2019 Acura RDX – The BMW X3’s Kryptonite

We often resign to popular belief that BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Audi are the kings of everything automotive pertaining to luxury and performance. This then trickles down to consumer behavior where people are only buying certain models because the badge on the front and back may either impress those around them or they perceive those brands to be the best on the market. Near the end of 2018 before getting some time with the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX, I was surprised to find out that this luxury crossover is not only outselling the BMW X3, but its dominated this matchup the last three years.

Lately, there have been many in the industry who feel that German design has become quite reserved, whereas the Japanese are now the risk takers with some very edgy and futuristic front and rear fascias. The Acura RDX is no exception, and in fact for 2019 it’s sporting a more aggressive appearance that’s clearly attracting new buyers. One of the factors that’s playing a role not only in the mid-size crossover segment but others in the luxury market, is that non-German brands are finding new ways to find success that advertising and tradition just can’t achieve in 2019.

Pricing

The Acura RDX finds itself in a great position for a mid-sized luxury crossover, mostly due to the price tag. Starting just over $37k, the RDX sometimes gets compared to the smaller BMW X2 by consumers. This alone could be a reason why Acura’s smallest crossover outperforms the BMW X3 in terms of annual sales, but more importantly it undercuts the X3 when it comes to pricing. Because of this, the RDX finds itself at a competitive advantage because it’s more practical than the X2 and more affordable than the X3.

Fully specced out you can expect a price just under $50k. But it’s the mid-level trim that gets most of the attention as the RDX A-Spec not only comes available with a sporty appearance, but you can option for red leather seats with suede inserts that are honestly one of the most comfortable in it’s class. Paired with Apex Blue or Performance Red paint, the RDX’s road presence will easily turn heads and really stands out.

Performance

For performance, the RDX gets a 2 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that gets 272 hp and 280 lb ft of torque and is paired with a 10 speed automatic transmission which is all new for 2019. Just like with the Super Handling AWD system which Acura has brought back to the delight of both brand loyalists and journalists, the four cylinder has made a return as it replaces the V6 engine that was offered last generation.

While there’s a slight decrease in horsepower with a smaller engine, torque numbers increased. Acura says the 2019 RDX will go from 0-60 in around 5.7 seconds which is about half a second faster from 2018, but as of right now there is no official data. For drivetrain options, FWD comes standard with AWD being a $2000 option. When it comes to fuel economy, you can expect to receive 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway with AWD, and if you choose to go with FWD, fuel efficiency numbers increase very slightly.

Practicality

Despite fuel efficiency being iffy with a combined average of 24 mpg, the RDX is actually rather spacious inside, and with that you’re going to have the ability to carry more items. You’ll find close to 30 cubic ft of cargo room which is an improvement of about 3 cubic ft from last generation and there’s additional compartments under the floor which is great if you have belongings you don’t want people to see and possibly steal. With the seats folded down, the rear cargo volume doubles in size to almost 60 cubic ft, which Acura claims is class leading in this segment of crossovers.

For all passengers in the back, they’re going to get an ample amount of legroom including the fifth passenger in the middle as the floor is flat which will allow that person to stretch their legs a little more than in most crossovers in this segment. Overall, both the driver and passengers are going to be comfortable, and the environment the RDX offers to all occupants makes this crossover perfect for longer road trips.

Final Word

The 2019 Acura RDX may not be German or have a performance package with a bigger engine, but it does offer an alternative to consumers who have no interest in buying a BMW, Mercedes Benz or Audi. Acura does have some weaknesses like its infotainment system that requires 5-10 minutes of learning before getting comfortable using it. Instead of a touchscreen you get a touchpad similar to what you find on any laptop, however there’s no mouse which naturally we’ve become accustomed to, so there’s a lot of guessing early on when trying to click on apps.

If you can get past the learning curve with the infotainment system, the RDX is actually a solid option for crossover buyers in this price range. In 2018 it’s outsold the BMW X3, Mercedes Benz GLC, and Volvo XC60 and that can be attributed to what the RDX offers. All trims from the technology package up receive a list of safety features standard that are optional equipment when configuring models from competitors, it’s spacious and comfortable, and has a classy, yet sporty appearance that’s appealing to look at.

