In a previous COAL, I spoke about how the 2014 Kia Soul Plus—that my grandmother bought new and that my sister inherited—succumbed to the Hyundai/Kia 2.0-liter engine defect and threw a rod through its block. This occurred in March 2022, or thereabouts. At the time, it was Little Sister’s only transportation, and she didn’t live close to me. The car was under its original powertrain warranty and Kia had put in place an extended service campaign to replace these engines, but it was still like pulling teeth to get it fixed. I put a lot of the blame for that on the horrible dealerships in the Houston metro. And the dealership had sold all its loaners during the COVID fever, so we would need to rent cars (at insane COVID rental rates) during the three (?!?!?!?!) months the car would be out of service and then submit for reimbursement with Kia America and hope they paid.
Little Sister didn’t have that kind of money, and I did have it, but didn’t want to spend $3,000 or more on rental fees and potentially not be reimbursed. I did have a couple of spare cars (the 2011 Lexus LS 460L AWD and the 2000 BMW 528i 5MT), but neither of those was suitable for someone who needed an uncomplicated automatic-transmission car that got decent fuel economy and that took regular fuel. So, never needing an excuse to go car shopping, that led me to the idea of buying an inexpensive, but reliable, car that my sister could drive while hers was out. After that, she could hold onto it as emergency transportation, or it could go to whoever in the family needed it at the time.
The problem was that COVID pricing had also reared its ugly head at the bottom end of the market. I really, really feel for people shopping in the sub-$10K car range these days. In 2019 and earlier, that used to get you a decent, reliable car. These days…not so much. And it was even worse last year. People who honestly needed cash cars in that price category had essentially gotten their buying power slashed in half. And nowhere was that more apparent than Honda and Toyota, which always command a premium on the used market. I recall someone wanting $12,000 for a 2011 Toyota Corolla with 187,000 miles, and $9,000 for a 2010 Fit with 210,000 miles. Even when I looked outside of those to the less-desirable-but-still-reliable cars, I couldn’t find anything that made sense. Someone wanted $8,500 for a 2010 Ford Fusion SE. Someone else wanted $11,000 for a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 SE. Even a Mitsubishi Lancer I looked at was overpriced.
And that got me thinking: if it’s going to be $12K-$15K for a piece of crap, why not just buy a new car for $30K, with the latest features and a factory warranty?
My mom had been driving her 2012 Sonata Limited 2.4 since mid-2013, when she bought it. That car was still drivable but was worse for wear, a lot of which was due to defects. The driver’s backrest had quit working, as had the satellite radio and the panoramic sunroof. A wiring harness gremlin meant that the right rear taillight socket kept melting and ruining bulbs. The HVAC panel required multiple presses of the same button to get a response. It had also required an engine replacement, due to an entirely different defect, involving metal shavings left in the engine block during the machining process that clogged the oil passages. And, on top of that, it had been in a few accidents. But, as I said, it still worked. So, the idea was to treat Mom to a brand-new car (she’d never had one) and then retire the Sonata to spare-car status.
The question was what to buy. I knew it would be a compact SUV. Mom had come to hate crawling in and out of the Sonata, and I wanted her in something that was more ergonomic. A Hyundai or Kia was out of the question. No one was impressed with how any of the ones in the family had held up after the six-to-ten-year mark (including Dad’s heretofore-unmentioned 2007 Sonata SE V6, which more or less fell apart around the engine and transmission). So, no Tucson and no Sportage, though they did look as cool as ever. The Rogue’s (and Outlander’s) JATCO-sourced CVT and the Cherokee’s general lack of longevity put them on the no-buy list. The Tiguan? Also a “no.” I knew my mom didn’t like boxy cars, so the Terrain and Bronco were out, but their siblings (the Equinox and Escape, respectively) seemed promising…though I was concerned about the longevity of their turbocharged engines. The Forester was too expensive and also too boxy and utilitarian-looking.
And then there was one: the CX-5. I read reports on the CX-5 and found that it was a perfectly reliable vehicle that auto journalists were especially sweet on. Having first been introduced in CY2016 for MY2017, but that gave it a sense of mechanical intimacy and simplicity that other vehicles lacked. It was also easily the prettiest thing in the segment (and still is). Without telling Mom why, I sent her some pictures of it, and she thought it was absolutely gorgeous.
Better still, the CX-5 had been updated for 2022. It included new front and rear fascias with full LED lighting, new wheel designs, a new, wider infotainment system, and newly standard AWD. To my eyes, the updates were an improvement on an already pretty design.
Best of all, Mazda had a glut of inventory and dealers weren’t marking up the CX-5. Indeed, most of them were actually offering discounts off of MSRP.
