Car shopping

So, over the last week or two I’ve been considering what car (or bike, or whatever) I might get when I move to California. I started out thinking, originally, that I’d just get something 2nd hand, but not too old, that was cheap, small and easy to run. However, while perusing 2nd-hand car listings, I jumped over to new car listings, and checked those out as well. Mainly, initially, just to see how much those Corvettes and Mustangs cost, ;), although I then started looking more seriously at various cars. I quite like the idea of having a hybrid car for the unbeatable fuel efficiency, so of course the Toyota Prius grabbed my attention. I also found several other hybrids from various manufacturers being introduced this year, or otherwise only recently. I noticed there’s now a Honda Civic hybrid, which is slightly cheaper than the Prius.

I went for a ride in a (presumably 2005/2006) Prius while I was living over there last time, and regardless of what the spec sheet says, I found it a really comfortable car (as a passenger), with a nice spacious interior, nice finish, and some cool bells & whistles.

I discovered, after a bit of browsing, that cars don’t depreciate in the same manner in the U.S. (or California, at least) as in Australia. A three or four-year old car, in good condition, often sells for not much shy of it’s original price. This reinforced the idea of just buying new, since by the time the cars are old enough to be significantly cheaper, they’re too old to be worth having.

I really want, in a nutshell, my current car – albeit a modern version, of course. A stationwagon, with roof racks and plenty of space, but not a big car. My car is tiny compared to stationwagons these days, yet still has more space inside than many of them. It’s a really good, practical car – and pretty darn reliable, really, for a car of it’s age.

For example, the other night Jens, Dean, dad & I went out to Black Angus for dinner, in Dean’s turbo-diesel Audi. I looked at Audis prior to this, since they have a good name for quality and handling, but in the U.S. they’re really quite expensive – most European cars aren’t much cheaper in the U.S. than in Australia. So, even the cheapest Audis were really in the next price category up from what I’m currently willing to spend. And the turbo-diesel we drove is just out of the question.

Anyway, while the Audi was very nice, it was – like most Audis – a bit plain to look at. Not that I especially mind, but it is nice to have a car that people want to look at, as opposed to one they don’t mind looking at. It was also surprisingly small inside. I was sitting in the back, where there’s less space of course, but it was really the head room that was the problem – I wasn’t slouching, but there wasn’t much in it. For such a big car – it’s bigger than mine, which makes it big in my book, regardless of whatever official categorisation it has – it has very little internal space. It also felt very heavy – just opening and closing the doors required significant effort, which felt really strange.

So, that’s turned me off Audis a bit. It shouldn’t have surprised me, anyway, really – most European cars are quite small. I just thought they were small on the outside, not also the inside.

So, I’d seen the Topgear guys rave on the MX-5 a week or two ago, so I casually checked that out as well. I figured it’d be more than I wanted to pay, but surprisingly it’s about the same as a Prius – $20k-$25k US. So, suddenly there was another contender for my attention.

I also looked a little at some of the American cars, but by and large they didn’t really take my fancy. Aside from being unnecessarily large, for the most part, there’s a big thing at the moment with that old muscle-car look, which I really really hate, so there’s precious little on offer as a result.

Well, aside from Corvettes, of course. But they’re kinda at odds with my fuel-efficiency aim, with their ~6L V8s, so… :) They’re also pretty pricey – more than I’m looking to pay – so, while they’re reasonably nice, they’re not in the cards. I also looked at Mustangs, as I noted previously, which are certainly affordable – cheaper than everything else I’ve mentioned thus far – but I’ve never been a fan in general, and the vast majority of Mustangs I’ve actually seen and been in are okay looking on the outside, but very tacky on the inside. There was one Mustang I photographed in San Francisco last time I was there which looked much nicer. But it wasn’t a convertible, and hey, if you’re going to get a Mustang, it has to be a red convertible, right? :D

Anyway, I mentioned my car hunting to a few people, and dad came home one night with a few suggestions, having looked himself. He added to the list of considerations the Monaro (a.k.a. Pontiac GTO in the U.S.), a MX-5-ish Pontiac Solstice, and a WRX. I’d actually looked at the WRX, but they’re pretty pricey really, and while I like Subarus quite a bit, I’m not really of the right mentality to own a WRX. And their fuel economy is pretty poor by any standard, although they do at least come in a stationwagon.

Jens & dad both think the Solstice is better than the MX-5; it does look vaguely similar, insofar as they’re both convertibles. But, I find it overly cutesy and girly. Plus it doesn’t really have anything over the MX-5 – it’s heavier, less fuel efficient, and more expensive (albeit only slightly). But then Jens doesn’t like the MX-5, thinking it’s a “hairdresser’s car”, whereas I quite like the look, and they’re certainly a popular and well-reviewed car, as evident by the four I’ve seen in the last two days and their numerous Car of the Year awards.

Having said that, we all agreed that an RX-8 would be really good, but then they’re half the price again of the MX-5, and counting.

And the last thing was the Monaro. Horrible fuel efficiency, massively over-powered, and really, more expensive than I’m considering at over $30k U.S. I mean, they’re nice enough cars and all, but they’re also obsolete – there isn’t even a 2007 model, and the “2006” model is really just the 2005 anyway. Pontiac’s bringing out the new VE Commodore as the Pontiac G8 sometime later in this year (or early next). So I’d be buying an obsolete and about-to-be-buried model, and paying a hefty premium for it. No thanks. I’ll consider the VE if and when it comes out there, but I suspect it’ll be just as pricey and similarly impractical (whether they import anything other than the Coupe remains to be seen, too)

So, I’m still undecided. And in any case, all the cars mentioned thus far aren’t really what I want in terms of practicality – i.e. a stationwagon (well, aside from the WRX, but it loses on just about every other measure). I think it’ll just be a case, ultimately, of whatever good deal I come across first. I’ll have a hire car for a few weeks when I first arrive, anyway, so I’ve got some time to consider my options and test drive a few alternatives.

It’ll be interesting to see how these brand new cars compare with my 21-year-old Commodore. My current car actually drives pretty darn well, really, even by modern standards, so while I initially thought anything new would blow my socks off, I’m not so convinced anymore.

Although on the upside I’m pretty sure the transmissions in new cars last more than 12 months, which will be a welcome change. :D And they have suspension, which will be a novelty. :)

It’s been interesting to look at cars, since I’ve never really paid much attention to them in past, but ultimately, as anyone with a car knows, they’re all just giant money sinks in the end. I have a feeling I’ll err on the side of cheap, in the end.

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