Usually you can say that a German brand has the best model in a particular segment, but Acura has done their best to challenge that narrative and so far has been very successful with the RDX over the last few years. The only question that remains now is, with the X3 getting a much needed facelift, will BMW claim the throne? 2019 is about to get very interesting.

2019 Lexus UX 250h – The Next Generation Crossover Is Here

Without feeding into the speculation and unknowns of the future as we’re one year away from a new decade, crossovers have enjoyed a handful of successful years. All automotive brands are moving in the direction of SUV’s ranging from small to large, economical to sporty, and now hybrid and electric. For growth to continue in this segment, adding new models and changing entire lineups isn’t necessarily the answer as consumer demands are subject to change through trends and even economic and financial climates. Generally speaking, crossovers weakest spot is their average fuel economy which could easily get exposed should there be a recession, which seems to be the buzzword for the early part of 2019. Let’s delve into why the all new 2019 Lexus UX 250h is not only the future, but also the reason why crossovers could remain being hot items in any economy.

The Toyota and Honda families have always seemed to be further ahead of the curve than most of their competitors. Throughout the years they’ve produced and sold hybrid models, and that technology is now starting to trickle down to more affordable luxury vehicles. Lexus is no stranger to offering hybrid crossovers, and with the UX 250h now beginning to arrive at dealerships, the subsidiary of Toyota is ready to change the game in more ways than one.

Pricing

The Lexus UX 250h has a base price of $34k, which is more than reasonable and would be considered right around the average cost of a new car in the United States. Primarily aimed at older millennials that most likely live in urban areas, this small crossover offers versatility, luxury, and most importantly practicality. Some of the standard features you’ll find inside is Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa compatibility, dual zone climate control, a push button start and stop, and a list of safety technology that includes pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, and road sign recognition to name a few. Android Auto is not available because Lexus says 80% of their consumers use Apple products, and didn’t see the need to spend any money on a feature that a small percentage of their buyers would find relevant.

Performance

For performance the UX 250h gets a 2.0L 4 cylinder engine that gets 176 hp. This crossover is by no means fast as you can expect a 0-60 time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph. Fuel efficiency is the real selling point as the 250h will receive 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. What’s also rather interesting about this vehicle is that Lexus decided to only offer AWD with the hybrid model, as the UX 200 will only be available with front wheel drive.

Practicality

Hybrids will always be looked at as economical, and as just mentioned, a combined fuel efficiency of 39 mpg is going to attract buyers who may not want to drive a Chevy Volt, Honda Insight, or even a Toyota Prius. With an affordable option and the appeal of a crossover, many who seek vehicles that are powered by alternative energy and are not solely reliant on gas may gravitate towards the UX 250h, especially since it comes with AWD. For rear cargo space, this crossover will get 17 cubic ft of rear cargo room which is kind of small, but slightly bigger than what most sedans offer.

Final Word

I’m not going to say that the 2019 Lexus UX 250h is the answer or necessarily the blueprint for the future crossover. There’s a number of issues that consumers will find, whether that be a lack of performance or it not offering a real luxury car experience that competitors may be offering. However, I will say that this crossover is laying the foundation for other brands to build off of. There’s not many options in the entry level luxury market that offers hybrid technology, especially in this segment and price range. Lexus is taking a huge risk, however its list of standard features and fuel efficiency might be a enough to make the UX a minor success in the United States.

Will Another Economic Recession End The Crossover Era?

One of the fears and speculations of what 2019 will bring is the growing angst that an economic recession is on the horizon. Nothing is set in stone and experts aren’t exactly sure if and when another downturn in the economy will occur, but it does make for good conversation in the automotive industry. For the last six years, the United States has experienced some very lucrative times, especially on both the East and West coasts. With that it’s brought demand for bigger vehicles, including crossovers which now dominate the roads and sales figures. However, are crossovers doomed to fail should there be another recession like 2008, and have some brands set themselves up to feel a lot of pain when bad times return?

As the saying goes, “If you fail to learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it”, and that’s exactly where we are as we near the end of this decade. 2008 played a major role in prominent American brands being killed off by manufacturers in Detroit. Hummer, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Plymouth, and Mercury would all eventually suffer the same fate with reasons for their demise differing. Hummer is the one brand that stands out because when times were good everyone wanted one. The minute the stock market crashed, demand for the outrageously large and gas guzzling SUVs withered, causing not only the company to close its doors, but also forcing other brands to downsize.

