Thursday, January 7, 2016

Andy's New Car Buying Guide - January 2016

Editor's Note:  The opinions expressed in this post are strictly my own and are just that, opinions.

I drive a lot of cars.  My job is to literally evaluate every single part of those cars.  Through work and my extracurricular activities, I have developed a pretty broad knowledge of the vehicles currently on the market, and this is my attempt to share that knowledge in a brief format.

These are the features I believe you should avoid as well as ones to get.  These guidelines apply regardless of brand.

Avoid at All Costs

  • Dual Clutch Transmissions – poor low-speed driveability, expensive maintenance (for VW, $400 every 40,000 miles), questionable reliability
  • Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) – annoying performance, questionable reliability
  • Turbocharged Gasoline Engines – questionable reliability, poor real-world fuel economy
  • ZF 9-Speed Transmission – worst modern automatic transmission
  • German and British Luxury Cars – the best way to stress yourself out and go bankrupt

Avoid if Possible

  • All-Wheel Drive – unnecessary, increased maintenance, decreased fuel economy, good tires are usually more helpful
  • Gasoline Direct Injection (without port injectors) – questionable reliability (carbon deposits on valves)
  • Poorly Designed/Implemented Infotainment (MyFord Touch, Chevy MyLink, Honda touchscreens, etc.) – unnecessary frustration from something you use often
  • “Safety Features” that are more annoying than helpful (blind spot monitors, lane departure warning, etc) – expensive, distracting, encourage drivers to not pay attention
  • Navigation – expensive, annoying to use, smartphone is better
  • Leather/Pleather Seats – expensive, cold in the winter, sweaty in the summer; worst of both worlds

Worth Paying For

  • Radar Cruise Control (preferably full-speed-range) - feels like the future, makes driving in traffic bearable
  • Keyless Everything – so convenient, once you use it, there’s no going back
  • Bluetooth Audio – should be standard, makes life easier
  • Android Auto/Apple CarPlay – not perfect yet, but shockingly good and rapidly improving
  • Ventilated Seats (if leather) – best defense against swamp-ass
  • Fuel Economy (to a point) - do something for the planet, cheap gas never lasts


I will now give a brief overview of each brand and call out any particularly good or bad models.  All statements apply to current offerings unless otherwise stated.  These are obviously generalizations and there will be exceptions. 

Color Code:  Buy  Consider  Avoid

Mostly overpriced Hondas.  Infotainment systems are laughably difficult to use.

Very handsome, if not dated looks, but suffers from the Luxury Tax.*  Tend to incorporate many of the features I try to avoid.

Don’t drive like they used to.  iDrive is better, but still annoying.  Luxury Tax.
  • Recently drove an X5 which had one of the worst steering systems I've ever used.

Overpriced Chevys.  Dated.

The cars drive shockingly well.  CUE is horrible and could be a deal-breaker.

Cars are much better than they used to be, but still feel half a step behind the competition.  Trucks are fine, but feature mediocre styling.  MyLink is a disaster.
  • Corvette is scary fast, but not as involving as it could be.
  • Equinox is terrible.  Desperately needs an update.
  • Volt is impressive.  If it had radar cruise control, I would own one.
  • Bolt could be a game changer.  EV with 200 mile range for $30,000 is impressive.  Too bad it’s so ugly.

Generally dated and uncompetitive. Uconnect is pretty good.
  • 300 is good if you want a big, powerful, rear-wheel drive sedan and you like the looks.

Just like Chrysler, generally dated and uncompetitive, unless you want a giant, hemi-powered car.  The Hellcat is outrageous. Uconnect is pretty good.

Not a single car worth buying; however the electric 500e is their best car and is worth leasing for under $100/month.

Cars are much better than they used to be.  Handle well.  Quiet interiors, unfortunately, they tend to feel cramped.  Trucks are good.  Turbocharged engines are powerful but fuel economy is bad.  MyFord Touch was terrible, Sync3 is snappier, but still not great.

Overpriced, slightly differently styled Chevy trucks.  Pointless.

