Alright, so car shopping went along far faster than originally anticipated. This was due to personal reasons, mostly my mom’s need for a new(ish) car and my ability to provide it. (Also, because I still owe some on my previous car, the trade-in value weighed me down.) The car we ended up with? The 2010 Toyota Camry.
A Little Background
I’m sure that after comment about my wife choosing the car some of you think things like, “Boy, talk about p-whipped!” and “Look at that jerk, blaming his wife!” But in reality, it’s a lot simpler than that. See, my wife has never owned a new (not just new-to-her, but actually new, as in ain’t-no-one-broke-the-leather-but-her new). With her birthday and our 6th anniversary coming up, I decided this would make one heck of a present, especially since she’ll be the one driving it daily to work. Despite my getting a voice in the decision making process, I told her that the final call would be hers, hence the comment. Not p-whipped, not blaming: letting her choose a very nice present.
Because of this the reviews will feature my take and hers.
2010 Honda Accord (and Why We Will Never Return to Wesley Chapel Honda)
The car we’re replacing is a 2002 Honda Accord we bought used in 2006. It has proven to be a great car, but despite that it’s time to replace it. Considering our experience with that our 2002 Honda Civic–the combination of which has taken us over 240,000 mostly trouble-free miles over the past 8 years–at first we thought we would be replacing our old Honda with a new one. Although we loved the Accord Crosstour, our budget but us squarely on the road to an Accord sedan. This was our default choice. We were, after all, Honda people.
First, the cabin noise. Of all the cars we tried, the 2010 Accord was by far the loudest, letting in not only a fair amount of road noise, but also a surprising amount of engine noise. While Hondas are known for that, the 2010 model was noisier than even our 2002 model. Even though at this price range we expect some road noise, engine noise was a big no-no. Despite this, the Honda was still not only under consideration: it was our default choice. We knew we’d be safe buying a Honda.
[hmtad name=”120×600 Skyscraper Within Articles” align=”floatleft”]The second reason had little to do with the car and far more to do with the dealership, Wesley Chapel Honda. (Yeah, we could’ve found another dealership, but we didn’t like the Accord enough for that. It just didn’t impress us.) After test driving, we still weren’t sure about the car, but we wanted to get some numbers: how much was the car, what they charged for their warranties, and the approximate cost of the total package. This would allow us to get a complete picture, something we could consider. However, despite the great service we got with the sales person (Ed), the finance manager didn’t want to meet with us. The conversation went something like this:
General Manager: “Alright, what did you think?”
Us: “We liked the car. Now we’d like to get a few numbers so we can think about things and compare notes.”
GM: “Well, let me ask you, would you be prepared to make a decision today?”
Us: “Not today, but within the next 48 hours. Again, we simply need to be sure we really want to proceed with this car. It’s a big decision after all: $30,000 is a big chunk of change for us.”
GM: “Alright, let me talk to the finance manager then.” He goes out. A few minutes later… “Alright, I spoke to the finance manager, and honestly, he’s interested in one thing: it’s the end of the month, and we need to fill up that board back there with names.”
Us: “I understand and appreciate that, but before we can make any decision we need numbers. We’re very deliberate people; we don’t make decisions like this solely on emotion. I just need an idea of what costs are, what payments would look like, etc.”
GM: “OK then, let me see what I can get.” Again he steps out, then a few minutes later comes back with, “Listen, my manager here is very busy. He’s working with a lot of people and he says unless you’re ready to decide something today, he won’t bother with this right now. He doesn’t need the practice.”
Us: “OK. Let me be clear then: I get the numbers, I think about it. I don’t get the numbers, I don’t think about it. Understood?”
We stood up and walked out. We spoke to Ed on the way out who was visibly shocked by the way we were treated. He later tried to salvage the sale by getting us our numbers, but by that time we had already decided we wouldn’t be going with a Honda, and if we did, it wouldn’t be from Wesley Chapel Honda. Furthermore, I will never again be returning there for any services or future purchases.
Finally, I’m tempted to drive by, see the manager, show him my new car and tell him, “This could have been your sale, and despite the great effort your marvelous sales person went through, your shortsightedness and inability to seek the relationship above the sale cost blew it.” I’m not vindictive enough, however, although I do take pleasure in knowing that the dealership is currently for sale, and losing about $250,000 a month.
2010 Nissan Altima
One night, near the end of our selection process, we drove down the road to check out and test drive a Ford Fusion. Unfortunately, the Ford dealership was closed (an hour earlier than they advertised) so we wondered on over to the Nissan dealership (which we later found out was closed, but they worked with us anyway). Originally, we hadn’t even considered Nissans, despite the fact that my sisters and my brother all have Nissans (two 2008 Altimas and one Sentra). But they were open, so why not, right?
But we don’t work that way.
For a couple of days, it looked like things were settled: would get an Altima, despite my trepidation. We started looking around the net for competing quotes, asking my siblings about their experiences, and figuring out negotiating tactics. As we did, we started reading the reliability reports and rankings on the car, as well as talking to other Altima owners. As we did, we grew increasingly hesitant about it: as awesome and enjoyable as it was to ride, the overall cost of ownership seemed higher than we wanted: there were more scheduled maintenances than we were used to and the insurance for this car was higher than any of the others in our list. Eventually, we decided not to go this route.
Would we have regretted doing so? Not for a second. But five years down the line, would I be saying the same thing? Six years? Ten? It was our inability to answer that question as a definite affirmative that gave us pause, and eventually made us reconsider. (And yes, we were well aware that the Altima was voted best mid size sedan in initial quality by J.D. Power and Associates. Initial quality and quality at 7 years, 140,000 miles are two different things, however.) Still, if you’re looking for a family sedan while keeping a sporty feel, you need to make sure the Altima’s on your shortlist.