In 2019, we’re here once again at a crossroads, having not learned anything from ten years ago. Brands all across the world have added crossovers to their lineups and for Chevy and Ford, basically the only vehicles being offered as they’re killing off sedans and hatchbacks. The Germans on the other hand continue to produce luxury sedans, and in fact Mercedes Benz is adding the very compact A-Class to their US market lineup. If anything, luxury manufacturers have covered all the bases, and if demand wanes in one segment, they have vehicles in place to feed consumer demand for whatever the next trend in buying behavior is.

You should never underestimate the planning and foresight of automotive manufacturers as they’re usually ahead of the curve when it comes to detecting high and lows in the economy. One way to battle any volatility in the markets and extreme shifts in volume of sales in the automotive industry is the new wave of compact crossover vehicles that resemble elevated cars more than SUVs.

2019 Lexus UX
2019 Lexus UX

The all new 2019 Lexus UX is the most recent arrival in this segment that combines practicality, luxury, and affordability. As a complete package, this vehicle will certainly be a survivor in the Lexus lineup should there be rough times ahead for one important reason. It’s fuel efficient. At a starting price of around $34k, this compact crossover is available with hybrid technology, which is going to give you 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Also by opting for the UX 250h, you’re getting AWD whereas with the fully gas powered engine, front wheel drive is the only drivetrain available. For rear cargo space, the UX will get close to 22 cubic ft which is certainly better than most sedans.

Other new arrivals this year to the compact crossover segment were the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona. These vehicles offer crossover-like tendencies, practicality, and for the Kona, AWD. These are the vehicles that have the best chance of surviving whatever adverse times lie ahead. Can the same be said for their bigger siblings?

One thing is for sure, Americans didn’t get intimidated ten years ago and ran away from the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are still priced reasonably for most consumers. It’s the luxury brands and even Ford and Chevy that need to be concerned moving forward. American crossovers just aren’t on par with their Japanese counterparts when it comes to interior quality, and if consumers are complaining about that now in a good economy, what will they say when they become more frugal and start looking for the most value for the price? On top of that, they got rid of all their sedans and hatchbacks which now puts Ford and Chevy in a difficult spot because they have no game plan if consumers don’t want what they’re producing.

Fuel efficiency then becomes a major factor, and generally speaking, crossovers aren’t exactly the most economical. Consumers start downsizing and for the new economic climate, it’s either sedans and hatchbacks or compact crossovers. Recently I had reviewed the redesigned 2019 Acura RDX which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, it’s the poor fuel economy that concerns me, as with AWD you can expect 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Those aren’t exactly the best numbers if people start cutting costs, which is why for the next recession, I don’t necessarily think the size of the vehicle matters, but what’s underneath the hood that will make the difference.

The Honda and Toyota families are further ahead of the curve than most automotive brands today because of their advancements in hybrid technology. A hybrid RAV4 and Lexus UX could become hot commodities as they’ll be economical and practical. Honda re-introduced the Insight which is already on pace to have its best year in sales since 2010 and generally speaking the rest of the lineup is very fuel efficient. This is why both brands survived several recessions while Ford and GM suffered greatly.

If manufacturers don’t have hybrid crossovers in their lineups by the time the next recession hits, that will be the deciding factor in how long this trend of bigger vehicles continues. That’s when consumers downsize to four door passenger cars, and until the economy gets back on its feet, crossovers may not experience the same success they have most of this decade.

At the end of the day, this is purely speculation. However, there’s been enough reasons why this should be taken seriously. All good things come to an end, the question now is how much longer do things remain the same before major adjustments to a new economic climate must be made?

2019 Honda Insight – The Best Looking Hybrid For Under $30k?

Hybrid vehicles have come a long way since 2000, but the lasting image in many consumers’ minds is the appearance of the Toyota Prius. Even worse, there’s been a negative perception towards the car, and for good reason if you’re a car enthusiast. It’s the embodiment of the lack of love for cars by some drivers, and that it’s only purpose is to get from Point A to Point B. Despite the pushback by consumers who prefer gas powered cars, the Prius has owned the hybrid segment for almost two decades, but has their run of glory finally come to a close with the reintroduction of the all new 2019 Honda Insight?

