Next Step in Car Shopping

Published May 9, 2019 in Warp & Woof


Next Step in Car Shopping

Advance to the Test Drive?

William Sundwick
This year’s Washington Auto Show was in April. Held later than last year, it began to push into 2020 model year marketing territory. Nevertheless, it provided a useful opportunity to further explore the 15 vehicles that had found a place in my Crossover Shopping spreadsheet for 2019. They were all there, under one big roof at the Walter Washington Convention Center.
Indeed, planning our Friday evening outing to the show forced a decision: which stands to visit among the 15 contestants? My boredom with the process, after three years, made it easy to cancel two manufacturers from our schedule, and my wife readily agreed; we wouldn’t bother with Hyundai or Mitsubishi.
That still left a heavy burden of covering seven other stands on two floors in less than four hours before the show closed at 10:00 P.M. (We literally forgot one important display, Nissan, despite our intentions).
What we learned from this year’s show allowed us to reduce our 15 original entrants to five finalists. Each of the five comes from a different manufacturer, so advancing to the test drive, step four of my systematic process of shopping for a new car, would require some time – visiting five different dealerships.
First, the eliminations from the original list of 15 – Hyundai primarily because the Santa Fe, although new for 2019, struggles to match competitors’ fuel economy ratings, and has nothing else to set it apart from them. Mitsubishi, I feel, is still a questionable investment for the future, with reviews panning its quality and reliability. Beyond those two makes, which didn’t even warrant our attention at the show, those we saw also allowed us to eliminate more.
Scratch everything from GM – Buick, Chevrolet, and GMC – mostly due to brand image for Buick and GMC (my wife is sensitive to what sits in our driveway, no trucks, no stodgy Buick), and size/style for the Chevy Equinox (it squeaks in on the low end of my threshold for cargo volume).
Going for style is probably shallow in a new car purchase, but two eliminations were primarily due to styling. Both the Equinox and new Toyota RAV4 were, in comparison to competitors, well … ugly! The Equinox’s bustled rear quarter combined with squarish roof line just rubbed me the wrong way, reminding me of a pop-up camper. And, the RAV4, while entirely new from last year, looks like (wait for it!) a Toyota. The previous generation RAV4 had a

pleasant appearance much like its hot-selling competitors, not so this new version. Often, over the years, Toyota styling has been disturbing, very angular, depending more than others on frivolous details and faux-aggressiveness – the new RAV4 fits that unfortunate mold perfectly. It also seemed to have a cheaper interior, practical perhaps, but lacking the upscale feel of many competitors.

I also had no problem eliminating some of the larger contenders. After seeing them at the show, both my wife and I decided we could do without the Ford Edge or Subaru Outback. Yes, they’re bigger than the Escape and Forester, respectively, but the Edge is significantly more expensive than the Escape for that extra room, and Outback comes in a bigger package than Forester, but with virtually the same cargo volume!

VW’s models went in the other direction. The eliminated entrant was the smaller Golf AllTrack wagon — like Equinox, possibly too small. And, it’s certain to be discontinued (along with all Golf wagons) for 2020. Besides, the larger Tiguan seems to sell for about the same price.
Due to my inadvertent snub of Nissan, and difficulty in eliminating something I didn’t see, the five finalists have now become:
  •        Ford Escape (carry over for 2019, all new next year)
  •          Honda CR-V (solid contender, as always)
  •          Nissan Rogue (can’t eliminate, although nothing exceptional save Hybrid fuel economy)
  •          Subaru Forester (very impressive new body, almost indistinguishable from last year – “don’t mess with success”)
  •          Volkswagen Tiguan (cars were locked in display! But, peering

    through windows and looking at stickers resulted in a thumbs-up)

Stickers on all five finalists are in the same ball park for comparably equipped models. But the Auto Show cannot convey any sense of drivability. Performance, handling, visibility can only be judged after a test drive at a dealership. These days, the usability of electronics, infotainment systems, safety features also can only be explored in a test drive.
Therefore, the test drive is the next step. It won’t happen until after the June visit of in-laws from California, however. My wife must be fully involved, and she is now concerned primarily with her sister and brother-in-law’s visit. Maybe we’ll take them along?
If it waits too late into the summer, we may be pushing up against the 2020 model year – resetting the cycle back to spreadsheet updates and research. There are multiple dealerships in Northern Virginia we might visit. For close-in Arlington, Falls Church, and Alexandria there is Koons, Jerry’s, and Ourisman Ford; Bill Page, Brown, and Landmark Honda; Passport Nissan; Beyer Subaru; and Alexandria VW. Tysons contributes Priority Nissan, Stohlman Subaru and VW. If we choose Fairfax or Springfield, we can hit Sheehy or Ted Britt Ford, Brown or Priority Nissan, Farrish or Sheehy Subaru, and Fairfax or Sheehy VW.

It’s not likely that we’ll need to drive more than one version of each of the five finalists – we’re not looking for any unusual combination of equipment, except possibly a Hybrid Rogue. So, choosing a map direction and hitting all the dealers in that vicinity might work. But it likely would require more than one afternoon, we could go twice or three times.
Is there an easier way to make our decision? The drive is the thing, it seems. Choices of color and equipment are reasonably uniform among all. Both my wife and I will be drivers, and both of us will be passengers. There will be one or two car seats in the rear. The driver will evaluate instrumentation, performance and handling, while the passenger evaluates electronics, general comfort, climate controls, and interior detailing. Only a test drive can afford this opportunity.
Since we intend to keep this car for more than ten years – as has been our habit for the last thirty years — the answer to the question, “is there an easier way?” is emphatically no!

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