There are no more "bad cars" on the market. Sure, there are clearly "better" or "worse" cars in any given segment, but even the "worst" new 2009 cars aren't truly "bad" (yes, that holds true for the Dodge Caliber too...barely).
So, if there are no more bad cars, how do you decide which one to buy? Put pictures of new vehicles on a wall and grab some darts?
Actually, if you simply wanted to avoid a bad car that would work. But if you're looking to find the best car for you, that's where a site like Edmunds comes in. We get to filter out and identify the "better" cars from the simply mediocre models, and one of the many areas we analyze is on-board vehicle electronics.
It is my sincere belief that only two areas remain to truly differentiate modern cars from one another. One is exterior styling, the other is ergonomics/features. Basically, if a car looks good on the outside and has the features you want on the inside, you'll buy it. That first area is pretty tough to define, as vehicle styling remains a highly personal judgment.
But the second area is one we're happy to tackle in terms of testing and evaluation, and as such we've just launched our new Car Audio and Electronics Center.
This all-new section went live last week, and if you're into car-oriented electronic gadets you'll find plenty to read about here. I'm a certified gadget geek, so I'd be jazzed about this section even if it didn't represent the future of vehicle differentiation.
But as stated above, I see this as the last frontier in vehicle design. Safe? Dependable? Comfortable? Luxurious (relatively speaking)? All modern cars possess those traits. Seamless iPod integration? Ah-ha! Now there's a feature only a few automakers have mastered. Actually, "iPod Integration" as a term is sort of like "bailout." We all like to think we know what it means, but nobody's definition is the same.
That's why one of the main stories in this section defines the varying degrees of iPod integration. Read "The Four Primary Flavors of iPod Integration" and you'll know which automakers are getting it right and which ones are simply using it as a marketing phrase in their brochures.
Which brings me to today's question: What are the real "make it or break it" items you consider in a new car purchase?
Is it styling and/or interior design/features as I suspect, or are there more important items? Of course price and fuel mileage are biggies, but once you level out on those (for instance, "I need a car for less than $30,000 that gets at least 25 mpg"), what separates the wheat from the chaff when it's time to buy your next car?
Me? My next car will definitely have fully-functional iPod integration, hands-free (Bluetooth) phone capabilities and satellite radio.
Oh yeah, and it will look cool.
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