Saturday, January 03, 2009

Car Buying for M Part 1: Luxury Cars Disappoint

Not long ago, M decided that it was time for a new car. His old one has done good service low these many years, but it needed expensive repairs, so he decided it was time for something new. Well, not new exactly, but new to us. I'm delighted that M concurs with my belief that a brand new car is rarely worth the premium price. By some estimates, a brand new car loses 20% of its value by driving off the lot. In short, that "new car smell" comes at quite a price. But I digress

M decided to get a new car, but he wanted one that still had the practicality and AWD of his old Subaru. The question was, should he just buy another Subaru, or would it be more interesting to trade to something different? SUV's were right out from the beginning (need I explain?). Audi, Toyota, Volvo, Volkswagen, Infiniti, Saab, and several others have cars that met his criteria, but when we did a Consumer Reports search, some of these makes went out the proverbial window too. It seems that many cars aiming for the luxury AWD market do not fair so well on reliability ratings. With the options somewhat narrowed down, we moved on to my favorite part: the test drive.

The Subaru Impreza STI came first. Heading out, this is the car I thought M would probably buy, but he surprised me. The car is fast and sporty, it corners well, and it has AWD, but it had a turbo lag that wasn't much fun, and it had the curse of all Subaru’s: very poor leg room both front and back (there's also the clutch issue in my mind, but M doesn't seem bothered by that). Thus we walked away from the STI without buying.

Next came the Infiniti G30. Do you remember those Infiniti commercials with Jonathan Price? You know, the ones that are supposed to make you think of Infiniti's as suave and elegant and the epitome of controlled power? Yeah, not so much as it turns out. I really expected something special given the price and the hype, but the best thing I can say for this car is that it sounds really cool when you first turn it on (with a silly push button instead of a key). That throaty purr is not enough to make up for the fact that driving this car is no fun at all. Smooth and powerful sure, but also strangely heavy and unresponsive. I've also come to the conclusion that a tiptronic (at least the ones we drove) is just a fancy/smart automatic. I'll stick with a real manual (at least in cars that are meant to be sporty) thank you.

We declined to drive the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9 (which was stupid because it would have been fun to try once) because who wants to look that silly (plus it didn't meet M's criteria). We did not drive the BMW's, Volvos, Mercedes, Lexus, the RX-8 (sob!), the canary yellow Thunderbird or many of the other impractical or unreliable cars they had on that lot (I think maybe gas prices and the economy are helping people shed some of their sillier cars) In fact, by the end of that day, the only real contender on the list was a Subaru Forester XT in a most unlovely shade of brown. We went home without a new car.

On another weekend, we set out again, and this time we headed over to an Audi dealer. I expected the Audi dealership to be a funny place due to the level of snoots often put on by fancy car dealers. However, a very nice, low-pressure sales staff brought out an A4 for us to try. The Audi was certainly better than the Infiniti, but both cars lack the feedback that both M and I enjoy. The designers of these cars seem so focused on giving you a luxurious ride that they remove all "car" (feedback?) from the driving experience. I felt as though I could have been in an armchair watching a movie about driving. No thank you. I was all prepared to talk M down from buying such an expensive car, but I found it entirely unnecessary. Once again, we went home without a new car.

No comments: