went to look at the CX-9 up close, just to get an idea of how I'd fit etc. I learned if I got one of those the sun/moon-roof would be a no go as it chops off about an inch of height above my head. Now when I went home I started pricing things out on Edmunds and autos.msn.com. I wanted to find out the MSRP, invoice and TMV prices for the options I wanted. This is where I started to get really confused.

On the Mazda I could get the following package: ncludes DVD navigation system, rearview camera, Smart Card with MAZDA Advanced Keyless Entry and Start system and power open and close rear hatch.

However this package REQUIRES that you get either a moonroof/Bose package or the rear-entertainment package. Now I don't want DVD screens in my headrests, nor do I want a moonroof. Is this a manufacturer ploy to jack the price up? Honestly I want the nav system, Bose audio and maybe an alarm system. The alarm system isn't available with the navigation package.

What's with all the restrictions? How customizable are cars? If I wanted a car with the above configuration and a certain color shouldn't I be able to get that somehow? Do they only make the cars in these preset configurations to bolster price?

The second half of my question is in regards to prices. I'm looking to buy over lease, simply because I don't believe in paying to only use something when you can be paying to own it. How much should expect to be able to haggle down from TMV etc? Should I go the fax-route with dealerships and see who offers me the best deal?

The final part of my question is simply in regards to the quality of Highlanders and CX-9. Advice greatly appreciated if you've owned either and can give me a personal review.

posted by PetiePal to Shopping (15 answers total)
Click here. This website will answer the second half of your question.
posted by mjger at 10:27 PM on May 26, 2007

What's with all the restrictions?

They help reduce the number of build combinations; reducing complexity improves quality and lowers costs. They package features together on the assumption that most people who want Feature A will also want Feature B. Sometimes their predictions are good, and sometimes they're not.

To put some numbers to this, one of the domestics just reduced the number of possible combinations on one vehicle from well over 100,000 to fewer than 700. I've also seen it claimed that, at its peak in the 1960s, GM vehicles were collectively available in more combinations than there were stars in the sky. Bundling equipment in packages is designed to eliminate this kind of insanity.

None of this may be much consolation to you, but there you have it.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:32 PM on May 26, 2007

Dude, you were me shopping for a car this time last year. I had the exact same restrictions as you did, and i got a Honda Pilot. I'm also 6'4" and it has lots of head room.

They make you get the leather and everything to get the navi, but I got a fully loaded pilot for 28.5k before tax, title, and license (MSRP was about 35k).

The best advice i can give you is to go to the Edmunds car buying forums, and look at "buying experiences and prices paid." The forums cut through the bullshit and you'll find the lowest price people are paying for the car, and with what options. Then you know whether or not you're being reasonable.

You can go the fax route, but honestly that doesn't work in my opinion. All the dealerships in my area won't give prices by fax, and always say come into the store. I ended up figuring out what price I wanted to pay, and then I went in a dealership in the morning. I knew I wanted the Pilot, but I test drove the Accord, CR-V, and Civic, just to take the salesman's time. Remember, don't rush. Make the salesman pot-committed. It took 7 hours, but by the end, he'll really want to sell because he wants to have some tangible benefit to spending all his time with you that day.

As far as the car goes, I couldn't be happier. I haven't had a single problem with it, the rearview camera is beyond sweet, and the Nav works excellently. Unlike Toyota, Honda lets you operate the Nav while the vehicle is in motion (for toyota you have to be fully stopped which is the most annoying thing ever and a total dealbreaker). As far as mileage goes, I avg about 19/27.

Anyways, hope this helps!
posted by unexpected at 11:44 PM on May 26, 2007

I bought an '05 Highlander at Carmax last year with 12,000 miles on it. It was the most ridiculously easy, painless transaction ever - to the point where I said to the salesman, "I'm waiting for the part where you screw us over" and he said, "We actually don't do that." Financed through the credit union and not one problem with the car in the first year.

I picked a Highlander over the Pilot because the Toyota came with a full-sized spare, and I tend to run over stuff a lot.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:01 AM on May 27, 2007

I just bought a Toyota and I had no trouble ignoring the standard option packages and just picking and choosing which options I wanted to pay for (or, actually, in my case I chose to get a bunch of upgraded options for free and get less of a cash discount on the MSRP). They are making the car in the factory to my specifications and shipping it to me later this month; the downside is the wait of four weeks for delievery (and wouldn't you know, my old car - going to a family member - has cost me $1000 in repairs while waiting). I feel I was treated really fairly at the dealership (no sexism, no pressure, no playing the manager off against the salesperson regarding price, or added-on fees). A attribute that to the fact I live in a small town and the dealer's reputation is much more important than in a larger centre. You might want to go out to a smaller town and see how you do there.
posted by saucysault at 5:59 AM on May 27, 2007

My dad is six foot six and he is perfectly comfortable in a VW Passat, there are sedans out there with the headroom you seek. I can offer no practical advice regarding SUVs though, good luck.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:54 AM on May 27, 2007

For what it's worth, I'm only 5'9" and I feel cramped in many SUVs, including my own Jeep Cherokee. You might want to look at a few more vehicles before concluding that a certain body style has more room than others, especially considering that the particular SUVs you mention are based on car platforms that likely have similar proportions to their sedan cousins. (Highlander = Camry, CX-9 = Fusion/Milan/Mazda6)
posted by bhayes82 at 9:12 AM on May 27, 2007

Remember that the sales person will take every cent that you will care to part with. He/She will tell you that their brother has the same car or feature on a car and loves it. "My brother/sister/wife/cousin swears by it!"

