If you read my post “Two Germans and a Swede” five years ago, you’ll know this is a bitter sweet post, but life goes on. I’m yet again on a mission to select a new car. Frankly this search began about 10 months ago when it was clear to me that Saab could not survive the problems that they faced. So what’s a Saab crazy guy to do when his car is wrecked? The first step is to realize that Saab is a great car, but there are other cars. Get off your ass and start looking.
Where to Look?
Well I admit that Saab style cars are my thing so where to turn? Here’s what I like:
- A smaller car, but still good for at least four people
- Something fuel efficient and performance oriented
- Something simple with clean design inside and out
- Something unique; stands on its own
Well – my car is wrecked and I need something quickly. There’s no time to order something, I need to pick something off a lot. That’s tough for me because I really like a stick shift, not because I’m good at it or better than a top flight automatic. I simply enjoy it and that’s what driving a car should be all about – or go get a Corolla and call it a day.
There are some requirements that I have. I need good power and spirited driving. I need a simple driver oriented experience. I need a stick shift. I need a car with good safety and would prefer 4 wheel drive. 4 doors is not a huge priority like it was before because my son is now big enough to ride in the front seat. I prefer black exterior. I would like an interior that has no silver or reflective chrome of any kind. I would like a more fuel efficient car – greater than 27MPG would be great for my average (I drive mostly highway). I’m a tech guy so I like lots of cool gadgets and stuff with the computer crap. Sunroof is a must have.
I knew this day would come and I’ve looked at a lot of cars:
- Hyundai Genesis and Veloster
- Subaru WRX and WRX-STI
- Nissan 370z
- Infiniti G Series
- Mini Cooper Hardtop and Roadster
- Ford Mustang Boss 350
- Audi A4 and S4
- Lexus IS 250/350
- BMW 328i
Timing is not too great. The new Genesis is not here yet so it would be kinda dumb to buy the old one when a new model is on the way. Its out!
The Veloster is a harder thing to dismiss. Veloster is a pretty innovative and interesting hatch. It is fuel efficient and has some punch when you drive it. The styling on the outside is pretty cool, but on the inside I’m not so keen on the layout of the dash and controls. Button crazy. For the price, performance is pretty decent , but once you start adding in things you want and then comparing it against other cars it starts to not look like such a great deal – see the Mini comments. I went and looked at the car and the interior design of the dash and its air vents in particular did not appeal to me. the upcoming Turbo model looks super cool – but again its not here yet.
Subaru WRX – WRX STI
These are smoking hot cars – yeah if that was all I wanted I should get this. Ok – I’m 43…could easily get this car, but it seems a little silly because it is so over the top. That whale tail means you have to get the hatch. Do I want that? not really. I drove this car around – nice shifting, great sound, seats are ok, The interior plastics and stuff are cheap-tastic and not so great. Gas mileage sucks.
This is a seriously cool car. It is a small sports car, has a great design, and I really like the colors…but I drive 64 miles a day to and from work in PA. Is this really a car I can get? No…so says a good friend who knows what he’s talking about. I have to admit it would be a crazy small car to get. Out…but still very cool 🙂
Infiniti G Series
These cars generally get good ratings for performance, driving, and fuel efficiency. I’ll just come out and say: I hate Infiniti. I’m not sure why. Something about the shape and sculpting of these cars bothers me. Its all round and bubbles – don’t like it. I didn’t even test drive one because the dealer was an Infiniti-Audi dealer and I kept getting distracted by the Audi cars.
Ford Mustang Boss 350
I read about this car in Car & Driver and went on over to the local Ford dealer. They happened to have an orange one with Recaro seats. Those seats were fantastic. I’m sure this is one heck of a muscle car, but after looking at it, sitting in it, and trying to envision myself driving it, I decided that, like the Subie, this car is just too over the top for me. Fuel mileage would have been an issue too. I didn’t even test drive one.
I’ve had a long history with VW and Audi. An S4000, GTI, Passat, and Jetta. The A4 is a really nice car and I test drove a manual shift model with upgraded 18″ wheels. Shifting was tight with a nice short throw and I was impressed with the performance of the car. There’s nice road feel and some good engine growl going on. The cabin layout is pretty nice – and Teutonic; meaning that is is fairly low key and reserved. The seats were pretty comfortable. Visibility front and back was very good. Backseat room was a little cramped. Overall I like this car.
