.. this is not a typical expert car review
This article marks the beginning of my long thought-out adventure to write about my day-to-day research, thoughts, science, my ideas, my questions, and my reviews on something that I used or plan to use or bought or considering to buy. Please check About Me section to learn more about me and my plan here!
With that, here it goes…
Unexpected repairs and maintenance cost were crossing my tolerance level, specifically in the last one year on my once considered bullet-proof Toyota Camry 1996. It started to not make financial sense as well the car started to feel unsafe and unreliable. This is the time when I entered into the adventure to replace my sedan with another car, the adventure that I tried very hard to avoid as with most people I also think the keeping car longer is a way to save- but there is still a limit, I guess.
Things that I did not care in my new car search: Horsepower, Torque, and Seconds to 60mph were things that I really do not care. I know a lot of people do, but it’s not me. I drive Camry that has 125hp very happily and never though that it’s lacking power. I strongly believe that all mid-size sedan cars have more than enough power and torque. So, it’s the last thing to look for when you buy a mid-size sedan. I also wanted to avoid adding extra things/ features to stay in the lower price range (If I buy a new car).
Things that I do care: It’s a long list: Reliability, Great Build Quality, Low Cabin noise, Low Road noise, Higher ride comfort, Bluetooth streaming and Hands-free, Alloy wheels, MPG, Good quality cabin material, It should not be a small car/ specific car that I feel unconventional to use for doing things that any traditional mid-size Sedan can- e.g. Making long trips with 5 people and reasonable cargo, and on top of all, my decision will heavily favor the value- as I am an average guy.
Journey to my replacement car
I looked around as there is a lot changed in the auto industry since I bought my last car and I was not up-to-date. I spent a serious amount of time researching the internet and looking around on the road as I drive to spot cars. I spend around a month doing just this as well debating on two things continuously: (i) Used car vs New car vs Certified Used car, and (ii) Which brand? These debates were constantly playing in my mind until the last decision I made.
Sedan car market is crowded and lots of good alternatives to choose from exist. Choices that I considered in the order of my personal preference when I began the search were: Honda Accord > Mazda 6 > Toyota Camry > anything that may be a good deal on craigslist (e.g. Subaru / Volvo) > Hyundai Sonata. Keep in mind that Hyundai Sonata is last in the list because it was actually not even in my mind until late in my car shopping journey!
- Used cars ($5,000 to $7,000 range) and adventurous car brands (to me)
I was undecided on the first debate (very old vs new vs moderately used cars) until the last minute but was able to filter out brands to narrow my search.
I explored Craigslist first for few adventurous car brands to me- Volvo and Subaru. I looked at old cars, but each had something to worry about (This is obvious because I was looking at very old cars!). These used cars in the price range $5,000 -$7,000 was making me worry too much about many things and I somehow was not preferring to buy these cars new. I excluded these adventurous brands from my search (This can also be because I never owned these brands and it did not give me reliability feeling that I was expecting).
Altogether, I abandoned my idea of buying a very used car- least expensive. After spending that much money, probability of getting lemon car with unknown issues that could cost a lot more were just too high (This can be different if I was buying very used car from someone I know and he has owned that car for a long time).
- Mazda 6
So I next focused on moderately used car (3yr old or ~ 35,000 miles on odometer) as well a new car that I liked on my road exploration- Mazda 6. I did the several test drive on used (As I said before- 3yr/ <35k mile) cars mainly Mazda 6s and Honda Accords. I did not like the interior of used Mazda 6 specifically Red color lighting all over it. I cannot live with it. Also, I was leaning toward new Mazda 6 so used Mazda 6 slipped down on my preference list. I have to admit that I was most attracted to new Mazda 6 for its look. Even though I was thinking of old cars, I sneaked on new Mazda 6s
I did a test drive of new Mazda 6. I really liked the car design- interior and exterior. But it was too noisy and not as smooth a ride. It felt to me that Mazda 6 is targeting audience that prefers the sporty ride and great handling. I like how it handles but could not seat inside for a longer time in higher noise and harsh ride- too uncomfortable for my taste. It was unfortunate for me to filter out Mazda 6 from my list even I liked how it looks and was in love with it until I actually did a test drive.
