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.

Has the Crossover Craze Opened The Door For A Sedan Renaissance?

Ask any car enthusiast what their thoughts are on crossovers taking over the automotive industry and they’ll all reply with a worrying comment that it’s the end of cars and sedans. While the average consumer has become addicted to crossovers and brands who once only produced cars like Porsche, Jaguar, and Maserati catering to that demand, has certainly concerned gear heads. When Ford announced they were no longer selling the Fusion, Focus, Fiesta, and Taurus in the US, that’s when speculation went rampant that other manufacturers would follow suit. Despite the perception of dark times and the dominance of SUV’s, there’s been a small glimmer of light coming from unexpected brands who’ve made sedans once again appealing.

German auto manufacturers like BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz have committed themselves to producing crossovers in every segment of that market. It could be argued that while new models of SUV’s are being released almost every two or three years, their sedans have become quite stale, and are more of an afterthought and just a filler in their lineups. This has certainly exposed a weakness in what was once a German dominated luxury sedan market, and now there’s new players in the game ready to check in that are slowly turning heads.

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60
2019 Volvo S60

The Volvo S60 was always priced in the mid $30k range, yet never got any attention because of an outdated generation that lasted almost a decade. With a complete redesign, the S60 now shares a similar appearance to it’s bigger sibling, the S90. Most importantly however, this Swedish sedan is now beginning to raise questions whether paying $40k for a base model BMW 330i or Mercedes Benz C300 is even worth the cost. With a price tag just under $36k, the S60 has the 330i beat by almost $4,500, which allows consumers to add packages to their S60 that might offer more features than what they’d get on a BMW 3 Series.

When adding the Audi A4 into the equation, the comparison in terms of price and standard features then become more interesting. However, Volvo still has the A4 beat because when we start looking at $40k+, the S60 T6 then comes into play, offering 316 HP and AWD. Optional technology and comfort features for the Volvo adds similar technology that can be found on the A4, making this a very tough decision for car buyers in this segment.

Also new for this generation is the 400 HP hybrid T8 engine that can be found in most vehicles in the Volvo lineup. Volvo claims the S60 T8 will do 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, and it’s going to be interesting to see how consumers perceive this performance sedan, as Swedish cars have never been known for their straight line speed.

The redesigned S60 is a breath of fresh air and has certainly taken this Swedish mid-sized luxury sedan to a completely different level than its predecessors, but it’s not the only sedan entering the market that’s ready to make a big splash.

Genesis G70

Genesis G70
2019 Genesis G70

Much anticipated the last few weeks has been the arrival of the Genesis G70 models at dealerships. The all new entry level sedan for the Genesis brand is going to start just under $36k, and just like with the Volvo S60, undercuts its German rivals by almost $5k. But excellent pricing takes a back seat on this one, as the G70 comes with an optional manual transmission which should appease car enthusiasts. This good news could have been better had the manual transmission been paired with the optional 3.3L V6 engine that gets 365 HP instead of the 2 liter four cylinder engine, but as the saying goes, “You can’t have it all”.

The cost for a manual transmission on the Genesis G70 will set you back almost $46k, but you’ll get nappa leather seats and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Standard features for the G70 include: power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, and some safety features such as emergency automatic braking.

In an age of crossovers, Genesis’ decision to release another four door luxury sedan in their lineup to compete with the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes Benz C300 is almost a throwback to what the automotive industry used to be. Before the days of crossovers, luxury brands would compete with each other in all segments of sedans, and between Volvo and Genesis adding legitimate competition into the mix of German luxury sedans, this is like reminiscing back to the old days.

Kia Stinger GT

Kia Stinger
Kia Stinger

The argument could be made that the Stinger GT isn’t a luxury car, and that’s completely understandable. However, the last few years we’ve seen the rise of sportbacks from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz that’s begun to take the automotive design of four door cars by storm and has influenced the appearance of the current Honda Accord. Where the Stinger GT is priced, it takes on the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 430i Gran Coupe and out performing both with it’s 3.3L V6 engine that gets 365 hp. This is the same engine that is offered on the Genesis G70.

