Surprise!! Wait, eh… forget it.

We all know that I need a new car. This has never been more apparent than this morning as I found myself underneath the chassis of my Mazda with a Saws-All doing some emergency surgery on a broken sway bar pivot connector.

I was going to surprise my friends and family with the purchase of a new vehicle this weekend. For the past few weeks I’ve been knee-deep in the search, including some test drives and visits to dealers. But forget all that surprise stuff. The trouble is that there are some events that probably shouldn’t be surprises – and car purchasing likely falls in this category. Especially when so many people have great advice on automobiles.

So what’s on my car menu? A lot.

To name a few: BMW 3series, Ford Fusion, Mercedes C Class, Cadillac CTS, Acura TL, Lincoln MKZ, etc

These cars could be debated all day long and I’ve asked many people for their thoughts. But the best rundown comes from ex-roommate Nick who put together a fantastic review of these vehicles. Granted, it’s targeted towards me but perhaps you can gain some wisdom from his love for the auto. His… autophilia? (ha! this means narcissism.)

Here goes. Nick T. on a Mike D. car:

Ok, here’s the recs. Based on little to no research, and no price comparisons, just kind of off the top of my head thoughts. Take it at risk. Maybe you’ve even bought a car already. And as they’re top of my head, it will be a very rambling email. You’ve been warned. So here’s the cars you sent to me:

BMW 3 series:
I like BMW 3 series. Enough that an early 2000s 3 series was at the top of my list when I was car shopping. The have a great focus on driving dynamics – if you want a compact car with a 50/50 weight distribution (big enough of a goal that they do things like put the battery in the trunk), 4 doors, and rear wheel drive, there really isn’t much else of a choice. The problems are, you’re also paying a lot for the name, you’ll also pay in maintenance, and I don’t imagine paying for driving dynamics is top of your list. BMWs are also very gizmo packed. They are known for making great engines and transmissions, but EVERYTHING else will fail on it, especially if you plan on keeping it >5 years. If you fix it yourself, eh, not that much money. Parts aren’t bad, labor is. Pay someone else to do it, and you’re talking bigger bucks than most other brands. The bigger the series (5 serires, 7 series), the bigger the size, but also the more the gizmos, which would be very cool, but more $$, both now and later. The larger series are tempting because they tend to be very “fashionable” and drop in price very quick once the newness has faded, but it will continue to plummet when you own it, you don’t need something that big, and when all the nonsense starts to break it will be annoying.

Anyways, if you’re looking at the BMW, get the 328. Either get the X (that’s AWD – but you lose a lot of the driving dynamics) or get snow tires as well. If you don’t do either of those, it will suck in winter. By suck, I mean you will crash. You don’t need the 335, with the twin turbos and all that. Those cars have had some kind of turbo problem that shows up in a few years anyways, I forget what exactly. They might have fixed it by now, but BMW tends to be very German and stubbornly insist that they haven’t done anything wrong, like when they stuck with plastic impellers on the water pumps of the older model 3 series for years and years despite them all breaking after 4 years or so.

The Americans – cheaper and cheaper parts/maintenance. Especially considering you have no Japanese cars on this list you’re comparing it too.
Ford Fusion:
Don’t know much about this car, but it reviews well. Well proven engine. I’m not a personal fan of American cars using V6s to make I4 kind of power – it just makes the engine bays so much more crowded than it needs to be, but they do sell an I4 model – that’s probably what you should get anyways. And it’s a midsize, so a bit bigger than I like. The Ford Sync system is REALLY slick. All around good choice though. Won’t carry any name prestige, if that matters. I sound pretty negative here, but I’ve had this as a rental and liked it, it just has no standout attributes. Pretty vanilla, other than the Sync.

Lincoln MKZ:
The obvious, but if you don’t know – Lincoln is owned by Ford, and this car shares the SAME chassis as the Fusion, along with the engine. Literally the same car with a new skin. Like I said, well proven engine, Ford’s been using some version of it for over a decade. Don’t know much else about it, but it’s just a more upscale version of the Fusion. That’s it. Keep that in mind, that all the extra dollars (whatever that amount is) over the Fusion goes straight to a name, bigger profit margins, and a nicer/quieter interior. Judge it accordingly. Probably has some squishier suspension too, if that’s your thing.

Cadillac CTS:
I’m a fan of the Caddy, and it’s another vehicle that has reviewed awesomely. Very very well. Also, they sell it in a sport wagon. OMG. GET IT. I love wagons. They are just awesome. You should buy it just so I can buy it from you in a few years. Anyways, it’s another rear wheel drive choice like the BMW, this time in mid-size. Once again, get AWD, or suck it up and get some snow tires and learn to actually drive in the snow. It would be worth it. The fact the GM plans to come out with a compact size Cadillac is a big part of why I invested with them – like I said, no one really competes with BMW with a compact 4 door car with RWD and good driving dynamics, and if they do well, it would be huge. Getting off topic – I like the car. Only con is an engine design that I think is relatively new – think it came out in mid-2000s, but it might have been brought over from the Australian division of Holden… hmmm, not sure on that one.

Back to Europe:
Mercedes C class:
I am not a Mercedes fan. They make big, heavy, overly complicated cars with a primary goal of feeling overwhelmingly separated from the road. Disclosure: I have not driven anything even remotely resembling a newer Mercedes, so this is mostly based on what they’re known for, etc. So not much else to say other than that. Clearly oriented to be luxury based, clearly higher maintenance costs (a few years ago they were charging like $400 for a refill of uric acid for exhaust injection in their diesel models {it’s an emissions thing}. yeah, I think charging $400 for what is basically a bottle of piss is a little overpriced), and clearly has the name prestige. Same story as BMW on the gizmos. They will be the first things to break. For you, being overwhelmingly separated from the outside world may be very desirable thing for a car. Your call.

And on to Japan:
I think you should also take a look at Acura and Mazda, specifically the Acura TL and the Mazda 3 (compact) or 6 (mid size). The TL and 6 will have much of the luxury of some of the above cars, at less price with japanese maintenance costs. They also both strike a bit of a balance for handling – both are known for good handling, but with FWD and medium stiff suspensions. The 3 is the same, it’s just more of a budget car – less luxury. I love the Mazda 3 wagon – if I was new car shopping, that would be near the top of the list. I’ve driven a few of those.

Ok, so the rambling is over. Wow, that ended a lot longer than I thought it would be.

Mike D. again:

I hope that you enjoyed that read! I really like the casual voice of Nick’s comments. And it should be said, Nick is a super smart dude – especially when it comes to things that are fast. If you’d like to add to any of his comments please feel free! The more information the better.

Ultimately, once I choose the car type – I’m going to try using to get as much information as possible. My father did this and reports great success. Stay tuned for the next episode in this unfolding drama!

19 thoughts on “Surprise!! Wait, eh… forget it.

  • 7/21/2011 at 12:47 pm

    If you’re going compact, highly recommend the VW GTI over the Mazda 3 (though the speedy Mazdaspeed 3 is more its competitor) the Mazdaspeed 3 is faster, but the VW GTI has a much nicer interior and the whole car is very well balanced and lovely to drive. I love mine, had it since 07, and the newer ones are really nice looking, but basically the same car.

    Also want to throw in support for the Mazda 6. Its on the smaller end for a midsize, but can still fit 4 adults comfortably. Very nice ride and handling, and quality interior.

    Since you’ve driven this car into the ground, and if I remember right its a pretty old car, I’d guess your priorities would lean more towards price conscious then driving experience. I’d go more towards Ford/GM (and I think Mazda, I’m not sure on their repair costs) Euro cars are super expensive to repair, I just had an issue with my seat belt where a wire had gone bad, and it was either pay 130 bucks for a seat belt, or rip the seat belt apart and fix it myself. Battery was the most expensive one at autozone for 210 bucks. Euros are a joy to drive, but you do pay for it.

  • 7/21/2011 at 1:30 pm

    No decision matrix?

    What sort of things are you looking for in a new car? So far, it seems just like a list of mid-size sedans. Will you be hauling a bunch of rock climbing stuff around? Driving on treacherous roads to get there?

    When I bought my latest car, I wanted something that was small enough to park easily in the city, yet had fold-flat rear seats such that I could sleep comfortably in the back when I need to. (I realize this makes me sound homeless, ha!)

    • 7/21/2011 at 8:46 pm

      I would also like to see a decision matrix. You can make one on google docs and then embed it on a page.

  • 7/21/2011 at 2:44 pm

    How quickly the Marketing Department Head of New Research Engineering (or what ever your title is) forgets his engineering roots. As Patrick mentioned what are you requirements? 2-door, 4-door, 5-door (wagon), compact, mid, full size, SUV, gas mileage, importance of gizmos, importance of performance (aka fast), front wheel, all wheel, rear wheel drive?

    As a vote for the GTI, I have a co-worker who’s had one for 3 years and likes it. Another co-worker just got one this week after a 4 year car search (I’m not exaggerating, he way over thinks things).

  • 7/21/2011 at 3:18 pm

    I’m sure you’ve already done this, but Consumer Reports is good reference for safety ratings, resale value etc. It’s good data to have on hand.