Whether Honda received criticism or not in the past for their design of the Insight, the first generation back in the early 2000’s resembled a computer mouse. The second generation made some improvements in 2010 when it was brought back, but still didn’t make any headway against the Prius, even though the Insight had a similar appearance which was done on purpose to try enticing consumers to switch to Honda. Now the 2019 model year takes on yet another look, and this time it comes in the form of a sedan.

Built on the same platform and sharing the same design cues as the Civic, the Insight has grown up and matured to a point that we now have to take this hybrid seriously. I’m on the fence of whether I actually prefer the appearance of the Insight over the Civic, as its road presence is much more appealing. Honda clearly listened to the demands of car buyers, and went much more conservative to make this sedan look like an average compact vehicle.

I know what you’re thinking. “But what about the Accord and Camry which both have hybrid trims? They’re normal four-door sedans but use alternative energy to increase mpg’s”. The reason the Insight raises eyebrows is because it’s a pure hybrid and doesn’t offer gas powered trims, which makes it serious competition for the Toyota Prius. Pricing will also play a factor, as the Insight starts close to $1k less than the base model Prius.

For fuel economy, the Insight gets 55 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway for the LX and EX trims due to the 16″ wheels that come standard. The Touring will be slightly less economical as you’ll get the upgraded 17″ alloy wheels, but to make up for it, heated leather trimmed seats, a power moonroof, and a power driver’s seat highlight some of the upgrades over the EX trim.

We can delve into the numbers and do an in-depth comparison with the Prius, however this hybrid sedan is not meant to convert the cult following of Toyota loyalists, but instead reach the buyers who are on the fence. It’s the first impression that’s going to leave a lasting impact for the Insight, which is why it has a strong chance of being a success in the US. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that pedestrians and fellow motorists passing by would be surprised to find out out it’s a hybrid, as the Insight could be perceived as being a next generation Honda Civic.

Not to be funny, but the journey this car has gone on in the last 20 years is like that movie, “A Dog’s Purpose” starring Dennis Quaid. Not only was the dog searching for a life purpose, but each time he passed away he reincarnated as a different breed, similar to the Insight which went from a two-door, to a hatchback, to now a sedan. It’s possible that Honda has finally found a purpose for the Insight, and as a good looking compact sedan, it could fare very well with consumers gravitating towards hybrid technology.

2019 Kia Forte EX – The Compact Car Isn’t Dead Yet

The year 2020 is on the horizon and for many, the compact car is an afterthought due to the high demand in crossover SUV’s. Ford has decided to no longer make sedans or hatchbacks and instead focus solely on crossovers and pickup trucks, which some believe is the growing sentiment in the automotive industry and the type of future that consumers will soon have to face. However, there’s brands like Chevrolet, Toyota, and Honda who are still committed to cars and have no intention of ending successful models for the sake of following a growing trend in the market. Then you have Kia who releases the all new Stinger which became an immediate hit, and now they hope the completely redesigned Forte shares the same success.

Remember the days when compact cars were purchased for being economical, whether that be for fuel efficiency or affordability? Now cars like the Kia Forte EX bring much more than just an appealing sticker price and good fuel economy; they also offer some comfort features that even 5-10 years ago would be considered a dream to have in a car aimed at young and first time buyers. Features like heated and ventilated front seats, Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, a touchscreen with a navigation system, and rear backup camera with trajectory can be found on the EX trim of the Forte.

What some in the automotive industry are speculating is that with less competition in the compact car and sedan segments, manufacturers can spend much more time on the smaller details. Cars like the Kia Forte and Ford Focus were at one time cheap cars that got good gas mileage with no expectations of having any sense of entry level luxury. The 2019 Forte is certainly nowhere near a luxury car, but for around $27k to get that many tech features, including wireless phone charging, compact cars have come a long way since 2000.

This begins to raise the question whether the sedan and compact cars really are dead or on the way out. Over the last 30 years there have been major swings in consumer behavior, sometimes being due to the economical climate in the United States. We’ve seen big cars get phased out for a while, we’ve seen the rise and fall of the large SUV which is slowly making a return, the almost near death of mini-vans, and the re-introduction of a station wagon in Buick’s lineup for the first time since the mid 90’s. The pendulum swing is inevitable as people in general want to be different than their neighbors, so at this point it’s just a waiting game to see when momentum shifts in a new direction.

