Car Talk

My wife and I have 2003 Toyota Avalons with 90,000 miles on them. The cars have given us dependable transportation for 10 years. They still run nicely and show few signs of self-destructing. They get lousy gas mileage (12-15 mpg) and are a little too big for empty nesters. We drive mostly around the neighborhood or to downtown Chicago. Seldom do we drive more than 120 miles in a day.

2003 Toyota Avalon

We are both a bit tired of our old comfortable Avalons, but the idea of spending a lot of money on a new car irritates us. We regard cars as useful modes of transportation. They do not have to be “the ultimate driving machine” as BMW touts, but these cars are really boring to us after 10 years.

A couple of cars do actually intrigue me. I love the Tesla “S” car, which is all-electric and drives magnificently, according to the car mags. But the car is a lot of money to spend, and I can hardly justify the cost on gas savings. I also like the Toyota Prius plug-in. With my driving, I probably would fill up once a quarter. I know that driving 5-7000 miles a year does not argue for an electric, but I like the idea of an electric car and I’ve loved driving a quiet Prius every time I’ve had the chance.

I pose the question to you folks who know so much more about cars than I do: Should we keep our two old grandma cars and drive them until they drop? Or should we keep one or none and splurge on something sexier? Is there a real safe car out there like a Volvo or Subaru that we should consider? I want a car, not a truck or SUV, I think. And I want a new car if I buy one. I do not want to spend a fortune, but I’ll listen to any idea.

Please steer me in the right direction.

Question: Is buying “American” irrelevant in today’s auto world?

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57 thoughts on “Car Talk

  1. Mark Rollinsom

    Hi Lloyd
    LOVE my VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI.
    I’ve had it 2 years, 80k miles on it, 34/42 mpg and its a blast to drive!
    Cost 25k and has been very reliable.
    Just my 2 cents.
    BTW, love your column.

    Mark Rollinson

  2. Fred VanderVoord

    Interesting not one american car mentioned. Based on your limiteed view I’d say keep your old one until it drops.

  3. Paul Rosner

    “We regard cars as useful modes of transportation”, what a shame!
    Cars can be so much fun to drive, with the right car, treat yourself!
    Without any long drawn out conversations about how much U.S mfg defines ‘American car’, only one REAL U.S. car maker is Ford, Alan Mulally you’re my hero!
    Still satisfied after 30 years of buying sexy Ford cars/trucks, try a hot 6-banger Mustang, sporty Focus ST or euro styled Fusion that all get over 30mpg!

  4. Lee Holovnia

    Ford has some excellent models that look great, get terrific mileage and perform superbly… built without our tax dollars!

  5. David Garland

    I have been driving 50K a year for over 20 years, gone through a lot of cars. AWD Dodge Charger was the most comfortable and safe “go anywhere – any weather” car I have driven. It’s also not too bad on the eyes, wallet or gas.

  6. Bruskie

    Didn’t you pen an article just before Christmas about a huge corporation giving an American inventor and manufacturer the shaft by allegedly semi-stealing his idea and going to a big brand name with a China manufacturer to make almost the same tool? In that article you stated that you lost the sale of a machine because of this! Does it matter Lloyd? Call me old school. My daddy did indeed teach me to buy American and it matters very much.
    Full disclosure: My wife works at an auto assembly plant and she builds the Dodge Dart. I’m sure that doesn’t interest Lloyd Graff at all!

  7. Bob Lindquist

    Any economist would tell you to keep those cars. They’re good for at least double that mileage. The cost of repairs and maintenance will be minimal compared to the initial cost and depreciation of a new car. Your gas mileage sucks, but you don’t drive enough for that to impact your overal cost much. But if you’re just asking us if you should buy American, many foreign cars have assembly plants in the US. Many US cars get assembled outside the US. I would simply prefer to see your money put into the US economy. I have to agree that those Avalons are both boring to drive, and boring to look at. I drive 7 miles to my shop daily. My wife drives 5 miles to her workplace. I drive an 09 Pontiac G8GT, 98 Corvette, and a pro-street 450hp 78 Monte Carlo. My wife, an 05 Acura TL. If gas mileage is a concern, we use the Acura. The Monte reminds me of just how crappy the 70s cars were……

