Buying Our Next Car: Step One

Buying Our Next Car: Step One

What follows is the first installment of several, and I invite you to make this series as interactive as possible by sharing your thoughts, comments, and experiences as we journey together from interested shopper to purchaser.

Currently I drive a 2000 Ford Focus that has been a marvelous car. It is a ZX3 model purchased new with the “big horsepower” engine for 2000 – all of 120hp compared to the anorexic 96 of the standard issue. It has two doors and a 5 speed stick – attributes I would like to retain in the next car, although a 6 speed would be nice. An automatic will not be considered. Ever. Until they pry my cold fingers from the shift lever and yadayadayada.

In 95,000 miles the Focus has proven to be more fun to own, and more fun to drive, than the 1975 Porsche 911 that preceded it. With less power, selecting the correct line through a corner becomes more important, so you are more involved in the process. It has enough power and handling that I can slide the front wheels, back wheels, or all four, at my discretion if I am feeling particularly peppy. It has been reliable and comfortable, but with 95k it may be entering the twilight of its economic life, and the driver’s seat is pretty well crushed and no longer very comfortable. Pretty lame excuses for a new purchase, but I want to buy a car, and that trumps pure logic every time.

The parameters for a new car for me are a car in the $18-26k or so range, with two doors, a stick shift, and driving enjoyment – either as a used or new vehicle. Fortunately, I have wide ranging enthusiasm, and there are a LOT of vehicles that will fit my parameters, although some need some mental nudging to slide in.

The car I purchase will be driven about 9,000 miles per annum, most of those a 22 mile round trip commute to work. A convertible top is not really needed, because that is what either of the two motorcycles in the garage is for. 4WD is also not needed, as when it snows I can take my wife to teach her 5th graders (if school is open) and then use her Honda CR-V to drive to work – if the dealership is open.

The top priority is that it must be fun to drive, and fun to look at. Practicality is of some concern, but there is no reason to get carried away. I do not drive enough in a car for fuel mileage to be crucial, and I can afford to some degree a dollop of silly affectation in my four wheeled transportation. Of lesser note, I would also like to get back to the occasional time/speed/distance rally that I used to enjoy, although finding time for that may be a challenge.

In my initial research during a long lunch hour I came up with 10 candidates. They are listed here in no particular order with the assets and debits that spring immediately to mind. I invite you to weigh in with your thoughts. Other candidates are also welcome!

1. 2011 Honda CR Z EX (new) MSRP $22,106 Miles: 0
• Looks pretty cool to me – especially in black. Red is OK.
• Relatively good fuel mileage.
• Well equipped.
• Lower loan interest on a new car.
• Susan sort of likes it.

• Is it sufficiently engaging to drive?
• Hybrid technology is not that proven yet.
• Honda rep for thin brake disc and crap brakes – justified?

2. 2012 Ford Focus SE (new) MSRP as built: $20,610 Miles: 0
• Comes in yellow – my favorite car color.
• 5 speed manual – although 6 would be better.
• Well equipped.
• Lower loan interest on a new car.
• Cost includes “SE Sport Package.”

• Only available as a 4 door (2 door for next year, but it will probably be too expensive).
• Styling is merely OK.
• Susan is accepting but not wild about it.

3. 2009 Volvo C30 T5 R Design (used) $22,993 Miles: 25,112
• Gorgeous in gloss black with polished alloys.
• Various “R Design” spiffiness options.
• I LOVE the looks. Most people do not, which is even better.
• 6 speed? (Not sure, but it is a stick).
• Practical and usable.
• Well equipped.
• We have owned 5 Volvos and all performed very well.
• Susan really likes it.

• A tad pricey for a used car with 25k.
• Higher loan interest on a used car.