The Stinger GT, for the time being and maybe even 5-10 years from now, could be a car we remember as being a risk taken by Kia that actually succeeded. While the Stinger was in the works for years, you could question whether brands like Kia are seeing the opportunity to sneak into the sedan segment and slowly take market share away from German luxury automakers who seem more focused on crossovers at the moment.

Genesis, Volvo, and Kia are taking the unconventional approach and putting time into the sedans they’re releasing. Despite Volvo having a crossover for every segment, they didn’t abandon their mid-sized sedan, and instead improved it unlike the current BMW 3 Series and Mercedes Benz C300. On a side note, BMW is working on the next generation 3 Series, and I’m interested to see what changes they make to take on new upcoming rivals. But this renaissance of sedans doesn’t just pertain to luxury or performance cars; this is quietly happening elsewhere.

Toyota and Honda

Earlier this year I raved about the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6. A sedan that gets 301 HP, an optional two-toned exterior with red interior, and paddle shifters. A sedan that got absolutely no love in the car community has certainly garnered some attention by drivers who want to have some fun behind the wheel, but not necessarily desire the stares from fellow motorists. The design is sleek, almost resembling a Lexus, which is most likely Toyota’s goal, and for the first time making this sedan attractive to consumers in any age demographic.

2019 Honda Insight
2019 Honda Insight

For the 2019 model year, Honda is reintroducing the Insight. Remember the days when this hybrid was a small two-door, computer mouse-shaped alternative energy vehicle in the early 2000’s? Or when the second generation took on the appearance of a Toyota Prius to try making strong gains in the hybrid segment? Well now it’s a four-door sedan that I’d argue is the best looking hybrid under $30k right now.

Built on the same platform as the Civic, the Insight gets many design cues from it’s compact vehicle relative which should draw in consumers who are on the fence of whether to purchase a gas powered car or make a commitment to hybrid technology. Highlighting the features on the Insight is its exceptional fuel efficiency with the LX and EX trims getting 55 mpg in the city and 49 mpg on the highway. The Touring trim will get slightly lower numbers due to the upgraded 17″ alloy wheels, but with a base price of just over $22k for the LX, this is one hybrid that’s going to the Prius a run for its money.

Despite the claims made by some automotive journalists and car enthusiasts, the four-door sedan isn’t going away anytime in the near future. If anything, the crossover craze has opened the door for manufacturers to not rush their products, and instead continuously improve the sedans they have in their lineups. Toyota still sells 200,000+ Camry’s per year, and Nissan has similar numbers with the Altima. There’s been no steep decline in the sales of these models over past decade, which should indicate that there’s still a demand for sedans in a crossover dominated automotive market.

The Potential Is There For Toyota To Be A Fun Brand

For almost the past 20 years, Toyota has been looked upon as being the reliable, safe, and least fun brand in the automotive industry. Appealing to the average consumer rather than giving at least some attention to car enthusiasts can either be seen as smart from a business perspective, or a mistake by not creating an excitement that would extend to all car buyers. From an enthusiast’s perspective, utter the word “Toyota”, and there’s two cars that come to mind. The Supra and the Prius. Vehicles from two different extremes and eras, marked as either a car most recognized from Fast and Furious, or the hybrid that’s the bane of car lovers existences.

Toyota has made attempts through commercials the past three years to seem more exciting, as they released an ad for the Camry where two brothers are racing on the streets of Monaco. At the time, it didn’t make any sense why a brand that’s not recognized as being race oriented in the United States outside of Nascar, would try to change the direction of a brand despite the vehicles being no different than their predecessors. That all changed late last year with the introduction of the 2018 Toyota Camry XSE, and since then the brand that brought us the Supra and MR2 seems to be heading into 2020 with the potential of being a very fun and exciting automotive manufacturer once again.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE
2018 Toyota Camry XSE

Starting with the Camry XSE, Toyota surprisingly stuck with a V6 engine that gets 301 hp instead of following rival brands who are moving in the direction of turbocharged 4 cylinder engines. The XSE trim also comes with an optional two-toned exterior and red sports seats, which just feels really out of character for a Toyota vehicle. The only drawback is that fully loaded, the Camry’s price is around $40k, which many consumers have voiced their discontent as they believe it’s too high of a cost.

