annissamazing: It doesn't get much more awesome than Martha Jones (Martha smiles)
A few months ago, Justin and I went to the Fiat dealership up in Strongsville to test out the 500. At the time, the dealership was under construction, but they were taking test drives by appointment. However, the only car they had was a clutch, and neither Justin nor I know how to drive one. We liked the car, but couldn't quite get a feel for it because we never got it up past 25 miles per hour.

Yesterday, we went back up to the dealership to drive some automatic transmission models. The dealership is finished and looks very nice. There were little Fiat 500s everywhere! In all kinds of colors! We drove all three trims: the Pop, the Sport, and the Lounge.

First, we tried the Pop. Honestly, it was nothing special. I took it for a quick lap around the parking lot. One thing I noticed was when I took a sharp corner (and these little cars turn on a dime!), I felt like I was going to slide out of the driver's seat. Not a good feeling.

Next, the salesman pulled around the Lounge. This surprised me because I didn't want to test drive the Lounge. It's the most expensive of the three and I was more interested in the Sport. So I was surprised when it was my favorite of the three. It was a comfortable drive and I didn't feel like I was going to slide out of my seat. The downside is the optional sunroof lowers the roof of the car about 2 or 3 inches, which made both Justin and me hit our heads on the roof every time we tried to shift in our seats.

When we got back to the dealership, they were getting ready to close, but I asked if they wouldn't mind if I took a quick lap around the parking lot in a Sport. One without a sunroof. They let me take it a bit further than the parking lot, so I popped it into sport mode and hit the gas. Honestly, I wasn't impressed. I took it around an industrial park and back. Though the handling was nice, the acceleration wasn't what I was hoping for. I brought it back and when I said that I preferred the Lounge, Justin piped up and said he wanted to drive the Sport. He was gone far longer than I was. When he got back, he gave me the strangest look. I went to see what was up and as I got closer to the car, I began to smell something unpleasant. I walked up to his window and said, "You must've had fun. I can smell the car." He laughed and told me he'd tell me about it later.

After the test drive, we went to an Italian restaurant just down the street from the dealership and he told me that he was doing donuts and J-turns in some parking lot and nearly set the brake calipers on fire. He's in love with the Sport. Totally in love with it.

We told our salesman that we'll make a decision in 90 days or so (which is when we'll find out whether or not that promotion to assistant store manager will actually happen). Justin wants to custom-design the car, though he's well aware that I will likely take it from him and give him my Nitro.

It just makes sense for me to take the little car with good gas mileage to and from Kent when Justin's going to be so much closer to home. Gas is expensive!

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that when we got to the dealership, they were playing the classic Doctor Who theme over their sound system! Hee!!
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Me)
You know what? The jury's still out on this one. I liked what I saw and I liked how it felt, but I wasn't able to get a good idea of how the car drives because they only had a manual shift vehicle to drive and I don't know how to drive a manual. However, I had a great experience and I'm still pretty excited about this car.

When we talked to the salesman at the auto show, he told us that they only had a manual, but that he was willing to give us driving lessons. So that's what we did tonight. I'm now able to get from point A to point B without killing the engine, though I lack finesse. Unfortunately, I didn't feel comfortable enough to take it onto streets that had other cars on them. We've given the salesman our email and phone number so he can contact us when he gets an automatic transmission model on the lot. I'm willing to learn to drive a manual, but Justin insists on an automatic.

The interior was better designed than most of the models I've driven. The controls are large and contoured so they're easy to find without taking your eyes off the road. The test car we drove tonight was equipped with a BOSE sound system that sounded incredible. It has a USB iPod dock so I can stash my iPod in the glove box and use the car's controls to choose songs I want to hear.

The car is tiny, but there was plenty of room in the front for Justin even when I was seated comfortably in the back. The interior feels a lot like a more upscale MINI Cooper, but there is more room behind the back seats. I'll never be able to haul lumber, but there is plenty of room for my weekly shopping.

Fuel economy for a manual transmission is 30/38, which falls short of the mileage offered by other small cars, but is far superior to my Dodge Nitro or my favorite car of all time, the Volvo C30.

I was particularly impressed with our salesman, though. The dealership isn't actually open yet. It's still under construction. He's keeping us in the loop as the dealership comes together and will let us know when the first 500s arrive. The salesman obviously felt very passionately about Fiat and I always get a kick out of that.

However, I didn't agree with him on the looks of the car. He called it "beautiful," and insisted that when people first see it, their thoughts are always, "perfectly in proportion." I know that some designer has put a lot of thought into the design of this vehicle and he likely used the 1/3 proportions the salesman insisted were used throughout the vehicle, but, honestly, I don't think it's a beautiful car, and I didn't marvel at its proportions.

Eventually, I said this out loud, mostly because I couldn't smile and nod while he talked about how gorgeous it is. And even though I told him I didn't think it was beautiful, I also told him honestly that I thought it was a very striking car and that I liked how the design recalls the original design of the 500. It strikes me as very practical and not at all trendy.

He looked relieved and said, "For a moment, I thought you were going to call it cute."

I looked back at the car and said, "No, it's definitely not a cute car. It's distinctive, and I like that."

Justin disagrees with me. I believe he called it "hot as hell." It takes all kinds, I guess.

The Fiat 500 starts at $15,500. Equipped the way Justin and I want it, it will be $18,300. It's not a bad price for a car, though it is a bit more than I want to spend for such a little one.

We're still going to check out the Mazda 2 and Justin also wants to look at the Mazda 3, which I've already test driven and liked quite a lot.

Ok, it looks sorta hot in this pic. Hotter than reality, anyway.

This would be an excellent picture if it weren't for the terrible color scheme. Justin and I are leaning towards a dark brown/cream interior.
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
It's been a whole month since I drove this car. I've been putting it off because it's going to be so negative.