  8. Bob Cardoza

    Hello Lloyd,
    by the way, the 2013 Avalon is gorgeous! I have leased four 2012 / 2013 Nissans, 2 Frontiers and 2 Altimas. Wanting my family in safe and reliable cars, this was not by choice, but more necessity. I have been rebuilding my credit over the last few years and Nissan worked with me more than any other going above and beyond. Our youngest is off to college 592 miles away from us, I wanted her safe in one of the trucks. We can visit her on one tank of gas with the Altima. We average 32-38 miles per gallon on the highway and can’t get over the fact that I can drive that far on one tank. The Altima also has a CVT transmission which provides by far the smoothest drive I have ever felt. Can’t feel it shift into any gear. However, once these leases are over and my credit is back to normal, I will be buying Fords. Very well built, very reliable and not a dime of taxpayer money to keep running the company. They have many new models pushing 40+ mpg now. They had a great earnings report yesterday and I believe they are preparing to hire another 2,200 employees. So, in conclusion, I can highly recommend the newly designed 2013 Altima and strongly recommend a test drive and if not, you can’t go wrong with FORD. Maybe the newly designed Fusion Hybrid? Step up and get out of those older cars and treat yourself. Remember, Life is a journey, enjoy the ride!

  9. STEVE

    Hey Lloyd,
    Im 40yrs old and i’m heading into my “mid life” crisis years! so, in my opinion you should
    get that “sexy” new car! Stimulate the economy! Feel good driving around Chicago!
    If you are working hard and earning a good living for your family, it doesn’t hurt to enjoy that income. You can either enjoy looking at your large bank account or enjoy something tangible that you’ve earned! Remember, you can’t take all that Dough with you when your gone! Enjoy a bit of it. Get the Tesla. it’s a game changer!

  10. Jeffro

    Greetings Lloyd, I understand your dilemma. The Tesla is an interesting car but the reality is it’s cost prohibitive. I agree with the comments towards FOMOCO as I also own three of their products. You mentioned a Subaru, I’ll suggest a “legacy 3.6R” considering the area you live. All wheel drive for inclement weather, decent power and very comfortable to ride in. No it’s not American brand but it is made here in the states. We own a 2011 Legacy without regret and I look forward to driving for any reason! It’s practical, fun to drive and doesn’t cost an arm and leg to own. Good luck!

  11. arpad

    The response, from back in the 1980’s when “real Americans buy American” was making the rounds, was “real Americans buy what they want”.

    You’ve got no responsibility to GM or Ford or Chrysler to buy their products if they don’t meet with your approval. It may be a UAW member’s definition of patriotism to buy products that pay their wages but you can damned well bet that’s not what was on the minds of the guys slogging ashore on D-Day.

    As for the Tesla S, keep in mind that it and all electrics, are attractive mainly due to the halo of enviro-nobility surrounding them. Electrics don’t do anything better then an internal combustion-powered car and do several things worse so if you take away the moral superiority they confer they have nothing to offer.

    If, as I believe, the fad for showing off your enviro-creds is dissipating so will the attraction of short-ranged, over-priced electric cars. No sales? No company. That also means an end to the ridiculous subsidies necessary to move them off the dealer’s lots and to pay for the research necessary to make electric cars competitive with gas cars even to the pathetic extent the currently are. What happens to that “S” when Elon Musk either loses interest or throws in the towel?

  12. Dick Johnson

    Good question…it is my recommendation that you go to your local Ford dealer and look at 3 cars, Focus, Fusion, and C-Max. These cars are fun, good looking, and get good mileage. I drove a Focus some years ago in Ireland and found the manual transmission fun to drive, the suspension tight, and the trunk large. Americans are used to big cars so I was surprised how roomy and pleasant the car was to drive. A friend that worked at Ford suggested I wait for the version of the Focus that is currently on the market. He explained that it was more true to the European model since the American product planners were not allowed to extensively make negative changes such as softening the ride. If the Focus is not big enough due to your experience with the Avalon, try the Fusion. If you really want to experience a hybrid, try the C-Max. I live in Detroit and my company sells to all of the automotive companies, but have no special ties to Ford. I’m just a fan of Ford and appreciate their roots in the area.

  13. Danny

    I have always owned american cars and trucks. Everyone can like what they want and buy what they want to drive, but for me i stick with GM. I have owned 16 of them (still have 3). They have always been dependable, never left me anywhere, had great gas mileage, and low cost of maintenance.

