MILLENNIAL'S PERSPECTIVE ON CARS AND CONVENIENCE
I can recall reading an article on "Road&Track" about how new cars used to be in the past. Economy cars in particular because they could be bought new - with little to no features for convenience - by a high school student. The car highlighted in the article was a Mazda 323. The small economy hatchback could be bought with a manual transmission and nothing else for a fraction of what its counterpart would cost now. I fully appreciate the advance of technology in modern cars, added features and levels of convenience help make the drive that much better. But what happened to the cheap-as-dirt economy car?
I'd consider myself to be a little spoiled when it comes to first cars. It was nothing special, and something I've mentioned before in articles and comments, but my 2008 VW Jetta SE was special to me and had some pretty nice features as well. Leatherette seats, heated side mirrors, satellite radio, full winter heat package - meaning heated seats for drive and co-pilot - and a moon roof. As far as first cars go, not too bad. What also stood out was the outstanding quality of materials. Almost everything within reach was soft-touch and the interior was laid out perfectly. Simple, sophisticated German design at its best.
Unfortunately my time with the beloved Jetta came to an end thanks to the winter of New England. One insurance claim later, I now find myself in a 2012 Ford Fiesta. The world of the Fiesta is very different. No soft-touch materials, no leatherette, no heated seats and no moon roof. Rough plastic, cloth bucket seats and a 5-speed manual transmission are all I have. While a serious downgrade in comfort, the Fiesta seems a little more honest about what it really is.
The economy car is meant to be something that would get you from A to B reliably and save you some money at the pump. Light, simple and in some instances a blast to drive. That's the basic ideology of what they were meant to represent. My Jetta broke the mold a little by having more features normally reserved for bigger and more expensive cars. The Fiesta on the other hand, knows what it is and wears it as a badge of pride. You don't get any frills or special treatment, its there to get you where you need to go and that's about it. The Fiesta just to happens to be outrageous fun when pushed to the tenth tenth.
So now we find ourselves in 2019. More and more economy cars are evolving. They're becoming the luxurious aristocrats they seemed to mock years ago. Take the Mazda 3 as an example. Just two generations ago, the 3's interior was nothing special. Cloth seats for most trims and loads of hard plastics for the dash. Still a blast to drive and very good at being efficient daily drivers, the Mazda 3 was a representative of the much loved econo-box.
Now, Mazda has spoiled us with their latest generation. Soft-touch materials all along the dash and all other touch-points and comfortable, supportive seats. The level of technology available with the new 3 borders on autonomy. Radars, backup cameras, convenience buttons adorning the steering wheel and controls for everything from the satellite radio to the traction control. This is what the entry level economy car has turned into. Again, I fully support the development of technology in cars and making them more comfortable and convenient, but does anyone miss the honest, bare-bones econo-box?
I've never really known small cars that were worth less than $10,000 in my life time. Maybe the Mitsubishi Mirage, but little else in the states can be had for less than a down payment on for a house. We've come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s. Things have gotten a lot better, we have more comfortable cars that can still give the same rush as older, lighter and more under powered cars of yesteryear. But it leaves those of us who can't afford a house, who have college debts to worry about and a very competitive job market at a loss.
A new car is a long way off for me. I've accepted that. I do plan on getting another Volkswagen at some point, because I can't let my VW sweatshirt go to waste. But what have we traded with the development and refinement of the "cheap" economy car. You can either lock yourself into another loan or turn to the used market. This is something car manufacturers should consider. Maybe keep your niceties and give us a taste of what our parents had in their youth.