Admittedly, some of my complaints have to do with the rental agency I rented the car from. That's not Chevy's fault, but the two are linked in my mind. My irritation with that company probably made me less forgiving of the Impalas faults, which were numerous.

First impression: Bland. The Impala is a full-size sedan. There doesn't seem to be anything about this car that really sets it apart from it's competitors. The 2000-2005 models had the distinctive circular taillights that most people either loved or despised, but in 2006 the model was redesigned. It now sports triangular tail lights with a chrome strip across the trunk lid. Chevy seems to have been going for a "family" look as I've seen this same design on most of their late-model sedans.

The first order of business was getting the child's seat secured in the back. Chevy didn't make it easy on me. The LATCH hooks were buried underneath the foam so far that it was impossible to see. The seats were marked where you were supposed to put the car seat hooks. Unfortunately the marks didn't match up to the LATCH bars. The rental agency was not legally allowed to put the seat in the vehicle for me, but did me a favor by pressing the foam down around the general area of the car's LATCH hooks. After wrestling with the car seat for a solid 15 minutes, I signed my rental agreement, started the car, and pulled into traffic.

This particular Impala was powered by a 3.5 L V6 engine. This is only slightly smaller than the engine in my Dodge Nitro. While this engine was able to get the car moving, I was disappointed with the lack of pick-up. This was clearly not a vehicle that was designed with fun in mind. Additionally, the brakes were an interesting mix of unresponsive and touchy. I put my foot on it and nothing happened. I pressed it a little harder and was suddenly stopped on the freeway. Dominic's comment, "Woah!"

The interior of the car was comfortable. The seats were large, though adjusting them was mildly difficult. The wood across the dash was a nice touch, lending it an air of sophistication. The gear shift, however, was unmarked. You couldn't see what gear you were shifting in by glancing at it. You had to look below the speedometer. This wasn't difficult to figure out, but it wasn't intuitive either.

The stereo was a confusing mess. I found the auxiliary input easily enough and was able to listen to music through my iPod for most of the trip. But during the nighttime crossing over Snoqualmie Pass, I tried to switch to the traffic report and couldn't find the switch to turn to AM radio. I finally found it by pressing random buttons, though I don't remember which one I pressed that finally got the stereo tuned to AM. Also, the center-mounted volume knob was awkward and ill-placed. The sound quality was OK, but no better than the worst stereo I listened to while car shopping last year.

But all of these complaints amount to a hill of beans compared to the worst one. Which may have been the fault of the rental agency. I don't know.

The car didn't come with a key fob to unlock the doors or trunk of the vehicle. Please note that my Kia also didn't come with a key fob. However, my Kia had locks on both the passenger-side door and the trunk. The Impala lacked that feature. Any time I wanted to get into the vehicle, I had to unlock the driver's side door, then I could unlock the other doors. If I wanted to get into the trunk, I had to unlock the driver's side door, then hit the trunk release button located next to the steering wheel. This was especially irritating in Seattle while I was parallel parked, trying to dodge traffic with my son in my arms while I got my vehicle unlocked, then run around to the other side to actually put him in his carseat. When getting out of the car, I had to unlock all the doors, get Dominic out, reopen the driver's side door, then hit the button on the inside of the door to lock all of the doors. Locking and unlocking your vehicle should not be this difficult. It was so cumbersome that it even makes this paragraph difficult.

I could go on for hours about how much I disliked this car (I only managed to on for 20 minutes before boring people I actually spoke to about it). I wondered out loud to [ profile] gement "Why would anyone buy this piece of crap?" She suggested that it was the neat stylized impala on the side of the car. She might be on to something.

annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
I have a really hard time getting out of bed when my alarm goes off at 5:00 in the morning, so I usually listen to NPR for 15 - 20 minutes before hitting the shower. This morning there was a fairly long segment regarding an agreement between Fiat and Chrysler. I was only half conscious when I was listening to it so I looked it up on Wikipedia just now.

From Wikipedia, "On 20 January 2009, Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler LLC announced that they are going to form a global alliance. Under the terms of the agreement, Fiat takes a 35% stake in Chrysler and gains access to its North American dealer network in exchange for providing Chrysler with the platform to build smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles in the US and reciprocal access to Fiat's global distribution network.[23][24]

"The new equity holder would have the option of increasing that to as much as 55%. Fiat, the stronger of the two, wouldn't immediately put cash into Chrysler. Instead it would obtain its stake mainly in exchange for covering the cost of retooling a Chrysler plant to produce one or more Fiat models to be sold in the U.S. Fiat would also provide engine and transmission technology to help Chrysler introduce new, fuel-efficient small cars."

I find this news very exciting for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, they would retool at least one Chrysler plant here in the U.S. to produce Fiat models. This is good news for blue collar auto workers.

Secondly, this is good news for car dealerships that would sell vehicles people might actually buy.

Justin's dealership deals mainly in Chrysler products and also sells used cars. I'm a little nervous about his job since Chrysler is the weakest of the Big 3. Fiat may not be highly regarded in the world market, but I hope they can inject enough life into Chrysler to keep it going.

I'm totally test driving the Fiat 500 if it ever comes to the U.S. It is, perhaps, not the most attractive car with it's beady little headlights and rear bumper that juts out from the lines of the sloping tailgate like an underbite. But everyone seems to rave about this little car and I can't wait to try it for myself.

annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
Now that Justin's working at the Chrysler dealership, there's a lot of pressure to buy from them. It's probably because Justin is exposed to these cars 11 hours every day, 6 days a week. He gets ideas, you see.

