A few weeks ago, my parents told me that they would lease me a car as my graduation present, so I busily spent the next few days researching cars. I knew I wanted something that could get me through the snow, but I couldn't have anything huge because I'm going to be living in Chicago for the foreseeable future. This left me with a few options, most notably the Hyundai Tucson, the Toyota Rav4 and the Mazda CX-5. Spoiler alert: I got the Mazda, but all of the cars had their advantages.

Note: I really know nothing about cars, so this will all be based on my personal observations. If you're looking for a technical analysis, read these articles.

Hyundai Tucson

After “window shopping” the day before (aka driving around closed dealership parking lots on a rainy Sunday), we decided that the Tucson was the prettiest, both inside and out, so we decided to start there. I was really excited to try out the Tucson because, like I said, it looked the nicest, plus it came in the dark burgundy color that I had been looking for (the Rav4 and the CX 5 both come in bright red, but not burgundy). However, when we got to the dealership, I was immediately let down. First, although this isn’t really relevant to the car’s quality, I really disliked the guy who was helping us. He was condescending and quickly decided that my dad was the only one of the three of us worth talking to, even though he knew the car was for me. I would have overlooked that, of course, had I liked the car, but this is where I was let down next. We got into the car, turned it on, and immediately noticed that it felt a little… cheap. Then I got on the highway and knew this was not the car for me. I could feel every bump in the road, the noise was terrible, and I felt kind of like I was driving my dad’s golf cart. It was not what I wanted. We quickly brought it back to the dealership, thanked the [rude] guy, and went on our merry way.

Toyota Rav4

After our horrible experience with the Tucson, I was feeling pretty down. What if it hadn’t been that the Tucson was a particularly bad car, but just that I was used to driving my parents’ really nice cars? What if I hated all of the cars I could afford? What if nothing lived up to my old car (RIP)? But my dad said that I was probably going to like the Rav4, so on we went to the Toyota dealer. As soon as we got into the car, I knew that the Rav4 was completely unlike the Tucson. The seats were more comfortable, the dash didn’t look so plastic-y, and my dad got into the front seat and immediately said “Wow! I actually have leg room!” (he’s 6’2” so this is a Big Deal). Then my mom piped up from the backseat and said it was really comfortable back there. Doing well so far! I turned it on, took it out to the highway, and knew that all of my fears were for nothing. This was the car for me. It drove well, it looked decent, and I was generally all about it. The only two downsides were that it didn’t come in the burgundy I wanted and the nicer model had a slightly different exterior that I didn’t like quite as much.

Mazda CX-5

I told my dad that the Rav4 was the car I wanted, and we were ready to go when he suggested that we stop by the Mazda dealership just so we could say that we did. And man am I glad we did. First of all, the outside of the Mazda is much sleeker than the Rav4. When we got in the car, the front seat was slightly more comfortable - it felt a bit more supportive and the headrest didn’t lean quite as far forward, which was good because that had made my neck hurt in other cars. Again, my dad was shocked that he had leg room and my mom said the back seat was even more comfortable than that of the Rav4. I was in love, and the affair didn’t stop when I took it out on the road. The Mazda and the Toyota drive very similarly, except that the Mazda has a slightly sportier feel (or at least that’s what my dad called it). Whatever it was, I loved it. The Mazda does have a little bit more road noise than the Toyota, but I liked that, for some reason.

Overall, the Toyota Rav4 and the Mazda CX-5 are very similar cars. The Hyundai Tucson held potential (plus I love Hyundai for this year’s Superbowl ads), but it just didn’t cut it during the driving test. Between the Rav4 and the CX-5, very little is different technically, so it all comes down to personal preference. Between the two of them, you can’t go wrong. Plus, look how happy I look with my new car!