A Rambling Car Shopping Post

I have been looking at new cars for a year or so. I started thinking about getting a new car a few years ago, when I realized I was getting to the age where owning a sports car might be a now or never proposition. To enjoy a sports car means driving fast in places where you are not supposed to drive fast. That means having the reflexes and risk tolerance to take chances. There really is nothing sadder than seeing an old woman driving a Porsche or some old guy putt-putting down the road in a Corvette.

I have yet to pull the trigger on the car buy. The main reason is I hate the hassle of buying a car. The way cars are sold in America has never worked for me. I do not want to develop a rapport with the car salesman. I do not want him (her) to help me develop a relationship with the car that will tell the world about me. I am not interested in having a self-actualizing experience with a car. I guess I am a weirdo, but I do not think the way I live my life needs to make a statement. I just want to enjoy the time I have.

There is also the fact that I cannot seem to make up my mind. I am not a car guy, in that I do not get into the car culture. A part of owning a sports car is being a part of the social life around owning it. I think a car is, for the most part, a necessary item of life. I want my car to start in the morning, warm up quickly and have a cold air conditioner. I never listen to the radio, but Bluetooth is a nice feature so I can listen to my favorite hate-thinkers on road trips. Otherwise, a car is like the toilet. I only notice it when it does not work.

Still, I feel like I should buy a sports car before I am too geezerly to enjoy it. I have looked at a number of them over the last year. The last sports car I owned was 30 years ago and it was used when I got it. It was fast and fun to drive, but compared to what is on offer today, well, there is no comparison. Modern technology has made affordable sports cars that are vastly better than the most enthusiastic drivers. A modern sports car is not a machine you control. It is a technology platform and the driver is just one part of it.

Something that I did not expect when getting into this is the class issue. I grew up country poor, but I am not country poor now. I have been all over the world and I have been around very worldly people. I retain my working class sensibilities, but I am not going to lie and say I prefer the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. Whether I like it or not, the car I buy will say something about me. Am I a man who prefers an Audi or a guy who thinks a Camaro ZL1 is the right choice? I never had a reason to think about it until now.

Having driven a number of different cars over the last year, I have come to believe that the professional auto journalists are just public relations flacks for the car industry. For instance, I drove a Mustang and a Camaro on the same day. I was in the muscle car mood and they are the two premier options in the category. I read the reviews of them on the popular car sites. I was expecting one model to be refined and the other more brutish, as that is what all of the reviews indicated. Both cars felt pretty much the same.

That is probably the biggest obstacle to me pulling the trigger. There is a weird sameness to all of the new cars. A few weeks after the muscle car testing, I did a day of driving European sports sedans. The sameness of the cars, at least in terms of driving them, is the one memory. I found I had to keep a list of the small differences between, say, an Audi and a BMW, as they were otherwise indistinguishable. There is no quirkiness or originality to set one off from the other. It is like the car makers are all aiming for the same goal.

This sameness is due to the fact the car makers are global companies now. Instead of the British car makers building cars mostly for Brits and the German makers building cars for Germans, car companies are rootless cosmopolitans, making cars for the world. That means they think they need to avoid the quirky, local flavor, as much as possible. It used to be that America cars were utilitarian and made for the open road. European cars were sophisticated and built for tight corners. Now, they all do the same things and look alike.

This sameness extends to how they sell cars. The last time someone tried to re-think the retail sale of cars was when Saturn was rolled out. Their pitch was the “no-haggle” price and a limited set of options. It never really worked as people have been conditioned to haggle over the price of a car. That and they rolled out the no-frills option idea just when technology was allowing everyone to have a bespoke experience buying everything. The “customized experience” is a great sales tool as everyone wants to feel special.

Look at the car dealers today and they all do exactly the same things. Even their website is cookie cutter. Other than some aesthetics, it appears that maybe one or two website companies have built every dealer’s website. That is realistic. There is one main software maker for car dealership software. I no longer recall the name of it, but one software package was used by something like 90% of all new car dealers. It is realistic to think that they or someone else is doing the same thing with the websites.

Despite the uniformity, the other thing that strikes me about the dealership websites is their uselessness as sales tools. I have noticed that the cars on the site, often do not exist on the lot. At the same time, the cars on the lot are often not listed on the site. Dealers are famous for the bait and switch tactic, but this just looks like sloth. Spending time in the dealerships, the vibe I get is that the business remains hostile to technology. They just want to sell cars to the people who walk into the showroom.

As far as the car purchase, I am still weighing my options. I am down to one of the muscle cars or one of the German sports sedans. I have always liked the look of an Audi, but I fear the repair costs. BMW’s are known for sturdiness, but I am told that is not longer true, so maybe a Mercedes. Having driven enough of them, I am sure I would enjoy owning any one of them. But I still cannot get over the thrill of driving that Camaro ZL1. It was like being strapped to a rocket sled. I could get used to that in a hurry.

148 thoughts on “A Rambling Car Shopping Post

  1. Don’t be an old guy in a brand new sports car. It screams midlife crisis. There is almost no way to pull that look off If you must go sports car, then the only way to make it work, is if it’s a sports car from your era, anything else and the kids just laugh at you. However, you might be old enough that you don’t care who laughs at you.

  2. I have a Miata and a convertible supercharged Roush Mustang. The Miata is a hoot, and corners like a roller skate (and is about that size). The Mustang looks, sounds and goes like the muscle care of your dreams. 600 HP at the flywheel is WAY fun.

  3. Forget the dealerships, forget the used car lots, go craigslist or similar. Get it checked by a knuckle busting friend or by a trustworthy mechanic. As far as what you want, you usually want the car you never got back in high school. Heh. Or maybe, you got woke up by a friend taking you for a ride in something you’d never considered before. Like my buddies v-12 jaguar that was almost dementedly loud and fast. It’s all in what makes you happy in the end, though, aint it?

