Buying a Car: Step 4.1 Hiatus Interruptus
As frequent readers know, we have put our car purchase adventure on hiatus while we wait for the arrival of the 2012 Chevy Sonic and Honda Civic Si models. These two models are two of the (now) four that remain from our original wide-ranging list of a dozen or more.
Being on hiatus does not equate to hibernation, however, so when we found ourselves both at home on a sunny day we chose to go looking – “just for fun.” I think people looking “just for fun” probably account for 75% of new car sales, so such a little adventure must be undertaken with caution.
The prompt for this came in the form of an e-mail from Doug’s Lynnwood Mazda, letting me know of an incentive program for the Miata that has been on and off our list. Susan does enjoy a convertible, and I felt that the disappearing hardtop of the Grand Touring spec Miata would be sensible, since whatever we purchase will spend most of its life outdoors. As we drove there and conversed ourselves to dangerous levels of enthusiasm, we both began to make concessions. No capability to carry 4 people on the rare occasions I need to? We could plan around that. The most radical idea came from Susan – we could park “my” Miata inside if I agreed to warm up her car for her each morning. That would be easy, so on to a test drive as eager buyers!
Since the Miata in our chosen spec was the most expensive car on our list of possibles, it was almost a relief that it did not impress. Nothing wrong with the car, but the first impression was that it took a bit of effort to get into – with a very small door opening, a long way down to the seat, and a narrow and deep foot well. Once ensconced, the controls and center console seemed cramped. This was odd, since I drove about 45 examples of the Miata when I worked for Doug’s years ago and do not recall them being all that tight, even one or two with the optional hard top. True, that was a completely different car, and I am a dozen years less limber, but it was still a bit of a mystery.
Off on the test drive, with the really cool self-stowing top down, of course, things did not improve. The windshield header is massive, and blocks your view of subtle context hints like a lot of the sky you paid for the top to see, and traffic lights. The windshield itself is a bit laid back and narrow – great for the looks of the car but not so terrific for seeing out of. A massive rear view mirror also obstructs, and when you add them all together I felt the car was actually dangerous to drive. The vision to the rear with two large side mirrors seemed better than to the front.
Add in the meager trunk space and total absence of extra space in the interior and you have a wonderful car – but not for us.
On the way home we did a “might as well.” Since the Totem Lake Fiat dealer is only a mile or two from home, and since we were headed that way – might as well see if they have any of the new Fiat 500s on the lot yet.
It’s a cautionary sign when your wife says as you drive on the lot – “What’s that cute car over there.” Her impressions only grew more positive from there. This particular car was a promo car to be used for teach drives, and in a copper metallic hue she loved and I did not – fortunately the salesman told me you can no longer order it!
As we drove around with salesman Robert John in the back seat, the car and the salesman kept serving up winners. Right arm rest – check. Ability to see – check. Smooth as silk transmission – check. All sorts of air bags, speakers, and other mod-cons – check. Salesman who is informed, talks to both of us, feeds us useful information at a digestible rate and avoids being “pushy” (hard to do, by the way) – check
The engine is not a powerhouse, and the stick shift is only a 5 speed, but both of those fit with the character of the car. If you slow down for a corner and do not shift down far enough, there is simply no power. This can be considered a minus, or also a plus, as it forces you to remain engaged in driving the car. In the correct gear and revved appropriately, this is a very engaging and fun car to drive. Fast? Not particularly. Fun? Oh yes.
It strikes me that my taste in cars is paralleling my development as a motorcycle rider. Once I was all about speed and performance and would accept all sorts of design compromises to keep that flame lit. Now I prefer to sit up and be comfortable and involved with the motorcycle. The horsepower and ultimate speed potential are almost irrelevant, as in the real world I never use all or even most of either. Could be I am getting older, but I think I am actually faster than in past decades because I am more efficient. Possibly I am getting smarter… but probably not.
An expected MPG of near 30 on regular fuel is also a boon.
At the end of the day, we were encouraged to order one – no money up front and no final price, and no obligation to buy. This sort of thing has been done by several companies in the past few years, as your own customer base will establish the popularity of various options and colors for your area, and if the customers do not choose to purchase “their” car you simply have added sales stock to your dealership that has a slightly higher probability of matching customer wants for your particular area.
And so we did. We ordered a Fiat 500 with the manual shift in metallic red (it IS Italian after all), with the larger 16 inch wheels (Pirelli P7 tires – remember when the P7 was THE exotic tire of choice?), the sunroof (which I was going to skip but Susan loved), a black interior and $22 worth of molded rear splash guards. Add in delivery and other charges and the total will be $19,300 or so – minus the trade on our Focus (to be determined)
In the meantime, we await the arrival of the 2012 Chevy Sonic and the Honda Civic Si – either of which could topple the Fiat. The Si would be more money, but it arguably much more car. The Sonic will be less money, and is arguably less car.
In the background, waiting patiently, is the Kia Soul. So much equipment and refinement at a reasonable price. This is the car the logician says we should purchase, and we may yet. I have promised the Chuck Olsen Chevy salesperson I would come to him first for a test drive of the Sonic when it arrives, and he also sells Kia, so….
The hiatus continues!
Copyright 2011 David Preston