Are cars really more expensive than they used to be?

001-2014-mazda3-sedan The other day, I saw a dealer listing a 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring for nearly $30,000. $30,000!?! I remember when it was possible to get into a new BMW 3 Series for that kind of money not too long ago. Now, we’re talking about a compact hatchback from a company that once spewed the chintzy Mazda 121 from its depths. It got me thinking: Are cars really that much more expensive than they used to be? Will I soon be living in a world of $35,000 Ford Focii and Chevrolet Cruzes with leatherette seats and 16-inch wheels if inflation keeps going at this rate? What you may be thinking is “Well, that there Mazda probably had leather, active cruise control, and a head-up display!” At the end of the day, though, it’s still a car that has a back seat designed for at-the-knee amputees and the Lolly Pop Guild. Definitely not at the same time, though. To put things into perspective, a Honda Civic EX cost $17,630 with a four-speed automatic transmission back in 2000. Now, you can’t even get the top-trim Civic with anything but an auto. Back in the day, though, this thing was loaded with everything but leather and navi – because those weren’t yet available. The car measured 175.1 inches from stem to stern, with a 67.1-inch width and a 103.2-inch wheelbase. Today, most “compact” cars dwarf that, but a similarly sized 2014 Kia Rio sedan is 172 inches long, 67.7 inches wide, and has a 101-inch wheelbase. While those stats appear smaller on-paper, the Civic had but 11.9 cubic feet in its trunk; the Rio has 13.7 cubes. The Civic had an interior volume of 82.5 cubic feet; the Rio has 88. The Rio also has more horsepower – 138 vs. 127 – and better fuel economy: 27/37 vs. 28/35. Last of all, the cars cost about the same. Fourteen years after the fact, the newer car is quieter, more sophisticated, and has more features. It’s also far less likely to be stolen. Sad but true. You’re going to be giving up all of that sweet-sounding VTEC goodness, the excellent double-wishbone suspension, and any semblance of steering feel for that price, but it’ll come with the we-still-don’t-trust-Korean-cars luxury of a 10-year warranty. And there’s something to be said for that. A lot, actually. So have cars gotten more expensive? Yes and no. If you want something with soft-touch plastics and a feeling of solidity, you may be searching hard for anything under $20,000. If you’re looking for size, value, and a new-car warranty, I argue nay. You’re just going to have to drive a car that that may never be steeped in lore of both quality and fun for the money. If you want both, you’re going to have to pay for it.

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