    2011 Subaru Outback? Sporty, workhorse, vaguely fancy looking considering it is a Subaru wagon. Super safe and great in the snow. Just sayin’.

  • 7/21/2011 at 3:38 pm

    I will stop periodically visiting your site if you buy anything else other than the Ac TL on that list. The TL should provide plenty of a status symbol for your new job title, plus its a quality made Honda product.

    Put up any list of cars you want then choose based on this: 1st pick-Honda, Toyota, or Subaru 2nd pick-anything else japanese

    The mike d I used to know would be looking at the cost of ownership of his car over 200,000 miles, so you don’t want costly repairs on BMW or a Benz, and you wouldn’t want to buy a lower quality American designed product.

  • 7/21/2011 at 5:50 pm

    On the above cars, I am assuming that you are looking for models built between ’87 and ’94. If not: WHO ARE YOU AND WHY HAVE YOU TAKEN OVER MY BROTHER’S WEBSITE??!

    If you are really Mike, and you are really looking for a new car, another explanation for this could be recent travel to an alternate universe. If this is the case, may I recommend the Honda Fit? Seriously. It is the most awesome car. Tons of room inside of it. I am jealous of all those who own Fits.

    • 7/21/2011 at 8:00 pm

      This is the best comment.
      Probably ever.

    • 7/21/2011 at 9:46 pm

      Also, yes. The Honda Fit is awesome. TONS of room, most usable space ever, and good fun to drive, especially the ’07-’08 ones.

      • 7/22/2011 at 8:21 am

        Just going to pile on, the fit is awesome. It has enough room to take two adults, and infant, and all the assorted accoutremants (including a bike) away for the weekend, and gets 40mpg in the summer.

        • 7/22/2011 at 11:27 am

          Remember when I said: “When I bought my latest car, I wanted something that was small enough to park easily in the city, yet had fold-flat rear seats such that I could sleep comfortably in the back when I need to.”

          I bought a Fit in 2008! Woo! Love it!

    • 7/22/2011 at 6:42 am

      Doesn’t this seem like some sort of delayed April Fools joke, where has Mike D gone?! Aliens have taken over.

      I have the perfect car for you, my Toyota Corolla with 210,000 miles on it!

  • 7/21/2011 at 5:52 pm

    Are you really spending money on this car? If so, why not just go all out on an Audi?

  • 7/21/2011 at 6:37 pm

    Very very true you need to decide what you’re looking for first. I had kind of gathered and assumed that you just wanted a 4 door sedan that you won’t get made fun of for owning based on what you chose and what you’d said before, but any other considerations should be made clear. Gas mileage a concern? Space? Space is why I love wagons – all the small size and handling characteristics of a car, tons and tons more usable space.

    Also, you mentioned by email that Cadillac is thought of as an old person car – general opinion tends to lag about 10 years behind actual products. Yes, the 1990s generation of Cadillac was FWD, unbelievably softly sprung, and too big. Old people bought them. Since the early 2000s, they are now RWD with a good balance of handling. Geez, they make the worlds fastest 4 door car, with the CTS-V (a 550 hp beast) beating out even the BMW M5 in track tests. They even make THAT in a wagon! With a 6 spd manual! Mercedes didn’t even MAKE a manual for their supercar, the SLR! Not an old person only car brand anymore. Another example of opinion lag – Hyundai. They don’t make bad cars anymore, but it’ll be another 10 years before they lose the bad name. Same story used to be true of the first Japanese cars sold here.

    Note on the Mazdas – the generation of Mazdas currently for sale right now were designed during a time of a GREAT deal of partnership between Ford and Mazda. The Mazda engines are the same design as the Ford ones – the Duratec and L engines are basically the same thing.

    Also, I applaud you for looking for a manual, and you’re right – you will have a hard time finding one, especially with the Ford, Mercedes, and Acura – they may not even offer one (Ford probably does as the “budget” option). I know Honda had no manual option for their V6 engines in the past. A uniquely American problem – about 80% of vehicles in the UK are bought as a manual, for example. As the BMW, Cadillac, and Mazdas are more performance oriented, those should be easier to find.

    Same story here as my email, no fact checking, just off the top of my head! So do your own in depth look, haha!

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  • 7/22/2011 at 1:34 pm

    Lexus is missing from your list. If you are looking for a status car to go with your new job title, just like the Acura has the Honda reliability but come cache, Lexus gets Toyota reliability.

  • 7/23/2011 at 11:29 pm

    I’d like to officially agree with Mike G.
    On everything from now on.

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