In the meantime, compact cars are silently being improved, offering affordability and tech features along with the pre-existing practicality that should appeal to younger buyers. Working in the 2019 Forte’s favor is the bold and aggressive appearance that sports similar design cues to the Kia Stinger. While the Forte’s small 2 liter four cylinder engine only gets 147 hp and the lack of AWD may not give you the Stinger feel, you’re going to have a car that is sleeker than most in its class. The weak spot the Forte has is the CVT. Kia has said it’s not a traditional CVT and they’ve worked on making it mimic shifts you’d experience in an automatic, but the engine drone isn’t appealing to hear when accelerating. However, the Forte does come with three different driving modes, and when put into sport mode, the transmission does shift faster which certainly limits the drone you’ll experience.

There has been speculation of an SX trim that should bring more horsepower and hopefully a different transmission, but so far there hasn’t been any news, which is to be expected as the 2019 model year is beginning to hit showrooms now.

Inside, the heated and ventilated seats unfortunately aren’t real leather, but that shouldn’t be expected in a car in this particular segment. To have ventilation is an eye opener because that isn’t a feature that’s common in most compact cars heading into 2019. Some of the interior design does resemble Mazda, especially with the touchscreen no longer being integrated into the center console, and is now higher up towards the dashboard. For the instrument panel you’ll get both analog gauges and a digital information display that’s becoming widespread across all vehicles in every segment.

As technology continues to trickle down to more affordable vehicles like the Kia Forte, these cars then become more appealing. The only negatives that compact cars are facing is the lack of versatility and AWD. The Forte only gets about 18 cubic ft of cargo room while crossovers will provide more room and AWD, which consumers then perceive the smaller cars are providing much less value. As mentioned before, the current US economy supports the decision for car buyers to go bigger with crossovers, and no matter what direction the stock market goes in by the beginning on next decade, consumer behavior will inevitably change. To some degree, their purchasing decisions might be affected by what their friends and neighbors are doing and clearly that’s what happened with crossovers.

Is there still a future for compact cars and sedans? Some car brands believe so, and without competition from rival manufacturers, they can continue to improve these vehicles making them enticing to consumers of all ages. Now the only question is, how long must we wait before cars have everything we want, from performance to practicality. That day may not come at all, but brands like Kia aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

Maserati Levante S – A Fun Crossover That Gets No Love

It appears the cool thing to do in 2018, or really ever since the Maserati Ghibli and Levante hit showrooms, is to find a way to critique or bash the vehicles for interior and overall design quality. While I have reviewed a 2014 Ghibli in the past and was disappointed after years of building an expectation that never met reality, I can honestly say that is not the case for the Maserati Levante. In fact, I’m going to argue that it’s the complete opposite, especially for the 2018 model year. I can already see the eye rolls, but the Levante is one vehicle that you have to test drive and experience for yourself, rather than just parroting what a car reviewer is spewing on YouTube.

When the Levante hit the market back in 2016, there were a few flaws that would later be corrected. One being for the base model that front and rear parking sensors did not come standard, which was one major complaint especially when you’re paying more than $70k for a luxury crossover. Next would be that if you wanted to shift into reverse, the Levante would refuse to do so, and instead would shift into drive or park. This is something I didn’t encounter during my time with the 2018 model, and speaking of the current model year, front and rear parking sensors do come standard for all trims of the Levante.

Having read and watched many reviews prior to spending time with the sports crossover, there was a level of low expectations, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking this might turn out to be the Ghibli all over again. The minute I stepped inside and put the Levante in sport mode, that’s when everything changed. To drive a crossover that not only sounded like a sports car, but handled and drove like a luxury crossover immediately put a smile on my face. Where critics do give the Levante favorable ratings is the driving experience, and for good reason as your time behind the wheel isn’t boring and mundane like other vehicles in this segment.

The Levante I was testing was a fully specced $106k S GranLusso that came with Zegna silk and leather seats. They were some of the most comfortable bucket seats I’ve ever sat in, which certainly helped make the drive memorable. For a larger crossover, the Levante handled impressively well, and in tighter corners felt glued to the roads with very little, if any body roll. The gear shifts were almost instantaneous when using the paddle shifters, and for the first time, a test drive in a crossover was actually fun.

Obviously being an FCA product, the same infotainment system that can be found in a Chrysler was in the Levante. What I’ve never really understood was why this was that big of a problem, as Apple Car Play and Android Auto are offered, you get navigation, and you’ll also receive Sirius XM Radio and Travel Link. The one valid critique is that to access the heated and ventilated front seats there’s no button in the center console and instead to turn that feature on and off you have to use the touchscreen.