  4. Test drive Subaru outback 2017. Awesome ride, not so sporty looking. Standard 4 cyl plenty of zip power, but 6 cup available. We act 30 mpg on average,.4 cyl….more highway than city

  5. I’ve done the Vette thing, the Mercedes SL thing, the big diesel truck thing, the Jeep thing multiple times with each, had 17 motorcycles over 50 years, starting with a Trail 70 at 7, with a DynaGlide now. All are/were fun. Wifey and I swap out 3 Porsches now: Panamera 4S, base Cayenne (my regular), and Boxster S. Her Boxster is the most fun, by far, but 500 smooth as silk hp in the sled that corners unlike a 4DR rates well. Go Porsche; the low-slung Italian cars and Corvettes won’t survive most modern urban streets (my central city resembles Kinshasa or Mogadishu; my local Chevy dealers make more money repairing Vette front ends than they do selling and servicing them) and the engineering and amenities are the best balance I’ve seen. Get an extended warranty and rim insurance and blow it out. Buy 3 and dealership smooches da bootie.

  6. About a week ago, I was behind what looked like a Ford Taurus. When I looked at the emblem on the trunk, it turned out that it was actually a Maserati. Imagination has been bred out of most of today’s design engineers.

    For my money, a high-end Dodge Challenger would be my dream car. Big, powerful, fast, fun to drive and hard to mistake for a Ford Taurus.

  7. It’s not what you drive, it’s how you drive.

    Of course you want stability in a turn (for example, the Toyota Sienna is more stable than the Toyota Highlander) and you want to be able to “punch it and feel it”. Don’t overlook the Toyota Corolla for reliable handling and stability — I (and an observant truck driver with good brakes) managed to avoid killing a damned idiot standing in the middle of an interstate. On my part, it was a punch it to the floor while jerking the steering wheel right… starting off at 75 mph and that little Corolla responded very well.

    Among the cars I’ve had — 66 Mustang, 68 Camaro, 72 Corvette… but the one I enjoyed driving the most was an 83 Taurus SHO. The Cadillac northstar engine was good until it suddenly wasn’t — very fast and excellent gas mileage.

    I remember being amazed a few years ago when a blogger my age (old!) listed the 5 cars he’d owned in his life … 5??? Until a few years ago, a 1000 mile drive was a day trip for me, so it’s not like I wrecked a lot a vehicles or just got a new one a whim. I put a 100,000 miles on quite a few of the 20+ vehicles I’ve had. I did wreck the Corvette… dammit.

    If my body were capable of getting in and out of a Corvette, I’d buy another one now, however, the Sienna is a nice height, I can load and unload my walker easily and tote several grandchildren. As for how I drive, it’s the grandchildren that made the big difference. I’m much more careful with them in the car than I ever was with their parents. Not that I didn’t love their parents, but I was suffering from age-related over-confidence.

    I had an Audi for a while — you couldn’t pay me to try to depend on one again. A child of mine drove a BMW for a while and wouldn’t willingly repeat the experience. A good friend drives a Jag — sometimes. It’s often in the shop, which was a good thing for her when their neighborhood flooded a few years ago and all their other vehicles were destroyed. So Jaguars have that going for them.

    Go for the Camaro and have fun!

  8. Lotus Evora – if you want something that lacks the same-same of every other market segment, track one down and take it for a ride. Lotus makes driving cars that shame anything else mass produced. They are fast, they look awesome, and the Evora even has a fair bit of luxury on the interior compared to past Lotus offerings… Good luck!

  9. +1 on VW Golf R. MSRP starts at about $35K. Almost 300 HP, lots of fun to drive. Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear bought one for his daily driver.

    If you can spend more, the Audi TTS is better made with nicer materials, does 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and handles beautifully (4WD). But that car starts MSRP ~$53K. But no doubt you could get one in the high $40s. Maintenance should not be an issue for the four years of warranty. Could also try a “Certified Used” to get the full warranty and pay a bit less.

  10. Careful what you ask for. I’ve had all the quirkiness I can stand with my 2015 BMW X5 versus our other car and the ones we have had over the last 20 years or so.

    Also, you are correct about the BMW, I have a list of at least a dozen functions or features that simply don’t work or fail intermittently. When I report them to the dealer, they patiently explain to me how stupid I am, and that I’m not really seeing what I’m seeing.

  11. I recently made an exit from the repair side of things, and after 23 years running my own shop one manufacturer stood tall above the rest. I’ve driven the full range of American and Asian muscle, but a twin turbo Audi with the Quattro drivetrain is perhaps the most broadly rewarding car I’ve ever driven. As for reliability: had a customer who did a header into a tree at the VIR at 55mph. We pulled the engine out and put it into another S4. He was racing again a week later.

  12. I bought a Mazda 2 yrs ago. Good car, crap infotainment system.
    But what really struck me was the dealership’s use of a friggin dot matrix printer. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

    • Look on the sides of the forms being printed, then imagine trying to “fill in” that form on a laser printer.

  13. I have bought and sold cars so here is my opinion:
    Cars are tools. Cost of ownership is the key.
    Know the wholesale/retail going in (it’s on the internet)
    You should be able tp buy at 150 over wholesale or thereabouts.
    Check out the service area. Is it crammed with unhappy people?
    Vanity has a price. (if your in a car for any appreciable amount of time you want to feel good too so it is not all vanity)
    I, like everyone else, love, love, love driving machines, but I don’t like the cost of maintenance of driving machines.

  14. Can you beat a late 60s’ 442, SS396 or Charger. New Cameros are sharp, no doubt but I’m a sucker for the cars I grew up with.

  15. I’ve owned a first-gen Mazda MX5, had two Honda S2000s. I currently drive a 10-year old Audi Mk2 TT. The Miata was a very nice car, but with out much power. Both the S2000s were a lot of fun, but not practical in cold weather or in heavy stop-and-go traffic since it was only available as a stick shift and you’ll find your clutch leg gets a bit tired after a while.

    The Audi M2 TT has been an excellent car. The 3.2 provides plenty of power and the quattro provides outstanding traction in all weather. Inside, the coupe has plenty of room for long trips. I routinely drive down to Italy or southern Spain and the TT is a very comfortable, long distance touring car if you avoid low profile 19″ wheels.

