Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In Which We (Finally) Buy a Car

I've mentioned a couple of times that we were shopping for a replacement for our 2007 Prius, and promised to write up some thoughts on our car hunt.

Our Car and Commute Strategy

First, some background on our cars and what I call our car strategy. We have two cars: One "small" car that we use primarily for around town and short out of town trips (1 week or less), and one "large" car that we use for longer car trips (if we're not flying to the starting point and renting a car). We prioritize fuel efficiency in both, but particularly in the small car. For the large car, we also think about luggage space and the ability to hold my husband's bike in the back without taking off a wheel. When weather and schedules allow it, he takes his bike in to work one day each week, leaves the car and bikes home, then bikes back to work the next morning. He has a safe bike route if he goes through one of our urban canyons. The distance is a bit too far for him to want to ride to work and back in one day, but he enjoys the split day biking schedule. It works best if he can leave his bike locked in the car on the day he drives it in... hence the requirement to be able to fit the bike in.

I do not have a safe bike route to work. Neither of us has a reasonable public transit option to work right now, although that might change if Mr. Snarky is still at the same work place when our new trolley extension opens. My work location is unlikely to ever have good public transit options, but I do get to work from home once a week.

Right now, our two cars are a 2007 Prius and a 2010 Mazda 5. Both are showing signs of nearing the end of their lifespan. The Prius' main battery is likely to fail in the next couple of years, and enough other little things are going wrong that we decided to it is time to replace the car. The Mazda 5, meanwhile, has never been quite right since it was T-boned in an accident when it was only a year or two old. It was repaired, but we think the frame is not quite aligned, because we've had to replace things like the engine mounts more often than we should. We've just done one more "big" repair that our mechanic thinks should last at least three years. We don't plan to do another. (The engine runs great, and we otherwise really like the car - it was just bad luck about the accident, and the fact that the repair wasn't quite right wasn't apparent until more than 5 years later, so we're just going to let it go and replace it a little earlier than we might otherwise.)

Given that we know we'll be replacing both cars within the next five years, we decided that we'd look at cars that could potentially replace either of our two cars in the long run - with the caveat that whatever we bought now had to be able to make the trip to Arizona and get gas mileage as good as or better than our current Prius while doing it. We usually get about 40 - 45 miles per gallon on the drive to Arizona. (I get about 38 miles per gallon in my usual around town driving. The Mazda 5 gets 20-25 miles per gallon.)

Our Car Search Parameters

We want to replace the Prius with something that gets better gas mileage. In fact, we want the best fuel efficiency/least environmental impact possible given our other parameters. We live in a state with a relatively clean energy mix, so we decided to look at plug in hybrids and electric cars. Here are our other parameters:
  • At least one of our two cars must be able to fit Mr. Snarky's bike in the back, without taking the wheel off
  • At least one, and ideally both, of our two cars must be able to make it to Phoenix and have the cargo space for our luggage for a week
  • At least one, and ideally both, of our two cars should be able to make our daily commute on battery
    • Treat my commute as ~30 miles round trip
    • Treat Mr. Snarky's commute as ~20 miles round trip
    • Only Mr. Snarky has electric car charging stations at work, but I drive farther so I'll get the most fuel efficient car.
  • Both cars must be able to handle a commute plus a trip to Petunia's art class round trip without refueling. Treat this as adding 15 miles to the commute.
  • Both cars should be able to drive to LA without refueling (~150 miles)
  • It would be nice if at least one of our two cars could transport at least 5 people
We have a preference for ending up with one plug in hybrid and one all electric car once we replace both cars, but the timing of our replacement (needing to replace the Prius first) means that we also considered the option of ending up with two plug in hybrids.

Our Long List

I found a useful comparison of available plug in hybrids and another one of electric cars. Using these lists and our parameters, I created a long list of possibilities. I decided I would only consider plug in hybrids that could go at least 20 miles in electric mode when fully charged, and we only considered electric cars that had a range of over 200 miles. Then Mr. Snarky and I each did some research and compared notes, which led to some cars being ruled out very early. In those cases, I've noted why.
  • Plug in hybrids:
    • Prius Prime
    • Honda Clarity
    • Chevy Volt - ruled out because 2019 is the last year these are being made and that bothers Mr. Snarky for reasons I don't agree with but decided weren't worth arguing about.
    • Chrysler Pacifica - ruled out because Mr. Snarky refuses to drive a minivan, despite my argument that the Mazda 5 is a minivan. SIGH.
    • Ford Fusion
    • Hyundai Ioniq
    • Hyundai Sonata - ruled out on trunk space and because if we're getting a Hyundai, I prefer a hatchback (my first three cars have all been hatchbacks and I am sentimental)
    • Kia Niro
    • Kia Optima - ruled out on trunk space and because if we're getting a Kia, the Niro is a better fit for us
    • Subaru Crosstrek - added to list despite a lackluster 17 mile all electric range because Mr. Snarky likes Subarus (his first car was an Outback and he is sentimental) but then quickly ruled out because it is not actually available yet
    • Mitsubishi Outlander
  • Electric cars:
    • Nissan Leaf S Plus
    • Chevy Bolt
    • Hyundai Kona - ruled out because Mr. Snarky thinks they are too ugly
    • Tesla Model 3
We test drove every plug in hybrid on our list, and none of the electric cars. That is because once we did some research on the availability of fast charging stations, we decided that only the Tesla could meet our preference for a small call that could make the trip to Arizona and you can't test drive Teslas. The halfway point between San Diego and Phoenix is Yuma, Arizona. We stop there on most trips between home and my parents' house, and there are in fact some general level 2 charging stations there (shout out to the Chargehub site for making it easy to look these things up!) but to make long road trips possible, what you really need are the level 3 stations (also called "fast charge"), and there just aren't enough of those around yet on the routes we care about to make any electric car except the Tesla feasible.