Around the same time the new Camry was hitting showrooms, Toyota added the GT86 to the brand, which was formally known as the Scion FR-S. A small coupe that has a cult following, it’s actually a fun and attainable car for young enthusiasts, and adding to the appeal is the list of aftermarket parts and modifications that can be done to the GT86 to enhance performance and appearance. Honestly, this little coupe is a throwback to what JDM culture was all about in the 90’s. I would never go as far to say that it’s this decade’s Honda Civic, but the GT86 does give you that sense of being a pure Japanese compact sports coupe.

Back in late March at the New York Auto Show, Toyota unveiled the all new Corolla hatchback which will come with an optional manual transmission. At this point, their vision for the next few years is becoming more clear as boring may no longer be an adjective associated with the brand. A few minutes later, the re-designed RAV4 was also unveiled and that’s when the energy in the room was lifted to a whole new level.

The new RAV4 is much more rugged than last generation, taking on the appearance of the Highlander, which was a very smart move by Toyota. For 2018 and beyond, crossovers are no longer just a family vehicle as the automotive industry is moving towards bringing either sporty or off-road elements to a segment that is actually quite bland. Toyota decided to go with more of the off-road look, which is a jab at Jeep. They’re also setting themselves apart from Ford, GM, and Honda who really haven’t drastically changed the styling of their crossovers. While it could be perceived as a major risk, Toyota could certainly be a legitimate player in stealing market share from rival brands in the crossover segment.

Lastly we have the long awaited arrival of the Toyota Supra which details have been leaked pertaining to performance and pricing. The new Supra is rumored to get a turbocharged inline 6 that gets 335 hp and 369 lb ft of torque, with a 0-60 time of around 4.5 seconds. Unfortunately as we all feared, it’s not going to be cheap. From the leaks, a starting price of $63,500 is to be expected. We won’t find out for sure until the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, but to know that the Supra is making a return is definitely something to look forward to.

The last 10-12 months for Toyota has certainly been exciting. Unfolding in front of our eyes the emergence of an auto brand that was once looked at as being dull or not cool to now being rather interesting and also a bit of a mystery. What is Toyota’s long term vision and plan? Is sports cars something we can expect from the brand moving forward, or is this a five year window of hope and change but then will fizzle out by the time we get closer to 2025? There’s so many questions that haven’t yet been answered, but for the time being, let’s take in the complete shift in culture at Toyota and enjoy every minute of it.

Toyota YouTube Marketing: Redundancy In Advertisement

In the previous article of this mini-series where we take a look at Youtube marketing by car manufacturers, Hyundai was the center of attention, as their 15 second adverts gave no reason to consumers as to why they should buy a vehicle from the Korean automaker. Toyota now finds themselves in the BostonAutoBlog spotlight, magnifying Hyundai’s bland marketing campaign, by going one step further in advertising technology or features that all or most car manufacturers offer in today’s market. Toyota has always had a loyal following, but if their goal is to increase sales, they’re missing big in their recent onslaught of 15 second videos.

Before we analyze the video above; is this the state the automotive market is in right now, marketing pre-existing features that any car company offers? In this 15 second clip, LED headlights are the main focus, with the spokesman saying, “How do you make Camry’s headlights stand out even more? Skip ahead a few hours”. It sounds like a punchline to a corny joke, one which won’t break the ice if you’re at a table surrounded by strangers.

Most cars come with LED headlights or you can order them to modify the current car you own. Toyota’s LED’s can’t even hold a candle to three year old used Audis or BMWs which would be in the same price range as a new Camry. Worst of all, as a consumer, why would I be attracted to a Camry after watching this quick ad? Yes, by now we should all know Toyota’s reliability record, but there’s no need to start marketing features that buyers wouldn’t find relevant.

The corny jokes don’t end there, it continues with yet another quick ad. At this point, you have to wonder if the same marketing firm that worked with Hyundai, moved onto Toyota a few months later. Toyota’s are not known for their handling, and as someone who has driven a Rav4 in the past, you don’t feel very connected to the road. If great handling is the focus of the commercial, there needs to be actual footage, and not a guy playing with a toy car who then places it in the driveway.

