November of 2017 was a weird time for me. I’d been daily-driving my 1987 4Runner for about 10 months, three of which it didn’t run. It was fun and ridiculous and impractical. I miss it deeply. But a otherwise benign near-death experience with Turbo in the car forced me to adjust my perspective and I sold the 4Runner two days later with the intent to get something safe and practical.
Sorry in advance for the lack of photos. This is an all-text post, and it’s a little lengthy. I only had one photo of the Subaru and it wasn’t worth pulling off my Instagram. The fact that I only took one photo of the car should be telling.
I test-drove nothing. I was between buying a 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon ($14,500, about $200/mo in payments) or leasing a 2018 Subaru for about the same monthly cost. The Acura was difficult to find, and I preferred that the Subaru had AWD (safer, and reasonable for an upcoming trip to Colorado in the winter). I had recently sold my Mazdaspeed3, complained constantly about both that and my 4Runner, so Holly was going to be (rightly) pissed if I got another performance car. The solution felt easy, and I leased a car for the first time. It was a simple way to get a car quickly, and, in Holly’s words, to keep me from swapping out my cars once a year. More on that later.
I settled on the Subaru out of convenience. What a mistake. In retrospect, large purchases probably shouldn’t be predicated on convenience. This Subaru was the first car I’ve owned that I had absolutely no passion for. Even 16-year-old me was enamored by his automatic Toyota Celica. But the Subaru was literally just a car. Four wheels. Transportation. Cheap, fuel efficient, boring. Comfortable without being cushy. Utilitarian without being capable. But that’s not to say it was a bad purchase. It was exactly what I needed at the time. So now that it’s been gone for about two weeks, what can I take away from this experience?
Things I Learned From Leasing
I lie to myself, and probably my insurance, about how much I drive. I drive a shit ton. I put 20,000 miles on this car in the first year. For reference, I was supposed to be doing half that per year. Every 1,000 miles over-driven was a $100 penalty at turn in, so I was already looking at a minimum $1,000 upon return. Shit.
Not owning a car feels incredible. I treated this poor Crosstrek like it was a time trial in Forza 5 everywhere I went. I drove through downtown Austin like it was a rally stage; flat-out with slight lifts in the corners to compensate for the immense body roll. And I felt absolutely no remorse about it. It was under a bumper-to-bumper warranty and the rest of that car would be someone else’s problem at some point. In the interim I just had to not crash it. I felt absolved of any sort of responsibility. It was freeing.
You shouldn’t lease a car under $40,000. Actually, you shouldn’t lease a car at all. After looking at the objective finances of leasing a car, I should have bought the responsible, used Acura and moved on with my life. People typically opt to lease cars because they don’t want to deal with maintenance, or depreciation, and they want a new car every three years. However, I feel strongly that wanting to have a brand-new car is absolute nonsense, especially in the economical segment. Why on earth would you ever need a brand new Honda Civic, a car that only sees moderate changes every few years?
Let’s unpack this a little bit with an old adage. New cars depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot. That’s true. However, the depreciation curve is most steep for luxury cars, which is why people choose to lease, but it is not linear. Most luxury cars depreciate 20-25% within the first two years of ownership, but then depreciate at a much lower rate for the next five. That means that you could buy a two-year -ld BMW 340i, which is almost identical to a new model, skip the brunt of the depreciation, and then still have car under warranty for another two years. And it will depreciate marginally, at a lower rate than the money you ‘saved’ by leasing a new one, theoretically. You should only buy a brand new car if you don’t care about money at all, and you should only lease a brand new car if you can afford to buy that same car brand new as well. Which is a position you put yourself in by not caring about money.