    The automatic S-tronic with paddle shifters makes for spirited driving on canyon roads and you can bang through the gears as you like. I’d recommend the 3.2 liter engine as it has a timing chain, not a belt like the smaller engines, so maintenance isn’t as much of a worry.

    Since you’re limited to only 70-mph on most of your highways, the TTRS will have more HP than you could ever use in the US. And you won’t need the optional mag-shocks; they’re really only necessary on the autobahn where we can routinely cruise well above 120-mph.

    The TT Roadster, should you go that direction, has ample trunk room for two carry-on suitcases plus room for a duffel bag, and other items for long holiday trips. Unlike the BMW hardtop-convertibles which, when stored, take up almost all the available space in the trunk, the TT soft-top doesn’t affect trunk space at all.

    I’d recommend the 3.2 Quattro with S-Tronic. It’s really a very nice daily driver and spirited weekend canyon racer.

  16. I was in the same boat as you 5 years ago. I bought a nissan GTR after 5 months of research. Doesn’t seem like anyone has mentioned that car yet.

    It is still one of the best cars ever made for the money and there are plenty of nice low mile used ones available.

    Its 4 wheel drive. I drive it all winter and its a beast in the snow and ice. Huge trunk and it both corners and accelerates so well unless youve taken racing classes its hard to get anywhere near the cars limit.

    If you’re ever in chicago and wanna take it for a spin holler at me!

  17. Find something you can throw around with abandon and don’t worry about it. I ran an old Mazda PU with heavy suspension and great rubber on a snaking mountain road, up and down for a few years. I could pass BMW’s and that sort wherever I wanted. The difference was simply that I could get everything out of it that old truck had. They do not know how or are afraid of it. Enjoy the Ride!

  18. I sell cars. You are right about the websites–we’re using one from a company in Florida and their product is awful. Terrible. Horrible. But it’s cheap–and that’s what dealers like.

    If you’ve already decided that the visibility from the cockpit of a ZL-1 is something you can live with at 145 MPH, the car is a value buy going into winter. Use a search-tool (Cars.com, e.g.) to find dealerships in the Frozen North that have 2017 ZL-1’s. They will be very happy to sell the car at a very good price. Can’t drive the damn things up here in the winter, which inspires dealers a bit. All of the deal can be done on the phone, fax, email, except picking up the car and getting it home.

    Don’t care if I sell one to you or not, frankly. Sales guys are paid a flat fee to sell the car and it’s a lot smaller than most people think it is. But it’s nice to put someone into the car they want.

    You have my email address through my comments–or just post someplace on my blog and I’ll get in touch.

  19. Dealers want to sell what’s in current inventory. Do not buy until you locate the actual car that you wish to buy or lease. By “locate,” I mean the car is sitting right in front of you and get to inspect it, feature by feature, to verify that the configuration matches your list of “must-haves.” Otherwise, do not waste your time with dealers. The only good dealer is the one who is wiling to do the leg work (and computer work) to find the car you told him/her you want to buy.

  20. Whatever you get, if it has variable valve timing on it – be religiously fanatical about changing the oil when it needs it. Do not let oil changes slide. You let it get even a little bit sludgy and those valve solenoids will start sticking.

    • Get new ford or toyota truck extended or crew cab. Drive from Cheyenne Wyo to Reno NV or Las Vegas go 90/ 95 mph. cures the sports car thing

  21. Absolutely HATE shopping for a car ! Been kicked out of dealerships after getting into it with some little weasel. Don’t know what it is about those clowns. They just have to rip you off , they can’t help it.

    Cruising the lots after hours gave me a chance to really check out some of the cars without the usual sales pitch. If these online things really get you a decent price minus the salesman hassle will definitely try that next time.

    The Camaro with a stick = fun. You only go around once in life . Make yourself happy 😉

  22. 1. BMWs in N. America are a fucking ripoff. Cheap flimsy German plastic and Mexican build quality at $$$$$$$$$$ prices. You’re paying for the fucking badge and they count on you not knowing anything about cars and trusting them. Big mistake. If you need to impress clients, LEASE IT and make damn sure you can push it back on the dealer and have nothing else to do with it once the lease is up. NEVER buy one off lease, you’re a sucker if you do.

    1a. In Europe, BMWs are made in Germany and are somewhat better quality. Also the aftermarket for BMW parts is pretty cheap too, so a lot of people who like to work on their cars Over There, like BMW. They’re kinda like the GM of here that way.

    2. Mercs are even worse in terms of build quality than BMWs are. Again if you must, lease it. LEASE, do NOT own!

    2a. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPJ64sTa7KI

    3. Audi is basically a really fancy VW. It’s part of VAG. And I think they’re built in Mexico too if they’re sold in N. America. Mmm, Mexican build quality.

    4. Corvette C7. It has problems overheating if you actually try to drive it like a sports car. It’s basically designed for mid-life crisis old people that do a little bit of hooning and that’s it. Just a tiny taste and then put it back in the garage. And then there’s that (in)famous GM build quality too. GM stuff is easy to work on, and you will be working on it.

    5. Porsches are still built in Stuttgart, so you do get German build quality out of them. So you will be getting something commensurate for your spend in terms of build quality. They are also part of VAG these days but it seems that VW leaves them alone for the most part.

    If you’re looking for a daily driver, something that goes to the office and to Waw-Mart and you aggressively don’t care about what’s under the hood, my advice, for what it’s worth is go with a Lexus. Toyota still puts out quality and at least the powertrain will not let you down and should hold up over the years with proper maintenance.

    Dealers are what they are. Most car salescritters are high school graduates and a lot of them have drug problems too, so keep that in mind when dealing with them. The more competent ones aren’t really pumping you for your life story, they want to figure out how much money you got on you, so they know what kind of price they can charge you for.

    More advice when car shopping – production starts at the 1st of the year, and anything on the lot right now, is basically what’s been picked over. So you’ll see a lot of automatic Camaros, for instance. And you’ll see some “sales” to try to move these picked over turds. Might want to wait until January when the new stuff gets shipped in. Mid Jan is probably a good time.