2010 Ford Fusion
Ford’s come a looooong way. A few years ago this wouldn’t have even been a consideration. In fact, a few years ago, when I was buying a car, it wasn’t, at least not seriously. Sure, I played with the idea of buying a Five-Hundred for a while–especially because I loved the Volvo S80–but a Fusion? Too new, and it was a Ford. Today, just saying “it’s a Ford” gives no negative indication of its quality. In fact, the Ford Fusion has taken over as one of the top quality cars, matching and beating the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord for the past few years. Even J.D. Powers agrees, as does US News & World Reports. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Fusion is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2010.
I say all of this so you know that I didn’t try Ford out of some sense of patriotism, like I could justify buying a sub-par car simply because it was made by an American company. I tried the Fusion because it is a great car, period.
Once we got in the car we forgot all about nationality and focused on the ride. It was engaging without challenging you to be fierce, comfortable, and relatively quiet. The design of the controls was clear, uncluttered (unlike that of the Honda Accord), and utilitarian. The only issues we encountered were visibility–the design feels like it blocks out some small, seemingly unimportant part of your total view–and the internal decor, which looked somewhat cheap, especially the door handles. My wife also had an issue with the comfort of the cloth seats; replacing them with leather helped somewhat, due to the extra padding afforded to these. Still, she wasn’t totally happy.
Had it been up to me, this probably would have been the car we bought, which is why it was such a heartbreaker. Still, she’ll be doing the bulk of the driving in this new vehicle, not me, so she gets the final call; despite every incredible feature offered, and despite Ford’s newfound reputation for quality in the Fusion, she decided to pass, her reasons being comfort (she still didn’t like the way the seats felt) and the internal decor, which felt overwhelmingly cheap to her. I’m sure her prior experiences with Fords didn’t help, either.
Sigh. Maybe next time, Ford. Maybe next time.
2010 Chevrolet Malibu
Actually, like the Altima, the Malibu was tested on a mere whim. Really, it was my whim, much like the Altima was mostly my wife’s whim. A few years ago I rented a Chevy Malibu and fell completely in love with it. At that time, however, there seemed to be an issue with the car’s steering column and I was surrounded by (and depended upon advice from) people who refused to buy an American car, so I never went forward with even considering it. This time I figured, “Why not? It can’t hurt.” It helps that my dad loves his Chevrolets. Loves them. In fact, any of my childhood memories involve time spent riding around town in my dad’s old Chevy Nova. Maybe that’s why he tends to discourage the purchase of Fords.
First and foremost, the positioning of the driver-side functions. Even with the telescopic feature, the steering wheel was positioned oddly in relation to the seat and pedals, at least for me. As for my wife, she had major problems with the gas and break pedals: the break felt a lot higher than the gas, so switching over wasn’t just a matter of rolling the foot, but actually a matter of lifting it in order to hit the break. The pedals felt just fine for me, but she has far smaller feet.
Another issue was the visibility, especially through the rear window. Because of the car’s shape, rear visibility is hampered severely enough to make backing out more of a guessing game than usual. (Yes, we know we can install rear sensors, but if those should fail we need to be able to use our eyes.) Again, this was more of an issue with my wife than me, although I did notice that the visibility was not as open as I would have liked.
Finally, an issue for me was the way some of the materials were applied. When I pulled on the door handle inside the car, I actually saw and felt it move–along with the rest of the door panel–towards me, independent of the door itself. It felt like I was pulling a giant toy. In the trunk, I felt the same way, when I noticed that the coverings weren’t glued on, they were bolted on; being very soft, they felt more like very thin, malleable cardboard barely attached to the car’s frame. Reminded me of our old 1987 Chevy Cavalier, which also had this type of covering, until it fell off. Like that, this just felt cheap.
Basically the Malibu experience can be narrowed down to this: Great ride, mostly comfortable, but cheap interior.
2010 Toyota Camry
Finally, the car we started our search on and ended up going with. Now, I know people are talking about Toyota’s quality having gone down while they tried to rip the #1 car manufacturer prize from GM’s cold, dead hands, (GM: “I’M NOT DEAD YET!”) but they’re still quite good, quite reliable, and now, because of all the reports, cheaper than it would’ve been otherwise. (I was able to get mine $2,300 under invoice, over $4,000 under MSRP.)
First and foremost, the car was smooth ride, to the point that it’s easy to forget you’re driving. For enthusiasts, this would be a huge negative, but for someone looking to get from point A to point B without many thrills, this is perfect. As for the cabin itself, it wasn’t as quiet as the Nissan Altima’s, but it was quiet enough. (I’m considering buying some sound dampening material to make it a far quieter ride.)
In the looks department, the 2010 Camry is a win. It is elegant and has a bit of a timeless quality to it. The creature comforts our model came with–XM radio, leather seats, power seating, rear sensors–and intelligent design decisions make going somewhere an enjoyable, usually relaxing experience. In fact, the ride is so smooth and the creature comforts are so nice the Camry reminds us of the Hyunday Azure we rented during a trip to Montana a few years ago. But, you know, with better gas mileage.
It took us 2 test drives to make our decision, but after having tested everything else, and considering long term reliability issues, this is what we went with.
Of course, while these were the cars we tried out, we considered a number of others, mostly hybrid versions of the vehicles mentioned here when available, as well as the Buick LaCrosse. Something always got in the way of those: cost, mileage, reliability ratings and estimated cost of ownership, etc.
In the end, the decision was between the Nissan Altima and the Toyota Camry, two cars we both loved for completely different reasons. The Altima we loved because of its sporty feel and creature comforts. The Camry we loved because of the stately feel. (Odd thing to say with a Camry, I know, but at our price range…) In the end, the decision was based on maintenance costs, and there the Camry was all win.