    I realize that many people believe GM and Chrysler are company’s that are only afloat due to the government bail out. My opinion is that the same government doing the bailouts also allows Unions to call all the shots of the wages and benefits. shouldn’t that be the company’s call. there should be no negotiations, because possibly maybe the company’s couldn’t afford to give everyone raises at certain times but the union said they had to. And for these company’s having to pay health insurance etc. of retiree’s was a terrible idea, what company can afford that. America would be a worse place if when the car unions strike, the company just closes the doors like Hostess did.

  14. big jim

    who cares about gas milage, your spending 25k and are worried about 4 dollar gas.come on, think about this. Spend the money somewhere else. You can’t see the car from your bedroom

  15. Doug Kenyon

    We have had a Chevy Volt for a year and a half. WE LOVE THIS CAR. I am a car guy, and this car just keeps on amazing me. NONE of the problems the media (for some reason they hate this car) have been experienced. It has great acceleration and will go way more than the speed limits. People will follow us to ask us how we like the car. My wife drives to work 40 miles (60 cents of electricity) and for 6 months plugged in at work and drove home 40 miles without using any gas! She had to stop plugging in at work because her coworkers at the hospital complained that she was getting benefits that they were not, even though we offered to pay double the cost of the electricity. Regardless of that, the car is the future and at least deserves a look.

  16. Jryder

    We had the same generation Avalon a few years back. very smooth and reliable but boring. Getting another car depends on whether you are a car guy or not and to what degree. Some would swear you should keep them because all they are good for is transportation. To others, their car is a hobby and they may have a sports car as a second or third vehicle. They read car magazines religiously and enjoy maintaining and repairing them. They do not have a boat, fish or play a lot of golf so the total cost washes.

    As for poo pooing electric cars. I feel that is myopic. I would not own one but I appreciate the engineering and concern of future resources. There have been numerous mechanical developments since the industrial age and many have been failures but look at where we are now with all the successes. Harnessing and storage of electric power has been the key to global development.

  17. Josh Weaver

    No mention of the Volt Lloyd? That’s rather disappointing. My mother drives a Volt and she is absolutely in love with the car. She has a 45 minute drive to work and until some uppity women in her office complained of unfair treatment she was able to charge her car during her 8 hour work day and used no gas at all. Even now that she only drives on electric one way she uses so little gas it’s ridiculous. I’ve never heard her say a bad word about the car and having driven it myself, it’s quite a fun little ride. For some reason the American media seems hell bent on destroying the image of this vehicle. All the stories about fire were completely blown out of proportion, the circumstances that caused them aren’t reproducible under any normal ownership conditions. The Volt is a great piece of American engineering regardless of what the media has to say. If you have the money for a Tesla, I’m sure that’s a great car too but the cost of a Volt is far more justifiable.

  18. Doug

    My 2012 Chevy Volt may not save the environment and definitely ruffles some political feathers, but all I know is it is fun to drive and I’m averaging 245 mpg, plus about a $1 per day to charge it. It’s best feature is being able to drive past gas stations for a couple thousand miles if you want, while on a longer trip it can burn gas too. Even if you don’t want to buy one, I would recommend taking a test drive with the car in “sport” mode. Acceleration is remarkable. It is on the small side inside, but perfect for this empty nester.

  19. Fred Harris

    I would think that this far into a bad economy that everyone would have enough sense to buy American made (American company) cars. Ford makes some good cars. (No Bailout!)
    Lets try and keep the $ in America and get manufacturing back into this country. We are on the edge of becoming dependent on other nations. Is that what we really want?
    You have to look at the whole picture. BUY AMERICAN!!!!!

  20. John Henry

    First, whatever car you buy, check to see if it comes with a spare tire. Many 2013 cars have none. Not even a compact spare. Nothing, zip, nada.

    Having said that, I have owned Mitsubishis, Nissans and now a Hyundai Elantra. The Elantra is newer so not so many miles but all the other cars were barely broken in at 100,000 miles. Since my used cars tend to stay in the family, I can track their milage. My brother in law drove a 1985 Subaru that I sold him in 1989 with over 100,000 on the clock. He drove it daily to work in the city for almost 20 years. (It was so crappy looking it was theft proof) It had over 300,000 on the clock when the clock broke. He drove it another 10 years after that.