Disappointing cars recently, although they appear to be turning things around.  Touchscreen infotainment system is terrible--bad enough for me to not buy an otherwise good car.
  • Fit is one of the best all-around cars ever, especially older ones.  The current generation got hit by the ugly stick and got a CVT.  Two strikes.
  • HRV is based on the Fit, yet is worse in every way.

Shockingly good cars, and getting better every year.  Can’t beat the 10yr/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Meh.  If you want a Japanese luxury car, get a Lexus.

Great looking cars, but they all look like the XF, which came out years ago.  Luxury Tax.

Mostly outdated and overpriced.  Uconnect is pretty good.
  • Cherokee is decent, but the 9-speed transmission makes it terrible.
  • Renegade is let down by a stiff ride and 9-speed.
  • Wrangler is absurd.  Basically unfit for the road, but great off of it.

Same as Hyundai, but often better looking and more refined.

Land Rover
Most overpriced and unreliable vehicles imaginable.  The definition of Luxury Tax.

While still overpriced (especially the models based on Toyotas), this is probably the only luxury brand worth buying.

Outdated, overpriced Fords.

Some of the best handling, best looking mainstream cars out there.  Transmission tuned for economy can be frustrating.  Nice interiors.

Impressive engines, annoying shifters.  Infotainment systems very unintuitive. Luxury Tax.

Used to be fun small cars.  I (and they) don’t know what they’re doing now.

Generally terrible cars, even before you realize they have a CVT.  However, they will finance anyone.
  • Pathfinder is terrible, but has the cushiest armrests out there.

Incredibly fast and nimble sports cars.  Terrifyingly fast SUVs and sedan.  Horrifying price and reliability.  Luxury Tax.

Most innovative trucks on the market.  Uconnect is pretty good.

Lineup is improving, but still not clear why it exists.

Silly cars for normal people. Unnecessary AWD, questionable reliability (head gaskets), and boring/poor styling.  Their sporty cars are impressive.

Incredible cars with some silly problems (retracting door handles—WTF?).
  • Model X is a great idea (SUV), but the execution is questionable.  Falcon-wing doors?  Non-folding second row seats?  I also think its side profile is ridiculous.
  • Model 3 could be a game changer, if the major OEMs don’t beat them to the punch (see Chevy Bolt).

Generally outdated, boring, yet indestructible cars.  Perfect for most people.

Understated styling, but starting to feel boring.  Refined handling.  Diesel USED TO be the main attraction.  Partial Luxury Tax.

Mostly outdated and unreliable.
  • New XC90 is nice, with a great interior, but there is definitely a Luxury Tax.

Dealing with Dealerships

First, consider buying a used car.  You will save lots of money.  Certified used cars are a little more expensive, but they come with some peace of mind and will still save money.

If you have to have a new car, the most important thing is to know exactly what you want and how much you are willing to pay (total, not per month; I recommend TrueCar to help you determine a fair price) before going to the dealer.  Build your car online then search the local inventory on the manufacturer's website.  If multiple dealers have the car you want, email them all and ask them to quote you a price.  You probably shouldn't use your primary email account for this, because they will SPAM you mercilessly.

Arrange potential financing outside the dealership.  Go to the dealer that offers you the best price and seal the deal.  If they can give you 0% financing, go for it, unless you can get a bigger discount by skipping it.  Don't let them tack on any BS stuff.  No expensive floor-mats, no undercoatings, no VIN etching.

Enjoy your new car.

*Luxury Tax = overpriced, over-complicated, lacking in reliability, and expensive to maintain.


  1. Clearly I trust your expertise. The new Mazda sitting in my driveway and the Acura still at the dealership says it all. I bought the Mazda based heavily on your recommendation. However, I also got the extra safety and navigation features I now know you wouldn't have lol For the extra money, I felt like if it prevented one accident then it was worth it. The blind spot monitor has saved me on a few occassions. The lane departure thing is kind of annoying though. I agree leather can probably be passed up over SOME other interiors, but I need my heated seats, so we disagree there :) We do agree on True car though. I used it, and I felt like I got a great deal on exactly the car I wanted. And while I could've gotten an addition incentive to use their financing, my credit union rate couldn't be beat. The Mazda was my first car purchase so I'm pleased it went rather well. Although, as you know, I researched and debated for months. I totally dig this post!