Mom isn’t too picky on how something drives, so I knew she’d be fine with the base 2.5-liter engine, which is neither especially fast nor especially torquey on the low end, but I was more concerned with the feature set. What I was less sure of was the trim beyond that. Mazda’s latest trim nomenclature makes very little sense, but I zeroed in on the 2.5 S Preferred, which was second-from-base and which came with leather, a sunroof, a power driver’s seat with memory, the full-suite of driving aids (blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, automatic high-beams, rain-sensing wipers), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, keyless access and start, and a power liftgate. Mom liked the Soul Red paint a lot, and I agreed, but then I read the forums and saw how badly it wore. Not only that, but the 17-inch wheels on the 2.5 S Preferred looked too small.
And then I saw the 2.5 S Carbon Edition, which was the next size up. That one came with an exclusive blue-gray Polymetal Gray metallic paint and (usually) a brick-red interior that was slightly darker than the one in my 2021 GX 460 Sport Design. It also had gloss-black appointments, including the 19-inch wheels. I casually texted Mom and she thought that one was even better-looking than the one with the Soul Red. And it was barely more expensive.
Bob Moore Mazda, which was nearest me, didn’t have any Carbon Editions in stock, but Nelson Mazda in Norman (30 minutes away) had three of them. They also had another store in Tulsa, from which they could transfer inventory if I wanted. Nelson Mazda was a no-haggle store that put their best price forward, and that best price was competitive. MSRP on the car, after destination, was somewhere around $31,500, but Nelson Mazda’s out-the-door price was a grand off that. I thought that was a great deal, especially for all the content the car came with. A Toyota or a Honda so equipped would have easily been $36K or more. On top of that, the process was so smooth, just like buying a luxury car. “Which car would you like?” “Would you like these extras?” “Are you paying with cash or financing?” I was impressed.
I got to call Mom and tell her about her new car, with fresh temp tags, that afternoon. To say she was over-the-moon was an understatement. She absolutely loved the pictures. I offered to bring it to her that weekend (she lives in yet another state), but she said that she would let Little Sister drive it for a couple of weeks and then when she went to visit Little Sister in Houston, they could trade (Mom would give Little Sister the Sonata and drive the CX-5 home).
I drove the car for a few days, and then drove it to Houston. It felt a lot less computerized than my X5, but still great. It was quiet, comfortable and easy-to-use. The driving aids were primitive, but that was okay, since the Sonata didn’t have any of that. Overall, it felt old-school to me. Like I said, the current CX-5 dates back to MY2017, and—as far as I can tell—that was a heavy refresh on the old bones, so really, the engineering dates back to the first year for the CX-5, MY2013. But I liked it. It was charming. The only thing that wasn’t especially charming was Mazda’s decision to exclude a touchscreen and force you to use their controller. It’s fine in the car’s base UI, but honestly, CarPlay and Android Auto are annoying without a touchscreen. Mazda has since rectified this by including touchscreens on its newest cars, but restricting their use solely to CarPlay and Android Auto. So those guys are stubborn.
I knew Mom liked factory navigation systems (the Sonata and the Murano that preceded it both had the factory ones) and the Mazda car came with one, but you had to buy the Mazda map SD card to activate it, which was $500 at the dealer…but $40 on Amazon. Best $40 I’ve ever spent, and I installed it before dropping it off in Houston.
A week later, I got a call from Little Sister and Mom. Little Sister tearfully explained that she was driving to her friend’s house, when she hit a pothole and was thrown into a curb. This popped the rear right tire and chipped that wheel, which was fairly visible since it was painted black. After she sent me pictures (and I calmed down), I had her use the insurance to tow it to the local dealer, since that was the only place that had the correct tire in stock. They verified that the wheel and suspension weren’t functionally damaged and that it looked a lot worse than it was because of the concrete dust. After it was cleaned off, it was hardly noticeable. I authorized the new tire installation, and the car was back on the road the next day.
Mom finally got the CX-5 from Little Sister in late April, and immediately fell in love with it. She says it was easy to figure out all the controls and that she gets a lot of compliments, especially about the color combination. She takes reasonable care of her cars but has been especially kind to this one. I believe it currently has 18,000 miles on it, and the only issue is that (as of a week ago), every time she goes through the car wash, the driver-side mirror tilts down on its own. And she said that multiple car washes have exhibited this behavior, touch and touchless. She has an appointment to get that looked at next week at her local Mazda dealer, so we’ll see what that’s all about.
Other than that, it’s been smooth sailing, and I have good reason to believe that it will remain a solid, well-built, reliable and comfortable car for the long haul. It was my pleasure to be able to do this for Mom, and I think she really deserves it for having to put up with my ornery ass all those years.