    Yes, buy American if you can. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, VW are all made in America and are American cars.

    Buy American if you can but do not feel that you are under any obligation to. Chrysler and GM, in a just world, would have been bankrupt years ago. They have been playing catchup with everyone else for 30 years and just can’t do it. Screw ’em.

    John Henry

  21. Jack Uberax

    My advice would be to buy the Prius, but not the plug in version. Go for the original, Hybrid model. When you plug in to recharge the plug-in version, you are calling for the generation of energy at some remote location. With the hybrid, you generate your own electricity whenever you brake, coast downgrade, etc. My steering is electrically powered, also. I have owned my Prius for over four years and realize well over 40 MPG, had no mechanical nor electrical problems, and feel that I am helping the environment.

  22. Dan K

    You have no idea what boring is……I have been driving VW Diesels since 1985.
    At least I’m getting mid 40’s for mileage…….really 12-15MPG in those Avalons?
    That really sucks….lousy mileage AND boring.

    Buy a Prius and an old MG… the MG on sunny summer days for some fun and head turning. People everywhere can’t help but wave and smile at folks in their small British sports cars. And you may be surprised that they can be bought fairly cheap and are reasonable cost wise to maintain. Plus some qualify for ‘classic’ insurance at ~$75/ year.

  23. Steve M

    As a long-time “car guy”, I don’t consider a Tesla, Volt, or Prius to be a real car but more along the lines of a kitchen applicance such as a microwave. A bought a 1958 Ford Ranchero a couple of years ago to recapture the days of my youth when American cars dominated the roads and each brand had a distinct persona. I could tell the sound of Buick nailhead V-8 or Ford flathead V-8 from a mile away. Of course cars of that era were nowhere as safe and dependable as today’s versions but they sure had personality. Personally, I will not buy a Japanese car until we are paid for the costs we incurred fighting WW II in the Pacific. Be practical. Keep the Avalons. They will probably last for another 100k miles and they are the perfect, boring, old person’s vehicle.

  24. chip T

    As a Detroit home grown boy, i just purchased a Chevrolet 2013 Malibu ecco. The car is a hybrid. No plug in however it gets 40 mpg, and has all the bells and whistles. The electronics in the car are as good as any Mercedes or BMW ,in fact superior. Gm has the best electronic /nav/sereo set up. The car is sharpe. I know your thinking “MALABU” however take a look in person , and great value.

  25. dave

    As a toolmaker and former mechanic, my personal preference is my nice 1970 Mercedes 220 D 4 speed. It does not have a lot of power, but gets 30 mpg highway or city. If you want to impact the environment the least, use up what you got, or buy good used and use that up. These cars are already made, requiring no new steel, plastic or paint production.

    In addition, the electrics have a huge environmental impact while making, replacing and disposing of batteries, a fact no one talks about. Electric cars are less efficient because of the power line losses getting the electric power from the coal plant to your house. Typically 50% disappears in the transmission lines.

    My in-laws have a Honda Fit that they love for around town. If buying new, I would probably buy a VW TDi. Even though diesel fuel is a bit more, these cars are efficient enough your cost per mile is good.

  26. Scott @ GenSwiss

    The Prius (and most hybrids) is the one of the biggest farces ever played on the American People.

    If you think you’re saving the environment by driving it, do some research. The carbon footprint required to manufacture ONE car exceeds the manufacture and usable lifetime footprint of an H2 Hummer. True Story.

    Yes, the car is “green” while the end-user owns it and yes, emits low emissions while being driven, and yes, gets good gas mileage…BUT The reason to buy a Prius is if you’re selfish. The only one to reap the benefit of the “cleanliness” of the car is the owner through lower gas expense.

    I could rant all day on here about it but I need to get some work done.
    I’ll let you do some reading yourself. Here is one of many articles disbanding the myth that Hybrids are “green” vehicles.

    My recommendation: 2013 Ford Fusion – Best thing to come out of Ford in 20 years in my opinion.

  27. Diesel Dude

    I still have cramps in my face from smiling all summer long in the driver’s seat of a 2012 BOSS 302 Mustang. My T-shirt says it all with a picture of a Smart car on the front that reads “You save the Environment” and a reply on back with a picture of the Mustang that reads “I’ll save my dignity”.
    Just like bob said… life is a journey, enjoy the ride ….. easy to do behind a high reving
    V-8 and 6 speed. BTW, 17 MPG City and 24 MPG on the highway if I can keep my foot out of it.