- Honda Accord
Next, I focused on used Honda Accord. It was my second choice after Mazda 6. I liked the car and how it drives. Reasonably priced 3yr old used Honda Accord was in a price range of $15,000 onwards. With some decent features (Basically excluding the lowest trim- LX models) and lower mile, I spotted few Accords that would cost me $16,500 + TTL. This was the option I was most serious about until I made my last decision.
- Toyota Camry
It was not my preferred choice. I was replacing it and wanted to get non-Toyota if I can. Although Toyota reliability is unquestionable (Also note that I still own 4yr old Toyota Sienna minivan). Few reasons for me not preferring Toyotas are: (i) I dislike the build quality of new Toyota’s- My Sienna included. Toyota is excellent mechanically but bad build quality with cheap feeling materials in it. I did not want to get it unless I do not justify anything else, (ii) Styling on Camry is really bad looking to me, and (iii) I always felt that Toyota has less responsive breaks as whenever I drive any other cars it feels to me that it has better stopping power then my Toyotas. So basically, Toyota Camry was my last best option. I still consider it the best option specifically if you do not want to do a lot of thinking or don’t find any satisfactory car in your research-Just get a Toyota Camry.
- Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
It was an accident. I was browsing the internet for car research and spotted on www.cars.com that Hyundai has (as of writing this article) almost $4,000 rebates on 2015 Hybrid Sonata. I looked at www.truecar.com where I can see and add rebate and incentives that I qualify for in the car price to get the best price quote. It yielded that there are few more offers on the Hyundai and a total discount can be a lot larger. This began everything.
At this point, I started my research on Hyundai Sonata (Hybrid and non-hybrid). Basically all rebates and incentives included, Hybrid base model was around $1,500 higher than non-hybrid sonata trim that I preferred with options. Base Sonata Hybrid (with only carpet and all weather floor mats) was quoted to me for ~$19,000 + TTL.
Driving: Until this point, I had not tested any Hyundai car. I went out and did a test drive on Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Boy, I felt in love. It was very very quiet and comfortable ride, better than Camry. Steering feel was in between Camry and Accord. I call it a best suited for my taste as Toyota is too smooth and Accord is too hard. This was just perfectly balanced feel.
Features: I had all the features that I needed in this base model as standard and some higher end features that I did not care to pay if I had to, but I like it if it’s there as standard features. Standard features that wanted and/ or nice to have were Bluetooth streaming and hands-free, Heated Seats, Back-up camera, Foglights, LED interior lights etc.
Build quality: The car has great build quality. Quality materials used all over it. Cabin feel was luxurious. Cabin plastic and linens were simply of next level. Simple cloth seats (I do prefer it over leather) were of better material and feels just better- Hyundai calls it premium cloth seats for a reason! Overall just great build- better than Toyota Camry and on par with Honda Accord and Mazda 6.
So everything was great until this point but it was still not making it a no brainer until I made following considerations:
Hybrid: This is a next-generation car compared to the traditional cars I was looking- It is a hybrid sedan. It is a sedan and does all that I want from a sedan (It’s not a compromised Hybrid car designed for MPG like Toyota Prius). It gives better MPG although not class leading, It’s still better than non-hybrids specifically in city driving. So basically, I am getting higher end car with the latest technology and better MPG and with all other things and features that I really care about. Since I was getting a next-level car (Hybrid Sedan) for my regular sedan price range, I opt to buy a new car. If it was not hybrid, there are many regular sedans available but of no match here (Therefore, new Honda Accord was of no match here and Hybrid Accord or Hybrid Camry are out of my price range).
