In 2005 I bought a 1999 Subaru Forester. I had previously owned a 1997 Subaru Impreza Outback, and while it was a fun car, it had awful transmission problems – I think we ended up getting it replaced. After the Impreza I vowed never to get another Subaru. The AWD is great in the snow (at the time I had bought the Impreza I was living in Albany, which is snowy enough that AWD makes sense) but it was just too expensive to maintain. Despite my vow, I somehow ended up buying the ’99 Forester in 2005. This was a pretty versatile car – decent on gas, big enough (but not too big), and AWD for the snow – and I got a decent price for it. It was pretty good for a while, I think we got about 2 good years out of it before it really went downhill. The transmission went and I kicked myself for having bought another Subaru. I brought it to my mechanic and he basically said it would cost more to fix it than the car was worth, so I ended up driving it for 3 more years with a blown 1st gear and with it burning oil.
Finally in March 2010 I decided enough was enough. I had finally paid off my last student loan and also gotten a raise at work, so by my calculations I could afford a car payment with virtually no financial pain, as long as I kept it under $300/month. I looked at a bunch of cars but the main contenders were Toyota Corolla & Camry, Honda Civic & Accord, Ford Fusion, Focus & Escape, Kia Soul, Optima & Forte, and Hyundai Elantra & Sonata. I did lots of research and I was really torn between buying a new car and buying a used or certified preowned car. Based on my previous problems with used cars I really wanted one with a good warranty. In the CPO category I was leaning heavily towards a 2007-2009 Civic. They had 2006 Civic EXes on the lot for $15k, but with financing these came out pretty close to $300/month already, and I just felt like it should be possible to get more car for the money. $300 * 60 months = $18,000, and I figured I could get about $2000 trade-in for my car, so I reasoned I should be able to get a car in the $20k ballpark for about $300/month. Of course, this math assumes zero interest, but I saw a few 0% interest offers.
I checked out Toyota, but this was right in the middle of the safety recalls they had going on. I figured Toyota was probably really ok, and this was just a great time to buy a Toyota, but their deals weren’t really that great, and the salesmen I encountered at the Toyota dealer were dicks.
I checked out the Kia Soul, which I hadn’t even heard of until I started shopping for cars. It had almost all of the features I wanted and I think they offered 0% financing on it. It was pretty compelling, but I was wary of buying the first model year of a new car, and I found the engine pretty weak. When you drive on Long Island’s parkways, the ability to merge into 60 mph traffic is a necessity. The Soul did have some great features and an interesting look, but I’m not really that interesting.
Finally I looked at the Hyundai Sonata. In April 2010, the 2011 Sonatas were already on the lot and the dealers (and Hyundai) were doing everything they could to clear out the 2010s. I was drawn in to the dealer by the 0% financing (60 months) plus $1500 cash back Hyundai was offering on the 2010 Sonata. For a few years I was impressed by the Sonata’s styling, and personally preferred it to the other larger sedans – Camry & Accord. I got an internet price quote of $20,000 for a 2010 Sonata 4cyl with the sunroof package, with 0% financing for 60 months. I couldn’t believe this price to be accurate, since sticker price was something like $25,000 without the sunroof, but it turned out to be $21,000 with the sunroof, which was still a pretty great price. (The sunroof is the one real impracticality I insisted on. I figured I’d have this car for a long time, and I’ve always wanted a sunroof.)
I went in to the dealer and met with their internet salesperson, who basically shook my hand and passed me off to another salesperson on the floor. He told me they didn’t have any 4cyl Sonatas in stock and asked me if I wanted to drive a V6 Sonata. I said sure, but I didn’t see what the point was since it would drive completely differently from a 4cyl. Well, I was probably right that the 4 and the 6 were pretty different, but I sure did love that V6. After driving a 2.5L Forester for 5 years, a 3.3L V6 was pretty exciting. I mean, it wasn’t a Corvette, but it was definitely peppier than the Subaru.