On Saturday evening, about the time he was going to be getting off work he called me at home and asked me to go down there. He found something he wanted me to take a look at. He sounded so excited that I immediately got myself and Dominic got dressed, groomed, and driven to the dealership. He showed me his find: a 2008 Dodge Nitro. It wasn't what I had in mind, but I checked it out. Justin has been listening to me talk about cars for months. He knew exactly what I was looking for and he didn't disappoint. The first thing he looked for was a good sound system. Now, the Nitro's 4 speakers can't really compete with the C30's 8 (what could?), but once I fine tuned it, it sounded darn good. Next, he made sure it wasn't underpowered. The Nitro comes with a 3.7 litre V6. It's a lot of vehicle, but the engine gets it moving quickly. It also has part-time 4 wheel drive, which will be handy in these Ohio winters.

The Nitro is a Jeep Liberty with a Dodge badge. There are a few other differences. For instance, the Nitro is bigger. But the Liberty and the Nitro share a platform and are actually built on the same line in Toledo.

The interior is really nice. It has the two-tone look that I loved in the C30 R-design and the seats are comfortable and roomy. The control panel is easy to understand and use. It's not too difficult to climb into and I don't have to bend over to get Dominic in and out of his car seat.

The dealership was closing so they let us take it home for the night. We drove to Fairlawn to get some dinner and I was impressed with the ride quality. I didn't feel like I needed to stomp on the brake to go around a corner (or risk flipping). In other words, it didn't feel like a truck. I found the steering responsive and the turn radius acceptable. It's a large vehicle so I was impressed with its maneuverability.

This particular Nitro was equipped with some nice extras such as cruise control and a sunroof. I could care less about the color, but Inferno Red is a good look on this aggressive looking SUV.

We signed the paperwork yesterday.

I still want the C30 very much. But my Sephia is dying and I need a new vehicle now. And at the price they were selling this Nitro, I couldn't say no. Fred Martin bought it from another dealership that was going out of business. So even though it only had 44 miles on it, Chrysler considers it a pre-owned vehicle. I bought it for what Fred Martin bought it for plus taxes and title.

I'm sad to give up on the C30, but Justin is under strict orders. If the dealership gets one in, he is to immediately trade in his Rio for it. Then he gets the Nitro and I get the C30. So hope is not lost. In the meanwhile, I really do like my new truck.

One day, I will own a vehicle that doesn't have a stupid name. One day.

Dominic got to hit the sales gong before we left. The thing is so loud that the entire joint rattles and shakes. Kinda scary actually. The first time I heard it there was a woman in the room who was startled and said, "What was that?!"

Justin said, "The Chinese are invading." Justin and I were snickering ourselves to death, but the woman didn't think it was funny.

annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
Ok, I've been thinking about it and I want the Challenger.

This post subject to change.
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
Continuing on:

I drove several vehicles yesterday. After the Challenger, I drove the Caliber, then the Chrysler Sebring, then the Jeep Liberty.

First the Caliber: Love the look. Hate the drive. End of story.

Jeep Liberty: Ok. It's a truck. It drives like one. I'm not interested.

Chrysler Sebring: Even more surprising than the Rabbit. I took it on the freeway and hit the gas. It shot up the ramp like a bullet. It shifted pretty hard, but it was cold so I'm giving it a little slack there. Way more fun to drive than I was expecting. The sound system was mediocre, but could be good with some tweaking. Exterior styling was boring. I wouldn't buy this car.


Dodge makes the Sebring's sister car: The Avenger. Everything is the same except the exterior styling. Large trunk, comfortable cabin, 6 cylinder engine... But it looks like this:

It's not quite as nice as the Challenger, but it has that aggressive front end and some interesting styling along the rear half of the vehicle. Not too shabby. Surprisingly, this car costs about the same as the Challenger. It's just far more practical.

I could see myself in this car. It has the most important elements I'm looking for. I don't love it like I love the C30, but there are other things to consider.

Most importantly: this car would be way easier to service and repair. Everything from spare parts to tires would cost a lot less than the Volvo.

Four doors does make it easier to get Dominic in and out of the car. I want to ignore this on the Volvo because I love it so much, but there's really no getting around it.

The Dodge has at least 8 times as much cargo space. That's not a joke or an exaggeration.

The Avenger costs about the same as the C30. However, with Justin's employee discount, they knock about 3K off the price. There's a used C30 on sale down in Columbus for 1K less than a brand new Avenger. The Avenger has a lifetime powertrain warranty. The used C30 has no warranty.

My heart still says C30, but my mind says Avenger. I'm not ready to lay down 20 grand for a new car just yet, so I have time to think about it. But my poor Kia is having a rough time of it (it's in the shop today) and I think it may be time to break down and replace it. Before it breaks down and becomes worthless.


Jan. 26th, 2009 07:38 am
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
On December 5, 2008 I said this:

"1.) American car manufacturers can make good cars. They usually choose not to.
2.) The very few well-made cars they actually make are well outside my price range.
3.) American-made cars are ugly. Yeah, that's right. I said it."

I must now retract item #3. I said that before I saw this:

The 2009 Dodge Challenger SE.

Elegant, it isn't. Sophisticated? Not really. But there's nothing quite like the quintessential American muscle car. You can practically hear it growling at you through the picture.

Now, I must halfway retract item #2. This car starts at $21K. (The jury is still out on how well made it is.)

I maintain my position on item #1.

Justin started his new job at the largest Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge dealership in the greater Akron area back in November. Things are going well for him there and he thought it would be a good time for me to pick back up my car shopping. He took me there yesterday to look at some vehicles. I've had a thing for the Jeep Grand Cherokee since I rented one back in October '07. Of course, the Challenger caught my eye immediately and I just had to drive it.

Maybe it's because Justin works for the dealership. Maybe it's because they had 50 appointments to handle within the 5 hours they were open that day. Whatever the reason, they pulled the car around and left me to my own devices. I grabbed a CD, jumped in the driver's seat and took off down the freeway with just myself and Ben Folds (Justin entertained Dominic in the dealership's play area).