  23. I have a Saab convertible. They don’t make them anymore. If you want a care that lacks “sameness” with all the others, get a Saab. They were made through the 2011 model year, and they’re a bargain.

  24. Don’t buy anything European. They may not be around in the near future to send replacement parts to the US. Economic collapse, Islamic takeover; choose your scenario.

  25. Zman, what are your goals for this new car? When you are being completely honest with yourself, how do you see the car affecting (interacting with) your self image? I guess it comes down to is the car just a car, or is it meant to be more than that? Also, given that you can’t take it with you, what does frugality serve?! In the words of Max Bialystock “flaunt it baby, flaunt it!!”

  26. I always thought the American sports car culture was a used car thing. Particularly with the proles, a 10-20 year old car in good shape was a point of pride where a new model was more an upper-middle class status symbol.

    • Very true. Amongst my car-guy friends, vintages ran 1974, 1981, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1998, 1999, 1999 again, 2000, and 2001. At no time have any of us ever owned a car less than a decade old. If you’ve got the money to buy a new BMW or Benz and you’ve got the car bug, you’d be much better served buying a $10-20k used car and spending the money you save working on the car, keeping up your shop, and actually racing or auto-crossing the car. I’ll always remember being at a club race at Infineon and seeing an old geezer in a 30-year old $20k hand-rebuilt Porsche 928 just blowing this $200,000 Ferrari 430 out of the water, lapping the Ferrari twice. That epitomizes American car culture: you may have a ridiculously expensive car that costs more than many houses, and I might have rebuilt this 20 year old car by hand in my garage, but I can still drive circles around you (or, you may have a $100k Benz with all the doo-dads, but my 1980’s 7 series that I’ve spent hundreds of hours rebuilding, repairing, and customizing looks better).

  27. If you join AAA, you can spec out your car on their website, they find a dealer near you with what you want (or the dealers will ship the car to a closer dealership), and you get this printout of what the car costs, and there’s no haggling. My friend did this and it worked great.

  28. The closest I got to any of this was hitchiking-

    A Jaguar drove by, the passenger yelled out, “Get a Jag!”

    So I yelled back- “It’s in the shop!”

    • Honda isn’t exactly what they used to be. Serious build quality issues. Motors eating valves. Trannies popping out of gear. Auto trannies needing early replacement.

      Toyota is still good.

  29. Z man if you are parking off street you need to check your driveway for curb clearance on the front end of the vehicle. Also if you have to crest a rise you may have issues with low hanging exhaust components dragging. Many catalytic converters are fairly exposed and not cheap to replace.
    If you park on street god help you.

  30. I haven’t negotiated with a car salesman in 20 years. TrueCar, Edmunds, and others make that obsolete. I know how much I’m paying before I walk into the dealership or I don’t walk in.

  31. I will probably shop for a sports car in a few years. If it was today it would probably come down to the coolness of the Miata versus the power of a 370Z. With a manual of course – if the car shifts for you, it isn’t a sports car.

    Back in the 80’s my uncle had a Porche 911. That was a car without a trace of sameness. Air-cooled, un-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, giant un-assisted brakes, and a clutch that was like a 300lb squat. It was a beast that would spit and sputter if you drove it slow, then howl a wild battle-cry when you hit the gas. It wasn’t an everyday car but it made you smile every time.

    • Better hurry then. Everything’s going DCT, which means spastic paddle flipping. The thing about sports cars, is that there’s a certain amount of “track day bro” requirements that have to be met, even if said car will never see a “track day bro”. And part of that is DCTs shift faster than standards, even though they’re less fun and less reliable. Another thing about “track day bro” is that it only has to last until the end of “track day bro” before it needs to get rebuilt.

  32. My ruby red Ford F-150 Super Crew FX4… with its amazing twin turbos, black leather interior, HID lights, and logical levels of dashboard manual controls (no menus to turn the heat up a little bit)…

    …scoffs at your sports car dreams.

  33. ” the business remains hostile to technology. They just want to sell cars to the people who walk into the showroom. That’s it.”

    If you’ve successfully done that for twenty years you would be hostile to something where a 22 year old kid has ten years more experience than you.
    Try a Jag, they drive a little differently, Most people don’t like it.

  34. I’ve been driving a 2017 Cadillac ATS-V Coupe for almost ten months now. 3.6L twin-turbo v6, 464 horse, 445 lb ft, 6-speed manual transmission. 3.8 sec 0-60, 189 mph top speed. This is one of Cadillac’s best kept secrets and will probably be phased out at the end of 2018. I love this thing and will buy it at the end of the lease if it doesn’t turn into a “Christine”.

  35. How does it work with a nice car given your proximity to the Baltimore ghetto? Serious question. I’ve lived in dodgy spots and at the time was grateful for driving a beater car.

  36. ZMAN. Don’t get the Camaro unless you have Xray Vision. Shelby Mustang GT 350. Makes death Cult Liberals and Bitter Old Spinsters scowl but Normies will want to take a picture of it. Two exhaust modes. Normal and “Wake the dead”. And don’t worry about grip. both cars suffer from “Excessive Rear Tire Spin” under determined throttle application.

  37. First, you need to get out of the practicality box. Get something vanilla for everyday use and something totally impractical for fun. My combination is a 1993 Ford F250 and a 2002 Honda S2000 (2L 250HP), The Honda’s will out handle the Camaro and has a top end of 152 mph (so far).
    Second, get of over the age thing – I didn’t go to skid school until I was 57 and never drove a formula track until I was 62.

  38. Do you need a back seat?
    Do you want a new car or would a low mileage year or two old car do?
    Will this be your primary transportation, or a weekend/fair weather cruiser?
    Is the styling more important than performance?

    Both the Camaro and Mustang are fun muscle cars, but like the muscle cars of old they go better in a straight line. Why not go full sports car with a Corvette? 600 lbs. lighter, the C7 (latest version) incorporates many of the features of the race car.
    But the C6 offers fantastic performance and low mileage, well cared for cars are plentiful. Used Corvettes are a bargain, considering the technology.
    The C5 version, though, offers the best bang for the buck performance, bar none.

