Being a research geek is both a blessing and a curse, especially when a ‘significant purchase’ such as a house, car, or major appliance is in the offing. Thus it should come as no surprise that I began researching my next new car approximately one year ago.  Visions of spending a mere pittance on gasoline dancing through my head, I was sure that I wanted a hybrid.

 

It’s not that I wanted to move on from my beloved 15-year-old (yes, really) Lexus ES300, which is by far the best car I’ve ever owned. I faithfully maintained it and had every intention of keeping it until it dissolved into a pile of rust. However, there comes a time when any major repair – and once past 190,000 miles, pretty much anything more complex than an oil change ends up being a major repair – costs more than the car itself is worth. But still I rationalized that to buy a new car before I’d found a house with a usable garage would be foolish. Even in the face of an average combined mpg of only 16 (ouch) and the premium-grade requirement (double ouch) I stood firm….until my recent decision to cease house-shopping and remain at the (car-garageless) Money Pit. The upcoming February annual inspection was likely to require a set of new tires (triple ouch) at the very least, as well.

So I went back to my previous research which had concluded that my three contenders for a new hybrid were the Prius V Model Four, the Ford Fusion Titanium hybrid, and the Kia Niro Touring mini-crossover. My aim was to approximate the amenities and size of my Lexus as much as possible within budget constraints. I hadn’t yet driven any of them but began to price them online since we are now into the 2018 model year. The first thing I discovered was that the Prius V had been discontinued as of 2017.  I did look at a “new leftover” and hated it at first sight.  I was massively underwhelmed by the Niro and wasn’t inclined to even drive it. That left the Fusion, whose styling was impressive but the trunk was a measly 12 cubic feet due to the location of the hybrid battery.

I also learned several new things about hybrids in general. First, that if they aren’t driven almost every day the battery tends to be DOA when next called upon, because it has not had a chance to recharge. Especially during the winter, when extreme cold can tax even a conventional car’s battery if not up to par; and remember, I would not be able to garage mine. A concerning scenario indeed. But the deal killer was when I discovered that hybrid cars usually have NO spare tire. Not even a “donut” mini. There is no way that I ever want to be without some kind of spare tire. At this point I realized that a hybrid was probably not for me. Truth be told, I’d had qualms about any of them being able to even get out of their own way. Although I’m certainly not a poster child for Fast and Furious (at least not anymore, lol) I do expect a car to respond properly if/when I hit the gas.

So my inner research geek started on midsize non-hybrid sedans. I’ll spare you the details and angst of comparing engines, horsepower, 0-60 acceleration, physical dimensions, trunk capacities, seat trim levels (cloth seats absolutely not an option) ad infinitum and only say that the Final Four surviors were the 2018 Ford Fusion Titanium, 2018 Honda Accord Touring 2.0T, 2018 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Limited, and the 2017.5 Mazda 6 Touring Premium. All four-cylinder engines (meh) but apparantly that’s the only game in town nowadays.  Then, MSRPs in hand, I headed out to find examples of them to see in person and test drive.

The Mazda was impossible to find in the trim level that I needed to see (the dealer’s website showed inventory that wasn’t really there) and there’s no way that I was going to buy a car without seeing and driving the exact equivalent. Halfway to the Subaru dealership I realized that they are all-wheel drive which means they can’t be towed, but instead must be transported by flatbed. Knowing that this often complicates matters, I crossed the Legacy off my list. That left the Fusion and the Accord, both highly rated in their class. Despite the Fusion being a “turbo” 4-cylinder, it felt sluggish – exactly what I was afraid of with anything less than a 6-cylinder (and most of my driving life has been with eights.) Huge trunk, though! So, on to the Honda dealership where I knew they had at least two examples of the car I wanted to see.

 

Whilst the salesman was finding and bringing it to the front entrance I wandered around the showroom and spotted a car off to  the side, in the no-man’s-land between the showroom and the service department waiting area. Having nothing else to do, I strolled over and read the “Clearance” blurb and price painted on the front windshield, and then the manufacturer’s sticker on the window. It was, in fact, a 2017 Accord Touring, with every available option plus some natty pinstriping along the side.

Wait, what?? This has a 6-cylinder engine! Hmmm. Better open the door and check it out.

Gaah, a black interior. Murphy’s Law. The exact color that I’d never choose, especially for a car that has to live outdoors all year. Who wants to be able to fry an egg on the passenger seat?

But still, this looks and feels almost exactly like my beloved “Lexie.” Ah, here’s the 2018 ready for me to test drive. And of course, after all the media hype, I’m prepared to absolutely love it.

Except that I didn’t. Not even close. The higher center console made me feel cramped, it had the same rotary-dial gearshift that I’d disliked in the Fusion, and the projected “heads up display” on the windshield almost but not quite disappeared as soon as I put on my polarized prescription sunglasses, leaving an annoying ghost image remaining. Now, I am not by any means anti-tech but it seemed like the designers have thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this car featurewise…. a good 80% of which I would never use. The silliest, in my opinion, is the Brake Hold which lets you push a button while at a red light and take your foot off the brake until the light turns green again. For the life of me I can’t imagine what “hardship” this feature is supposed to mitigate. But then I’ve been a two-foot driver all my life so maybe those who only use their right foot for driving may feel differently.

The thing that most took me aback was when I asked where the slot for the CD player was; turns out that there isn’t one. This was truly a “WTF” moment, because I have an extensive CD library and guess what? You can’t just copypaste music CD files to a flash drive, because those are not in MP3 or MP4 format, even if I wanted to spend days (weeks) in a massive conversion effort — which I do not. With every minute, that 2017 leftover sitting in no-man’s-land was looking better and better, even without taking the several thousand dollar price savings into consideration.

Well, of course I bought it.  And gas mileage be damned, lol.

And actually it is not that bad. If you believe the manufacturer’s ratings – and I take them with several grains of salt – this car is supposed to deliver “up to 21 city, and 33 highway.”  Which means that the kind of mixed driving that I typically do, is probably something like 25 overall. Shave 5 mpg off that for “creative license” and reality is probably more like 20 mpg combined. Which is better than 15-16 but what’s more important is that it can use regular gasoline. The difference between Regular and Premium here is usually about 60 cents per gallon.  And that 30-ish mpg on the highway turns out to be due to the engine cutting down to only 3 cylinders at cruising speed; the best I’ve ever gotten in my Lexus under those conditions was 22. Thus I will be saving money on fuel… though not as much as with a putt-putt, errrr, I mean hybrid. 😉

So as this tale comes to a close, I will be picking up my new car tomorrow. It will be sad to say goodbye to my Lexus, but she’s served me well and we’ve had a good run together. Now we’ll see if my new ride will be able to last at least as long. 🙂