  28. Bob Mizek

    Buy a used Maserati. Thanks to the poor economy the used prices have plummeted and you deserve to have a little fun in life. That’s what I did and I smile every time I drive it.

  29. Ronnie S

    I find it sad that someone whose livelyhood is primarily dependent on American manufacturing, does not even mention an American car manufacturer when discussing the possible makes of vehicles they might purchase. “Buy American” definitely matters! Every American needs to do so whenever possible.

  30. David Katz

    I tend to think that the point of assembly affects our economy and jobs more than where the company is headquartered or anything else. I almost bought a Ford Focus until I found it was assembled in Mexico. I bought an Indiana assembled Subaru Legacy instead. More foreign headquartered companies are building plants here for many reasons. Unless you have esoteric list of conditions for your car, you should be able to find a great car made here. Do a search for “list of cars assembled in America”. Although the spirit for “buying American” has been declining for some time, it still makes economic sense. Boy, would I love to find good machine tools made here.

  31. Matt


    In repsone to your question, you should buy what you want. Your Toyota most likely has alot more life left in it, but if you are tired of it and have the means, replace it. Different people view cars in different manners. It sounds like you view yours as utilitairian, and will probably be happiest if you keep in-line with that sentiment.

    In response to other posters, three things. First, some of you must have selective memory. Sure Ford didn’t directly take “bailout” money, but they were on Capitol Hill begging just the same. Then they got lucky when Congress went thru and saved GM, Chrysler, and in-turn the US automotive supply base, and immediately threw thier fellow cohorts under the bus for cheap ad blitzes. Yeah, great company. Second, if I buy a GM car and subsequently GM spends thier profits building new plants in China and Mexico (which is exactly what they do), is that really more “American” than buying from Toyota who does alot of development here in the USA? Come on, wake up and smell what you’re buying. Third, GM, Ford, and Chrysler all made thier bed with the Union when times were good. Now, they regret some of those business decisions. But, don’t forget, those were thier decisions. Everybody wants to bail on a bad deal, but don’t blame the Union for making better business decisions that the Big-Three. Blame the idiotic managment who made mega-money for decades building cheap, inferior products. Do you think these guys with their multi-million dollars salaries really care about the long-term viability of a company. Nope.

  32. Joe Dvorak

    Go for the Tesla S.. .That car is Beautiful! .
    ATTENTION to Fred VanderVoord… The Tesla is made in California.
    With your “limiteed view” you should probably stay in your cave. Spell check wouldn’t hurt either.

  33. Josh Weaver

    I’d also like to point out that buying electric or hybrid vehicles can be less about the environmental costs and more about ending our dependence on the middle east and it’s stupid endless conflicts.

  34. Scott @ GenSwiss

    Josh, you’re trading one conflict for another. Every heard of blood diamonds? Now we have blood batteries…

    The cobalt in your Chevy Volt’s batteries was probably mined by children in the DRC and the lithium probably came from a place that used to be a rain forest which is now a strip mine.

    Lloyd, please do your research and don’t be another lemming consumer. Someone as internet savvy as you has no excuse…

  35. Eric

    As they say. “It’s cheaper to keep her!” But if you are deadset on buying a new car at least challenge yourself and and look at brands and car models that you would have never considered 10 years ago when you bought your Avalon. The world has changed and some car companies that made great cars 10 years ago aren’t as good now and car companies that made junk 10 years ago are now making some of the best cars on the market. Get out of you comfort zone and test drive many different models and then buy what you want. Please don’t just go to one automakers lot and buy the same day. As far as reliable and MPG. Pretty much everyone is making good reliable fuel efficient cars now a days so that shouldn’t be as much of a concern as it would have been 10 years ago.

  36. Derek

    My V8 convertible get 26mph highway. Get you a fun car with a 6-speed. You will enjoy it, and the desire for these cars used is still high so selling it is not that hard if you go with a performance model. Cars like Monte Carlo SS’s, however, don’t hold the same number of potential buyers as say, a Camaro SS for Mustang GT.