  39. Get a crotch rocket to go fast, or get a Corvette. Fuck the Mustang and Camaro. The vets shit all over the euro trash that is like 1000% more expensive. Miata is fun little go kart but c’mon! Driving that is akin to a flaccid wang rippling in the wind like a flag. Very much different indeed than the high T engineering masterpiece. heh

    And no, I’m not a car guy. Ha! I prefer huge luxury boats!

  40. I guess I would be the odd man out. I’ve never been a car guy. Where I live it isn’t practical, need 4WD and ground clearance. With that said it may be worth looking at a full-size GMC pickup with a Duramax engine. The best comment a friend mine made about them is if you don’t want to buy one don’t drive one. He’s correct on that. I recently bought one and the only real problem I have found is that I keep finding myself driving too fast. And there is something to say about blending in. As has already been mentioned you won’t have to worry about the pot holes as much.

  41. BMWs are taxis in Europe. I’ll never quite get the appeal of spending that kind of money for an upgraded Ford Focus.

    The challenge of a sports car is not the power, it’s the ride. Don’t do car dealership rides. Keep one over a weekend, and drive it everywhere you can think of. The thing you’ll notice first is the power/handling. The thing you’ll *remember* most is the ride. They are stiff and punishing rides for the most part. Even the high end ones if they have any kind of “sport tuned” suspension bang and thunk over moderately uneven pavement. The quiet cabin helps you hear the bangs and thunks even better. To save $$$, a lot of times the manufacturers stick crappy tires on them which just magnifies the impacts.

    The older you get, the more you will appreciate a quiet car, that has a comfortable ride, which doesn’t punish your spine after 45 minutes of driving. You’ll also find that the power works against you in urban areas where you really cannot turn up the heat, and in traffic where the power and braking lurch you about in stop-and-go conditions.

    Then there’s the weather factor. Some of the Euro brands are AWD, and the traction control on the RWD models is better. But when I drive past a 3 mile traffic jam, it’s some idiot in an overpowered car driving in conditions it was not meant for.

    If you want a car that turns on when you push the button, don’t get an Audi. It’s going to be in the shop.

    From a shopping experience, may I helpfully suggest the USAA car buyers program? It’s all internet-based, and you can get dealers negotiating against each other. Last year I bought my wife an Acura MDX through this program. I had two dealers basically bidding against each other. I got dealer X down 10% after dealer Y had started giving me speeches about “joining the Acura family”. I don’t give a f**k about the Acura family. I want a lower price. Dealer Y countered Dealer X’s offer with the same price, but I got roof cross bars for our ski rack, all weather floor (rubber) mats throughout, and a couple other gimmies that I wanted. All of this happened while I sat in bed at 9:45pm on a Tuesday over email.

    Our only other trip to Dealer X was to pick up the vehicle when it arrived on the truck. We paid mainly cash, and financed through USAA where we got a substantially lower rate than what Dealer X was trying to push on us with their favored bank.

    But definitely get the car you want and drive it for 3-4 days. After you get past the power and handling, a lot of other things you don’t realize you care about will become the priority. Stupid stuff, like how getting in and out of a sports car is a royal pain in the ass. Nobody can ride with you.

    Also, the silly factor. I had a father my age get a Mustang Shelby Cobra. He would sit outside my business waiting for his kid…revving the engine for fun. I walked outside, and told him that all the cute teenage girls hang out at the Dairy Queen across the street. He turned red, and knocked it off.

  42. Get the new Honda Civic Turbo and install Hondata on it.
    You’ll get the comfiest and most powerful car on the market, cheap, easy to maintain and reliable.

  43. Hey ZMAN;

    many sporty cars have low profile tires and there is precious little distance betwixt the wheel rim and the road.
    The result is a greater probability of bent rims and “crunched” tires (i.e., damaged tire sidewall that result in you buying a new tire) when you hit a bump.

    One of my cars – a “sporty” sedan – has these wheels/tires and I have spent about $2000 over the last 3 years getting rims “re-rounded” (more than once !) and buying new tires (at about 200 bucks a pop) several times.

    Anyway, just something to ponder.
    I have NEVER had this problem on my other cars that have “normal” tires.

    • Yep. Bought a full set of low profile run flats every year on a car I used to own. Never ever again.

  44. I bought a car in February using Carvana.com. 100% satisfied and will never be going to a dealership again, literally. They delivered it to my driveway and even handled the government registration (BMV/DMV) shitshow as well. Plates showed up a few weeks later.

    Prices seemed better than dealers anyway. Only downside is you can’t test drive, but you can just do that at a local dealer and stiff them when you go to buy online 🙂

  45. You seem fairly well off. Learn to fly, then buy a light aerobatic aircraft and learn acro. From then on, your car will remain, as you say, like the toilet.

    • Same thing happens when you drive cars at the race track. Driving on the street becomes just getting from here to there. You can be a bit stylish about it, but street “exhibitions of speed” tend to look very foolishly masturbatory after you drive at the track.

  46. Z- I love XM radio. Sportsball- hockey, hoops baseball, golf, college football; the whole deal, not to mention Radio Classics and the Grateful Dead channel. I like “Tales from the Golden Road” a Grateful Dead call in show. If I wished to make a case for the long-term negative effects of pot, that’s where I’d start.

  47. My sister loved her BMW, but soon realised there is a good reason why each one comes with its factory-assigned mechanic, and after three years of more time in the shop than out, sold it to some lesser unfortunate.

    • A major factor of why the Germans lost the war: their extraordinary engineering could not be serviced in the field.

      • A few years ago, while on vacation in Greece, I lucked out and got upgraded to a Mercedes C-class for a week. That’s a big step up for me, and I absolutely loved the feel of the car. You could feel the superior engineering. (I’ve since felt the same experience in a BMW 4 series – still need to get into an Audi.)

        About the only thing keeping me from going German with my next car is the concern over repairs and maintenance. Not necessarily the expense, although nobody enjoys burning that cash. It’s the reliability factor. I want to be comfortable and enjoy my drive, but first and foremost to me, a car is an appliance. I wouldn’t go so far as to use the toilet analogy – maybe more like a washing machine. I expect to turn a key and have it work, every time.

