Chris Edwards, 24
Kansas City, Missouri
Job: Insurance sales
Commute: Less than 30 miles round trip each day
What he wants: A practical crossover to pair with the family fuel-sipper
Budget: $27,000 to $30,000
Chris Edwards needs a new car to fit his new life.
Within the past year, the 24-year-old from Missouri has gotten married, landed a new job, moved halfway across the country and into a new home. Even though he's only owned his Honda Fit for two years, it made sense that he'd also want a new car.
The Fit excelled at providing excellent fuel economy during his travels through traffic-snarled Atlanta. But when he moved to Kansas City a few months ago, he started thinking about trading it in for an all-wheel drive vehicle that could better handle winter weather.
A new ride became even more of a priority when the newlyweds moved into a new home and needed a car with more cargo capacity for buying household supplies and furniture. Kids are still a few years into the future, but he and his wife own three pets.
Growing up in central Missouri, his parents were Toyota drivers, owning everything from the Lexus 300 to Highlander. His then-girlfriend and now-wife brought a Honda Civic into their relationship, and he liked his Fit. He cares about his cars, but is unimpressed with flashy factors.
"Do I care about diesel engines and five-speed manual transmissions? I could care less," Edwards said. "I'm a car guy, but don't go for what most critics and car guys go for. The big things that move the bar for me are reliability, fuel economy and good packaging."
Heading into the market, he had already narrowed his search to a crossover vehicle that provided exceptional reliability. Fuel economy remained a priority, but the Civic remains in the family, so that gives them wiggle room to find something that maybe isn't as fuel efficient.
Edwards also eliminated the new Toyota RAV4. "It just seemed kind of plain to us," he said. "You know, there wasn't anything wrong with it, but it didn't excite us either."
That left three intriguing choices:
Possible no-brainer: 2013 Honda CR-V
Base price: $28,795
Fuel economy: 22 city/30 highway
Why it's a good choice for Edwards: In short, it provides the practicality that he's looking for in a vehicle, adds more style than the vanilla-looking RAV4 and preserves his relationship with Honda, a brand he likes.
With the EX-L trim, Edwards could get the all-wheel drive capability he's looking for within his posted price range.
The CR-V has a four-cylinder engine that helps provide pretty good, though not great, gas mileage. The rear seats have a folding feature that will make things easy when Edwards wants to use the extra cargo space. The CR-V is competitively priced in its segment, and does everything pretty well.
Another solid option: 2014 Mazda CX-5
Base price: $23.845
Fuel economy: 25 city/31 highway
Why it's a good choice for Edwards: The CX-5 has been a critical darling since its arrival for model year 2013. It's a great-looking vehicle that, in its base trim level, is the most fuel-efficient crossover on the market.
Edwards may prefer to sacrifice some of that efficiency for a sport trim with all-wheel drive capability, but at $23,161, it's going to be an option that helps him and his wife purchase a car significantly under their budget.
The car's SkyActiv engine technology helps it produce that class-leading fuel efficiency. It's cabin is spacious. If there's one knock against it, many buyers wish it had a little more power.
A sleeper: 2013 Subaru Forester
Base price: $21,295 to $29,995
Invoice: $18,452 to $21,253
Fuel economy: 21 city/27 highway
Why it's a good choice for Edwards: He's looking for a tough, all-wheel drive vehicle and Subaru has built a reputation on making tough, all-wheel drive vehicles.
The Forester provides comparable cargo room to the CR-V and, with a revamped model coming in a few months, Edwards might be able to swing a good deal on the outgoing '13 model.
The continuous variable transmission has been revamped and is significantly improved in the '14 models, and there's three more inches of space for backseat passengers, which could come in handy when the Edwards family starts thinking about expanding in the years ahead.
How he made his decision: Edwards and his wife test-drove the three crossovers. The first one they eliminated was the CX-5. The reason was a common one that prospective Mazda buyers have ultimately have chosen other cars – it felt underpowered. Mazda has boosted the horsepower on its '14 models, but still not enough for this buyer.
"The handling was great, but the acceleration, it didn't meet our expectations," Edwards said. "If we're going to get a vehicle that's slow, it's going to be the Honda over the Mazda."
Left with two options, Edwards and his wife found themselves surprised at how much they liked the Forester. They loved the sporty feel of the car and loved how it handled.
Two factors, however, conspired against the vehicle.
They didn't like the car's interior. Indeed, the plain inside has been a common complaint from critics – and one we found that was only marginally addressed in the upcoming model. Edwards also had a poor experience at the Subaru dealership near his home in Kansas City.
Contrast that to the excellent dealership service he received at his local Honda dealership, and that was a clincher. He went with the car that had been the odds-on favorite all along.
He purchased the EX-L trim level CR-V, one that came with a leather interior, dual-zone climate controls and all-wheel drive. The design of the rear taillights was an added bonus. His loyalty to Honda was a factor in the decision, and he expects that loyalty to be repaid with a vehicle that remains reliable and low-maintenance for years.
"None of the cars we drove were bad vehicles, we liked all of them," Edwards said. "But I think the CR-V is going to give our family everything we need, whether it's a long trip where we take advantage of the capacity and as we expand our family. I think it will suit us really well for a long time."
If you'd like some help narrowing down your car shopping list, email Pete Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org