  37. Russ

    For you, a car is an appliance so if it works, why replace it unless you’re bored looking over the same dash? Personally, I think you should cultivate a greater appreciation of them by attending the Detroit, Geneva, Paris, Bejing, or LA autoshows. For others, cars are a passion (or at least a sustained affair). I am one who would own 10 cars if I could for various applications. There are some great products out of Detroit today, and there are real product driven reasons to buy American. The Ford Fusion is consistently a Consumer Reports topic pick, and is at the top of all the safety testing.
    The UAW nothwithstanding, however, real Americans buy what they want; just ask Walmart. If you can’t get what you want from one person, you look elswhere. You probably won’t be able to buy a domestically manufactured stationwagon in the US in a year when GM moves to the next generation of the Cadillac CTS,currently the only US badged wagon available today. Until the new German based Regal and the new Ford Fusion, you couldn’t buy a US badged midsized sedan with a stick shift other than a base model CTS, only econo boxes and sports cars like the Mustang or Corvette.
    The argument to buy American raises questions such as whether in a global economy,creating or preserving a meaningful job in Germany or Korea is less significant than doing so in the United States. Folks argue that most Hondas and Toyotas sold in the US are made here, but that really means “assembled” here, albeit with many US sourced parts. Until late, most engineering, ER&D, and similar activities are conducted elsewhere, however. By some estimates, there are 40 jobs involved before an assembly worker attaches the first part. The Ford Fusion may be assembled in Mexico, but the folks who designed it, engineered it, and sell it live down the street from me and use my legal services. I am tempted to support them before I support the German autoworker but, damn, there’s nothing made here that makes my heart flutter like an M-5 BMW or an E-65 AMG Benz.
    Signed, Conflicted

  38. Charlie Tuna

    Everyone keeps bashing Lloyd for not buying an American car. There isn’t ANY car that is 100% made in America. Do you know what vehicle has the highest percentage of American parts and Labor? The Toyota Corolla at 70%. Thats right, more American parts and labor go into Toyota and Subaru cars than any other manufacturers. By all means, buy American, but know what you’re buying. Based on some of the comments, some of you must still be running your shops off a steam engine and a line shaft?

  39. Rick

    If the cars are still reliable and comfortable, keep them. I’m of the mindset that once you are inside the car, you don’t see the “sexy” contours, alloy wheels, etc. You see the dashboard, and the road, just like you would inside that surrogate mechanical sex partner a bunch of slick willy advertisers and even slicker sales people talked you into…for a virtual arm and leg!

  40. Derek

    Charlie Tuna is right. My wifes Kia was assembeled in Georgia – along with the body panels, paint, engine, and transmission.

  41. Leo

    Make sure you look at American cars at least. They really have improved quite a bit. Also, I’d say if you want a new car, but don’t really *need* (meaning tremendous desire, not actual necessity) a new car, look at new cars of the last model year. They give a pretty hefty discount on those, and you are still getting a brand new car with full warranty.

  42. Roger Chen

    Here are my picks:

    If you need room for luggage and stuff:
    Ford C-Max Hybrid or Energi
    VW Sportwagen TDI
    VW Passat TDI
    Honda Accord

    If trunk size is not a concern:
    Ford Fusion Hybrid or Energi
    VW Jetta Hybrid

    They all have great MPG, safer than Prius and won’t break your bank.

  43. brawlerman

    I am 50 and reliving my youth now that I can afford to. On dry days I drive my 72 chevelle 454 with 800 watt stereo. Now that will turn heads and make you young again. The best part is it all American made muscle car

  44. Donald Green

    I always drove Fords until 2005. At that time they had nothing that interested me. I’ve been driving a Subaru Forester Turbo since. I love this car. It handled the cargo and trash (stuffed to the gills) when we were renovating our house. It only gets 24 mpg on the hwy. but that’s at 75 mph., and it’s got power. 140,000 on it so far, and no sign of breakdown. plus it’s fabulous in the New England snow (although truth be told, I never got stuck in my ’67 Mustang either). I may go back to Ford when the Subaru is (or I am) ready. I like what I see in the new models. But Subaru makes some great cars too.