        A few folks have mentioned the ubiquitous Lexus – haven’t seen many comments about Acura or Infiniti. Are they not even in the same league?

        • I am planning to get a used Lexus IS350 in the next month or so. Fantastic value once they are a couple of years old. German cars are like catnip to asians, but are vastly over rated unless you go for the $100l+ models.

    • We traded in my wife’s BMW last year. We typically keep cars for a decade and 200k miles. That thing fell to pieces as soon as it hit 100k.

      • Standard operating procedure for decades, probably close to a century for some goods

        It doesn’t need to be that way but reliable well built cars aren’t very profitable since they seldom need to be replaced and require less service

        I’m surprised its not worse since less people can afford newer cars these days , even on credit

      • My professional mechanic friend just leased a 3 series BMW. He said it is the best car in the world for the first 50k miles. Give it back by then, and run away fast.

      • I had an ’85 BMW 3 series. Bought it used with 100k miles and put 300,000 miles it. Hardly any maintenance. Gave up the ghost in 2001. Don’t think the new cars can take that kind of beating.

  48. Camaro ZL1, huh? Delayed mid-life crisis, perhaps? I’m with the other geezers. From a pragmatic point of view, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Hyundai Elantra, are all boring but reliable. Being sedans, they are smaller and cheaper than SUV’s now that the SUV is the drug of choice for soccer Moms. Get a low mileage used one that is only one or two years old. I know this is conservative common sense, but good mileage and low maintenance costs are what I look for in a car.

    I hate the car buying experience. The only time I’ve had a good one is when I have bought from friends. The problem is that you never know what is the least a car salesman will take for one. Oh, sure, if you have a relative whose brain you could pick you might get close. But, the blue book is just a fiction maintained by the car companies to maximize their return. And online info sources are often disinformation and require an inordinate of research time. Plus, you’ll always believe you could have “gotten it for $300 less”. If you knew what was the least you could pay for a vehicle, you could order one from the owner or fleet manager and bypass the sales hassle completely. Much of a car dealer’s profit comes from impulse sales of easily persuaded marks. Exotic colors or unnecessary features say as much about how gullible you are as they say about your perceived self-image. Anyway, go with your gut. You will anyway.

  49. You forgot Tesla.

    Honestly, the one thing I like about Tesla is the lack of pushy salespeople and ordering on-line. If you actually go to a show, the 20 something’s that are quasi-salespersons direct you to on-line ordering. It’s a better experience than the traditional dealers.

    Let the flaming begin!!!

    • Need a new windshield wiper? It’s put on a flatbed to California. Pain in the ass to say the least.

    • My problem with Teslas, is you don’t really own them. Tesla Motor Corp can more or less take control of them at any time for any reason whatsoever. And since they are connected to the internet (or cellphone towers) they can be hacked and spoofed to a degree ordinary can’t yet.

      Putting the computers that control the vehicle on the internet is a VERY BAD IDEA. Very bad. Someone will hack a Tesla at some point if they get popular enough.

  50. I, like you, have been bitten by the sports car bug more than once. I’ve mostly sated it with older British sports cars, their quirks being part of their charm. Then I bought a Jeep Wrangler. Take the doors off, flip the windshield down, and you get all the wind-in-the-hair, bugs-in-the-teeth enjoyment of a motorcycle or open top roadster with the security of a tank. If you want comfort, on goes the hardtop, fire up the AC, and it’s a modern SUV. And old guys don’t look silly driving one.

  51. Before you buy something, take a driving school, something like Bondaurant. The best car money you will ever spend.

    You will learn the limits of a car, and your own limits. You will also learn that what you can do with a car, and that you have no business doing any of it on the street. Too many variables, and too many ways to hurt yourself and other people. There is also the matter of having a nice car and getting it keyed in a parking lot or stolen and stripped (people are assholes).

    I have lots of car toys, for the weekends. Took me 40 years to accumulate them. My daily is a 20 year old Dodge pickup. Stealthy, anonymous, and stupid drivers will bounce right off (and have). 4500 pounds of steel and a bit of plastic. It pulls my toys around when it is time to go to the track.

    • That “stealthy” remark jibes with something I read about pickups: you can drive stupid fast, and cops seem to ignore you. Presumably, the cops view them as “working class bubbas” (especially plain white pickups) and they leave them alone.

      On the plus side, you can get a reasonably comfy truck nowadays, and it’ll last a long time.

      • Generic white full size American pickups and SUVs are a favorite personal vehicle for law enforcement and especially firemen. I am guessing the fire hat sticker with the fire department affiliation that appears on the back of a lot of these is a code for “don’t give me a speeding ticket, bro”.

        1990’s pickups from the big 3 are cheap, comfy, and not as complicated as the new ones. It’s just hard to find one that isn’t all worn out.

        • 50% of the the vehicles where I live are pickups. A guy who doesn’t drive a truck around here is quite gay, but he’s not quite a real man either.

  52. I’m pretty much in the same boat, age-wise and class-wise, and I’ll probably be doing the same kind of shopping next year, although leaning more towards “entry-level luxury” instead of “neck-snapping power”. But I was interested in your research on the car shopping experience.

    Like many folks (I suspect), twenty years of ordering the Exact Thing I Want on the internet has caused me to not have the patience for flesh-pressing and horse-trading. It’s also conditioned me to rely on Online Reviews (which may not be that smart). I’m wondering if you’ve found that online sites, or magazines, that review automobile quality, are no more useful that auto dealer sites are for purchasing.

    • So far, the best reviews I’ve found are the YouTube guys. You can search around YouTube and find enthusiast videos for the cars you like. These are by people who own the cars usually or they are independent reviewers trying to build up a following in the car culture. You get an honest assessment of the car. They also video themselves driving while they talk about the features. That’s pretty helpful actually. It’s like a virtual test drive.

      I second the CarGurus site as a great resource for used cars. I used it to figure out probably resale values of the cars I’m considering. It also gives you an idea of who is driving them.

      • There is a club here (probably similar ones all over the country) who buy stock cars and then trick them for use at the local track.

