*Ring ring* “Hi Thomas, we’re looking at replacing the Elantra.” How often do you buy a new car? Not necessarily brand new, but a new daily? For my aunt and uncle, it happens roughly every ten years, long enough to squeeze out most of the mechanical goodness but short enough that major repairs aren’t a huge concern. As it happens, their trusty Hyundai Elantra is ready to be cycled out. Replacing it would be no easy task, precisely for the reasons you’d expect.
Like most consumers, my aunt and uncle wanted a crossover, which shouldn’t be hard to find. In normal times, I’d be able to recommend any number of decent vehicles, but January was different. With manufacturers hammered hard by a production shortfall, new anything was thin on the ground. Well, new anything that wasn’t a Stellantis product or a Buick.
We quickly landed on a base-model Mazda CX-50. After all, why not? Its marginal increase in cargo space over a CX-5 should come in handy for road trips, and the combination of naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic gearbox is proven. Plus, just look at the competition, and the Mazda seems worthy of a closer evaluation. Most mainstream Japanese competitors are more expensive simply because they can be, and many similarly-priced alternatives aren’t what I’d consider long-term cars. From experiencing unfortunate build quality firsthand in a Ford Escape to the question marks surrounding keeping a Volkswagen Tiguan for a decade, I can certainly evaluate new cars, but long-term ownership is a complex wheelhouse.
As it turns out, their local dealer had a CX-50 GT in stock, and my relatives fell in love. Who could blame them? With unusually good steering calibration, beautiful appointments, and chiseled good looks, the CX-50 is a catch and a half, a new car that feels every dollar of its price tag. It wasn’t that long ago (okay, maybe it was) that this sort of money bought a small luxury SUV, and even though the CX-50 doesn’t wear a German badge, it still feels luxurious.
So, theoretically, it should be as easy as calling up a Mazda dealership and placing an order, right? Wrong. Mazda didn’t actually have order books for the CX-50 as such. Instead, as explained by a local dealership, dealers could choose whether or not to take cars allocated to them. It’s theoretically a relatively efficient method of fulfillment, but one that cuts out customer choice completely. Still, we had hope.
Key operating word: “had.” Winter turned to spring, which turned to summer, all without a CX-50 similar to their ideal spec turning up. Oh, and this wasn’t just a local hunt either, it covered a radius of several hundred miles, or several hundred kilometers for metric folk. From the border at Detroit to east of Toronto, not one identically-equipped CX-50 turned up over months of searching, but several were close.
The problem is, most of these base-model CX-50s didn’t actually exist on the lot yet. They were incoming units, likely to be sold before they even touched Canadian soil. Thankfully, markup was a non-issue, but availability? Woof. This might sound silly to people who’ve bought cars recently, but historically, there were two was of doing it: Either put in an order or buy off the lot. Turns out, there’s now a secret third way: Pray. At the same time, it’s difficult to be too mad. The CX-50 is built in an Alabama-based Mazda-Toyota joint plant, and MTMUS is still a fairly new plant. It started ramping production during the last few years, and Automotive News Europe reported in November that “Mazda is having trouble attracting workers and keeping them at the plant, which is still working at one shift some 10 months after its line-off ceremony in January.” In an era of low unemployment when workers often aren’t paid what they’re worth, if better opportunities exist elsewhere, who could blame workers for seeking other placement?
Once July rolled around, everyone felt out of options. Do we just bump up to the turbo model since high-margin trims seems to be more readily available? At that point, is it worth it to just go with the magnificent new CX-90? Can the Elantra be limped along as a primary vehicle for another six months? Eight months? One year? It really shouldn’t be this hard to hand a company tens of thousands of dollars. In the end, the hunt dragged on long enough that my aunt and uncle gave up on buying a CX-50, but not before an alternative arose. It’s not quite as sizeable, spacious, luxurious, or gadget-laden as a CX-50, but it is far less expensive. Yep, they have a 2024 Chevrolet Trax 1RS on order. How’s that for a sensible pick?
If you’ve been trying to buy a new car recently, I empathize. It’s rough. While inventory is improving, the overall market isn’t indicative of individual model inventory, and desirable models are likely to be in limited supply. Sure, you could probably get a great deal on a Buick crossover if you just need something now, but do you really want a Buick crossover? For all of those going through a new car purchase right now, I feel you. We’re all in this together.
(Photo credits: Mazda, Thomas Hundal)
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