We received an email a few days ago from Dave Britton at McDonald Hyundai (Littleton, CO) saying that they wanted to sell my Sonata to a customer who couldn’t afford a new car. While I never saw it in writing, he specifically mentioned that we could continue the terms of our current lease in a newer Sonata. That sounded cool, so I took the bait, and visited the dealer to check out our options.

Finding a mommy car

While talking to Dave, I mentioned that we were interested in moving to a mommy car so that we could be ready for kids whenever that happens (don’t get too excited, Mom). I realize now that he ran with this topic — we never discussed the Sonata — because he hoped to take advantage of a young, inexperienced car buyer. Unfortunately for him… I’m anything but that.

We talked for a while, and I mentioned that I didn’t think Hyundai had anything in their inventory that would really fit my mommy car requirements. Obviously, safety is number one, but there are many things to consider in a good mommy car:

  • All-wheel drive — Laura hates driving in the snow.
  • Good crash ratings — every dealer says that they’re best in class but I recommend checking out the IIHS ratings.
  • Leather seats — tell me that cleaning up after a kid is easy with cloth seats… nope.
  • Handling — a good way to check this is by looking up the skidpad g rating for the car; the higher the better.
  • Gas mileage — ideally, I was looking to keep the average MPG close to my Sonata’s 29 (my personal average).
  • Space — Laura and I both are concerned about space: she wants it for carting around mommy stuff; I want friends to be comfortable in the back seat.

To me, everything else is gravy. I never expected to find a vehicle (car, SUV, crossover, wagon, etc.) that maximizes all of those requirements. I definitely didn’t think that Hyundai had it. That magical blend of awesomeness does exist, but it’s not a Hyundai.

Testing out the Tucson

Dave suggested the Hyundai Tucson. He explained that it had all-wheel drive as an option, good crash ratings, good handling, good gas mileage and plenty of space. After looking into it, I agreed with him on everything but the gas mileage.

I highly recommend the government’s fuel economy website to get the latest and most accurate MPG available for any car. After doing a bit of research, I found that the Hyundai Tucson didn’t even come close to the Hyundai Sonata in average MPG — no surprise. Even still, I took the Tucson for a spin and felt like it would be a good mommy car. I even had Laura come over to the dealership to try it. It seemed to fit all of her mommy car desires, but I couldn’t get over the MPG. There had to be something else out there that would get closer to the Sonata’s MPG.

2013 Ford Escape

I left the dealership that day planning to do some more research in the evening. I focused on the MPG issue and found a few other cars in its class. I’ve been keeping up with Ford lately — because I like that they didn’t take my tax money — and heard great things about their hybrid technology. I was shocked to see that they removed the hybrid engine from the Escape in the 2013 models. They replaced it with a smaller, more efficient gas engine… but added a turbo charger to it and dubbed it “eco boost.”

I’m sorry; a turbo charger isn’t economic.

Even still, we went to the closest Ford dealer and put it through the paces that evening. Neither of us was impressed: we didn’t like the ride, the console layout, the sticker price, or the gas mileage. Everyone knows that a turbo charged engine only gets the rated MPG if you drive like an old person.

Well, hello, 2013 Mazda CX-5

Luckily, during a 30-minute research session after work, I found the Mazda CX-5. It’s entirely new to the class because it replaced the CX-7, a terribly misguided vehicle with a high price and awful MPG. Everything I saw seemed to praise the new CX-5, so we headed there after the Ford dealership.

I called the dealer on the way to make sure they had the AWD version available for a test drive. They did, but they were about 30-minutes away from closing so I wanted to make it quick. Taylor was great, took us for a drive and then talked numbers with us. We looked at leasing the various models and decided to go with the mid-level touring model. We walked away with some pretty good numbers but wanted to chat with Hyundai again to see what we’d get over there.

The bait and switch

While car shopping, you should always consider any possible incentives including rebates and loyalty discounts. I knew that Hyundai wanted to sell my car so I figured I would get a smoking deal on whatever new car I purchased. I was very, very wrong.

The next day, I ended up back at the Hyundai dealership to talk numbers. I told them I was really looking at the Mazda CX-5 but that I wanted to see where they would go with incentives. After crunching the numbers, they were going to give me $2000 in rebates and $500 in loyalty discounts if I went with the Hyundai Tucson… but the numbers still looked terrible. That’s when Dave mentioned negative equity.

I ❤ Negative Equity

Negative equity is the difference between how much you owe on something and how much that something is actually worth. The numbers get worse when you’re trying to trade a vehicle with a dealer because they always underbid the value to grab more profit from the transaction. In general, a lease is designed to make sure the car stays in the negative equity range until you’re done with the lease… even at lease end, you could still be negative depending on the depreciation of the vehicle.