They will then try to get you to focus on payments rather than the bottom line. I was buying a car last year and the sales guy showed me a payment on a piece of paper. How does this look to you? I said, it looks good, but how much is the principal total of the car? He said that I shouldn't worry about that, etc... and he spent several minutes trying to change the subject. Sound shady? It was at a MAJOR car company not a used car company. Watch out!

Also, it would help to know your FICO score before you go in. Getting your interest rate before hand gives you some leverage.

During my visit with the same company, I got my FICO score which was very good from one of the three credit agencies (equifax.com) and went in with that knowledge. The salesman never discussed the interest rate because it was unbelievably high. I finally gnawed it out of him and told him that I was shocked to be given such a high rate. He told me that the financial guy in the back told him that it was the best he could do. I told him what my FICO score was and the started stuttering about how there must be some mistake and to allow him to ask the financial guy to redo the numbers. He came back with an interest rate that was MUCH lower than the original. Sorry there was a mistake, I was told.

In the end, he was right. His mistake is that he didn't realize that I was an informed consumer. Just remember, the sales guy is the enemy. Don't believe it? Then just let him lead the way and see where you end up. Keep your eyes wide open, my friend, and good luck.
posted by boots77 at 9:39 AM on May 27, 2007

I would do a search on each model under consideration and add the word "forum". You can find the actual owners of those cars and hear the good and the bad of ownership of those models.

Also, edmunds.com has good comparisons, and their CarSpace section has some forums that are a good place to start.
posted by Doohickie at 2:07 PM on May 27, 2007

The CX9 is an awesome SUV. Edmunds gave it best SUV under 35k (granted with nav you will be a bit over 35 on MSRP).

I've driven one and own a Mazda RX8, so I have a little bit of knowledge in regards to Mazda’s. I do know the nav system on the Cx9 is excellent, voice activated, touch screen and DVD based, with updates every 2 years. One thing to point out, the DVD entertainment system is not on the back of the head rests, its in the ceiling, thus the reason you can't have a sunroof and dvd in the car (unless you go aftermarket dvd)

Edmunds puts the TMV price point out there as "True Market Value" so I'm not sure if its realistic to expect to receive much below that. Often the TMV is close to or IS the Invoice price.

One side comment in response to unexpected’s remark

I knew I wanted the Pilot, but I test drove the Accord, CR-V, and Civic, just to take the salesman's time. Remember, don't rush. Make the salesman pot-committed. It took 7 hours, but by the end, he'll really want to sell because he wants to have some tangible benefit to spending all his time with you that day.

That’s wrong on so many levels. First, by going in and wasting the salesperson’s time you accomplish nothing more than wasting your own time. A salesperson wants to make a deal no matter how much or little time they have spent with you. Even if this DID increase His / her desire (since you eliminated his ability to work with other more respectful buyers) it still will have no outcome on the final price.

The salesmanger sets price, period. The salesman’s job is to help you find a car you like that meets your needs and then facilitate a deal between you and the dealership. His desire to "make a sale" and "feed his family" or "pay his bills" has no reflection in the price of the car. None, Zip, Zilch, Zero, Nada.

The bottom line is you choose who you do business with. Enter the dealership informed, honest and straight forward, seek out a salesperson you feel comfortable with and buy yourself your next new car :).
posted by crewshell at 3:35 PM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good answers so far.

I guess the biggest problem I have is getting the features I want, without the crap I don't. Basically I want the Navigation system, but I don't want the sunroof OR DVD entertainment. (The car I saw yesterday had the screens in the back of the headrests, perhaps a custom job to jack up the price)

Can you custom order what you want and have the factory ship it to the dealer? I've read that people have done this and they don't get charged anything extra since car dealerships make monthly orders anyways so it really doesn't cost THEM anything extra.
posted by PetiePal at 5:07 PM on May 27, 2007

Nope, Sorry bud, thats not a configuration Mazda puts together. With one comes the other :(


You can always go aftermarket Nav...
posted by crewshell at 5:55 PM on May 27, 2007

Response by poster: So I couldn't get a Bose system at the least? That's kind of annoying
posted by PetiePal at 5:56 PM on May 27, 2007

Some feature combinations are merely hard to find because dealers don't order them. If that's the case, then yes, you could have a dealer order the specific vehicle you want. But if Mazda doesn't offer it that way, it won't happen, period ... unless Mazda changes its mind later on (which does you no good right now).

What I don't understand is, you claim to want better fuel economy, but aside from the hybrid, neither vehicle offers much if any improvement, according to the EPA:

'96 Blazer 4WD: 15/20 mpg
'07 CX-9 4WD: 15/21
'07 Highlander 4WD: 16/22 (3.3L) or 18/23 (2.4L)
'07 Highlander 4WD Hybrid: 27/25

If fuel economy is that important, I suggest you should be looking at other vehicles.

Sound shady? It was at a MAJOR car company not a used car company.

No, it was at a dealer for a major car company. The dealer is not the automaker. They are not one and the same thing. And it's difficult and expensive for automakers to get rid of bad dealers.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:21 PM on May 27, 2007

Also--not to sound like a Jeep fanboy, but you can get a Liberty with a navigation system and without a sunroof. The Liberty does have a narrow interior, but I seem to remember there being plenty of headroom.
posted by bhayes82 at 12:04 AM on May 28, 2007

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