Taking The Hard Road To Buying A New Car

Bozi Tatarevic
by Bozi Tatarevic
taking the hard road to buying a new car

The time has come to replace my Cadillac STS with a newer ride, so I have spent the last couple of weeks narrowing down the potential replacements. I have bought and sold enough vehicles that my evaluation process for resale vehicles is somewhat cut-and-dry, but buying a new personal vehicle seems to bring more questions and answers.

The Cadillac STS came from an auction like many of my previous daily drivers. It was a purchase of opportunity, due to low cost at the time. Profitability trumps emotion for many of my car-buying decisions; I care more about how much it costs to buy and recondition a car — and its subsequent profitability when I sell it — than I care about how it feels.

My new daily driver would be held to a higher standard and feelings now become part of my equation. My primary goal for the new vehicle was to pick something that was fun to drive on my favorite back road, and something that also could be used to learn more competitive driving skills. I also looked at consumables such as brake pads and tires and finally gave a small nod to fuel economy.

I started my car buying quest by setting my budget at $30,000 and looked at new and used cars that were available in my area. On the new side, I found that the Ford Fiesta and Focus ST fell within my range along with the Subaru WRX, which was priced slightly higher than the Ford hatches. On the used side, I pondered a Pontiac G8 GT, a Cadillac CTS-V, along with a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and a BMW 535i.

I found examples of each of these vehicles and threw them into my spreadsheet of cost calculations. The spreadsheet consists of vehicle price, fuel cost and insurance costs, calculated monthly. This gives me a nice round number for the total monthly expense of each vehicle. I also listed the fuel economy and performance specifications to give me another set of data points for comparison.

My affection for LS motors pulled me toward the G8 GT and the CTS-V, but I decided to drop the G8 GT after driving one and seeing how the interior had aged and how low the fuel economy numbers were. The CTS-V was also gone from my list due to high overall monthly cost. The E63 quickly vanished from consideraton once I took a look a consumables and common repairs due to potential air suspension failures and rotors that cost at least $1,200 per set.

The 535i was the only one left standing on the used side. It’s a fun car with the 6-speed manual transmission, but the recent maintenance cost of my aging Cadillac along with my knowledge of repairs on past BMW products quickly took the car out of consideration.

Driving all of the new car candidates was fun, but I dropped the Fiesta ST due to size. The Focus ST and Subaru WRX emerged from the battle as the front runners. On paper, they have very similar specs — aside from their driven wheels. The Focus ST drives like an eager teenager, while the WRX might trick you into thinking that it is naturally aspirated at times due to its fairly level torque curve.

I was set on not having a sunroof/moonroof, but it seemed both manufacturers liked to package them in as soon as you stepped up to any additional options. The WRX base model could be had with a few options, but if you wanted to step up to the Premium level you were forced to get a moonroof in order to have the 18-inch wheels, fog lights and all-weather package. Since none of these options really pulled me in, I decided to look at a base model which put me at an MSRP of around $28,000.

The Focus ST has many choices and I tried all of the options. The seats were the biggest differentiating factors in the packages for me. The base model had comfortable fabric seats that seemed like they would do just as well on long drive as they would on the track. The top-level, ST3 package had full leather Recaro seats that seemed very tight on my wide frame, but might perform better on track if they did not get too slick. The ST2 package seemed to have the best compromise as it had partial leather Recaros which seemed comfortable and snug at the same time. Although the ST2 would force me to get a moonroof in order to get the seats, I liked I decided to look for one anyway. The MSRP for the model can be found in a similar range to the WRX.

The first few steps were easy as I could drop cars off the list due to logical variables, but now it came down to how I felt in each car and that is where my current dilemma puts me. Do I go for the WRX and enjoy the benefits of all-wheel drive while looking at a slightly more spartan interior? Or do I pick the Focus ST with the slightly better interior, but only drives the front wheels? The WRX is also quicker off the line but is only available as a sedan. Although I have another Subaru in my garage and am very familiar with working on and tuning the EJ series engines, the new FA engine is just as unknown to me as the Ecoboost motor in the Ford — so both are on a level playing field there.

The two cars are very similar in some instances, but each one has it own unique driving experience. Should I give the empty spot in my garage to one of the hot-hatch favorites, the all-wheel drive sedan or maybe pick something completely out of the norm?

[Image Credits: Ford, Subaru]

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7 of 71 comments
  • MeJ MeJ on Oct 29, 2015

    I'll throw my hat in the ring here. I haven't driven either of these but here's my breakdown: The worst car I ever owned was a Ford. Never bought another since I was 17 (I'm 46 now). Japanese cars have an incredible and deserved reputation for durability. I would choose the WRX. I also think the Subaru looks cooler. Now...A test. I'm holding two sets of keys... In my right hand is the Ford key... In my left is the Subaru key... Without thinking about it, which key do you instinctively reach for? That's your car.

    • See 4 previous
    • MeJ MeJ on Oct 29, 2015

      @Scoutdude I didn't realize that, but I am in no way a Subaru expert. I guess I was generalizing the dependability of Japanese cars and thinking of Toyota and Honda as the benchmark.

  • Jonnyanalog Jonnyanalog on Oct 30, 2015

    I recently test drove both the FiST and the FoST. Both had the Recaro seats and both were used. I preferred the FoST simply because it offered a better ride and more interior volume and was better at carrying multiple people. Once I get settled into my new area the FoST will probably be the car I end up with. No experience with the WRX but they do seem nice.

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