When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part I


The inevitable has finally happened. For the first time since I began working at Cars.com, I wound up in a position where my wife and I needed to buy a new car. Not too long ago I mentioned the shopping list we had put together for our next purchase, and now I’m going to retell everything that took place in our search for a new car, right up to driving the car off the lot.

Today, I’m going to tackle how we narrowed down the cars that made it to our final shopping list. Unlike most car shoppers, I have the distinct advantage of driving dozens of new cars every year, but the way we came up with our list is pretty much the same as anyone else.

For any car shopper, there are a few things about your needs that you have to determine before searching for a new car. Is it primarily a commute vehicle, a suburban errand-runner, a soccer-team hauler? We needed something with SUV utility — a folding cargo area — for our dog and our travels. That was the No. 1 factor in our entire shopping process. Plus, we’re a couple whose second car changes from week to week as I get test vehicles of all shapes and sizes. If I get stuck one week testing a two-door roadster and we need to pick up something from Home Depot, our own car better fit the bill.

Price was second. We set a hard cap of $30,000. Even though we’re a single-car family and could afford to go higher, in the end this car is my wife’s main transportation and only gets about 8,000 miles a year.

One other factor we decided on was that the new car had to have all- or four-wheel drive. Sure, you can get through winter in Chicago with front-wheel drive, but after four years of driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, popping the SUV into 4WD and plowing out of any parking space was a delight. We can’t go back from there.

With those parameters in mind, here’s the shopping list we came up with. I also plugged these requirements into the Cars.com New Car Recommender, which returned 99 2007 and 2008 models. I whittled it down from that number (it was easy to throw out selections like the too-large and too-thirsty Ford Explorer) to the 10 below.

The crossed-off vehicles didn’t make the final shopping list after they came through the Cars.com test fleet and my wife Courtney was able to check them out for herself. What was left either met our high standards or were vehicles we hadn’t both driven. We also decided to keep an open mind and look again at the Outlander and CR-V. My main gripe with both of those was the cargo configuration. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about my first venture requesting quotes and test drives online.

  • 2007 Acura RDX: This would top the list if it weren’t more than the magical $30K self-enforced ceiling. It could still win if we splurge a little.
  • 2007 Dodge Magnum: Too long — 16 inches longer than our Jeep Grand Cherokee — for the city.
  • Ford Edge: After pricing and driving it, I just don’t like it any better (and for more money) than the CX-7.
  • 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid
  • 2007 Honda CR-V
  • 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2007 Mazda CX-7
  • 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander
  • 2008 Saturn Vue
  • 2007/2008 Subaru Outback
  • 2007 Toyota RAV4: Courtney was uncomfortable driving it.

When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part II
When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part III
When an Auto Writer Buys a Car: Part IV

Car Buying

Managing Editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David