I was naive with the Sonata’s negative equity; I assumed that Hyundai would forgive it since they asked me to come in and give up my car for another customer. After explaining my frustration with the sales guy — I emphasized that I didn’t need out of my lease — they decided to up the trade-in value of the Sonata to “help me.” Offering help to someone who didn’t ask to break his or her lease is like donating to the IRS; you already owe the money, positioning it as charity makes you look stupid.

Smoke and mirrors

After going back and forth with them for nearly 2 hours, they got me within $400 of being neutral. I still wouldn’t budge. They were just using rebates and loyalty discounts as smoke and mirrors. If they were interested in making a deal, they should’ve increased the trade-in value of the Sonata that they wanted to sell — that’s the only way to eliminate unprovoked negative equity without being sleazy.

If I just waited out the duration of my lease, I wouldn’t have any negative equity and I’d be able to use those “incentives” to discount the actual price of the vehicle. Maybe they thought I was stupid because I took the bait. This experience made me wonder how many other people they were able to manipulate to their advantage. Thankfully, I realized that not everything added up, and I was furious.

Research until your brain hurts

I had a lot of research to do before I would give up: there are 263 new cars for sale in America this year… one of those must fit our requirements and our budget. I didn’t spend too much time deciding what type of vehicle to purchase because I’ve owned or extensively driven everything on the market. That’s why I decided to lease my lackluster Sonata — I wanted to maximize fuel efficiency, minimize my monthly payments and still be comfortable without a long-term commitment. For this buying round, we settled on a small SUV and disqualified the following:

  • Car — I was tired of hitting my head on the roof when I enter the car.
  • Medium or Large SUV — they get terrible gas mileage and have unnecessary space.
  • Crossover — I haven’t seen a sleek crossover and the mileage is always unimpressive.
  • Van or Mini Van — if you buy a minivan, you’ve given up.
  • Truck — I’d take that mythical hybrid diesel truck that got 50+ MPG over anything else.

We also looked at Hybrid technology; I didn’t want to buy a car without getting awesome gas mileage. This savings calculator showed me that it wasn’t the right time for a hybrid. Unless you buy a Lincoln or a Buick — they don’t charge extra for hybrid technology — a brand new hybrid is not cost effective unless you keep it for more than six years (on average). I only found one 2013 hybrid small SUV: the Lexus RX 450h… it starts $17,000 more than the fully loaded Mazda CX-5 and gets the same gas mileage. It’s also intermittently considered a crossover, so I wasn’t interested.

I spent a lot of time researching the Mazda CX-5 and ultimately drooled over this comparison from Car and Driver. They put every coveted vehicle in the small SUV class (under $30,000) to the test, and the Mazda CX-5 came out on top. I know there are many automotive resources out there, but I generally like C&D’s comparison testing.

All of the other comparisons I read had the CX-5 in the top two choices, sometimes 2nd to the Honda CR-V, which is less fuel efficient and more expensive. The Mazda CX-5 makes the CR-V look out dated and gas hungry; it even bested my Sonata’s average MPG. The only other SUV that came close was the new Subaru XV Crosstrek, but it has even less power under the hood… and it’s ugly. With every review, I fell more in love with the CX-5.

Figuring out the “why”

I seriously considered just waiting for my lease to mature. Yes, I was tired of the Sonata (and mad at Hyundai) but was it really worth dealing with the negative equity? Laura didn’t express any distaste for the Tucson but was leaning towards the CX-5. It also didn’t look like the Tucson would give us any substantial financial benefit over the CX-5… so we wanted the Mazda.

Laura and I decided that leasing the CX-5 wasn’t appealing; we could buy it for what I considered a negligible difference in the monthly payments and we’d own it at the end of the term instead of starting over after the lease matures. Since I had done so much research, I knew that no other manufacturer made or was making a car that would make more sense for the two of us. I could hope that the 2014/2015 models had the same price and efficiency or I could just buy the 2013 now… after all, it fit all of our strict requirements.

So how much did the negative equity affect my choice of purchase? Actually, it didn’t make a difference. If I kept the Sonata until the lease matured in 15 months, I would be throwing away 15 months of payments to a car we didn’t want. I was willing to swallow the negative equity… if that meant we had the right car today versus 15 months from now. I’m not getting any younger, and there’s the ever-present discussion of kids, so getting into a vehicle that would help facilitate that seemed like a good idea.