Driving it was great. It wasn't as fluid as the C30. Not as controlled. But the power behind it... wow.

I can't think of much to describe this car. I hadn't done any research on it (heck, I didn't even know they still made it). I didn't fall in love with it, but I think I have a case of serious lust with it.

But then reality kicks in. This is a 2-door vehicle, and it's only easy to get in the back from the passenger side. There's a negative, but it wasn't the worst. The worst is that I live in Northeastern Ohio where the winters are nasty, cold, wet, and icy. The Challenger is rear wheel drive. Add the automatic transmission and you have a recipe for disaster on Ohio's icy roads in rush hour. Trust me, I drove an '88 Mercury Cougar through downtown Akron during the worst snow storm of '99. There's nothing quite like blocking two lanes of rush-hour traffic on the busiest street in the city because you can't get the front of your car to go up a hill.

It's fun to dream, though, isn't it?
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Volvo)
The short version: This is the most perfect vehicle in existence.

I wrote that short version so that those of you who don't care about the details can move on with your life. Also, I'm gonna start gushing now and if gushing makes you sick, skip the rest of this post.

I had actually hoped to hate this car. I had hoped that the back seat would be impossible to get into, that there would be no cargo room, that the seats would be horribly uncomfortable, and that it would be no fun to drive. Because if I hated this car I could get a new car much sooner. But I love this car. And I mean, really, love. When I finished my test drive my heart was racing, I was out of breath and my hands wouldn't stop shaking. It was like falling in love.

It took me longer to get to the dealership than I expected, but I didn't mind. This is the one time of year that I love Ohio. It is truly beautiful in October. The weather is cool, but not cold and the fall color is in full display. Today couldn't have been more beautiful. By the time I got to the dealership the sun was out and the temperature was in the high 50s and rising.

There was a C30 in the showroom and while someone tried to track down Steve Paduan (heheheh) I checked out the car I had only seen before in pictures. This car looks so pretty in pictures, but pictures did it no justice. This car is *smooth*. I couldn't help but run my hand along its curves and stare in admiration. It is gorgeous.

Steve P. was unavailable to show me the car, so he assigned another sales associate to help me: Rob. Rob did something no other salesman I've met has done before. He told me all about the car. I stood there next to him as he told me all about it's origins, it's concept, the materials it's made out of, the safety features, the engine, the engine's orientation under the hood, the crumple zones, the air tunnels to cool the battery. Rob knew his stuff inside and out. So let's get started, shall we?

The C30 started off as an S40. They chopped about 8 inches off the back and added a hatch. It has all the safety features one expects in a Volvo. Sturdy roll cage, thick support columns, side curtain airbags, front airbags, even airbags that pop out of the sides of the seat to protect your ribs in the event of a side collision. The engine is mounted sideways under the hood. This not only allows for a smaller vehicle, but it also leaves plenty of space for the engine to drop below the cabin instead of through the cabin in the event of a head-on collision. They've built little cooling tunnels in the hood to keep the battery at the right temperature for optimum performance. The C30 is made from a special kind of steel that's 3 times stronger than the steel typically used to build cars. That also makes the car heavier, which explains it's unimpressive gas mileage.

The C30 comes with a 227 horsepower five-cylinder turbo-charged engine capable of going from 0 - 60 in 6.2 seconds.

The interior of the R-design in the showroom was beyond words. It was equipped with two-tone leather and T-tech upholstery in quartz and black. The center console "waterfall" display was textured in a way that's hard to explain. I had to run my finger through the swirls to be sure it was actually there. There is a large storage area behind the center console, perfectly sized for a medium-sized purse like the one I carry. The center console itself was somewhat difficult to understand. But that's because you have an entire onboard computer in it that allows you to control everything from your music balance to how long you want your headlights to stay on when you get home. Rob dared me to reach the back of the glove box. It's so deep that it's impossible to reach the back of it from the driver's seat. It may actually go all the way back to the engine.

One of my concerns was getting Dominic in and out of the back seat. No worries there, either. There are handles on the sides of each of the front seats. Just pull up and push forward and the seat folds and slides to the front of the car leaving you ample room to get in and out of the back seat. Pull up on the handle again and push back and the seat unfolds and slides back to it's original position. The back seats themselves are comprised of two bucket seats (the C30 is an unapologetic 4-seater). Because they're bucket seats, they sit closer to the middle of the car which leaves more room between my passengers and any cars that might hit the side of mine. Rob had me sit in the back and while the front seat was a little too close to my legs for my liking, I must admit that they are the most comfortable back seats I have ever sat in, which will be good for those long drives to Nashville. There was also ample headroom.

The cargo area wasn't huge, but there was enough space for my weekly groceries and a suitcase or two for travel, which is all I need. The all-glass rear hatch was just as sexy in person as it is in the ads.

Now that I knew all about the car, Rob went to get one for me to test drive. I met him as he backed the car into a parking space. He got out of the car and asked me, "Hey, you wanna grab one of your CDs?" And I thought, "You are the best salesman ever." I grabbed "Absolution" by MUSE since it has some really big sound on it and I wanted to really test the sound system. We sat in the parking space listening to "Apocalypse Please" while we adjusted the balance on the car's computer. We got it perfect at the end and the huge sound coming from the car's 8 speakers literally made me gasp. The song ended and Rob said, "I liked that song... You could play it again if you want." Feeling like he was humoring me (since he didn't ask the name of the band) I instead turned on "Hysteria" (I've never met anyone who didn't like that song) turning it up as loud as I could stand and off we went. He first took me through one of Cleveland's MetroParks. I was going about 40 mph when I came to a curve that warned me to slow down to 20. Rob shouted over the music, "Don't touch the brake!" I didn't. I wish I was more eloquent. Then I could describe how this car grabbed onto the road and executed the most beautiful turn on this sharp corner. The handling on the C30 made me feel like a professional driver. And this is the moment I fell in love. Driving too fast down a winding road with the sun shining down on leaves changing a rainbow of colors while listening to my favorite music. Excuse me for a moment while I try to burn that memory into my brain forever.