While 15 second clips on Youtube are the norm for automakers now, less information about the vehicle being marketed is presented. Even though there’s a risk of viewers pressing the skip ad button, it would be better to extend these ads to 30 seconds to offer potential buyers selling points as to why they should buy a Rav4 or a Toyota Camry.

The last video worth highlighting, might just be the worst of them all. People who buy a Toyota Prius purchase them for one reason, it’s environmentally friendly. Toyota has been marketing the Prius like a race car, or during the Super Bowl, a getaway car. It’s time to go back to their roots and advertise the Prius for what it is. It’s not “agile”, it’s not “fun”, and it certainly doesn’t need racing decals as the car doesn’t deserve racing credentials.

What’s lacking in this commercial? Fuel efficiency. Isn’t that why people buy a Prius? What YouTube marketing has done is take common sense and a well thought out commercial out of the equation. There’s no selling points, no facts about what the car can do, no demonstration as to why it’s “agile”, and there are no legitimate reasons as to why I, or anyone else should buy one.

Hyundai and Toyota have made the ads that popup before watching a video cringe-worthy. These two manufacturers can offer better in terms of marketing to the masses, as their cars speak for themselves. Both their reliability ratings and customer satisfaction should be the main focal points of these ads, not the technology or features within the cars.

If Ford, Chrysler-Fiat, GM, Mazda, Kia, and Honda are watching, they should take notes. Hyundai and Toyota have left the door open for better YouTube advertising that grabs consumers’ attention, thoroughly goes over what their cars offer in terms of reliability, safety, and performance, and not worry about the technology within the vehicles. What is truly lacking in the automotive market is passion, emotion, and excitement.

We should get excited when we see your commercials. There should be a desire to want to drive and buy your vehicles. Every time your vehicle passes us by on the street, our first thought should be that great commercial you marketed that created an emotional connection. It’s time to start marketing your cars as if you love them as much as the consumer. Without passion, you become a Toyota who is trying to crack corny jokes, or Hyundai who is in an identity crisis as they’re not sure whether to brand themselves as a company that offers luxury vehicles, or a company that has reasonably priced cars for the middle class.

The Poor Man’s Exotic: Lotus Evora

Lotus Evoras
DryHeatPanzer via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Exotics are often very rare, high performance sports cars that grab the attention of fellow drivers and pedestrians. These cars often grab a lot of attention, with many people either taking photos or approaching the owners if they’re nearby, asking them how much the car cost and complementing them on their choice of a supercar. But there are often many sports cars that are below $100,000 that usually fly under the radar, some of which have a presence of being a six figure exotic, and to the average person on the street, the Lotus Evora is one of those cars.

A car manufacturer that in my opinion is extremely underrated, Lotus is often forgotten and left in the shadows behind Jaguar and Aston Martin. The small car brand is a diamond in the rough, and because of that, the Evora comes in at a great price, offering performance and an appearance of being exotic. Currently, Lotus hasn’t brought any new models to the United States, but plan to return near 2020. In the meantime, there are 2010-2014 models on the market that have either never been driven, or well taken car of by previous owners.

Starting with price, you can find a 2013 Evora for $54,500 and almost brand new 2014 models for just under $80,000. With those prices, that’s right in line with the Alfa Romeo 4C, Porsche Boxster and Cayman. In terms of rarity, the Evora is more like the 4C, and because of its scarcity, you’re going to turn heads when driving through the center of town. However, your car’s fans will not be seeing much of you at the gas station. Unlike exotics, the Evora receives a combined 30 mpg. To put that into perspective, you’re getting better gas mileage than a Volvo. So your car may be less safe, but it’s more fun to drive and less stress on your wallet.

Performance-wise, the Evora comes standard with 276 horsepower, powered by a Toyota 3.5 liter V-6. Most of the remaining Evoras on the market come with 345 horsepower, and are usually the S 2+2 trim. 0-60 times are around 4.4 seconds, which is similar to the Alfa Romeo 4C’s 4.1. The main reason why the Lotus is slower than others in its class is because it’s heavier, but that certainly doesn’t limit the Evora’s overall performance.