That satisfies the “why,” but we still had to figure out the “what.” Buying the Mazda CX-5 was the right choice, but I had to consider which version to purchase. If I’m going to buy, I like to maximize the residual value by buying the best trim available. We also had leather seats in our initial requirements so the Grand Touring CX-5 was the only satisfactory option. It didn’t hurt that it had a moon roof and a whole bunch of extras. We elected to pass on the tech package: navigation and minor extras… I hate navigation with a passion. Now we just needed to figure out how to make everything work in our favor.

Groove Mazda

We pulled into Groove Mazda and immediately sat down with Chris Chapman, our new sales guy. I wasn’t going to play games, so I asked him to show me leasing numbers on the Grand Touring CX-5 with the 2011 Sonata as a trade-in. Unlike the other Mazda dealer, they had exactly what I wanted on the lot. Obviously, they came back low… lower than I predicted. I explained the original offer and told them that they needed to meet or exceed it to make the sale. We went back and forth a couple more times, and I ultimately had to walk away assuming what I wanted just wasn’t possible.

I still wasn’t willing to give up; the Mazda wouldn’t get out of my head. I also had what I call “Saturday Evening Advantage” — if a dealer is trying to close out the week on a good note, they’ll show greater than normal flexibility. I called the other Mazda shop and told them what we wanted to do so they had a chance to come up with something that worked for us. On the way over, the new car manager of Groove Mazda called me on my cell to let me know that he was sorry I left before he could speak with me. He was working with another customer when we walked out the door and didn’t have a chance to review the terms. He gave me exactly what I wanted and apologized for missing the mark earlier. I thanked him but let him know that I was already near the other Mazda dealer and that I would give them a shot before heading back to Groove. He understood, but called again a couple minutes later to improve their offer a bit. I was more than satisfied with the first call, but the second one made me realize I had to go back. McDonald Mazda wasn’t willing to budge any more (they also didn’t have the car on the lot), so they lost the sale. We drove back to Groove Mazda for the paperwork.

Good vs. evil

Groove Mazda did a great job of getting me into the vehicle I wanted under terms that worked for me. I highly recommend them. Taylor at McDonald Mazda, you were awesome, but your colleagues dumped you on a mountain that was too steep to climb.

I could’ve done without the drama from McDonald Hyundai – their customer service was so gloriously awful that I bought a different brand entirely… props to them. I’ll make sure they end up with a link to this article. I hope that they will reflect on their actions and decide to be less evil in the future. Please stop trying to trick people; it’s seriously bad business.

I’m awesome at math

Here’s the ultimate takeaway from this experience: trying to spin a bad number into a good number doesn’t work with me. I can also read people well and determine the worth of their character. Dave looks like the sleaziest car salesman I’ve ever encountered. At one point, he told me that he created this program to help people buy a slightly used car if they didn’t qualify for a new one. That sounded very humanitarian and too good to be true for one of the most misgiven industries in America.

After running the gauntlet, it appears that Dave was hunting down previous customers to up-sell them into new contracts. Sleazy, Dave… very sleazy. We already had a terrible experience when leasing the Sonata the first time — everything was late, they messed up the paperwork and seemed too busy to be bothered — but this second experience destroyed any possibility of us recommending McDonald Automotive in the future. To their chagrin, I’m also a very active blogger.

I own a sexy Mazda

Let’s face it — the CX-5 is a sexy, full-efficient mommy car that most people haven’t heard of yet. You’re welcome, Internet. Sure, the whole process could’ve gone smoother, but it gave me a topic for the website. Laura and I are happy it’s over. We’re still satisfied with our purchase even after a few days with the vehicle. If anything changes, we’ll let you know.

I should probably mention a few detractors but any normal person wouldn’t consider them deal-breakers. The engine is underpowered: better than the aforementioned Subaru but worse than everything else. I let this slide because it felt good enough during the test drive and gets amazing gas mileage for its class (I’ve verified this over the last few days). It matches my old Sonata’s MPG perfectly.

As the driver, the Bluetooth car phone sounds very tinny and distorted to me but Laura preferred it to the “muffled” sound of the Sonata. Everyone I called said it sounded great. I use the Bluetooth connectivity extensively while I’m on the road, so it will take some time to adapt. The Bluetooth streaming (iPhone music, podcasts, etc.) is perfect and the speakers are wonderful.

Why isn’t there a light in the glove box? I’m taking this thing back!

All jokes aside, Groove Mazda turned a miserable experience into a sale that affects the future of our family. Laura and I want to thank Chris and the rest of the sales team for bringing respect and customer service to a new level; we’ll share the word as often as possible.

Josh Carr
Josh founded eciov in 2008 and has overseen it's evolution into a lifestyle site. He enjoys all things digital, art, music, creativity -- anything that can evoke emotion. If he's not working on this site or at his day job as a UX Engineer, he's out riding his motorcycle or jumping his truck on trails in the mountains.
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