  45. Kevin Hartford

    Lloyd I was in the same predicament last year. I had had SUVs for almost 20 years (Olds & Chevy) and now that I’m in my late 50s my wife & I decided it was time for a car. Our business has an account with the Pittsburgh Area’s largest dealership (16 different brands) so we went shopping there with our eyes set on a Hyundai Genesis. Our friends have one and we liked it very much. After test driving the Genesis they asked if we’d like to look at the Cadillac’s. I said, “No thanks. My Dad drives Cadillac I don’t”. However, my wife wanted to check them out so we did. Wow! First off all if there’s still an “American Car” its Cadillac and the performance was outstanding. In fact, the difference in performance between the Cadillac CTS and the Hyundai Genesis was startling. There was no comparison in steering, handling, acceleration, et al. And the kicker was it was $7K less than the Genesis. So, we traded in my ’07 Chevy Trailblazer, which had 135,000 miles on it for the Cadillac and it’s one of the best car buying decisions we’ve ever made.

    Good luck Lloyd.

  46. William Paff


    We drove a 1998 Camry, similar to your Avalons, until recently when it was totaled by a driver who rear-side-swiped us. We drove this boring, but very reliable car, from 36k through 265k miles.

    My wife and I chose to by a Ford C-max hybrid, which is a new model for the 2013 year. It is much like the Toyota Prius, but made in USA by an American company. Ford assembles it in Wayne MI with 40% US and Canadian parts. We are enjoying it.

    Wm. Paff

  47. Scott Johnson

    I agree with Fred. If you’re not having any issues with your Avalon’s, other than poor gas mileage, I’d keep them. It would take along time to get $25K back in fuel savings buy purchasing a new vehicle that gets better mileage!

  48. James McHenry

    I’m a car enthusiast at heart, my own daily driver a 2004 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, a very sporting little 4-door with round about 180HP and all kinds of trick bits and bobs. Probably not what you’re looking for, though, and that’s fine.

    It sounds a little like you want to downsize, so we’ll look primarily at the compact and subcompact markets. I’d avoid smaller modern Toyotas other than perhaps the Prius line, largely because they’re mostly uninspired, not competitive in the least with other offerings. That being said, if you don’t mind looking like a 24 year old, the Scion xB might be a decent little runabout, with plenty of room. Competitor Honda’s Civic is always a decent fallback, comes in Hybrid and CNG variants as well as the sporting Si, and would also do well, but the previous model was better than the one out now. The Mazda 3 isn’t a bad choice either. I’d actually – and I am somewhat ashamed to say this – stay away from recent Nissan offerings in the lower segment, especially ’12-earlier Sentra and VERY MUCH the…Versa. The new Sentra might be okay, but it might be prudent to wait a year whilst they get the bugs worked out, and Nissan America seems to have this thing for CVTs, anyway. You could look at a Leaf, too, since you’re looking at electrics and hybrids. Mitsubishi’s not even worth mentioning, since you don’t want a sports car, and all they really offer that’s good is the Lancer Evo.

    The Koreans also have fair offerings, but they tend to fall just short of the mark on overall experience. I’d look at the Hyundai Sonata, but that’s about it.

    Out of the European makes, there’s the Fiat 500 and MINI Cooper, both of which are in the smaller segment occupied by the Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta, and both of which are a fair bit pricier – but both makes recently released larger cars, the 500L and Countryman respectively, which you might prefer. The VW Golf is always a decent standby, though recent versions have gotten bigger, you can still get the ridiculously efficient Diesel model, which competes on mileage with the normal Prius. Same story with the Beetle, which underwent a full model change last year and is based on the current Golf. I’ll also include the Dodge Dart as an honorary European – it’s based on an Alfa Romeo chassis with a FIAT engine lineup, and it should be a pretty nice car, if a bit over-the-top in the aggressiveness, as most Dodges are nowadays – in fact, that’s basically the only Chrysler product (other than the SRT Viper, but you’re not in the market for a $100,000 supercar) I’d recommend at the moment, the rest being leftovers from DaimlerChrysler. yuck.

