I've been waiting for the Model 3 since its first whispers, but that didn't stop me from leasing a Prius C last week.
It was 2014, and my trusty used Toyota Echo was dying. A $3000 repair, they told me. And probably more to come as I hit the 200,000 mile mark.
Up until that point, I'd hoped I could get away with driving my Echo into the ground. I loved that go-kart of a car: True, it was far from fancy, and it had laughable horsepower in the face of its Californian muscle car brethren. But its 43MPG and Indiana Jones-buggy ride were perfect for this post-college city dweller. The Echo may have had an appallingly slow acceleration, but at higher speeds, it easily kept pace with highway traffic thanks to its diminutive size; I'd perversely enjoyed being able to speed past trucks with four times the horsepower of its dinky little engine — and get 40MPG while I was at it.
But the biggest reason for keeping my Echo still waited in the wings: The oft-rumored less expensive (and compact) Tesla Model 3.
It was still a whisper in 2014, but one I wanted desperately to become reality. After driving a friend's Model S a few years back, I'd instantly fallen in love: Most cars are giant dumb engines in a shiny but vapid technological shell; the Tesla was nothing but shiny, smart technological goodness. As a longtime fan of computer technology but entirely bored by car architecture, the Tesla was an oasis in a desert of ugly, boring, and frustrating interfaces. And it was all-electric: Goodbye, gas stations.
But a starting sticker of $76,000 was downright laughable to a technology journalist. I'd gotten to the point in my career where I could afford buying a new car — but not one with a price like that. The rumored Model 3, however, was supposed to start sub-$40,000. It was still more than I'd ever considered paying for a vehicle, sure, but at least one I could reasonably entertain.
Sadly, according to most every rumor out there, it wasn't going to show up until at least 2016. Who knew how many repairs I'd have to make to my Echo before then? So I bit the bullet, bid adieu to my poor toy car, and leased a 2014 Prius C. (The hybrid version of my toy car.)
Two years later, the Model 3 is almost-reality, and I've placed my $1000 deposit to reserve my futuristic space car. But I also spent some cash last week on a different automotive purchase — a new 2016 Prius C lease.
Plain and simple: The Model 3 isn't ready yet. The most optimistic estimates place it beginning to arrive in December 2017, but even if you account for the fact that I reserved relatively early on release day, I live on the east coast. I'm behind the thousands who reserved on the west coast nearest to Tesla's factories. And that's not counting the hundreds more Model S owners who pre-ordered and thus get to skip the line.
Meanwhile, my two-year Prius C lease was almost up, and I had to make a decision about what I was going to drive while waiting for my Model 3 to arrive. I may work from home, but I'm a city girl no more. Going without a car for two or more years while living in the suburbs just isn't possible. And while I briefly entertained becoming a bike commuter to my local coffee shop, it wasn't to be.
I essentially had three options: Lease again, buy out my 2014 Prius C, or consider picking up a cheaper used car while waiting for my Tesla.
Lease, buy, or junk?
Leasing, to many folks, is traditionally a bad gig; you're paying a ton of money on a deprecating vehicle — money you're not really getting back in equity unless you negotiate well and the car retains its value. But in circumstances like mine, it's not such a bad shake: If you only need a vehicle for a certain period of time and you don't drive all that many miles, it might be a better fit than having to pay off a full car loan.
The cost between leasing a new Prius and paying off my 2014 Prius in two years ended up being negligible: I'd have more equity in the latter, but it would require a much higher month-to-month cost, and I'd also have to worry about potential maintenance costs as my car eclipsed its 24,000 mile warranty.
It's no Tesla, but for my needs, it's a lovely substitute while I wait for the Model 3.
Plus, due to inventory when I first leased, my 2014 Prius C was a "starter" model, without many of the bells and whistles I was currently considering in the 2016 version. While I enjoy driving the Prius C — for many of the same reasons as I dug my Echo — there were quirks that frustrated me about the entry-level version. (No cruise control. Iffy Bluetooth connectivity. No hatchback cover. No light in the rear trunk space, for pete's sake.)
All that put me heavily leaning toward leasing a new model, but there was, of course, a third option: Buy a used car. There are definitely pros here: I'd be using a currently-produced vehicle, reducing the number of new cars on the road; it'd likely be a cheaper option than a new lease or buying out my current one; and I could much more easily shop around.
But buying a used car also requires more legwork, gives you fewer model choices, and runs into the same potential servicing and quality issues as I would have run into in paying off my current Prius.
So I leased a new Prius C — and I love it.
Waiting for Godot
Leasing allows me to continue to hedge my bets on the Model 3: It's the car I've wanted for years, and I'm still eagerly awaiting it. But should Tesla run into production issues, or find early-model flaws, I've got a brand-new vehicle to fall back on.
Plus, no matter how much car bloggers complain about it, the Prius C is a great starter car if you're going electric. It may not have the same torque or drivability as a mega-horsepower vehicle, but I also haven't paid more than $20 to fill up at a gas station in two years. Also, the 2016 model is roomy, comfortable for its price, and has one of the few touchscreen entertainment systems that isn't completely terrible. Jalopnik once compared the car to a drivable R2D2, and I'm inclined to agree: It's no Tesla, but for my needs, it's a lovely substitute.
With luck, I'll be driving a Model 3 in a few years. Until then, you can find me sailing through traffic with my new cruise control lever — it's the closest I'll get to an Autopilot system for a few years, and I'm going to enjoy it.