The Evora is one of the more under-appreciated cars on the market. However, on the road that’s a completely different story. While you’ll have to look around for a dealership that has one, and may have to travel 200+ miles, it’s well worth the trip. These cars will not break the bank, and ask any owner, the Evora was definitely worth the price.

Is Having The BRZ In Subaru’s Lineup A Waste Of Time?

When you think of Subaru you probably picture a Forester or Outback navigating through the woods on a dirt road, or a WRX STI racing on a rally circuit. AWD is it’s specialty, the ability that allows drivers to get from point A to point B throughout the winter, and give the owner a peace of mind when they get behind the wheel in treacherous driving situations. Subaru has never been known to appeal to the RWD, sports car community, and instead reaches the consumer who wants off-road capability or a vehicle that is immune to most, if not all weather conditions. The Subaru BRZ does not fit that mold and never will.

Last year Subaru managed to sell 7,500 BRZ’s, and during the best monthly sales, none of the figures reached 1,000 cars sold. Because Scion, Toyota, and Subaru collaborated on the BRZ/FR-S, Subaru isn’t taking a major risk, or one in which they’re not going to deal with the consequences of poor sales solely. Two other manufactures are also on the ship that appears to be sinking. The real question is whether Subaru is wasting their time with having the BRZ in their lineup.

Starting at $25,500, the BRZ is just a mere $1,000 cheaper than the base version of the WRX. They’re two completely different cars, but one offers more horsepower, AWD, four doors, and tradition, while the other is basically a rebadged Toyota. In the eyes of consumers the WRX’s 268 hp, coupled with a manual transmission, is more appealing than a 200 hp coupe. While they both are in different classes, the WRX will steal sales away from the BRZ because it offers more.

For Scion, the FR-S makes sense because they don’t have another sports car in their lineup that will compete in sales. The tC is cheaper with less horsepower, while the FR-S is more of a traditional performance coupe that attracts younger consumers who want a car with power. For the Toyota owned company, the FR-S isn’t as big of a waste of time, and in fact is seeing double the sales as the BRZ, and that’s because of the consumers that Scion attracts.

At the end of the day, there is no difference between the BRZ and FR-S except the badge on the front. The biggest variable however is the loyal consumers for both auto brands. Subaru is seeing limited sales, and from a numbers standpoint, they’re wasting their time by selling a coupe. Due to having a sports sedan within the same price range, the BRZ isn’t a great fit for the company. Scion on the other hand desperately needs the FR-S to succeed, and because of their minimal lineup range, the sports coupe can and will see better sales figures than it will for Subaru.

The BRZ was an experiment, one in which Subaru could see if they could make some noise in the sports coupe market. Because they have a tradition set on AWD and off-road capability, consumers aren’t flocking to Subaru dealerships to buy a RWD coupe that doesn’t fit in the AWD dominated lineup. Sales figures could rise, but it’s very unlikely. The remaining question is, how long will they keep the BRZ in their lineup before they cut their losses and move on?

What is Scion’s Identity? Do They Even Have One?

This week at the New York International Auto Show, Scion unveiled their all new iA sedan and iM hatchback that will be going on sale at the end of 2015. Scion, which is owned by Toyota, really has only one car that they can truly call they own, the tC, while the rest of their lineup is either rebadged Toyota’s that are sold in Europe and Asia, or they have cars that aren’t even built by their parent company. The FR-S was a collaboration by Toyota and Subaru, and can be bought as a Subaru, the BRZ.

What is Scion? Were they originally Toyota’s cheap brand that sold to younger consumers, or are they now a combination of cheaper vehicles and a lab rat for other car companies to see what they could come with without putting their badge on the car? The iA is essentially the new Mazda 2 sedan, and was also a collaboration with Toyota by Mazda. The iM is a rebadged Toyota Auris and will be what takes the place of the Toyota Matrix, and will give Scion the opportunity to try increasing sales in the hatchback market. Both cars will be starting anywhere between $16,000 – $20,000 when they hit the market, and with a very lackluster group of vehicles that are currently within that price range, the iA and iM could see some strong sales.