Ah, ok. I'm back.

We left the MetroPark and got onto the freeway. This is when he encouraged me to stomp on it. So I did. I was surprised at first because when I hit the gas the car just kind of went. But when I got the gas pedal past a certain point the car *went*. Remember 0-60 in 6.2 seconds? Oh, yeah. It's a surprisingly heavy car so it takes a little bit of coersion to really make it perk up. But when it does, hold onto your hats! I've never been one to do the weaving through traffic bit, but I had to in this case and it was totally worth it. (Under normal driving conditions I wouldn't do this, but I had to test it out.) There was no one on that stretch of I-480 who could even touch me.

It was the longest test drive I've been on and it was over too quickly. I could see myself in the reflection of the windows of the dealership as I pulled up to it and I liked what I saw.

I've known it from the beginning and now, having driven all of these different vehicles, it's been confirmed:

The C30 is the one for me.

annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
I haven't gone shopping for a couple of weeks because my sitter needed the past two Thursdays and Fridays off for personal reasons. So instead of car shopping I spent quantity time with my son, which was awesome.

But I'm back to having Friday afternoons to my own self, so off to the dealerships I went. I'm nearly done with my list of cars. I'm down to the ones I should check out, but can't really muster much excitement for.

I decided to check out Hyundai since it was closest to my house. I walked around the showroom for a bit looking for a model that interested me. I promised Ulrich I would check out the Sonata. I hear only good things about it. When the salesman introduced himself I told him I was there to look at the Sonata, but I was really more interested in a hatchback. He showed me the one hatchback their dealership carried and it was only two doors. Now, the Volvo is also only two doors, but it has some room to it as well. This Hyundai didn't, so it was out. I kept coming back to the Sonata saying, "I said I'd look into it." But the Sonata just doesn't make my skirt fly up, no matter how highly people speak of it. The salesman caught on and said, "Well, how about the Lancer. It's not a hatchback, but it's pretty sporty." He's right; the Lancer is a sharp-looking car. But does it have the substance I'm looking for? Mitsubishi is one of the best car manufacturers in the world (I heard someone say that on Top Gear last night). I was willing to check it out.

The car was certainly roomy enough and it was sporty-looking despite being a sedan. The salesman, Pete, left to grab one to test drive (an orange one since I mentioned I was happy to see they actually had some interesting colors) and I fiddled with the controls of the one in the showroom. Can I just say, I love the interior of this car. It was roomy and comfortable. The center console was extremely clean showing only a navigation system and 3 climate control knobs. I couldn't even find the CD player! I knew it had one. Pete said that you just put your CDs in the player, it scans it and saves everything to a hard drive in the car and you never need to carry CDs around again. I started fiddling with the navigation system and noticed an "open" button. I hit it and the whole thing slowly slid out of the dash then laid down flat and exposed a CD player. I guess it doesn't have to be easily accessible if you only use it to load your music into the car. This car was an automatic transmission with a clutchless manual option (that's not quite the word I'm looking for. It comes with the automatic, but you can use it or not, whatever). I like the clutchless manual. It could come in very handy during our harsh winters. It also had paddle gearshifters. I've only seen those on TV!

The car was somewhat disappointing when it comes to power. It had a moderate amount of torque and it was able to accelerate going uphill. But it didn't have the power of the Cooper S or the Rabbit, which is now my baseline. Still, it was a smooth and comfortable ride and it shouldn't have any problems holding it's own on the freeway.

I enjoyed my experience with this particular dealership. Pete was friendly and steered me towards a car I originally had no intention of considering, but ended up quite liking.

I drove over to a Kia dealership next. The dealership I went to today was the same dealership I bought my Kia from in '99. They stopped selling them about a month after I bought my car, but they picked up the line again about 2 years ago. I was looking forward to checking out Kia. I currently own two and am very pleased with both of them. My original experience with this particular dealership was pleasant so I felt comfortable going there again. I kind of wish I hadn't.

I pulled into the lot and before I'd even parked my car, a toothless salesman named Bob was shouting and waving to me. "Ready to buy a new one?!" I gave him the benefit of the doubt (seriously, the Mazda guy was much funnier looking, but he turned out to be awesome) and joked back, "Yeah! Let's do it!" I wanted to check out 3 cars: The Rio (because I like how it looks), the Spectra (because it's roomier than the Rio), and the Rondo (because both Lisa and my brother Aaron speak so highly of theirs). Bob walked me around the lot and pointed each car out. And that was it. I asked him what the difference was between the Rio and the Rio5 and he said, "equipment." I asked him what equipment and he didn't respond. Finally I said, "Can I get inside them?" He asked me to wait while he went inside to get keys. I heard his name called on the speaker so I wasn't surprised when another man (I can't remember his name; let's call him "Dave") came to me and introduced himself. He let me inside the cars and stood there until I'd fiddled with everything inside them. I said I preferred the Spectra simply for the extra space, but that I also wanted to see the Rondo. He went back inside for another key while I waited by the car I wanted to see. He pulled the car out of it's space so I could get in (they're packed in that lot like sardines). I was impressed with the layout of the vehile and the amount of space in it. I kept expecting the Kias to feel familiar, but they're completely different from either one I currently own. The dash controls were well laid out and easy to understand. The gear shift was in an unusual place, but I liked it. It also had the clutchless manual that many of the other cars I've tested have had. The sound system was decent. The drive was incredibly smooth. The road he took me on was one of those cement highways where the car goes "thump! thump! thump!" every half second, but I didn't feel or hear anything. The ride was pleasant. The power decent. It's only a 4-cylinder, but felt more powerful. I wasn't pleased with the huge blind spot over my left shoulder, but the mirrors were large enough to cut the blind spot out almost completely.

