Replacing your beloved car with the right compact sedan

CARSUN05
2017 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel

I bought the used 1995 Mercedes-Benz C280 for my wife in the wake of her second cancer surgery, a purchase that engendered this exchange between her and a colleague:

Wife: “My husband bought it for me after the cancer.”

Colleague: “Well, I had cancer and my husband never bought me a Mercedes-Benz.”

Wife: “Yeah, but you only had it once.”

Anyway, my wife really liked the Benz sedan, which she called her “cancer car.” It was in nice shape, trimmed with handsome walnut veneer and powered by Mercedes’ delightful 2.8-liter inline six. (Inline sixes are inherently smoother than the V-6s that have largely replaced them throughout the industry for packaging reasons.)

While we stopped short of anthropomorphism, we did grow quite fond of the car. When it turned 13, we had a Car Mitzvah for it. (A Jewish friend assured us that Episcopalians could have a Car Mitzvah.) Other reasons to raise a glass on high followed. There was the Sweet 16 party, high school graduation, and, finally, reaching the age where it could legally join in the toasts.

For almost all of its 22 years, the C280 was reliable and inexpensive to maintain. During the 18 years we had it, the repairs amounted to replacing two air-conditioning components, an engine pulley, and a water pump.

But by age 22 and 175,000 miles, it was beginning to show its age. Sure, the engine still purred, and didn’t burn any oil. And the rest of the driveline seemed sound. But little niggling things began to happen. The headliner collapsed, as if breaking camp, and had to be replaced. The veneer on the console began to crack and peel. And I started to worry about the reliability of a car with 175,000 miles on every engine accessory except the water pump. The possibility that it would let my wife sit on a dark road occurred to me.

When deteriorated ignition wiring triggered a small engine fire, I knew it was time. And no, we didn’t conduct a funeral. Instead, we rather unceremoniously sent the Benz off to The Great Used Auto Parts Yard in the Sky.

After the C280 had crossed the River Styx, we needed a replacement. We decided a new, popularly priced compact sedan would be a good choice for her. These cars are modestly priced (they start in the mid- to high teens), have enough interior volume to provide adequate rear seat legroom for grown men, offer decent trunk space, get good gas mileage, and are typically attractive and civil.

By getting the manual gearbox we both prefer, we saved $1,000 and kept the price down to a little over $16,000, including tax and tags. For that under-list amount, we got a quiet, nice-driving, good-looking machine with an attractive interior, a surprisingly large trunk, power mirrors and doors, a tilt/telescopic wheel, a rear camera, and an EPA highway rating of 38 mpg.

And no, I’m not naming the car. I’m not going to urge you to buy Ivanka’s clothes.

There are a number of good compact sedans ranging from the Ford Focus to the Kia Forte. Let’s glance at several of the top sellers:

Chevrolet Cruze ($16,975 MSRP). With global sales of four million since its introduction in 2008, this is Chevy’s bestseller. Handsome, quiet, comfortable, and well-equipped even in base form.

Ford Focus ($16,775). Attractive, nicely outfitted, a good driver, reasonably roomy.

Honda Civic ($18,740).The Civic is America’s best-selling car among individual buyers. It’s also stylish, athletic, and remarkably well-appointed.

Toyota Corolla ($18,500). No nameplate in history has had as many global sales as the Corolla, partly because it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.