    I’d avoid GM in the small cars segment. Yes, the Cruze and Sonic (not to be confused with any videogame character of the same name) are far better than the cars they replaced, they’re still merely…competitive, merely on par with Hondas, and not really offering a unique experience compared to them. The only thing I might look at (other than sports cars and luxury sports sedans) from GM is the Volt, since you mentioned you had strong interest in the Tesla and Prius. The Volt strikes me as a well thought-out piece of engineering, and I do think it’d be a decent range-extended electric for running in City traffic, not to mention it actually looks halfway special. However…

    There’s Ford. And the Fiesta. And the Focus. These European imports are among best in class when it comes to driving experience. Personally, I’d look at a Focus, and I personally would prefer the manual over the dual-clutch automatic which is the only auto tranny offered on the new Focus. Fact is, this new version is about what the old one was when it first came out in ’01, perhaps being a bit better on the interiors front – a very good, practical, comfortable hatch or sedan, that remains very lively and entertaining due to its suspension setup. and there’s an Electric version of said car as well, if that floats your boat. They are a bit bigger than the previous Focuses – actually, visibly bigger than the old Mk. 1 – but still retain the same basic design that made the original so acclaimed all over Europe. Add to that basically the same fuel mileage despite the increased size, and…well…simply inspired styling, and I think the Focus is a winner.

    In the larger midsize segment, I’d again go with Ford and the Fusion over most of its competitors (being roughly even with the Most American car in America, the Honda Accord.) as it combines the whole package: looks, economy, style, price, and driving entertainment. The Camry is just a power cruiser with rubbish handling, the Accord has quickly become boring, the Altima and Maxima are confused by CVTs, the Malibu is made by GM and uninspired, and the Jetta isn’t as good as the last one was. The only other thing I could think of is the car it shares a platform with – the Mazda 6.

    As a footnote, Me personally in this price/economy range? I’d get the Scion FR-S sports coupe. Mainly because it’s a car you can have fun with and get close to the traction limits without killing yourself…but that’s just me.

    I consider myself something of a Clarksonist, not in the “MORE POWERRRRR” way, but in that I really like to see cars that look and feel like whoever built them and designed them really wanted to.

  49. James McHenry

    Continuing on…

    As for buying “American,” I do think it’s irrelevant. Like I said in the post above, the most important thing I look for in a car is “Passion,” that intangible quality that someone, somewhere, really wanted to make this car for you. It’s easy to find in big, expensive sports cars, but not as easy to find in the lower segment, where the big push is to get as many cars out the door as possible – shame to say, even now. Yet, Ford seems to manage it, be it through their new Aston-Martin-esque design language or engineering like the “control blade” suspension that was so famous in the Focus for making it handle well. And that’s why I like the FR-S (or 86 as it’s known internationally,) so much…the guy in charge of the project REALLY wanted to build a sports car that anyone could enjoy. and did he succeed…

    I find patriots in the automotive world a bit unbearable, especially as right now I own an “import tuner” car built in Alabama. As well, I find that cars built strictly for the U.S. market, no matter the make, tend to be some of the least inspired, least entertaining vehicles on the planet. Case in point: the current Accord. When it shared most of its parts with international versions, it was one of the best “normal” sedans for the enthusiast who needed a reliable, but still fun daily with plenty of room. Now it’s fat, bloated, a shadow of its former self, most of which have a big, heavy V6 over the nose. And it happens to be, by weight and content, the car with the most components built in America. The Japanese/Euro Accord, on the other hand, is sold here as the Acura TSX, a Luxury car. Perhaps there’s a connection there.

    Do Americans really like bad cars? Or do we simply think we have to settle for something wallowy and boring because we can’t afford the dream of something more entertaining? And is it our long, straight highways that are to blame, too? Is it because we demand they make so many that manufacturers have to cut corners? So many questions as to why, when they go to build cars exclusively for us, they’re so uninspired.

  50. Seth Emerson

    Well, 49 responses so far. Looks like you hit a popular topic – without (much) political controversy. I will make an true environmental plea. Keeping the Avalons, a safe car for you two “non-enthusiast” drivers, and your reasonably low-miles per year usage, is the environmentally solid thing to do. Replacing those cars with “Newly-built” cars will create more polution, and use more energy, (unless you really do buy that Volt) than using the Avalons until Noah steps up and takes your licenses away. Many years down the road I hope! If you were driving a much older car, with less safety cred than your Avalon, driving worn-out cars, or driving 30K miles per year, than you should consider replacement. Having just turned 65, and no longer “enjoying” a daily commute, I face the fact that I may have bought the last new car I will ever buy. It is a strange feeling. Good luck in your choice. You have certainly received enough advice!


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