The Rondo comes loaded with options you don't generally see on a car under $20K. Because this particular model was an '08 and I'm a current Kia owner, they would knock $3K off the price of the vehicle bringing the total cost to just over $15K. That's hard to say no to.

But I'm gonna. Let me tell you why. The salesman didn't want to sell it to me. Did he say that? No. But he might as well have. I've been completely upfront and honest with every person I've dealt with while car shopping. I've told them what I'm looking for, what I've looked at, and my timeline to buy. I didn't say anything different to Dave, but the instant I said, "Volvo" the test drive was over. He wouldn't tell me about the car. He wouldn't tell me about incentives. He wouldn't even give me directions back to the dealership. I ended up babbling about the things I liked about the vehicle (which were numerous) until we got back. We walked into the dealership and he handed me some literature. He wouldn't shake my hand when I left.

The difference between the dealerships I went to today were shocking. The first one was so pleasant. I didn't look at what I thought I was going to look at, but I left happy and with a coca-cola in my hand (as well as literature on the Lancer and even finance and lease information). I went to Kia to look at cars I actually wanted to see and the salesmen couldn't even be assed to let me compare them. This experience also stands in sharp contrast to my original dealings with this particular dealership. I bought my Sephia with a cracked taillight which they promised to fix for me. The owner himself called me to let me know the part had come in and to apologize for the wait. Dave left me with this statement, "I hope your experience here was better than some of the others you've had." WTF?
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Volvo)
No, it wasn't on my list, but I pulled into the Volkswagen dealership and it fit what I was looking for looks-wise.

I walked into the dealership and asked to test drive the GTI and the Rabbit. They didn't have a GTI with an automatic transmission, so I just test drove the Rabbit. Surprise of the century: I loved it. I mean, I *really* loved it. Loved it enough to want to buy it right then and there.

The interior was roomy. I even crawled into the backseat and there's plenty of space for an adult (although the seats were very hard). The backseats folded flat for even more cargo space. The insignia on the hatch is also the hatch release mechanism (very cool feature!). Everything was laid out exactly where I expect it to be. The stereo sounded good. Not as good as the Saturn, but darn close. If it had that extra speaker in the center of the dash, it would have been just as good. Also included in the 4-door trim is a 6-disc CD changer and auxiliary input.

It had plenty of torque to make me feel like I was really flooring it when I hit the gas and just enough horsepower to make me feel like it wasn't a gutless wonder. And the kicker: The "S" Gear.

On the Tiptronic transmission, below every other gear is the letter "S". Pop it into S Gear and the Rabbit drives exactly like the Cooper S. Near the end of my test drive I asked about it. The salesman (who hadn't said a word through the whole test) said I could shift into it at any time at any speed. I shifted in to S Gear right before taking a left-hand turn and ripped around that corner like nobody's business.

The Rabbit is available in a 2-door or 4-door trim. Unlike the other vehicles I've been looking at, the Rabbit doesn't suffer from loss of good looks as soon as you add an additional 2 doors. It offers a combination of sporty looks and performance, comfy interior, plenty of cargo space, exceptional safety ratings, and good audio equipment at a price under $20K.

This could be it. This could be the car for me.

A Rabbit. Who would've guessed it?!

I'll still be testing the other vehicles on my list, but this is the first vehicle that I felt like I wouldn't be compromising on if I bought it instead of the C30.

Current top pick: Volkswagen Rabbit
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)
I was talking to co-worker Mark who has a friend who had always driven Volvos. His friend, apparently, had test driven the Nissan Versa and fell in love with it so hard that she gave up on Volvos and switched. I looked up the Versa and it shot straight up my list to the #2 spot right under the C30. My only problem was finding a dealership that had the Versa with the CVT (continuously variable transmission). I eventually found a dealership down in Massillon with one in stock. I called and was told that they didn't have one to test drive, but they offered to let me drive a regular Versa, then drive a Sentra in order to get a feel for the CVT. This was not a viable solution for me, so I gave them my name and number and instructions to call me when they got the one I wanted in. They called me on Wednesday and said they had gotten one in (surprise! it was the one listed on their website I was staring at the first time I called). He said, "It's black. Is that ok?" This is the second dealership that has acted as though color would be the deciding factor on whether or not I'd buy a car. I actually get fairly insulted when they ask me what color I want to test drive. Am I being oversensitive? In any case, I thanked him and told him I'd be down Friday afternoon to test drive it.

Friday afternoon rolled around and I drove down to Massillon. I pulled into the dealership, parked my car, and was immediately greeted by a salesman. Which I liked. I hate wandering around looking for someone to help me. I said I was there to test drive the Versa with the CVT. He said, "Are you Annissa?" I said I was and he said, "Oh, I have to go find that car." He continues mumbling, "It could take a while... I'm not sure where it is." The good impression he'd made by meeting me at the door vaporized. When a potential customer calls days ahead of time to give you a headsup that they're going to come test drive a vehicle, it's a small thing to actually find the car and make sure it's in top condition and easily accessible. 10 minutes later, he pulled the car to the front. It was filthy. But only on the outside. The inside was incredibly clean. In fact, it was still entirely wrapped in plastic. I have no idea what the interior fabric feels like.

I want to be fair to this vehicle, though. There are several Nissan dealerships I could order it from, since this dealership doesn't seem to have their act together.