        One guy I met loved the Cadillac CTS V. (paste tense as newer models just weren’t the same)

  53. Born a car nut, I spent my twenties buying Fords with big engines. Then I got into alfa-Romeos. After the humiliation of driving my last one into the side of a Maverick, I bought an MGB GT and then into more family oriented Hondas, then mid-size SUV’s. Now, with the possibility of buying what will probably be my last car, I told my wife I just didn’t care anymore. Cars are a commodity and it makes no difference. They are selling alfa’s (alfa is an acronym though they don’t capitalize it. Hence the apostrophe) again in the states but even though the horse-collar grille gives me goosebumps they are out of my reach. It will probably be just another Japanese clonecar.

  54. I live in the Detroit area but am not part of the car culture.
    They are just transportation to me. If I wanted to make a statement, then I will do it verbally.

    That said, vans are nice.

  55. IMHO American muscle cars have some personality. Modern German cars are just sedans with lots of HP. Even the Porsche is more of a daily driver than a racing car. The Italians still build cars with soul. A ten year old Ferrari 360 Spider would be well under 100K and believe me you will never mistake it for anything other than track ready. I took one on to the track at Lime Rock and it was a lot of fun and safer than driving fast on public roads.

  56. You’re too old. Your reaction time and visual acuity suck compared to even 10 years ago. You just don’t know it yet. Get an Accord or an Outback and don’t kill anyone including yourself. You’re worried about Audi upkeep and thinking about a Mercedes?

  57. I picked up a low miles 2001 BMW M Roadster about four years ago for $28K. 315 HP and 2900 pounds makes for a quick package. The interior is old-school with minimal electronic do-dads. They only made ~1600 M Roadsters with the S54 engine, so this car will probably increase in value over time.

      • Being relatively new to the blog, I’ve read some of the old posts recently, when perhaps 4 or 5 responses were normal. One was Dutch, 2 1/2 years ago, predicting the demise of the NFL. Good call!

    • A few people have suggested I wait until next fall, when a bunch of new models hit the streets. I really wish one of the Jap makers would do something like the S2000 from a few years back. That was a hot car.

  58. I’ve had a Z-28, a BMW M3, and a Miata. The M3 was my favorite–great acceleration, fantastic grip, perfect balance. Much better at going fast than I was. The Z made the best noise and tire smoke. The Miata was great for a roadster, but I got tired of the soft top and it didn’t accelerate fast enough. The M3 cost twice the Miata, with the Z just below that. Nowadays I can’t imagine buying a new car–just too damn much money for, well, a toilet.

    • Of all the cars I’ve driven thus far, the ZL1 has had the best grip. It has the new space age handling package that the car people think is revolutionary. I guess GM borrowed it from their racing division. It’s like driving a slot car.

  59. Not sure exactly why, but I see you in an Audi A8. Cars are like women; some are designed for comfort, and some for speed. Occasionally, you can find one equipped for both.

    • The A8 is is a James Bond level ride. But, I struggle with the thought of spending that kind of money for a car. That’s another thing about the car buying experience. I’m naturally “frugal” and that does not fit well with luxury cars and sports cars.

      • Luxury cars tend to be more unreliable as they age. All that power this and power that? It eventually breaks. And at some point when the car has depreciated enough, it’s not worth it to fix any of that, so over time a luxury car tends to become this nigger-rigged ball of chewing gum and baling wire.

        When you buy luxury you really need to realize the clock is ticking on it and that you want to enjoy it while everything works and then pass it on to some other sucker to deal with it on the way down when it all starts breaking.

        Not a big fan of luxury. Big fan of power and handling. Unfortunately they try to combine the two. You will find it very hard to get one without the other.

      • Yes, but the Audi, aka jumped-up Volkswagen, is not the bee’s knees. Audis drive like cloud-cars with no feedback, road connection, or “car feel,” mostly because they’re designed for Cloud People who think “auto racing” is something you do on your PS4. On the other hand, the BMW E38 7 series is a James Bond level ride – Tomorrow Never Dies. If you’re “naturally frugal,” something I share, you’ll never feel right buying a dealer-new car: you know you’re getting screwed because you are. They don’t call it the “stealership” for nothing and you’ll never feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth with a dealer-new car (because you won’t).
        I have a 17 year old 740iL BMW that I’ve put great time and money into rejuvinating, and now I drive one of the most beautiful luxury sedans ever made in the last 75 years. That, IMHO, is the best way forward: pick whatever you like most from any reasonably available car. Just pick the design that makes you feel like the king of the world; the Porsche 944 from 16 Candles you really liked as a teenager (it’s OK, you don’t have to tell everyone you liked the movie), a black Screamin’ Chicken if you were a Niterider fan, or whatever matchbox car or movie car you really fell in love with as a teenager. Buy a $20-40k used car that’s exactly what gets your goat, put some serious money into fixing it up (yourself or find an indie shop that loves your car as much as you do). Do that and you’ll be far happier than driving some new, $80,000 tricked-out computer gadget on wheels that somehow has a woman’s vibrator where the transmission shifter should be.
        If you love the new Camaros, maybe go try a BMW E46 M3, or an E39 M5 – either of which can be gotten for at or less than $20k.

        PS: as a BMW guy, I’m obliged to say that unless you’re regularly tracking your car, 911’s are for soyboy fruitcakes trying to compensate for their lack of masculinity by driving an over-priced Volkswagen.

  60. Resist. It’s all ego, branding, and hype. You are being manipulated.

    The hotrod guys have a culture with their show n’ shines and social events, and there’s merit in that. But the manicured yuppies, their bubble headed trophy wives and the wannabees…? They’re just nobs putting on airs thinking that they’re impressing people. Screw them. They’re a dime a dozen and poseurs only impress themselves.

    BUILD your ride, Z. The boys at Factory 5 have some great kit cars and the sky is the limit with them. You have total control of what goes into them and more importantly – what doesn’t. Instead of haggling with sleazy car salesmen, you’ll be in the garage learning enginecraft from a guy in coveralls who will help you select your powerplant for the kind of driving you want to do. It’s a piece of cake to build a car that will blow the doors off 90% of the factory sports cars and look better doing it.