Subaru is growing too quickly for their leasing structure. I was able to do what ‘should have been impossible,’ (finance director’s words, not mine) and turn in my lease early. For no cost. I did put cash down when I leased to cover the taxes and a small amount more, but Subaru has grown at such an incredible rate over the past five years and managed to maintain their quality metrics, that the cars are worth more on the open market than expected. Because of this, my dealer was incentivized to take the car back from me and sell it as a CPO model fifteen months early. Which is bonkers. It means that my Crosstrek barely depreciated at all after I took ownership of it, way overdrove it, spilled shit on the seats, and then begged them to take it back. It also meant that I didn’t have to pay any of the standard leasing fees in the contract, there was no turn-in procedure, and no hoops to jump through. Subaru was happy enough to buy this car that they waived the right to all the dumb intermediary stuff. Frankly, I don’t care if I took a bath on it or could have gotten more by selling it privately. I don’t even know if that’s something I could have done.
So, if you’re on the fence about leasing, don’t do it. Buy a pre-owned car. I could talk about this forever. And probably buy a Subaru, because their resale value is astronomical.
Actually Driving My Subaru Crosstrek
Nobody cares about this. I’m just going to make it some bullet points.
- As I previously alluded, this thing had the worst body roll of any car I’ve ever driven. It made me reflect fondly on my Toyota Avalon.
- It was also the slowest car I’ve ever driven. Just stupidly, absurdly slow. I was frequently mashing the gas pedal just to get up to speed on Texas highways.
- The CVT was… fine. I didn’t notice it a lot of the time, which I assume was the goal. It had paddle shifters, which was monumentally stupid, but for 99% of drivers it shouldn’t make a difference. It did make a weird noise, though, and it would have made no sense in a performance car.
- Its ground clearance was insane. The over-eager sales guy (I was buying this car regardless and couldn’t be less interested in the facts he was telling me, which is some takeaway sales knowledge for me to internalize) told me it had a higher ground clearance than a new Tahoe, which reeked of bullshit. But I could not scrape the undercarriage of this car if I tried. It was unbelievable. Truly the most impressive thing about this car.
- The suspension was soft enough that I could take most speed bumps at 40-45mph. It made my neighborhood commute to work surprisingly pleasant. So that one was kind of a positive and a negative.
- It fills up quickly with dog hair. This is more a Turbo dynamic, I guess.
- Its infotainment system was absolute garbage. I had a Premium model, which got me a 6″ LCD screen that was somehow non-capacitive like a 2002 smartphone. So in addition to being difficult to press the buttons, it lagged 60% of the time and sometimes plugging in a phone for Carplay would crash the whole system.
- In an odd contrast, its backup camera was incredible. It was clear, crisp, did not lag, and the guiding lines turning with the wheel made it one of the best systems I’ve ever used.
That was probably too many bullet points about such an uninspiring car. Those were all the worst things about it, but here’s the honest truth: it was fantastic to drive (wait for it), maneuver, and park downtown. And since I work downtown, I spend a lot of time there. It was the perfect length, width, and height to feel safe and comfortable while driving, small enough to jump across lanes and park anywhere with minimal clearance, but tall enough that it didn’t feel undersized on the road.
I think it taught me a lot about the utility of a normal, practical car; something I’d been out of touch on for a long time. It was the right purchase at the time, and most consumers probably would have kept it through the lease, bought it out at the end, and driven it for another 150k miles. The exercise of owning it was valuable, but I’m glad I was able to escape, especially now that I’m in a different financial situation and have an opportunity to move upmarket a bit. More on that later.
Actually, as a side note, it will be interesting to watch whether these cars remain reliable post-100k miles. Since Subaru’s big resurgence, they’ve had some serious quality control issues past that point that buyers don’t seem to be thinking about. That could easily affect their resale value when most 2014+ cars start hitting that point and my last point about leasing might become moot.
So, I regret leasing it, I got very lucky that I was able to ditch it, but it was the right car at the right time with some garbage quirks, and I will never lease another car. And I still miss my 4Runner, but I’m excited for what comes next. I guess Holly was right, it took me 16 months, not a year. More on that shortly.
Rewarding anyone that made it all the way to the bottom of this picture-less post with a photo of Turbo yawning in the Subaru.