I sat down to discuss price for the 4cyl Sonata and started the paperwork to buy it when they told me what my monthly payment was. I don’t remember the number but I think it was well over $350. When I asked why it was so much it became clear they hadn’t calculated it with 0% financing. They said they couldn’t give me 0% at the $21,000 price. I walked out and went home.
Two days later the salesman called me, telling me he could now give me 0% financing on the price we had agreed on. This was tempting, but after driving the V6 I decided I wanted that instead. He called a few more times but in the end he ended up offering me the exact car I drove – the V6 – for the price I had asked for, with 0% financing. It was still over the $300/month limit I had set, though. He said he could give me 0% interest for 72 months, and give me $2000 trade-in for my Forester, but would have to raise the price to $21,900 (with sunroof installed). $21,900 * 1.08625 sales tax = $23,788.88; subtract $2000 trade-in = $21,788.88. Divided by 72 months, this comes to $302.63. Pretty close to $300. I put another $2000 down, lowering the monthly payment to about $275. Well into the comfort zone. I got the car I wanted at a price I was pretty happy with.
That was about a year ago now. So far I’ve driven mostly to work, but also took a trip to Pennsylvania. At my current rate I’ll be under 8,000 miles on the car by the time I hit the 1-year anniversary. I got the oil changed at 3,000 miles (5 months) and again at 5,200 (8 months). So far the car has been pretty great. The gas mileage around town isn’t great – usually average around 18mpg but it goes as low as 16 in bad traffic – but on the highway I frequently hit 30-32 mpg, pretty good for a V6.
Aside from the sunroof, the car doesn’t really have many fancy features. But I’m not really a fancy person. One thing it has that I totally love is a built-in MP3 player with a USB port. Inside the center console, under the armrest, there’s a USB port and a headphone line-in jack. You can plug anything into the line-in – MP3 player, iPhone, etc. If you buy the Hyundai iPod cable, you can plug in your iPod and control it via the car’s integrated system. This sounded cool, but they wouldn’t throw the cable in for free for me (wanted to charge me $65 for it), and when I tested it on a showroom floor model it didn’t work properly with an iPhone (gave that stupid “this accessory is not designed for iPhone” error and the phone put itself in Airplane Mode). I ended up buying a Transcend 16GB USB flash drive for under $25, formatting it with fat32 and dumping MP3s onto it (WinAmp is great managing the folder structure). I stuck the USB stick in the USB port in the car and have >1500 songs in there at all times. This is pretty awesome – much better than having to plug in the iPhone each time I get in.
The car doesn’t have Bluetooth or nav – those features were only available in the “Limited” model, which was like $3000 more (also included leather seats), but I got a Motorola T325 Bluetooth car speaker as a gift recently and it works amazingly well, and I got a Garmin nuvi 265WT GPS with lifetime traffic (which also happens to function as a Bluetooth handsfree speaker), which together came to under $150. So I have cloth seats (“leather-appointed”) and instead of digital thermostats for driver & passenger seats I have a knob that controls both sides at once. I’m ok with this since it saved me $3000. Like I said, I’m not fancy. I’m not under any illusion that this is a Lexus or a Mercedes, though the overall quality is pretty good. The interior has lots of plastic, sure, but most cars in this price range seem to these days.
All in all, I’ve been impressed with Hyundai lately. They have the best warranty around, and no matter what anyone says about it, few manufacturers have been willing to back up their vehicles with a 10 year warranty. I’m aware they will try to weasel their way out of that warranty, but all manufacturers do that. But when you look at a comparison on paper, a 10-year/100k mile warranty is a lot more compelling than a 3-year/36k mile warranty.
Bottom line: one year later, if I had to do it over again I’d still pick the 2010 Sonata. The 2011 Elantra looks pretty awesome too, as do the Genesis and Equus. If I could afford a car in their range I would definitely consider the Genesis (especially the coupe) or the Equus.
(I hope I haven’t jinxed myself by writing this…)