Monday, March 21, 2005

If you know me, you may well be aware of the love/hate relationship I have with cars. I love cars. I love driving cars. I occasionally enjoy working on cars. I love going places in cars. Cars, however, don't really like me much. I've had very few car ownership experiences that I'd consider positive. But that's at least partially my fault. I don't know how to take proper care of them and I tend to push them rather hard.

My most recent debacle was the 1999 Kia Sportage. This vehicle has been nothing but trouble since the day I bought it. It was my first new car which makes it even more depressing. I've had troublesome used cars that were easier to own. But it's now paid off, having served its primary purpose: survive until the loan was paid (the loan which included negative equity from the previous vehicle).

Her inevitable demise has seemed imminent for over a year, now, and she keeps going. I can't open the rear doors at all and I have to give the tailgate a sharp rap with the side of my hand in order to get it to open. The four-wheel-drive, which didn't work for the entire warranty period, despite repeated attempts to repair it (and those usually after finding it didn't work again while being stuck in the mud somewhere) was finally "fixed" in December of 2002, but the car feels like it's going to tear itself apart when it's engaged. It's had a wide variety of electrical problems; most recently, the moon roof button decided not to work (fortunately it was closed, and has since resumed functioning). Etcetera, etcetera.

So, this past weekend, we began the exciting journey towards the purchase of our next vehicle. I'd like to get a new roadster. My '93 Mercury Capri XR2 was a ton of fun. It wasn't technically a roadster itself, having front-wheel drive and a shelf that they called a back seat, but it was close. It always put a smile on my face to drive that car with the top down, my $9,000 attitude adjustment. Unfortunately, they don't make them any longer, so I'm looking for something similar, which will be difficult because I'm so frickin' huge. At 6'5", there aren't many sedans I can drive, let alone the kinds of cars I want.

It was very nice when we set out early Saturday afternoon, 56 degrees and overcast. By Saturday afternoon (when I finally found a convertible I could drive), it was 36 and windy. When we finished on Sunday, it was 28 and snowing.

We began at Jay Honda. Now, I'd never buy from Jay, because they're the ones who sold me the Kia, didn't ever properly repair it, and went out of business before the warranty even expired, forcing me to drive across town for the on-going service visits. However, they're conveniently close to home and I wanted to check out my current almost-affordable dream car: the Honda S2000. I mostly wanted to see if I could fit inside one, since I'd have to buy a two-or-three year old model in order to make the payments. They didn't have any. New or used. It later turns out that that was just the used car dealership, the new car dealership was around the corner and they had one in stock, but it was actually on the used dealership's lot. You'd think the salesguy would have told us that. When he didn't have the car I wanted, he tried to sell me a bunch of cars I don't want. Well-played, Jay Honda.

So, it's across the street to Toyota of Bedford, where they have my #2 choice, the MR2 Spyder. I climb into the Spyder and it's much as I recall from the auto show a few years back, I can't turn the wheel 90 degrees without taking my hands off of it, making it unsafe to drive, let alone comfortable.

They also sell Toyota's new "aiming for the slightly younger than me market" brand, Scion, from this showroom, and I've been marginally curious about the tC since I first heard about Scion, last year. So, we take the tC for a cruise and are quite impressed. This is a fairly inexpensive coupe/hatchback at about $16,000, but its performance and comfort are quite a bit better than I'd expect at that price. It's got a 160hp 4 cylinder and weighs less than 3,000 pounds. The handling is excellent, I can sit comfortably in it. People under 6 feet can sit comfortably in the back and it's got enormous cargo capacity. Plus, it's got moon roofs front and rear, with the front opening quite wide. It's certainly not what I had gone looking for, but it's now the number one contender for my next car. I'd like to see a longer bumper-to-bumper warranty, this only has 36 months/36,000 miles, but Toyota's build quality is legendary, and it probably doesn't need much more than that.

Next stop is Mazda/Saab of Bedford. They've got the Miata. It's quite literally the car that brought roadsters back, and my #3 choice. It's #3 precisely because this visit confirmed what I already knew: I'm way too tall for it. There is no chance of driving this thing. At least with the S2000 and MR2, I could install a smaller-diameter steering wheel and get by. Not so with the Miata. It's a shame, too, because it shares a bit of heritage with my Capri, which was a rebadged Mazda itself.

Facing the reality that I'm not going to get the car that I want, I turn to the Mazda 3, an economy car that doesn't really look like an economy car. When I'd first seen them, I'd been intrigued. So we took it for a spin instead of the Miata. I'd have to say that if I hadn't already driven the Scion, this would be the main contender. It handles very well, but it's a little short on power relative to the Scion. The seating position is adequate, but I'd bump my head frequently. It does have a couple of advantages over the Scion: four doors and a longer warranty.