4. 2012 Honda Civic Si (new) MSRP as built: $23,385 Miles: 0
• 6 speed.
• Looks good in red or black.
• Lower loan interest on a new car.
• Really cool seats and interior (in the Si).
• 2012 model has more torque at lower rpm – current edition is more fluff down low and all singing and all dancing at higher rpm. 2012 should be more accessible in terms of driving fun.

• Honda reputation for thin brake discs and crap paint – justified?
• Comes with a wing – I hate wings on street cars!
• A little silly to be shopping for a car that is not here.
• Susan is neither here nor there on this one.

5. 2012 Fiat 500 (new) MSRP as built: $17,530 Miles: 0
• Looks gorgeous.
• Great mpg.
• Should be fun to drive.
• Least expensive.
• Lower loan interest on a new car.
• Small (I like small).

• Will the local dealer have any soon?
• Will they have “market adjustments” made to the price? No deal if so.
• Can only be red. Yes, other cars are available, but it is Italian- i.e. – red.
• Build quality? Reliability? Build and sold for a few years in Europe, but new here. What horrors lurk? Susan is dubious for these reasons.

6. 2006 Honda S2000 (used) $20,999 Miles: 34,726
• Always liked this model.
• Honda reliability.
• 6 speed.

• Engine too peaky?
• Too many miles?
• Higher loan interest on a used car.
• Convertible top not too smart on a car that lives outside. A bolt-on hardtop is available – and probably pricey.
• Honda rep for thin brake disks and crap paint – justified?
• You are really cocooned in this car – sit way down in there.
• Susan thinks we do not need this much of a sports car.

7. 2002 Chevrolet Corvette (used) $24,880 Miles: 29,042
• It’s a red Corvette with polished alloys!
• Relatively low miles for the age
• 6 speed manual.
• I have a friend who is an expert Corvette mechanic.

• Higher loan interest on a used car.
• Higher insurance premium on a Corvette.
• Convertible top not to wise for a car that lives outside.
• Susan REALLY HATES it. She says it screams “pure sleaze.” This from the woman who loved the 1958 Corvette we owned for the first years of our marriage. She loves old Corvettes, and hates all the news ones, so this is probably not going to happen as I do value and respect her opinion and feelings.

8. 2008 Mini Cooper S (used) $25,900 Miles: 23,621
• Tremendous fun to drive and (I think) superior to the John Cooper Works editions, which write checks for more power than the chassis can cash.
• Looks great in BRG (British Racing Green).
• 6 speed.
• Great fuel mileage.

• Susan opines that the design is now perhaps a bit too “been there and done that,” which is a fair criticism.
• Spendy for a used car with 23k.
• Higher loan cost on a used car.

9. 2000 Porsche Boxster S (used) $25,950 Miles: 24,044
• REALLY tempting – this was a$58,000 car new, and the previous owner added $25,000 in upgrades – wow!
• Optional hard top.
• Classic Guards Red color with tan leather interior.
• Extremely well equipped.

• Most 2000 Boxters are about 15k with this mileage.
• Our experiences with a 1975 Porsche 911 were financially suicidal and left emotional scars that may preclude ever owning another Porsche.
• Higher loan cost for a used car.
• Higher insurance cost for a Porsche?
• A lot of money for an 11 year old car.
• Not all that usable – little space, etc.

10. 2011 Mazda Miata MX 5 Touring MSRP as built: $28,500 Miles: 0
• Power retracting hard top looks great and works great
• Cloth interior as specced.
• 6 speed manual
• I have driven 4 dozen Miatas (part time job with a dealer) and liked them all.
• Great rally car.
• Enough room for my needs.
• Lower loan interest on a new car.
• I really like this model in “copper red mica.”

• Spendy
• Most people dismiss Miatas (unfairly) which would not bother me at all except that Susan is one of them.

Those are the contenders. What do you think? What other cars should I consider? Your responses will help guide me as I begin “Step Two,” which will consist of a series of e-mail “feelers” to salespeople I may never meet. Can’t wait.

Copyright David Preston 2011

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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