Thursday, March 20, 2008

What have we learned

One final post before I put this whole car shopping thing to bed.

It's been terrifically engaging to spend all this time deciding on a new car, and it's fair to say that I've learned a lot from the process.

Gran Turismo 4 does a great job of simulating a car's behavior. There is no doubt that the rough impressions I got from my Gran Turismo track test were borne out for the most part in the real world. According to GT4 I could expect the Audi to need to stay in the upper rev range, the Evo to handle sublimely well, the M5 to feel heavy despite its power, and the STi to be the most fun, and it was totally right

The heart always wins. My father is great example of this. He is the most logical, analytical person in the world, but when it comes to cars for himself he'll usually go with what his heart tells him, and for the most part has been happier for it. From the very start I wanted an STi, but I made myself think critically and devise intelligent and methodical approaches to making a decision. However, when all was said and done, and there seemed little reason to not pick the STi, that's what the choice was. Yes, the Volvo would be marginally more practical, lower profile, more mature and less likely to endanger our drivers licenses, but it couldn't offset the emotional component of the decision.

Always bring someone with you. I drove two cars without someone I know, but they were never really a factor. For the cars that were serious contenders, that second opinion counted for a huge amount. K's opinion was critical, since she's going to be driving the thing on a regular basis, but even with the Evo and M3, which she didn't drive, it would have been easy to second-guess myself without my father being present. Validation of a decision really helps.

Test drive it properly. A little cruise around city streets says nothing about a car, especially if you enjoy a spirited drive. The Audi S4 was unable to make a case for itself until I took the second one out around Twin Peaks. I got to know the car well and although I didn't love the power delivery or handling, it was able to frame itself as being either a serious challenger or not. It's worth the extra trouble to meet the owner in a location that affords you the opportunity for a proper drive. When it comes to selling a performance car, the owner should expect buyers to want to see the car in its best light.

Test driving cars is easy and fun: If you can put up with private sellers' scheduling games or salesmen's pressure tactics, it's pretty easy to get a drive in a good car, even if you're not in the market. We had talked about going to drive some cars that weren't even on our list, just for the fun of it, but ran out of time. There is nothing to stop us doing that though - some might say it is unethical but I call it a free market. Now if I could just find a Mustang that doesn't have an automatic transmission...

Take it to a shop.
Duh, this is obvious, but the peace of mind is worth as much as averting potential financial disaster. My stomach was in knots waiting for the result of the STi's checkover but it was easily worth it.

Never own a boring car. We are truly lucky to have such a wealth of interesting cars available to us, and in the US for such a small amount of money. When I first researched used car values and began to draw up a shortlist, I was amazed at what was out there. In 3 or 4 years time, when we'll want something a bit more grown-up, the Volvo will still be there waiting, newer Audi S4s, S6s and RS4s will be an option, Subaru's Legacy Spec B will be worth a look, Pontiac should have a GXP version of the G8 by then, the list goes on. Too often sellers told us they were getting rid of their car to get a minivan or SUV because they had a child, when in reality the car they were selling would have no problems accommodating their needs. They were simply choosing to accept a stereotypical path that says you must not own an interesting car when you have a family. As you can see, this is simply untrue. You can own an interesting car throughout your life, and the STi marks the start of that philosophy for me.

The US market has turned a corner. Yes, there's a number of interesting European performance cars we can't get our hands on. But for the most part, the cars I read about in Evo magazine are cars I can buy. Fifteen (maybe even ten) years ago this wasn't the case. But companies have taken the gamble to bring cars like the Evo, WRX, Volvo R cars and the GTO to US shores, and they've done pretty well for the most part. Gradually the US car-buying public is discovering performance motoring.

I'm a lucky guy. Too few men have an enthusiastic and supportive partner when it comes to car buying. Even though a recent article in one of K's culinary magazines stated that women are making a greater number of automotive decisions in their households, I doubt that it's yet to reach that 50/50 proportion, and even if it does, there's nothing to suggest that it's making the life of the traditional car decision maker, the guy, any easier. In my case, it did. K's mother has a history of being into fast cars, and luckily the genes passed on. Selling the idea of buying a performance car didn't take much work, and throughout the process K did a superb job of providing important input where needed without derailing the process that I had mapped out in my head. She saw the enjoyment I was getting and shared in that, and when the time came the decision was a joint one.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Nice Front end and looking forward to seeing it with the STI fog lamps lolol!