The cars we loved.
The time had finally come to make the big purchase. It had taken long enough. Back in 2002, I was looking for a replacement for my 94 BMW 325 coupe. It was simple selection process back then. There were only a few entry level luxury sport coupes I would have considered. I ended up with another BMW 3 Series, this time a 2001 325ci.
Other cars I have owned (like the 94 Eagle Talon ES which I still have and can’t seem to part with) represented a shrinking segment of the market, that being smallish coupes with sporty looks and a high fun to drive factor. When I looked to replace the Talon, nearly all those sporty coupes were gone.
In their place were sporty four door cars, some with hatches. The problem was that there were so many good ones that it was difficult to make a decision. To make matters worse they would leap frog each other in the quest to be the most efficent, comfortable or stylish. It was an impossible moving target. I seriously considered the Mazda3, Civic, Cruze, Elantra, Rio, Forte, Dart even the new Corolla.
After considering new versions of those cars, I ran into difficulty finding the more powerful engines matched to manual transmissions. That narrowed the field considerably. After being disappointed with the Honda Civic Si, I decided that the ideal trade off would be to buy a slightly used car that was no more than two years old. Most cars take a considerable resale hit after the first two years and for cars that are not made by Toyota or Honda, it can be a significant savings.
With that scheme in mind, the Ford Focus emerged as the car of the moment. 160 hp is plenty enough for scooting around town in and as a bonus it get close to 40 mpg (even when driven aggressively). Leather seats and a full array of do dads make it as posh as my 13 year old Bimmer.
It seemed Ford dealers were not so willing to order the model I wanted so close to the cut off date for the 2015s, so the circumstance sealed the deal for a slightly used car. Besides, the Focus was European like but without the mixed bag reliability that comes with a Golf (which I considered the class leader in most respects). The only thing I was not too fond of was the robot face that passed for the center stack.
My experiences with the typical car dealership was not something I wanted to go through again so I chose Carmax. Carmax makes buying a car like choosing an appliance. It’s so easy to shop for a car nowadays, thanks to the internet. That’s what the Carmax buying experience was like, really easy with no fussy negotiations and half days in a cubicle with a sales manager. After a year of searching, Titanium models with the sport package and a manual transmission began slowly popping up. When a silver one in Omaha NE appeared on Carmax’s site, I immediately started the buying process.
A week later I got the car I had been looking for, even as the new Mazda 3 2.5 became available with a manual. The Mazda is a better car by most measures, but the Focus was a better value (and it’s loaded with useful technology). For now I’m happy with my Ford and is my first blue oval product since owning a Ford Escort GT a few years ago.
The Escort was my first encounter with a Mazda engineered car and the experience was enough to make me consider a new Mazda. Honda too was a band I really wanted to buy. I say I really wanted because a Honda was my first car and I have always been somewhat partial to them. Unfortunatly, the Civic was not compelling enough (except in Si trim). I was looing for an ecomomy car that looked good and handled well. The Focus did those things better than the Honda, but trails the Mazda3.
For now I’m pleased with my choice, but if a coupe version of the Mazda3 becomes available, I might find myself going to the dealership (likely Carmax) again.