I bought a 2010 Toyota Prius on Saturday. Not just any Prius, either; a silver Prius III with the Solar Roof Package. Why? Environmental snobbery? Well, no. According to the survey, over half of 2007 Prius buyers bought it to make a statement. I didn’t. Actually, that was a negative factor, since I don’t feel the need to increase Smug.
My prior car, a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT, has been slowly dying. It served me well, surviving a major crash in 2004 (a 18-wheeler clipped my back bumper on the Dan Ryan Expressway). Yet little things kept breaking, like a power window, power mirrors, and weak air conditioning. Things could get bad fast, and I have some summer driving to do. Given my financial and personal situation, it became time to start searching. So I thought about what car would I want today, and in 2015, and maybe 2020.
Reliability eliminates almost everything from GM and Chrysler. Ten years and 89,000 miles was good for the Pontiac, but Nissan, Honda, and Toyota cars routinely run past 100,000 miles. Because Ford has been rapidly improving quality this decade, I left them on the list. It’s not Fix Or Repair Daily anymore, and not surprisingly Ford is the American automaker in the best shape. My driving needs are primarily in the city, and I don’t transport kids, drive on dirt roads, or pull a boat. Since I like quiet and comfort, with some transport needs, I wanted a car that could hold four adults designed for comfortable city life. Driving is not a source of excitement or fun, like a super exotic tour. I’m point to point.
Also, I want to be prepared in case gasoline returns to $4 a gallon, which is one crazy situation away. Like, what if Iran went into disorder? Oh. Oops. The current European average is around 40 MPG, but there are very few choices in America. Diesel engines, popular across the pond, generally don’t come here. Over 35 MPG there are only six options: Toyota Prius, Smart fortwo, Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid, Jetta diesel TDi, Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan hybrid. The smart was out, because I would like to be married in 5 years and thinking about a three person family (and even if I’m not, reviews call it noisy and uncomfortable). I considered the Jetta, but the more relevant city MPG figures were low and diesel didn’t appeal to me.
That left four hybrid vehicles, two hatchbacks (Toyota Prius and Honda Insight) and two sedans (Ford Fusion and Honda Civic). Two of the four, the Prius and Fusion, can run completely on electric power, while the Insight and Civic use electric solely for assistance. Also, the Civic and Insight are smaller cars than the Fusion and Prius. All four cars are well rated, with good reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. There’s nothing wrong with any of them. It depends on what you want.
I first eliminated the two Hondas. I examined the Insight, including a test drive. I would not comfortably fit in the back seat. Also, the finish is not as nice as the Prius or Fusion. On the drive, though it is pretty quiet, the lack of complete engine turnoff when stopped was a relative negative. On the positive side, it drives more like a sports car. Also, the Insight is least expensive, but the cost difference is not as big as advertised. The $19,800 LX option package does not include cruise control. With cruise and a center console, the EX package costs about $21,500 including destination charges. For $1,500 more, you can get a Prius II. I would recommend the Insight for singles or young couples that want a sporty feel and 40+ MPG.
After trying the Insight and hearing the lack of full quiet when stopped, I didn’t test drive the Civic Hybrid; it uses the same engine style. It looks good and comfortable, and gets very good ratings overall. If you’re looking for the sedan style, it’s a serious contender. It’s smaller than the Fusion, but also less expensive at an estimated real price of about $24,000.
I test drove three vehicles of each of my two finalists. The Fusion/Milan wound up as runner-up, but it’s still a wonderful car. An American company has found the future. It will run fully on electric power; I did that at 30-35 miles per hour. Compared to the Prius, it’s more powerful on the road and lets less road noise into the cabin. The seats are very comfortable, and I easily fit in the back seat. Most of the cars come with sunroof and backup camera. The backup camera in the 501A package projects on the rear view mirror, which might be more appealing than on a navigation screen – as in the 502A package and Prius.
There are a few disadvantages. First, because Ford put the batteries between the back seat and the trunk, the seats do not fold down. Second, though not unwieldy, it is about 15 inches longer and has a larger turning radius than the other cars. Third, the mileage is not as good as the Prius; Real world reports are 38-42 miles per gallon, not 48-52.
Also, the Fusion is the most expensive, with the 501A about $29,500. There are discounts, unlike the other cars; one is a US government tax credit of $1700 until September 30, then $850 for six more months. Furthermore, a few dealers will take Ford discount plans even on this high demand vehicle, though they don’t have to. The X-plan offers a fixed no haggle discount of about 6% from MSRP. With the discount and credit, the effective price is about $26,500. You can get a plan PIN from a Ford employee or by working at some companies, but there’s another easy way. Just buy some Ford stock, which costs $5.72 per share as I write, and according to the documents there’s no minimum number of shares. You can spend less than $100 to buy 10 shares, then apply to get the PIN. If you are interested, you can do a Goodle search, or email me and I’ll give you directions. And you should be interested if you’re looking for a midsize sedan. The Fusion hybrid is the best hybrid midsize sedan. It might be the best midsize sedan short of a $40,000 BMW 3-series. Regular options might be cheaper, but the difference between 25 MPG and 38 MPG is 13 gallons every 1000 miles. At 100,000 miles and $3 per gallon, 1300 gallons is $3900, roughly the hybrid premium. I strongly suggest paying now and getting the quieter ride, if you can.
With options, the Prius I bought cost about the same as my second choice, a black Ford Fusion 501A with leather. What tipped the scales? I considered the advantages of the Fusion above. On the other hand, the Prius is smaller and more maneuverable, while maintaining passenger space. The hatchback design provides more flexibility, and Toyota did a great job of maximizing interior space. The interior is still nice and comfy. Power is more than sufficient. Keyless entry and startup is very nice. Toyota has a better reliability reputation overall, even though the Fusion’s rating has been very good. And the extra 10 MPG is substantial.
In the end, it came down to options. The considered Fusion has a fancy radio, Bluetooth phone integration, sunroof, backup camera, and leather. The midlevel $24,000 Prius III has a fancy radio and Bluetooth phone integration. The Solar package adds a sunroof and backup camera. There’s no leather, but there are other things. A navigation screen is nice, but not worth much since there are good voice navigators available for $250. What clinched the deal were two things designed for hot climates, remote AC and solar roof fan. Getting into an overheated car is miserable, as all the glass raises the temperature inside above the outside air. The Solar package adds a 56 watt solar panel, which powers a fan. (And if things go really bad, I can strip it for electricity.) When it’s hot and sunny, the sun provides enough energy to circulate outside air; the inside becomes like the outside. Then, as I approach the vehicle, I can start the A/C remotely. My passengers and I feel less pain. In no way would I claim this is like, let’s say, cholera in Zimbabwe. I realize I’m blessed to have a car or A/C. Things are good, and I need to take advantage of them to change the world. I’m thankful.
At some point I’ll write up what I learned about buying a car, and interacting with 8 dealerships (4 Toyota, 2 Ford, 2 Honda). Despite the radical increase in technology, people, well, are still people.