The S4 – well I’ve been drooling over one of these since I rode around with a friend of mine that has one. What I was really most jealous of was the shifter – such short throws. Alas the S4 is just more money than I want to spend and the fuel mileage is just horrible.
Overall with Audi A4 – a great car with 4-wheel drive. There’s a whiff of VW, but not as much as in the A3. Bottom line on the Audi was that I couldn’t get a model with the features I really wanted. The dealer had a base model in black exterior and interior and then one with upgraded wheels – but no premium features and some chrome details that I didn’t like. Also – I see so many of these cars around that it fails in the “unique” category.
Mini Hardtop S/JCW and Roadster
Mini is cool – these are great cars and I test drove a bunch. Fuel efficient and “tiny”, you can configure these cars in so many different ways that you cannot complain about not having a car all your own. the cars are sporty and since they focus on manual shift cars, the shifting is really short and smooth. Inside the car is a lot bigger than you would think. I’m 6 ft tall and about 205 lbs and I fit with no problem.Its definitely a stiff ride in the hardtop S. The roadster is pretty nice. If you are looking for a convertible I would get this one over the regular convertible. The spacing to me is better since no real human could sit in the backseat of these cars anyway.
Mini was the car I wanted, but there were three problems.
Problem #1 was that the closet dealer was about 45 minutes away and not even in the same state. That’s a PITA especially considering the reliability data.
Problem #2 was that I just couldn’t find a Mini with the features that I wanted. I couldn’t get a JCW at all. It would take 6-7 weeks to get one. D’oh. Most of the dealers seem to get the base models with a small number of add-ons and usually in either red or white – colors that I just can’t deal with. The best thing about the JCW is that the big white speedo is dark grey – why that’s not an option on all Mni’s is beyond me.
I suppose problem #3 was that the wife didn’t like the whole Mini concept…worried about me getting crushed like a bug on the highway. I kept telling her a bug was made by VW 🙂
I went to the BMW dealer (yes they are dealers and not “stores”or “studios”) thinking about a 1-series. I like the size and shape of these cars, but there are things I don’t like: cramped back seat and poor fuel mileage are two big ones. I also find the 2012 models to have very un-BMW interior materials. They feel “cheap”. Well all that said my son and I were walking through the cars and I noticed the 2012 3-series and the ugly gash across the front of the hood – apparently some kind of EU pedestrian safety thing. .
Well I was just looking around and – wait a second – there’s a manual shift car! Holy smokes! They do make them! After a few stunned seconds of silence the dealer strode over and offered up a test drive. Well – if you remember Two Germans and a Swede you’ll know how rare it is to get a test drive of a 3-series stick, but we’ll get to driving in a second.
Outside the car – Mineral Grey is the color and its not black. I’ve never owned a non-black car. I have to say that this grey is pretty dark and it really works with the body’s contours and sculpting to bring out a depth and shine. I like it. There’s no chrome on the body (sound familiar?) and the windows have a subtle tint all around.
Inside the car – the all black interior “sport line” look with Boston Black Leather and red highlights is pretty darn cool – it just oozes Germanic power. the new dash layout is a dramatic improvement over the “tumor” style nav layout of previous models. The controls and layout are decent with not too many buttons. It does take a few seminars and perhaps a PhD to figure out all the functions and features in this car’s technology package, but I’ll get it all.
Driving the car – this is the brand new 4-cylinder (yes 4) twin turbo…and it is impressive. There’s excellent off the line power, shifting is short and smooth, the clutch is tight – in short it is everything I thought it would be. The shifter feels like it is directly attached to the engine – wiggling and vibrating in tune with the engine RPMs. Fantastic! I can’t say it much better than Motor Trend and C&D in their recent reviews. To me the steering is tight, road feel is fantastic, and the engine and performance is really quite nice. I could do with a bit more exhaust note 🙂
Overall – BMW 328i Wins!
I landed on the 328i – one big reason: it was right there and ready to go. The interior, the great performance, the shifter, and the assortment of technology in the car won me over. I’ve now had it for a week and although I miss the raw power of my Saab Turbo-X, this car is equally good in different ways. To be honest it is probably a better car, although that is a difficult thing to say.