My wife and I are looking at new cars, or perhaps even slightly used ones.
Our range is as small as the Honda Civic and as big as the Suburu Forrester SUV.
Price: While lower is better, our price maximum hovers around $25,000.
Reliability: Toyota and Honda lead the pack in reliability. Based solely on the reliability factor, I've discounted buying any US car company vehicles.
Economy: Fuel efficient is better. While my wife wants an automatic, I'm all for the more efficient manual transmission. Manual cars usually rate higher on reliability too.
Size: Bigger is better, we are a family.
Perks: It's nice to have base models with AC, cruise, a storage area for an ipod, heated seats, etc.
Comfort/Ride: Not a big deal for me, but something my wife is adamant about, thus her desire for an automatic.
Incentives: There are murmurs of various government incentives to boost the car industry. While I've got negative opinions on whether the government should actually do this, I wouldn't complain of having a few thousand bucks knocked off a car I was buying.
Other smaller factors are: Asthetic appeal, accident avoidance, acceleration, owner costs, possible built in Canada/America incentives; and financing options.
With these considerations, I bought a one month membership on the site consumerreports.org It cost six or seven dollars. I think I have to cancel it because it automatically renews. For another fifty dollars, you can ask for the exact dealer costs on four models. The following four are what we currently are considering asking about:
Honda Civic: The first car I ever owned, and later, the first car my wife and I bought together were Civics. Fuel efficient, affordable, top marks in reliability and familiarity are what the Civic has going for it. While the downsides are size and perks. Civic's base models are just that, very basic, and we'll have to get some upgrades which will push the price upwards. Civics are a good prospect for government incentives, with SI models built in Canada, and other models built in the US.
Honda Accord: The Accord scores high marks in reliability and the size is definitely better than the Civic. The price is pushing our maximum, although we can always bargain. Fuel efficiency, while not the super Civic, is good. One worry I have with the Accord is a big drop off in ratings between the Manual and Automatic transmissions. Manual is definitely the way to go for this car. While not built in Canada, they are built in Ohio, and most probably with some Canadian parts.
Nissan Altima: The Altima's upsides are that it has a good basic options plan and they offer zero percent financing for three years. A price question mark is that I don't know how low they'll go with the financing option vs cash outright. They are the sleekest looking car of the ones we are looking at and score top marks in comfort. Reliability, while historically good, is a little less certain than Hondas. The price is pushing our limits too, with the quoted total price from the dealer being around 29K, although we'd ideally bargain down below our maximum. Altima's are built in Japan, so potential government incentives may not apply.
Subaru Forrester: When I think of Subaru's, I think of sturdy vehicles that can go offroad - basically, a base model rally vehicle.The Forrester is the highest overall rated SUV in its class (small SUV) according to Consumer Reports, and though it says small, it feels bigger than the CRV or Rav4. They tend to have the best base options plan of the bunch, with cruise, heated seats, AC, and a cool hidden area to connect an ipod. It's the biggest vehicle we're looking at. For all those great perks, the downsides are, a big vehicle means less fuel efficiency. Another factor is potential resale value, which could be seriously downgraded if we have another oil price surge. Reliability is said to be good, although again, it's not a Honda or a Toyota. While I dream of a Land Cruiser, my pocketbook says Forrester. I believe it's built in Japan, thus might be exempt from potential gov't incentives.
Cars still on the radar, but not quite on the list...
Toyota Camry and Corolla: The Camry ratings are a little lower than expected. Reliability doesn't get top marks, like one would expect, and for everything it has, the Accord is just a little better. The Corolla stacks up similarly as not quite the Honda Civic. Still, they're worth watching for potential Canadian-made government incentives, particularly the Canadian made Corollas.
Honda CRV: While rated very higly and getting top marks in reliability, my wife finds them uncomfortable. My problem with the CRV is it doesn't hit me as a real SUV ala something I can take offroad and have fun with. While I wouldn't necessarily go rallying if we bought a Forrester, it's nice to have some offroad faith in a vehicle.
Volkswagen Jetta: The Turbo diesel really appeals to me, and the Jetta price is in our range. The downsides are reliability is tough to determine on the updated model, and I'm under the impression that replacement parts are costly for VWs. This could be a stereotype, but it's a factor in my decision, just like the stereotype of American cars being junkers has made me discount them. The big draw for a VW is that my journey was done in an old VW Beetle, the Beach Buggy, and it therefore has a lot of nostalgic value. Though the sporty Golf would maximize this feeling, however the car we will eventually buy is more for my wife than for me. Instead of buying a dub right now, a dream I'll hold onto is to one day fly down to Mexico, buy an old VW Beetle, and drive it back to Canada.
Other factors at play here are: I'm expecting to hear an overdue job offer any day now; The potential government incentives may never materialize; Is the recent stock market rally a blip in the downward trend or the start of a bullish recovery?; Whether an unbelievable deal on a lightly used car drops onto my lap (and I still swear that I won't buy from the big three). And finally, who will give me the closest price point to the actual dealer cost of a vehicle.
Then there's always the possibility of an about turn by my wife to buy a cheaper, smaller, used vehicle in the 10k range to tie us over until we are more settled...