You've Come a Long Way, Baby

When I graduated from college in 1989, the very first thing I did after securing a job was buy a car. It was a Nissan 240SX coupe and it was the first brand new car I'd ever bought. I loved that car and I remember it fondly. It was attractive, the fit and finish was excellent, and it was very reliable. It was spirited and snappy, but I would stop short of calling it "fast". The real magic of the 240SX was its terrific handling, a result of excellent steering feel, a great manual transmission, a good suspension, and ideal weight balance from being RWD. It was a fun and inspiring car to drive and I used to seek out twisty roads.

The 240SX was considered Nissan's "mid-tier" sports car. It wasn't top-of-line, but it wasn't the bottom either. That would have been the Sentra.

Fast-forward to 2017. I just got a new car – a Mazda3 5-door. It's not mid-tier, it's entry-level. It's the car that competes with today's Sentra. I bought the Mazda3 to save money, both on the initial purchase and on fuel since my commute is pretty long.

Driving the Mazda3 reminds me a lot of my old 240SX. But in almost every way I can think of it's a better car than the 240SX. And it's not even close! As great as the 240SX handled, the Mazda3 handles even better – it is predictable, precise, tactile, and positively unflappable. It has way more horsepower and torque. Its performance numbers dust the 240SX. Yet it uses less gas. Its interior is more comfortable, attractive, and luxurious. It's more roomy and versatile. The loaded model that I got has all kinds of dazzling high-tech safety, performance, entertainment, and convenience features that were scarcely dreamed of in 1989. In every category except reliability and service (it's too early to tell on those), it's not just a little better, it's a lot better.

And yet, adjusted for inflation, it cost way less than my 240SX. Like more than 25% less! In 1989, entry-level cars looked, felt, and performed like they were cheap. Because they were. But today, entry-level cars only seem cheap in price.

I am in awe of how far things have come.