    • Thanks! There’s a business idea for South America. And yes, there are guys down here that could do that if they could get the parts in without getting strip-mined by customs and the tax folks.

  61. To enjoy a sports car means driving fast in places where you’re not supposed to drive fast. That means having the reflexes and risk tolerance to take chances.

    Yes, and if you’re not prepared to do that, buy something slower and more practical. The reason I didn’t buy a lightning-fast sports car is I realised I am too risk-averse to actually drive fast and it would be a complete waste of money. Sports cars aren’t for everyone.

    • And where besides the American West can you exceed the speed limit without the certainty of getting nailed by a cop? You have to be in a wide open landscape where you can see ten miles in all directions.

  62. Not car-related, but a quick comment on this: “I retain my working class sensibilities, but I’m not going to lie and say I prefer the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.” That’s just it. That’s 90% of the problem, for both the Alt-Right and the New New Left: Of all the identities one could pick, why would anyone pick “redneck” or “ghettopotamus”? If you’re a conservative-ish kid with anything on the ball, the temptation to go Full Kevin Williamson is very strong – if I get to pick my identity, and those are the only two on offer, then I choose the one that lets me live in Kevin Williamson’s neighborhood. If you’re a Left-ish kid with anything on the ball, you believe that nobody could choose to live that way, so it must be The Man who forced them to it, through capitalism or patriarchy or white privilege or whatever (I’m not saying it makes sense; it’s emotional). But people DO choose it, just like they choose, out of all the 10 zillion internet sites out there, to read only the three that agree with them. Etc. A major component of “freedom” is the freedom to be stupid. I’m of proletarian class origin myself — I’d be well on my way to high Party rank back in the USSR — and it took me decades to realize my Aunts and Uncles did all that on purpose.

    • I bet you are a ton of fun at parties “do you know alcohol is bad for you? you aren’t really going to eat that potato chip are you?!”

  63. Go with your gut. You don’t want to commit to something and keep glancing sideways at every Camaro that pulls alongside. Get it out of your system.

  64. Zman, it’s crazy to pay $50k plus for anything American, they just are not built well enough to justify that cost (which I believe the top of the line muscle cars cost). I am in the same position as you (looking for a new car) and a similar age. If you want a sedan, take a look at the Lexus line, and consider buying used (huge huge savings after only two years). Anything German will kill you once the warranty is up. Having said that, nothing will beat the poon drawing ability of the Porsche 911. Nothing. You can get a very nice used model for that same $50k (or even less) and they are still built to last. You will still have maintenance to pay for, but the 911’s are no where near as bad as BMW/Audi/Mercedes in that regard. At least drive one and see how it feels 🙂

  65. Every car review I watch on youtube would be more aptly titled:

    50 Reasons why this car isn’t a BMW 3 Series

    It doesnt matter what vehicle it is, pro reviewers all seem obsessed with the idea of the tires communicating about all the dimples in the pavement to the steering wheel. Most people want something affordable, reliable and fuel efficient, something German cars aren’t known for.

    Another thing is nobody seems to have found a way to Walmartize the sale of cars..where you simply order what you want and get it delivered or pick it up without the hassle of dealers. Most likely because dealer networks are a protected racket.

    • Most likely because dealer networks are a protected racket.

      They are. In the EU they were given an exemption from the ban on reselling, i.e. Levis jeans tried (and failed) to stop Tesco from buying in bulk and reselling them, undercutting the Levis store. The practice was deemed illegal, as would be any attempt by Levis to refuse to sell to Tesco. IIRC Apple tried this initially, you had to go to an Apple store to buy an iPhone, but now you can buy them anywhere. But car dealerships got an exemption, so only BMW dealerships are allowed to sell BMWs, for example. As you say, it’s a protected racket.

  66. A motorcycle would break you out of the spinning you are in, but unless you’ve ridden before, it will surely kill you.
    There is a car that loads of fun, and practical. Try a ride in the VW Golf R – small, handles very well, great power, 4 wheel drive – a real blast. I’ve got a 911, and I find myself enjoying going out in that darn R.

    • “it will surely kill you.”

      My next door neighbor died last year in a cycle accident. A guy at church had a cycle accident that left him unable to continue in his job or do so much as light yard work.

    • I started riding in my 40s and I’m still here. Got a little dinged up on the track once, but no permanent damage. I know guys who do track days all summer in their 60s.

      Wear the damn gear, respect the laws of physics, and assume everyone else on the road is a blind murderous idiot. Being young won’t protect you. Being paranoid will help, some.

  67. Take a test drive in the BMW X550i with the big 445hp V8. It’s an SUV that is as fun to drive as the 650i…and just as fast. When you get ready to buy something, go to Car Gurus to buy it. I’ve bought two vehicles using this website, and I can’t say enough good things about it. You can browse among new or used cars and get a solid idea of what a vehicle is actually worth. And don’t limit your search to just your area. Look nationwide and be prepared to fly to a location to pick up your vehicle. There are some fabulous used models at great prices. Happy hunting!


    • Agreed. Cargurus is like a big toy catalog (from olde days) for car buyers. Very easy to dial in things like mileage and price and model.

    • Right you are jim_jones. A Kaw sports bike makes a Camaro or Corvette seem like a boat anchor.

      Z, buy a fast bike and a station wagon. Best of both worlds.

    • Dan (below) seconded the motion, I’ll third it. You want speed and handling, get (the right) motorcycle. Yes, some compromises must be made (rain, no stereo, etc.) but “fast” doesn’t come any cheaper, and Nippon has finally discovered what the Brits knew about handling.

      Ride it for three years, then sell it and buy the cage of your choice; after 36 months on a good sport bike you’ll regard cars as the droll transportation tools they are.

  68. That “sameness” is the result of technology as a computer has been placed between the driver and the wheels. Traction control, anti-lock brakes, “sport mode”, and collision-avoidance are a few examples. Steering is “by wire” rather than a direct physical connection from the steering wheel to the drive wheel.

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