Well, if I can't have a proper roadster, how about a fun convertible? The Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder theoretically fits the bill, so we head over to Rick Case Mitsubishi. Now, first off, they don't have any new cars with a manual transmission, so they send me off in a 2003 model. Strike one. The windshield header is right about at eye level, so while I can see the taillights of the cars ahead of me, I can't see their roofs, nor can I see anything else at eye level. Strike two. Performance? Meh. It's heavy, sloppy, but reasonably powerful. Strike three. Nothing else Mitsubishi currently sells has any interest for me, so we're out of there pretty quickly.

Since we hadn't really been making a coordinated assault on the Bedford Auto Mile, we kept driving back and forth past Fred Baker Porsche Audi and Renee would comment every time about how nice the red Boxster out front looks and how she'd bet I can fit in it. To assuage my depression over losing the cars I wanted, I stopped there to see if they'd let me sit in a Boxster (or indeed laugh me out of the showroom). None of the salespeople were terribly interested in us at first, but after a few minutes we did manage to find some courteous help. Sure enough, I can safely and comfortably drive the Boxster, top up or down. We didn't take one for a spin, but he happened to mention a 1997 Boxster with 60,000 miles that they'd warranty up to 100,000 and sell for $22,000. That's actually at the top end of my price range. It was a tense few moments that I actually considered the thing. It's a beautiful car and one I'd love to drive, I'm sure, but the practicality is that I can't spend that much on a car whose life is half over. I'd need to get another 100,000 out of it to make it worthwhile and that's unlikely. I wasn't able to test drive it, since it was on display behind the showroom for a Porsche owners event they were having that evening. (Along with a Carrera GT, a supercar that I'd never expected to lay eyes on in person) However, I might take the salesperson up on the offer to turn a wheel later this week.

Flush with victory at finally finding a car I desire and could, in theory, drive and short on time before dealers would close up, we decided to hit BMW of Solon. After all, if there's a Porsche I could seriously consider, why not a Z4? Would you believe that they have a 2003 Z4 3.0i with 15,000 miles that they're willing to let go for the low, low price of $34,900? And that puppy would be warranted up to 100,000 miles? Since the '03 was inside the showroom and they were preparing to close up, they were understandably reluctant to take it outside and let me tool around in it, just to have to clean it up again before returning it to the showroom. However, they gleefully handed me the keys to an '05. Oh. My. God. This is the first reasonably high-performance vehicle I've ever had the opportunity to drive, and so I may be overreacting. It's possible that other high-performance cars would shame it. However, it was magnificent. And when I say magnificent, I mean incredible. And when I say incredible, I mean Oh. My. God. Two days later, I'm still daydreaming about the thing, running scenarios through my head on how to make a $650 car payment.

Back to reality on Sunday afternoon, we pay a visit to Liberty Ford. I really love the styling of the new Mustang, but I'm not that fond of American cars. The American car buyer wants a completely different kind of car than I do, and the American manufacturers cater to that market much more so than the imports. Americans like to ride rather than drive. They want to shift into drive and point the thing and not be bothered by bumps or any other useful information that might get through the suspension. And so it was with the Mustang. At over 4,100 pounds, this is a lot of car for its size. It was comfortable to sit in and nicely built and had a considerable amount of power even in V6 trim. But it's just not my thing. They didn't have a convertible to see if I could fit in it, but we left with the agreement that the salesperson would call me when he got one in. This morning, he called to tell us that we'd have to put money down first if they were going to go to the trouble of getting in a convertible. Right. I wasn't asking you to order one, I was asking to drive one when you had one available. There's now zero chance of you selling me a car.

We eventually found the new car department of Jay Honda and went over to check out the S2000. As expected, I can't fit. Yay. They've also got a new truck, called the Ridgeline, that I was curious about, but it's a $30,000 contraption and if I was going to spend that kind of money, I'd get the Z4.

And that was it. Most places were closed on Sunday and looking around lots didn't stir up any other interesting alternatives

I decided to get some insurance quotes and learned two interesting things. One, my driving record has cleared up and I can now get much more affordable policies, so regardless of what we do car-wise, it's time to change insurance companies. Two, I can afford to insure the Z4 and the Boxster. That was quite a surprise. Progressive quotes me $430 for the Scion and $490 for the Boxster, the bottom and top ends, respectively (quotes are for six months and include liability coverage on the Sportage). Astonishing.

So, right now, we're looking at the Scion tC first and the Mazda 3 second and the BMW Z4 if I should come into a large sum of money. Later this week or next weekend, we're going to go check out the Volkswagen Jetta and see if there are any Saturns of interest.

Wish me luck!

Comment by KJToo



I AM TEH C0MM3NTX0R!!!~~1!!

Comment by Yotto

It says "1 comments"

Well, now it says "2 comments," but you get the idea.

Comment by Anonymous

What a cool outing! I love to look at cars. Mmm.. cars... Such a turn-on!

My only advice is to stay away from the Mitsubishi. It's never been reliable or fun to drive. My friend has one (she bought it to replace her late-model Honda Civic) and she hates it.

Add New Comment: