“What car should I buy?” As enthusiasts, we get this question all the time. Everyday I help people decide what to buy, but when it came to choose the next ride for myself, it was a much more difficult process. I almost lost my mind figuring out what I wanted, so I had my wife make the decision for me.
A little background on some of my auto purchases. Back in 2004 I purchased a brand new Mini Cooper S. I loved that car dearly until it was totaled in a flood (that is another story for another time.)
I got a generous insurance payout and bought a used 2005 Subaru Legacy GT wagon with a manual transmission. I was in Jalop heaven, that is until the car starting burning through clutches like chain-smoker with matches.
I got frustrated dumping money into it and traded the Subie in for a lease on a Mazda3. I chose to lease because I wanted something new with a warranty, and my budget was tight. At the conclusion of the lease, I couldn’t find anything that I really wanted within my budget, so I bought out the lease and decided to hold on to the Mazda until I had the budget to get something I really wanted.
Of course, like many of you I was perpetually window shopping throughout my Mazda ownership. Last summer I decided that the time has come to get serious about a replacement.
This is my insane path on deciding on what car to buy... I’m sure some of you can relate.
The Wagon Dilemma
Of all the cars I’ve owned, I really missed my Subaru the most. The Mini was great, but I knew from the start it was a car for a specific period in time and that I would “outgrow” it. But the Legacy GT was something that I could have a family with. It was a fast wagon with a manual transmission. I loved the combination of performance and utility. For those of you that knew me before I worked for Jalopnik, my commenter screen-name was “Automatch- The Avanthusaist,” the wagon obsession ran deep. I convinced myself I needed another long-roof.
But which one to get? Given that Audi’s unobtanium RS Avants are some of my all time favorite cars, I got stuck on grabbing a certified pre-owned Audi A4 Avant with the S-line package. I told myself, “If I can’t have an RS4 maybe I can have something that looks the part.” But fnding one that had low miles with all the equipment I wanted at a reasonable price proved to be damn near impossible.
Then there was the unicorn E91 (previous generation) BMW 3-series wagon. Again, locating a vehicle in suitable condition, with 3 pedals, that wasn’t grossly overpriced just proved too much of a hassle.
I entertained leasing again in the way of either an new BMW 328i wagon or a Volvo V60 R-design. The Volvo seemed the perfect fit. It had AWD, a turbocharged inline 6 with 300hp, and was one of the safest family haulers you could buy.
Then I drove it. The V60 is a very nice car, but the sloppy shifting six-speed automatic killed all the fun for me. I moved on to the BMW. While the eight-speed automatic was much better, and really enjoyed the overall package of the 328i touring, I came to realize that I just wasn’t ready to give up my clutch pedal.
That left the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen as a final option. On paper this should be Jalop paradise, given that it is a manual, diesel, wagon. While it is certainly a fun car, it is not in any way shape or form a “performance car.” After a few test drives, I felt let-down by the Sportwagen.
That is when my wife chimed in, “You know...we have a minivan. You don’t really need a wagon.” She was absolutely right. I had fallen into the same trap that many of my customers do. I got fixated on a specific style or aspect of a car that really wasn’t necessary.
Am I A Sedan Man?
Since I was no longer attached to the wagon body style, it opened up some more possibilities. I still wanted something fun and something premium, so I looked again to BMW.
My initial instinct was to pick up a BMW 2-Series, but I still needed something that was somewhat practical in case I need to haul the family in a pinch. I had always wanted to own a 3-series, so I looked into the 328 and the “Jalop spec” 320i sedans. I drove them both and was pretty impressed, but I just didn’t love them enough to justify the price.
There was also a brief period of time when I considered a Honda Accord Sport with the six-speed manual. It would be cheap, reliable, and spacious. I probably would have bought one if Honda didn’t limit me to only two colors, black (never again after the Mazda) or grey (blah).
I came to the conclusion that my combination of practical, affordable, and fun brought me back to the sport-compact category. Subaru’s new WRX looked promising. It was really quick and I certainly would have loved the AWD in the winter. However, the WRX doesn’t come in hatchback form anymore, which reduced its practicality.
With the Accord and the 3-Series, the trunks were big enough I could fit my wife’s wheelchair if I had to. That wasn’t happening with the much smaller trunk on the WRX.
With Subaru out, I moved on to Ford. Since 80 percent of OppositeLock users own a Ford Fiesta ST (those are unofficial numbers), I wanted to see what the hype was all about. The FiST, as the kids call it, was a hoot to drive, but just too small for family duty.
So I tried its bigger brother the Focus ST. Again, this was a blast to drive, but at 34 years old I wanted something that blended in a little more and the hatchback opening was a little awkward for wheelchair entry and exit. So I went round and around again to various new and used cars.
“Maybe I’ll try to find a CPO 3-Series.”
The last-gen E90 was too small for two car-seats and a wheelchair and at the time finding a newer F30 series 3 with a manual in a price range I was comfortable with was too difficult (there are plenty available now).
“I’ve always wanted a muscle car, perhaps I should get a Challenger. It’s got a big trunk and a loud V8.”
Then I remembered I really like cars that can turn, as well as go straight.
On one of our evening walks around the neighborhood my wife spots a grey MK6 Volkswagen GTI and says,
“Those are cool why don’t you get a GTI? It’s European and grown-up like the BMW and still fun like the Subaru,” she told me. Voice of reason indeed. I knew there was a reason I married this woman.
The GTI was always a car I respected, though never a car that I considered owning. I started doing some reading on the MK7 platform that was just hitting the US. Folks seemed pretty impressed, so I stalked my local dealer’s inventory until they got a manual transmission car that I could try out.
After a thirty minute test drive, I found a winner. For me, the GTI felt more premium than the WRX and the Ford. The Volkswagen just seemed to have a character closer to the BMW 328i, than a sub 30k hot-hatchback. It was also much roomier on the inside than I expected.
Now it came down to options. A manual was a must. I know the DSG is faster to shift and an all-around fantastic dual-clutch auto. I’ve driven a DSG a few times and was impressed, but rowing through the gears is just too much fun to give up. I also wanted the “performance package” despite the fact that the car I drove didn’t have it so I really had no idea if it was worth the premium over the standard car.
However, after reading what seemed like a hundred reviews from various publications, I figured it was worth the money. I also really liked the idea of the Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers. The problem with the DCC option was you could only get it in either the more expensive SE or Autobahn trim. I just wasn’t willing to pay the several thousand dollar premium for other features I didn’t want like leather, sunroof, back-up camera, and the Fender audio.
Just like someone painting a room, picking the right color was just as maddening. Initially I was drawn to the black because it looks so sinister, but just could not do another black car. I went back and forth for weeks between the grey and the blue. The grey is much easier to keep clean, however, I preferred how the red lights and accents popped off the blue.
In October I placed an order for a Night Blue, four-door S manual with performance and lighting packages. According to Volkswagen, deliveries for performance package equipped cars would start in January of 2015. I did not get my car in January, or February... or March. But on April 13th, the car arrived.
Was it worth the wait? Did I choose wisely? I’ll let you know in the coming months.
Sometimes I envy the Camry drivers because they don’t have to think about their next purchase, they just buy another Camry. But some people feel like a car is more than just a metal box with wheels to get from point A to point B. That makes decision for us so much more difficult.
It also goes to show that no matter how much we know, or how many cars we drive, sometimes it is good to consult with someone else.
If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at AutomatchConsulting@gmail.com and be sure to include your Kinja handle.