This car has the best price point of any vehicle I've tested so far. The hatchback Versa with the CVT comes fully loaded, including sunroof, remote keyless entry and ignition, 6 disc cd-changer, auxiliary input for Mp3 player, power everything, bluetooth capabilities, and ABS (which is inexpliably optional on the other trims). Every conceivable option is loaded into this car for around $18K.

I actually remembered to bring a CD with me this time. The sound system was mediocre, like most of the other cars I've tested. Not bad, but not great. There was a neat storage space just above the CD player in the dash that was the perfect size for 4 jewel cases. The CVT was just as cool as it sounds. I watched the needle dancing around the tachometer, but felt no shifting whatsoever.

The salesman took me on a fairly long test drive and at first the CVT was fun, but the longer I drove, the less impressed I became with the car. It didn't actually feel any different from my Sephia.

When the test drive was over, I checked out the back seat and the trunk area. The literature says that the Versa is slightly larger than the Saturn Astra, but it doesn't feel any larger and due to one fairly serious flaw in the design, it's usable space is decidedly smaller. The back seats don't fold flat. And I'm not talking they have a slight slope when they're folded. There is a 4" verticle ridge between the trunk area and the back seats.

Then came the worst part. The salesman and his boss decided to give me the hard sell. Up until this point, I've been impressed with the salesmen I've dealt with. I've explained my situation to all of them using almost exactly the same words. I'm not looking to buy until November. I'm test driving a lot of cars. I tell each of them which models I'm looking at and my opinions on the ones I've tested. So I don't appreciate the "You need to buy now or you won't get the $500 rebate. If it's a matter of financing, don't worry. You don't have to pay for 3 months" crap. But I don't have problems telling people "no" like I used to and they laid off after a while. I asked for some literature to take with me (it keeps everything fresh in my head until I can write it down, usually a couple days later). They didn't have anything. So I left only with a business card (with the original name scribbled out and a new name written in pen).

As I made the 15 minute drive back to the interstate, I became more and more discontent with my experience with Nissan. Yes, the dealership was crap, but I wasn't all that impressed with the car, either. If it had been the first car I'd driven, I would have been really excited about it. But it just doesn't have the "oomph" I'm looking for. I waited behind a Volkswagen GTI for the traffic to clear so we could turn left onto the freeway onramp. When the traffic cleared, the GTI took off like a rocket up the ramp and disappeared from view. I followed more slowly behind it and thought, "That's what I want. I want to just *go*."

So I drove up to Stow to test drive Volkswagens.
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Volvo)
I got to work early Friday morning and thought to myself, "I can not wait to test drive that Volvo any longer. I must do it! I must do it today!" The weather was pretty nasty, hot and rainy. I made a deal with myself. If the sun came out I'd drive down to Canton and test drive the C30 and the S40. If it continued to rain, I'd stay close to home and test the Saturn Astra or a Hyundai of some sort (probably the Sonata, but they have a hatchback that resembles a Saab that I might be interested in [at least, they used to]) or go straight home and test out the new level sync function in Final Fantasy XI. I stayed late at work and had lunch with my co-workers. As we left the restaurant, it was still drizzly, but not horribly bad. So I decided to stay local and test drive the Saturn Astra.

I looked it up online and my first thought was, "It looks like a shoe." This car did not excite me. The 3 door model isn't bad looking, but the 5 door... well, it's not so nice. Well, look... here's pictures:

(The Saturn Astra is the Opel Astra in Europe hence the different insignia and foreign license plate)

So I debated with myself as I drove down Howe Ave. Keep going straight home or turn into the dealership. I made a last second decision and turned into the dealership. I walked in and there were three salesmen standing right at the door (what else are they going to do on a rainy Friday afternoon?).

"Hi." I said. "I'd like to test drive..." The name escaped me. I looked around and pointed, "That. The red one."

"No problem!" They said in unision. Then just one of them continued, "Jason will help you."

So Jason took down some information, asked me some questions about my needs and wants. Then asked me what color I wanted to test drive. I told him I didn't care about color. Not at this point. He left me to go pull an Astra to the front of the dealership.

Before climbing in for the drive, he showed me a few features. He opened the rear hatch and I gotta say I was shocked at the amount of cargo space. It's at least as large as the trunk of my car. The back seats fold down in a 60/40 split, though they do not lay as flat as the ads show. The key to the car is a little gimicky. They've got the same design as the Volkswagen switchblade keys.

The seats were comfortable and wrapped around the body like sport seats. The seat adjustments were manual and a lot like the MINI's. It also had the telescoping steering wheel (which I like).

The center console was very user-friendly. The computer shows lots of useful information like exactly how many more miles you can drive before you'll need to refuel and how many miles per gallon you're getting.

The sound system was...heaven. Absolutely dreamy sound. It wasn't even the kind of music I like and the sound system knocked my socks off (I really need to pack CDs for these test drives). There are speakers where you expect them (down by your feet, up by the side mirrors, in the back) and there is another speaker where I've never seen a speaker before: in the center of the dashboard. We're talking true surround sound.

The back seat was roomy and the salesman encouraged me to bring my kid and a child's safety seat to test the fit.

The car has a snow mode that comes with the automatic transmission. When the roads are slick, you just hit the little snowflake button and instead of starting the car in 1st gear, it starts in 3rd so you don't sit and spin your wheels. And when you no longer need the extra traction, you just hit it again and it goes back to normal automatic mode.

The ride was comfortable. I could feel the car grip the road, but the suspension wasn't so stiff that I felt every little bump. The car wasn't as powerful as the Cooper S or even the Mazda 3. It felt like it was exactly in between the Cooper and the Cooper S. I felt like it could hold it's own while going uphill on a freeway onramp, but it wasn't as fun to drive as the Cooper S or the 3.