Consequences of Hyundai rebates and deals: Rebates and deals (almost $8,000 off the MSRP) made age old debate of hybrid vs non-hybrid break-even point simply invalid in my case. It also made depreciation factor for non-Toyota and Honda invalid. All online website and forums that show 5yr ownership cost accounting depreciation are mostly based on MSRP. They do not stand true if you get a deal off MSRP as I am getting a brand new car already pre-depreciated!
Warranty: Warranty was the best of any car manufacturer offers. It has 5yr/60k new car warranty, 10yr/100k Engine-Transmission warranty as well few other nice warranty. Lifetime battery warranty on Hybrid is simply the best. 10yr/100k warranty on any Hybrid components. This is outstanding warranty coverage that convinced me that I don’t have to worry about reliability in 10yr of ownership. Further, I don’t have to pay extra for it!
Final Calculations: So I am down to used Honda Accord vs New Sonata Hybrid. Even if I find Accord for $16,000+TTL, I would pay nearly ~$1,500 for extended Honda warranty making my car cost at least ~17,500 for 3yr old 35k Standard Accord (I cannot justify buying a car worth ~$16,000 without few years of good warranty on it). Alternatively, I can pay $1,500 more ($19,000+TTL) to get a BRAND NEW Hyundai Sonata Hybrid + A next Generation Car + Hybrid Sedan + Advanced Features + Outstanding warranty coverage. Additionally, I save at the gas station with great city + highway MPG compared to any other traditional sedans (Accord/ Camry/ Mazda 6). This is it. No brainer. I just made a decision to get Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 2015.
Getting the car
The next day morning here is what I did/ happened to me when I was home:
- I shopped online from the comfort of my home (Just like I am placing order on Amazon.com)
- Placed online requests to few dealers
- I got instant phone calls from many dealerships
- I requested them to send me emails with their out the door price with break down as well confirm their ability to make this deal online and deliver my car at my home without me ever stepping out of my home
- Few dealers agree to my last condition as not many would, considering that dealers would have no chance to play game with me as they often do when you visit a dealership physically
- With one nice dealership and sales person, I agreed upon on my sonata exterior and interior color choices they had + options that I want (carpet and all weather floor mats) + their out the door price with complete breakdown + the time when they can deliver my car (That was like Today by 10 pm; Note that this dealership was ~125mile away and in out of the state!).
- I submitted an online credit application to the dealership (Got finance manager's call in 30 minutes with approval and my loan details and rate. Nothing bad – no interest rate jack-up on my loan (It was same as I would get myself outside). Lesson here for me was that if dealership is honest enough in the beginning and is ready to take chances to deliver your car to your home without a cent down, they would be honest enough to not jack-up or add few bucks to spoil everything. I indicated on the phone that I am ok with my loan terms. He inquired if I am interested in any additional warranties. My reply was- you guys (Hyundai) already have the best warranty. I would buy extra warranty perhaps in the 5th yr of my ownership but not now. He did not push – He laughed and said he agree (He had no choice anyway!)
- I got a call from my sale’s contact that car is getting ready and drivers are ready. It will be on the road by 6 pm.
- I got a call from driver at 9.30 pm that she is in the parking lot of my apartment complex with my new car
- We rushed to the parking, looked around a beautiful car. The person had a bunch of papers to sign for me. I started looking through papers very carefully meanwhile my wife and kids did a test drive and feature check on the car. Again, no surprise here. If a dealer takes a time to deliver a car to your home, they would not do bullshit things to spoil everything as practically I can refuse the car until I complete signing my papers. Luckily there was a better surprise. My out the door price was ~$400 lower from agreed upon due to initial higher tax estimates/ state fees. They did not make it up with extra dealer fees but passed on to me. I did not pay a single cent toward down payment as dealer put 100% on my loan and did not ask me anything. I signed things out, gave some tips to drivers and I was done by 10.30 pm. I just did an online purchase and got the same day delivery free! This is it.
And, I just purchased a brand new Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (2015). That’s it. Period. I may write some follow up in future, but this is the start of my journey.