Thoughts on car shopping in 2012

Posted on 03/05/2012 in misc

Recent issues with my 1997 Mazda 626 have made it apparent that we needed a vehicle in the family with less than 100,000 miles on it (It is at 177K). The Durango just passed 100K, and at 14 mpg around town, we don't really want to use it as our daily teen transporter. I had vowed to never buy new again, so we started a couple of weeks ago with me dropping $6.95 on a one month on-line subscription to Consumer Reports. I went through their reliability records for cars likely to be in the 10K - 12K price range, and made my short list of small sedans to look at. There were no surprises on the list, Honda, Toyota, Mazda, etc. Researching the local market quickly showed me that I was a little out of touch on what I could get for $12,000.

Undaunted, we headed out on a Sunday afternoon to look at a few cars. The pickings were slim. We looked at a 2008 Kia Optima which neither of us liked. The suspension and handling were very soft. It was like driving your grandfather's Buick. Then we drove a 2010 Hyundai Elantra, which is the same car, but handles much better, and is just generally better put together. Next we stopped by the Dodge lot and looked at a 2008 Ford Fusion. We hated it. Then we stopped by the Chevy dealership. They didn't have anything on our short list available, but the sales guy talked me into test driving a 2011 Cruze. I was generally curious about GM's newest try at a small car. The car is loads of fun to drive, a turbo charged 4 cylinder that still gets well north of 30 mpg. However, it's a Chevy, and I'm not buying a first model year Chevy under any circumstances.

The Kia and Hyundai salespeople were both relaxed, laid back, and non-pushy. So relaxed in fact, that neither bothered to follow up with me. The salesperson at the Dodge dealer had a significant air of desperation. The Chevrolet guy was older, and the only person who exhibited any sales skills at all. He at least got my respect for trying, and that was part of the reason why I did the test drive on the Cruze in the first place. At 4 PM Michelle wanted to go back to Hyundai and make an offer on the Elantra. I didn't feel like I knew enough to negotiate effectively, so I talked her out of it. Had the Hyundai guy called me on Monday and made a decent offer, he might have had a sale. He never called.

In the meantime, I was getting dismayed about what $12,000 buys in a small sedan. The used market is tight, and it's only getting worse for fuel efficient cars. Meanwhile, with 0% financing, new cars can be had for not much more out of pocket than used cars. So this past weekend, we decided to look at new cars. We started at Mazda, to look at the Mazda 3. It's important to note that of the 7 cars we have owned since we got married, 5 were Mazdas. I let the sales guy know up front that I was a Mazda guy. We took the Mazda 3 iSport for a drive. It's a fun car to drive, definitely the most fun of anything we test drove. On paper, the Mazda is larger than the Hyundai Elantra, but it sure feels smaller, both in the front and rear seats. Also, I wasn't thrilled about the layout of the dash, and Michelle thought the seats were a little stiff. That said, I would have been fine owning the car. They made me a nice offer on it too, less than $16,000. However, it was still early, and I wanted to drive a new Elantra and Corolla before making a decision. The Corolla was sort of a due diligence car. It was more expensive than the other two, and my impression of Toyota was they trade on their brand reputation, and that it is hard to get a good deal.

The next stop was Hyundai. A sales guy pounced on us immediately. He exhibited every negative stereotype of a car salesman. We asked for the guy that we talked to the previous week about the used car. He implied that guy can't sell new Hyundais because he works for the Nissan side of the dealership. So we took a lavender 2012 Elantra GLS for a spin. It's a very nice car. I was sold on the car, but I was not buying purple. He told us it was the only one they had. I asked about the used one from the week before. He brushed me off and pitched me on a Sonata for the the same price as an Elantra. That's like getting a Mazda 6 for the price of a Mazda 3. It doesn't happen. He tried to convince me a 6 year loan is a good idea. At this point I was ready to split. While I was dealing with the guy, Michelle wandered next door and found the guy we dealt with the previous week. It turns out he can sell anything on the lot. He was pissed about the Hyundai guy trying to steal us. I was too. I'm in sales, honor among thieves and all that :) The 2010 was still on the lot, so we took it for another drive. When we came back I told him I liked the Elantra and wouldn't mind owning one. I told him I could get a new Mazda 3 for $15,800, and I didn't think the Elantra was worth much more than a Mazda. I gave him two options. I'd put a deposit down and wait for the next shipment in a couple of weeks; or I'd consider the used one if he gave me enough of a delta to walk from the good deal on the Mazda. The sales manager refused to talk price on the 2012 Elantra. I could pay sticker if I wanted one. He offered $13,995 on the used car (sticker was $14,995). I pointed out that less than $2000 with used car interest rates was not even close to enough. I'd rather have the new Mazda at that price.

At this point, we almost went back to Mazda. Had the salesman called me at that point to see how my day shopping was going, it probably would have reeled me in. Instead, we went to Toyota, expecting to be underwhelmed by the Corolla, especially at a sticker price at the very top of my budget. Instead, we both really liked the car. It drives nice, it's roomy for a small sedan, and it is nicely equipped. So I sat down with the sales guy and laid it out. I can have a new Mazda 3 for $15,800. I'd be willing to pay $1200 more for the Corolla. The sales manager came over and did his pitch on Toyota. Then he came back with his best and final offer. It wasn't quite to my $17,000 number, but it was pretty damn close, and I liked the way they do business. Add in a 0% loan and free oil changes for as long as I own the car, and it was an all around good deal. So I took it.

The Mazda guy still hasn't called.

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