Gas mileage is 24 city/32 highway, almost as good as the MINI Cooper. I'm told that the reason the city mpg is so high is because the car drops automatically to neutral when it is stopped instead of idling in first. That also makes for a very quiet ride.

To sum up: This car surprised me. A lot. There's a lot of thoughtful touches and good design in this car that could make me fall in love with it, despite the lack of power in comparison to other cars I'm testing. It's just so darn practical. Plus with it's starting price under $17,000 plus the current GM employee pricing for everyone plus my own GM discount... this car could be a winner.

Current top pick: Dead heat between Mazda 3 and Saturn Astra
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Volvo)
On August 29, I headed toward the local Mazda/Subaru/Audi/Porsche dealership to test drive the Mazda 3, Mazda CX-7 (not in my original line-up, but I thought I'd give it a shot), and the Subaru Impreza.

First off was the Mazda 3. This dealership insisted on driving the car a short way and then letting me take over. When it was my turn to drive, I got into the drivers seat, adjusted the seat and mirrors, then touched the gas pedal. The car shot forward and I let out a little yelp, scaring the salesman. Then, I started laughing. The Mazda 3 had just as much pick-up as the Cooper S, but with more comfortable interior styling and also more cargo space. I wouldn't say the 3 was as fun to drive as the S, but it was very close. The car is comfortable and roomy. The sound system was OK (on par with the MINI). Amanda had warned me that the ride in the Mazda 3 was kind of rough. I think this comes from the 3's sport suspension. However, my test drive didn't seem very rough and we went on some tough roads.

Next up was the CX-7. I only test drove this vehicle because I thought it looked awesome. It's an SUV and it's gas efficiency reflects that. I was half-way through the test drive when I announced I didn't like it. There was nothing special about it and at the price point it sits at, I couldn't justify the cost of fueling it up.

Last was the Subaru Impreza. Co-worker Greg has one of these and raves about it. My first impression of the Impreza was "soft." Everything about the car was soft. The seats were cushy and comfortable and the steering wheel's leather cover was buttery smooth (I just couldn't stop petting it). The center console was... convoluted. Which buttons control the stereo? Which control the climate system? It took a couple tries to figure it out. The back seat seemed cramped. It had enough room for a car-seat, but an infant seat seemed like it would be a tight squeeze (on par with our Rio) and that a full-sized adult would feel claustrophobic. For such a large car, I was surprised at how cramped the back looked. The drive was comfortable; smoother than the 3, but not as fun. It didn't seem to have the power that the 3 had under the hood.

(I did not test drive the WRX STI, but I can't find a picture of anything else. The looks is almost exactly the same, though)

Lastly, the salesman told me about some great leases on the Porsche Cayenne. I can lease a Cayenne for the same price as buying the Volvo C30. So I did. Here's my new car.

Isn't she pretty?

Haha, I'm just kidding. A Porsche in my neighborhood? What would the neighbors think?

Current top pick: Mazda3
annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Volvo)
Thanks to our nifty alternative work week I am free on Friday afternoons. No hubby, no baby. Usually I spend that time leveling up my character in FFXI (it's really the only block of time I have to devote to video games), but last Friday I drove up to Classic MINI in Mentor to take the MINI Cooper for a test drive. I was told it was a 40 minute drive. It's actually a little over an hour. If I got a MINI I would have to drive up to Mentor to get it serviced.

The sales woman, Tiffany, asked me if I was interested in the Cooper or the Cooper S. After getting a thorough description of each, I decided that the S model wasn't necessary. We took off on the freeway with the Cooper. After a while she asked how I felt about the "pick-up." I said in all honesty, "Actually, I'm a little disappointed. I was expecting a lot more." She asked if I wanted to try the S. I had several hours before Dominic and Justin were expected home, so I decided to try it. As soon as I hit the gas on the S, I started giggling and I didn't stop giggling until the test drive was over. That car *goes*. I got on the freeway and got mad at the other drivers. They were in my way! The Cooper S is so much fun to drive!

Other notes:
5-star crash rating. MINI is, at it's core, a BMW. The engine breaks away and you're left with one big roll cage. It's tiny, but still feels solid and safe.

I was right that the dinner plate-sized, center-mounted speedometer was useless. Thankfully there is a digital speed display mounted in the dash just above the steering column (Thanks Chris!). The dash and stereo components looked and felt flimsy, plasticky, and cheap. The sound was mediocre. I'd definitely pay the extra $500 for the upgraded sound system.
I liked the car, but I can't say I'm a fan of the interior styling.

I hated the turn signal clicking sound, though I can honestly say I wouldn't forget to turn it off. I asked if that could be disabled. It can't.

A MINI may not be a very practical car for me. Granted, I'm not really going for practical this time around. This car gets great gas mileage (even the S is good). There's plenty of room for a car seat. The back seat splits 50/50 and if I fold down the back seat that won't be holding a car seat, there's plenty of room for groceries. However, if another baby comes along, I might have space issues. There seems to be plenty of room for a rear-facing infant seat, but there is definitely not enough room for a travel system.

MINI also has an extended version called the Clubman. With the Clubman you get an extra 8 inches of cargo space and an extra 3 inches of space in the back seat. The MINI is already an unusual looking car and the Clubman just looks weird. Plus, the 8 inches of extra cargo room doesn't justify the substantially higher pricetag. The barn doors on the back are kind of cool, though.

Classic MINI is not a car lot. They have 3 MINIs in their show room and a Cooper and a Cooper S for test driving. They are completely sold out of MINIs. If I ordered one today, I might be able to collect it at the end of October. Here's a major plus. Any MINI I bought would be built specifically for me. If I wanted to lease a MINI, it would still be built specifically for me. That's pretty darn cool.


annissamazing: Ten's red Chucks (Default)

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