Attention Car Shoppers: Quit Buying What You Know

Here's why we, as car enthusiasts, have a duty to our friends and family to suggest cars that might not be the most familiar.



I recently had trouble sleeping. Those of you out there in readerland probably have various remedies for this problem, such as counting sheep, or taking an Ambien, or choking yourself until you're unconscious. Me, I have an entirely different solution that's far more effective: I read Automotive News. And trust me, nothing will zonk you out like 1,000 words on dealership floorplan strategy.

So I was reading Automotive News last night, and I came across this article that said the Mazda3 isn't selling as well as cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. You may have read this article too, because Travis posted it to today's Morning Shift, but I want the record to reflect that I read it first. Neener neener.

Anyway: although I fell asleep roughly halfway through the article, as planned, what I deduced is that the Mazda3 isn't selling as well as the Civic and Corolla. I primarily discovered this from the title, which read: Mazda3 a Casualty of Civic-Corolla War. Actually, I mostly just chuckled at the title. Can you imagine a war between the Civic and Corolla? Their little four-cylinders humming in anger as they drive off into battle? And then, from over on the ridge, a Mazda3 yells out: "I'm hit!!!!" Maybe this is why I have such weird dreams.

But the point here is that the Mazda3 can't touch the Civic and Corolla when it comes to sales figures. This is bad news for car enthusiasts, because we love the Mazda3. If the compact car world were, say, a trip to the zoo, car enthusiasts would suggest that the Mazda3 is a beautiful moment when the giant panda stands up, looks at the crowd, and waves its furry paw in love and admiration. Whereas the Civic and Corolla are kind of like stepping in gum.

Yes, it's true: the Mazda3 is the real enthusiast's choice in the segment. If you wanted to be a race car driver, but then you couldn't, buying a Mazda3 is basically the same thing, is how I think Mazda3 owners must think about it. I say this because the local Mazda3 crew is very, very proud of their cars, a fact they consistently demonstrate at the local Cars & Coffee by showing up early and taking up an entire row so they can compare "illest" stickers.

The problem seems to be that this enthusiast slant doesn't have a very positive effect on the Mazda3's sales. Apparently, what happens is, people who aren't enthusiasts read all the compact car reviews, and they pore over all the compact car performance data, and they look over all sorts of details numbers on reliability and five-year cost of ownership, and they talk to their friends, and everything tells them the Mazda3 is the right car, and then they buy a Civic anyway.

Except, I don't think that's what happens.

What happens, I think, is that people who buy this type of car know the Civic and Corolla very well, so they quickly set their sights on those two cars and nothing else. From there, they focus on two major factors, namely: 1) How far away is the dealership?, and 2) Is there a good sandwich place near the dealership where we can get lunch afterwards? I am told they also consider exterior color.

The problem, in my estimation, is that millions of people make car decisions this way, factoring in familiarity with the cars, and knowledge of the dealership, and proximity of snack foods. But they shouldn't. Instead, they should wise up and do a little research, because they'll end up better off.

Now, at this point I'm going to blow your mind and suggest that I'm not referring to the Mazda3. Instead, I think that there are actually a number of new compact cars that are better than the Corolla or Civic. For instance: I recently drove a 2014 Kia Forte which cost something like $25,000, and included — this is the truth — a heated steering wheel and a ventilated driver's seat. How cool is that?! A few years ago, this sort of thing was unheard of in the compact car world, unless of course you had a Yugo, where the seat was cooled thanks to floorboard rust and the steering wheel would heat up due to electrical fires.

I've also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the Dodge Dart, which has what I would call the finest infotainment system in the business. I say this because it's roughly the same size as my Apple laptop screen, although it's about fifty times as useful. For example: the Dart's Uconnect infotainment system will display a picture of the exact intersection you're about to go through when it's giving directions. Whereas, on my computer, I still can't figure out how to close Microsoft Word.

Anyway: my point here is that buying what you know doesn't always mean you're buying the best. Of course, we car enthusiasts have always known this – but the Mazda3 article was a stark reminder that we, as car people, need to help out friends and family. If they're looking for a compact car, we should remind them that it doesn't have to be the Civic or Corolla. If they're interested in a midsize sedan, we should remind them that it doesn't have to be the Accord or Camry. And if they need help sleeping, we should remind them that you can get Automotive News for less than six bucks a month.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.