Everybody gets a car

Okay, not everybody, just me.  I’ve been driving a 1998 Toyota Corolla for my daily commute since 2002 and from 1994-2002 a Geo Prizm (Corolla by another name) was my primary car, so it’s been a long time in Corolla world.  The car still runs great, but the interior is ever more falling apart (literally, the cloth on the room falls in front of my daughter’s face in the back) in various ways so I decided that after all these years I’d buy another car to last the next 14 or so.

So, you wouldn’t think my minivan would be the key player in this, but it was.  For years I’ve driven the Corolla (120 hp) and a 2000 Maza MPV with a 4-cylinder engine.  Short version: most of my adult life driving underpowered cars.  Then, two summers ago we replaced the MPV with a 2012 Kia Sedona.  We were focused on the great value and not even thinking about power.  But, wow, do we love that 274hp engine.  My thinking was I wanted my daily car to be at least as much fun to drive as my minivan.

I started with the Mazda 3, as Mazdas are known for being sporty and this is a really well-reviewed car.  It was nice, but the 3i, with about 150hp while clearly better than the Corolla, was less peppy than I expected.  So, onto the 3s with a truly amazing engine that gets 184hp (and similar torque) while also averaging 28/39.  Wow.  Great car.  So, why didn’t I buy one?  Honestly, I love technology, but just give me a standard speedometer (that’s a tachometer dominating the instrument display below) rather than a pop-up digital display and so not a fan of what looks like an Ipad stuck on top of the dash.  Also, the better engine in the 3s only comes with all the bells and whistles when I mostly cared about the engine.

2016 Mazda Mazda3: Dashboard

Okay, sure, I could get past this, but thought I’d keep on looking.  Turns out, if you want a compact car with good MPG, and horsepower and torque in the 170-180 range, the only other real option is the Volkswagen Jetta.  It is also great fun to drive and it has a noticeably roomier back seat and trunk than the Mazda.  And here’s the look for the driver:

2016 Volkswagen Jetta: Dashboard

So much better.  And, that unobtrusive touchscreen in the middle perfectly syncs with your Iphone with Apple CarPlay.  Very, very cool.  So, put that all together, and, anyway, more than you wanted to know, but that’s how I ended up here.

Ironically, I ended up getting the SEL which has all the bells and whistles I wasn’t so concerned about, but it comes with the 1.8 turbo engine I love and my first ever sunroof, which I am very excited about.

Also, I tend to get obsessive over major purchases.  One of the reasons I try not to make them too often.  And there’s so much you can read about cars on-line.  Let’s just say dozens of blog posts could have been written in the time I was reading on-line about cars.  So, sorry for your lost posts, but it should be at least another decade before this happens again.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

7 Responses to Everybody gets a car

  1. Mika says:

    Being a Volkswagen Bora owner myself, I must congratulate you for your great decision 🙂

  2. Sarah says:

    OH MY GOD you got a turbo! Let’s race!!!

  3. BlythBros. says:

    Congrats and nice choice. Really liked my 2011 Jetta interior and the new cars seem to be an improvement on that even. No idea how it’s profitable to offer a nice interior in that segment (Mazda3 is similarly nice) but as the consumer I wouldn’t complain.

    Funny how the screen bothered you – my good friend is likely going with the Subaru Impreza partly because he doesn’t like the Mazda3 tacked on screen. It’s tough to integrate it well and keep the rest of the controls in a smart position. The new Alfa Giulia, believe it or not, might have the best compromise.

    Also, you’ll either love or hate the turbo when it comes to MPG. Stay out of boost and it’ll reward you handily, like the 1.6 turbo in my Fiesta does. Get into boost too much and fuel economy will suffer. I really like having the choice. Before mainstream turbo cars came along, you had to go for larger displacement to improve acceleration, and then you’re roped in with lower fuel economy in more load/speed situations.

    Bonus German powertrain engineer advice: don’t worry too much about engine break-in, just do an early oil change (around 500 miles) to clean any debris from the system. After that, make sure to keep to the oil change schedule, and stick to the factory fill oil with the changes. Make sure to stay out of boost and let the car more or less cool down during the last 5 or so minutes of your drive to keep the turbo bearing in good shape.

    • Steve Greene says:

      1) Yeah, I just looked at the Alfa and that is a nice compromise on the screen. Still think I like the Jetta set-up better. The radio (and all the other stuff) is right where I’m used to it :-).
      2) I had a Plymouth Sundance Turbo 1986 waaay back. Massive turbo lag. Love this instant, low-rpm responsiveness of this engine. We’ll just have to see on the mpg.
      3) I thought that turbo cool-down thing was a thing of the past. Not so? Also, I’d never heard that about early oil change. I’ll definitely do that. Thanks!

      • BlythBros. says:

        You can thank the CAFE requirements for that response! And hopefully for better fuel economy.

        And regarding the cool down thing, it’s still a concern just due to the tightly packed engine bays and the much higher underhood temps. When you shut down the engine and oil flow to the turbo stops, the temperature in the turbo bearing housing, when shut down at a hot enough temp, can climb into a region that cause that oil to coke onto the shaft/bearing. If you live in a subdivision that keeps your speeds down on the way to your driveway, you should be set.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Yeah, my usual parking locations at home and elsewhere means a decent cool-down is typical. Thanks.

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