The smaller touches that can be seen in Dodge products is another problem most people have with the vehicle, but it’s something you begin to overlook when getting behind the wheel. That’s where Maserati may have the edge on competitors. The driving experience is nothing like other luxury crossovers from German automakers because you feel more engaged, and when the valves open in sport mode it will be irresistible to just drop a gear and leave the car that’s in the rearview mirror far behind you. The V6 engine that comes with 424 hp is going to surprise a few of your fellow commuters, and whether you want to have fun or go for a leisurely cruise on backroads, the different driving modes are suitable for either style of driving.

Pricing is one of the larger issues consumers have with the Levante, which is certainly a valid point. As a certified pre-owned crossover after the initial hit of the depreciation, the Levante then becomes a potential sought after vehicle that could be the better option for buyers in this segment.

Overall, Maserati’s first crossover isn’t a bad vehicle. Does it have flaws? Absolutely, but it’s nowhere near disappointing and if you can deal with the FCA infotainment system, you’re going to have one of the best sounding crossovers on the road today.

Here’s the full review for the 2018 Maserati Levante S GranLusso. Is it worth the price and a vehicle that should garner more respect in the automotive community? That’s up to the consumer and the individual.

Are Consumers’ Demand For Luxury Interiors Driving Prices Up?

In an age of living a luxurious life, even for those living well beyond their means, we’re seeing prices gradually moving up, pinching middle class consumers in the process. The automotive market is one of those industries in which we’re witnessing the inflation of car prices. Vehicles that shouldn’t be priced any higher than $16,000 – $18,000 are nearing $20,000+, and consumers are beginning see how buying a 1-2 year old used car is a better fiscal decision than walking into the dealer and driving off the lot in a brand new car. But are consumers partially to blame for the uptick in vehicle prices?

Europeans are known to prefer luxury and driving experience over flat-out performance, which is why European auto makers produce more expensive cars that capture the very best in what the automotive world has to offer. Over the years we’re seeing this trend beginning to grow in the United States as flat-out performance is not selling as quick as luxury, something Cadillac refuses to see as they’re marketing performance first and their sales figures are dropping because of that. Muscle cars have made a slight rebound with the emergence of the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcats, the new fastback Ford Mustang, and the Chevrolet Camaro which will be sporting a new look next year.

If you’ve been to car shows recently you’ve noticed that interiors of low-end cars now have an upscale appeal. The Mazda3 and Mazda6 have very comfortable and luxurious interiors, which is a slight shock considering that they’re not a luxury brand. The Honda Civic EX-L, priced around $25,000, has an amazing interior, and if you forget about the engine that it has, you’d have to say that it’s a very impressive car. This leads me to the Toyota Yaris, which some trims cost near or exceed $19,000. That’s absolutely outrageous as this is the Hyundai Elantra GT’s price range territory. True, it gets less gas mileage than the Yaris, but why buy a micro hatchback when you can buy a full size for the same price?

The interiors and their infotainment systems are partially to blame, but so are the consumers. Bluetooth, navigation systems, electric sunroofs, touch displays, and premium cloth or leather seats all factor into the price. The reason why cars like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris are considered economical cars is because they’re supposed to be cheap while also offering great gas mileage. Not in 2015. While you have the option to buy the base model, $16,000 is still no drop in the bucket either. Which raises the question as to why consumers would buy new in this current market? Leasing offers have become more appealing than buying, and you actually end up with a better car for 24-36 months than if you bought a car for $18,000.

The luxurious lifestyle is great, but are we living way beyond our means? The Mazda3 was once affordable, a rival to the Ford Focus. Now a top trim Mazda3 is impeding on the Chrysler 200’s territory. For those who do have the money to buy a $25,000+ car, this is a great time to buy. Instead of spending $40,000 on a Mercedes Benz or BMW, you can get an upscale interior for a fraction of the cost. In the sure sense of practicality, a top trim Mazda3, Subaru Impreza Premium, or a Honda Civic EX-L is a much better option, and you don’t break the bank buying a car that offers every infotainment system on the market.