The biggest issue facing Scion is that their sales figures aren’t as strong as they were back in 2005. Scion was the new kid on the block offering cheaper cars for younger drivers, but today, the tC and FR-S are the only Scions that younger consumers want to get behind the wheel of, and when it comes to the FR-S, they can choose to visit a Subaru dealer instead.

Out of the two, the iM has a better chance of succeeding than the iA. While great fuel economy and cheaper starting price for the iA might go a long way in helping consumers decide whether to buy the car or not, the iM being a hatchback, might be more appealing to younger consumers.

Toyota has a lineup consisting of cars that compete with Honda, Ford, and Chevrolet, while their luxury division, Lexus, is taking on BMW, Mercedes Benz, Audi, and Infiniti. It would be great if Scion became both cheap for younger consumers, while being the performance division for Toyota. The tC and FR-S are good starts, but if Toyota could offer a Celica (which in essence is the tC) MR-2 or some original sports car badged as a Scion, the perception of the brand would change completely overnight. Right now it seems like Scion is everyone’s ginny pig, and that’s what is confusing consumers. The Toyota owned company is now 13 years old, it’s time to start maturing and offering original cars that aren’t rebadged by other Japanese brands or Toyota itself.

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.

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.

Will The Ford Focus RS Bring Performance Packages To Cheaper Vehicles?

The Ford Focus RS is no doubt a game changer in the auto industry. For the first time, Ford is bringing their performance packaged Focus RS to the United States, which has also raised the question of whether we’ll see an RS version of the Fiesta. By doing this however, Ford would be awakening some sleeping giants in the auto world who are waiting for their moment to break free and start offering performance vehicles to the average consumer. This could also have an impact on Subaru’s turf as the WRX STI hasn’t had many challengers, if any since the Mitsubishi Lancer’s steep decent into irrelevancy. This may also eventually reach Volkswagen’s stake in the hatchback market if other car companies start following suit.

Toyota is already mulling over the idea of unleashing the TRD performance packages for the Camry, and one could then speculate on whether the Toyota Corolla will get the same treatment. For the past few years Ford has been going at it with Toyota and Honda to become the top dog in annual sales, and with the RS line, it’s very possible that consumers may start looking to performance. Toyota already realizes this, and are at least looking into getting in on the action.

Prior to the Focus RS’s unveiling, the Subaru WRX STI and the Volkswagen GTI were sitting comfortably in their respective markets. The GTI has always been the favorite for hatchbacks and are extremely popular, even with the Focus ST being priced in the same neighborhood. Now with an AWD Focus, Ford has some leverage to entice consumers to look at other options besides the GTI. The Subaru WRX STI on the other hand will be harder to dethrone, as car manufactures who’ve tried to compete with Subaru ultimately failed, and it will take some time for Ford to convince consumers in that market to make the switch.

In the past year or so, we’ve seen almost every car manufacturer get in on a new, emerging market. BMW and Mercedes Benz are now duking it out with the X6 and GLE in a market that could be gaining some traction. Right now it seems that performance packaged hatchbacks and compact sedans could become the latest trend in the automotive world. What we’re witnessing is an intensity in competition between automakers that really hasn’t been seen since the dawn of the muscle car. In the past, car companies would be unique and try selling based on a feature or design that no one else could offer. Now it appears that to stay alive, auto brands are continuously attempting to improve an existing design.

Up until recently, no one tried to advance on the WRX STI and the GTI’s turf, but with Ford making the bold move to bring a version of the Focus that was being sold outside the United States to America, we may see other car brands do the same. Honda will not be bringing over the Civic Type R until at least 2017, but you can believe that if Toyota starts selling TRD packaged Camry’s and Corolla’s, Honda will start feeling the pressure to sell a quality performance car.

Consumers are going to have variety in almost every market. Now it comes down to personal preference. The diehard GTI and WRX STI fans will be reluctant to switch to a different brand, but for Millennials who are starting to buy cars, they may look to new brands, and etch their own buying habits in stone.