The Tesla supercharger network, though, is quite good and after spending some time on their map (and having personally seen their stations in Yuma and Gila Bend), we were convinced that we could in fact drive the Tesla to Arizona, no problem. There are superchargers in El Centro, Yuma, and Gila Bend. The only problem is that the location of the supercharger in the Phoenix area is not at all close to my parents' house. However, we found DC2 chargers within walking distance to my parents' house and decided we could leave the Tesla in contention.

The Test Drives

We took advantage of the fact that both of our kids were away for spring break and test drove a bunch of cars. We also ate at a lot of restaurants they would never tolerate, but that's a different post.

Here are our short impressions of all the cars we drove:
  • Prius Prime - Nice. Drives like our current Prius, really. We test drove it twice and really liked it. The only downside is that the back seat only seats two. There is a console between the two back seats which our kids would love but would preclude every carrying five people.
  • Honda Clarity - Also really nice, but Mr. Snarky has an irrational hatred of the rear wheels "covers" that nod at the original Insight design. Lots of cool features, though, and it has a great electric range.
  • Ford Fusion - Really nice to drive, heaps of cabin room, but almost no trunk space. If you want a plug in hybrid and need to transport multiple basketball players with no luggage, this is the car for you.
  • Hyundai Ioniq - I expected to love it (hatchback! A normal back seat!) but we didn't like how it behaved when you accelerated hard in all-electric mode. It had a slight but noticeable lag between tromping on the accelerator and actually accelerating. We have a lot of short freeway on ramps in the older parts of town both here and in LA, and I thought I would not like this behavior in that situation.
  • Kia Niro - We really liked this car! Roomy, with excellent cargo space. The only downside was the rear visibility was not great. However, I remember the adjustment when I went from an Integra (great rear visibility) to a Prius (not so great rear visibility) and it was not really a problem, so that didn't rule the car out.
  • Mitsubishi Outlander - Mr. Snarky loved this car and it is his current front runner for an eventual Mazda 5 replacement. I didn't like its fuel efficiency outside of its the electric range, though - it is a heavy SUV, and it only gets 25 mpg in hybrid mode. That is fine for a Mazda 5 replacement but if we buy it now, we'd be without a fuel efficient car for the drive to Arizona.
The Decision

After the Ioniq test drive disappointed me, the Prius Prime became our front runner. I thought we'd eventually end up buying the Prius - we both liked it and I was the only one bothered by the rear seat situation. But then, we went and drove the Clarity and the Outlander to finish out our research, and we discovered how much Mr. Snarky liked the Outlander. As we discussed the Outlander, I uttered these fateful words: "If the Outlander really is your top choice for an eventual Mazda 5 replacement, we might as well buy a Tesla now and just drive the Mazda 5 for any trip the Tesla can't handle."

A little light went on in Mr. Snarky's eyes when I said that, and before I knew it, we were deep in Tesla research and watching videos about how much stuff you can cram into the Model 3 storage spaces.

The more he researched the Tesla, the more he loved it. I am less excited by all the technology, but will admit that it looks like a really nice car, and I am impressed by its safety test results. My last concern was about charging it when we were actually at my parents' house (and not just driving there), and the discovery of the DC2 charging stations within walking distance convinced me we could make this work. 

And so, yesterday we pushed the final button on the Tesla website and confirmed our order. We'll have our Model 3 in a couple of weeks.

I would not have predicted this outcome at the start of our research. If I could have predicted it, I could have saved us a lot of test driving time! But I also have come to know how Mr. Snarky makes this sort of decision, and I know that the research and the test drives were essential. I would have been happy with either the Prius Prime or the Kia Niro, too. In fact, if Mr. Snarky would have considered the Kia Niro a Mazda 5 replacement, we'd have bought that now and waited to buy an electric car in a few years. But once he drove the Outlander, he decided the Kia Niro could replace the Prius, but not the Mazda 5. I wanted to end up with one electric car enough to push a bit past my preferred car price... and the deal was done.

I'll report back in later about how we like the Model 3!


  1. We are not in the market for a Tesla, but we do need to replace our cars (Subaru Foresters; one is 2002, the other is 2003). I'm sharing this post with Mr. Sandwich, because as always your process is interesting and well-described!

  2. Hahaha, those Teslas sure are beautiful. I've seen more in town than I've seen other clarities (so far I've only seen 2 Clarities in the wild out here other than our own), even though we're at least an hour and a half away from a Tesla dealership.

    I'll be looking forward to hearing about the Tesla!

  3. I test drove a Niro today and it had that acceleration jag that you were talking about with the Ioniq. I am so confused now!

    I tried the Honda Insight today as well and liked it enough to ask for a walk-away price.

    (We WANTED to try a Hyundai Accent and Ioniq yesterday, but the guy just wanted to talk to us instead of letting us test drive so we left and went to Honda instead.)

    1. To be honest, it makes more sense for the Niro to have the same lag as the Ioniq, because I think they use the same hybrid drive. Perhaps the difference we saw was due to a different test drive route or just that the Niro was a different style car so felt different overall.


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