Car companies have their reasons for spiking the prices of cars, but consumers’ demands for luxury interiors and infotainment systems have been a cause for more expensive cars that were once affordable. Whatever happened to the days when we’d get in our cars, turn on the radio, roll the windows down, and enjoy the driving experience? Owning a luxury car is by no means a bad thing, but we’re continuously outdoing ourselves by demanding luxury in cars that are nowhere close to being upscale.

#SaveTheManuals: A Valiant Effort All For Not

The age of the manual transmission is coming to a close. With automatics dominating the auto market, auto-shift and paddle shifters replacing the traditional manual, hard core car enthusiasts will have to either buy an older car or hope an auto manufacturer specifically targets to a dwindling market. As of right now, manuals make up about 6-10% market share, leaving the other 90-94% to being automatics or non traditional manuals that allow the driver to switch from manual to automatic when he/she so chooses. Last month, Acura announced that the only car in their lineup that will have a manual transition will be the ILX, which hasn’t generated great sales for the Honda-owned car brand.

When Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren have paddle shifters on their models, you know we’re entering into a new era of cars. People have given many reasons as to why this phenomenon is happening. Some say it’s because the infotainment systems in cars require too much attention from the driver, so manually shifting become a second thought. Others say it’s because automatics have become just as fuel efficient as manuals, and due to the computer systems in cars now, the car can shift just as good, if not better than a human. But I personally believe that automatics are more convenient. Isn’t that where our culture is heading? Convenience?

A 16 year old who is learning how to drive, or just got his/her license can just get behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, and drive off to their destination. There is no energy required, no secondary action needed while driving, and with the cars that are being produced today, a person driving an automatic can fully enjoy their vehicle just the same as owners of manuals.

Let’s also remember that auto manufacturers are companies. They’re following the money, and that trail does not lead to a large market for manuals. Six to ten percent isn’t a huge chunk of the market. In the last 35 years, we’ve seen a 25% drop in demand for the traditional manual, which means less money is going to that market. For these companies to survive they need to follow the money. This is the same reason that every car brand is entering the crossover market. Porsche manufacturing two SUV’s and a four door, and Ford bringing the Focus RS to America to compete with the likes of the Subaru STI and the Volkswagen GTI, is another example of car brands getting into a market that is making money.

We’re seeing a massive change and shift in the automotive world. Because of these changes, transmissions, infotainment systems, and other components have been updated to appeal to a broader market. Unless consumers start buying manuals, the days of the traditional stick shift will be over. It’s been a valiant effort, but it might be all for not.

The Subcompact Market Isn’t As Cheap As You Think

Who would have ever thought that we’d see a day when a Toyota Yaris and Mitsubishi Mirage cost $16,000 – $17,000? That’s just a base price. The top trim Yaris could cost you as much as $19,000, and all you’re getting for it is 106 hp, 32 combined mpg, a touch screen and bluetooth. There isn’t much cargo room, very little shoulder and leg room, and at the end of the day, you’d be better off buying a Honda Fit. When does the cost for sub compacts become unreasonable, especially since we’re talking about a market that attracts consumers who want overall practicality?

The problem with the price is what the subcompact car is offering. Yes, to add features like a touch screen and bluetooth is great, but what is the overall goal with this market? To be practical in every sense of the word. For starters, the price isn’t practical. Not when it comes to the other options on the market. In a matter of 8 years, the Yaris’ price has spiked $3,000, and while MSRP says the base price is around $16,000 for the 2015 model, Toyota dealers are selling some of them close to $19,000+.

Without even looking to other brands, the Yaris’ top trim price is invading the Toyota Corolla’s territory. One could argue that the Honda Fit does the same to the Civic, but at least the Fit has cargo room and offers more value to the consumer. With President’s Day sales extended into March due to the snowstorms we’ve gotten in the Northeast, there are better options consumers could go with, and while fuel economy might be lacking, some of the cars are not too far off from the Yaris’ 32 combined mpg.

Some of the other options in the $17,000 – $19,000 price range are –

Toyota Corolla L/LE/S

Honda Civic LX

Honda Fit LX/EX

Ford Focus SE

Ford Fiesta SE

Those five vehicles are better options in terms of cargo space, shoulder and leg room, and fuel economy isn’t too bad. The list could be extended even further, but I think you get the picture as to what you could get at this price if you decided to buy new.

Due to sales events going on currently, the Hyundai Elantra SE/Sport and the Elantra GT are within the $18,000 to $19,500 range. The Subaru Impreza sedan and hatchback are also available within this price range, along with the Volkswagen Jetta S /w Technology Package, and even the Chrysler 200 limited which is one of the biggest surprises so far to have such a sale.

After seeing the prices, the subcompact market doesn’t seem so reasonable or practical anymore. If owning a small car is a must and you’re not concerned about cargo space, then by all means go with the Yaris or Mirage. But always remember that there are some great offers out there, and better cars to choose from than going the subcompact route.

If you prefer a small hatchback, the Fiesta, Fit, VW Golf, Elantra GT, and Kia Rio are other options on the table. In the sedan market, some dealers even have Ford Fusion’s, Toyota Camry’s, and Hyundai Sonata’s on sale for $3,000 to $4,000 below MSRP. Right now is the time to buy and take advantage of some of the deals. On a $16,000 – $19,500 budget, you could find a quality car that not only looks better, but is better built and worth the price.

Debunking the “Leasing is a Bad Option” Opinion

Go on any online forum, Facebook page or group, Twitter, or Reddit and you’ll find an overwhelming majority of commenters and members of groups discouraging many people from leasing when they ask the question. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Some people prefer buying outright, some would rather buy certified pre-owned or used, and a growing percentage of consumers are looking at leasing rather than buying. Every consumer has their motivation as to how, what, and why they buy the cars they do, but why is leasing always ripped when someone asks the question?

One of drawbacks of leasing is the annual mileage limit that typically ranges between 10,000 – 12,000 miles, depending on the car brand. You’re also looking at a higher down payment on a lease. But there are other factors (I’ll get to that in a moment) where the $2,000 – $3,000 down payment doesn’t look so bad in the long run. You will also not have the option to trade in the car after your lease is up, but you can buy the car or look at leasing again. Lastly, any extra miles that go above the annual limit, or scratches and dents, will cost you at the end of the lease, so you must be more careful than if you bought new or used.

Now that we’ve got the negatives out of the way, let’s take a look at why leasing is actually better.

As a used car buyer, I’ve experienced dealing with maintenance due to owning an aging car. I have monthly car payments, and I had to put a $2,000 down payment on the car. Right there we’re looking at close to $4,000+ (not including the monthly payments) with the down payment and maintenance. I’m paying $200+ a month on car payments, and to put that into perspective, the payments are more than if I leased a new Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback, Toyota RAV4, or a Honda CR-V.

The payments are a concern for people inquiring about the costs of leasing, and the advice givers always go back to the payments as a strongpoint to oppose the idea of leasing. However, if you’re in the position where you can’t buy a used car outright and put a down payment on it, you’re still dealing with monthly payments. Unlike with leasing, you could be locked in for 48 – 60 months depending on how much you want to pay per month, as opposed to being committed for 24 – 36 months with a lease. So right there you’re putting in an extra year or two on an older car that could be subject to mechanical failure due to high mileage or age.

Some dealerships are now offering free maintenance with a lease. That’s huge, especially if you’re thinking longterm. There are dealerships out there that also offer competitive prices when it comes to oil changes and wheel alignment. Also with a lease, you’re less likely to have to deal with major maintenance bills with the car being so new. There are no previous owners, so the entire time you have the car you know it’s history from your first drive to the last time you’ll ever see the car.

The last positive is that dealership’s leasing offers are always changing, especially during holidays. Herb Chambers BMW of Sudbury had an offer for the BMW 328ix that you couldn’t refuse. It was $275 a month with a $3,000+ down payment (usually you’d be paying close to $300+ a month). I know the down payment would scare anyone away, but if you have the money, you can’t tell me you’d rather buy a $3,000 early 2000’s Honda Civic with 180,000 miles that’s been owned by 3 different people, than a new 3 series. Now again, it’s all about where you are financially, but whether you’re a parent or college graduate, you would prefer something new or newer than having to deal with the headaches and hassles of owning an older car.

It doesn’t have to be a BMW, but a new Mazda 3, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and RAV4, or Subaru would be a better option than buying used and dealing with the unknowns.

Yes, leasing has it’s downsides, but so does buying used. It really depends on what you’re specifically looking for. As someone who owns a nine year old car, driving a new car with a lower monthly payment sounds great. Also, the peace of mind of owning a new car with no mechanical issues or aging equipment would make me sleep more soundly at night.