Buying a New Car: Brainstorming, Research, Test Drives

Hank was a great car, for a single, apartment-dwelling, man, and it was ok for a newly married, apartment-dwelling couple, but with only two doors, it wasn’t really practical for more than 2 people, and while the huge hatch space and 1100lb payload was great—I carried 18 bags of mulch, twice, and a ¼ cord of wood in the hatch—I really needed something bigger for both family outings and for home improvement-type tasks, something with 4 doors, a decent payload capacity, and a roof rack, and something that wasn’t too much of a departure from the comfort and quality of Hank, that also looked good.

That’s not so much to ask, is it?

I briefly thought about a small SUV (now known as CUV’s). I drove and loved a Forester from 2003-2011 and have long wanted an Outback, and initially planned to get a new Subaru, but three things stopped me: the underpowered engines in the base models, the premium fuel requirement of the XT Foresters, and the Outback is just too big and too expensive for what it is. Plus, Subaru makes great, long lived vehicles, but I’ve become accustomed to soft-touch plastics and relatively current technology, neither of which have made their way into newer Subarus.

I researched quite a bit and ended up rejecting the entire SUV/CUV lineup: they hold no more than Hank did, they’re all some combination of expensive, underpowered, and/or just dog ugly, plus, they’re everywhere. So I started looking at small trucks: higher payload, can carry tall stuff (think “trees”) with ease, and I’ve never driven a truck before, so it seemed like I had a winner…

Except that nobody makes a small truck any more. The Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon are as big as the old ½ tons used to be; the Ford Ranger is long gone; the Nissan Frontier  is the smallest of the current crop, but the body style and engine and interior amenities are unchanged since 2005; and the Toyota Tacoma is now as large as the Tundras used to be. Given my usage needs, though, I thought a truck would be best, and quickly settled on the Colorado/Canyon or Taco.

I did some measurements and was a bit concerned that they wouldn’t fit in the garage, what with the Volvo S60 and all the lawn mowers and bicycles and whatnot, but went for some test drives anyway, and I took Samie along for moral support (and because he likes cars and all that). We went to the local Chevy dealer first and test drove a Colorado LT, and then went to the Toyota dealer and tried out a Tacoma SR5, both with V6 engines.

 

I planned to test drive the Frontier too, but ended up leaving it out.

The Colorado has a much nicer interior and handles like a largish sedan, it’s ~$5,000 cheaper than the Tacoma, built of nicer materials and with better technology, and it just looks better (to me). The Taco is very well built, but cheap and plasticy, it handles like the mid-sized truck that it is, and the seat felt like a cheap, plastic, church pew: I wouldn’t want to take it on any long trips. They’re roughly equivalent in power and payload, but the Colorado won. Sure, the Taco has Toyota’s reputation for resale value and reliability, but it was so cheap feeling and so expensive relative to a similarly powered, much more nicely finished Colorado. The Chevy just had one problem…

The LT model comes with some fancy lumbar support stuff in the driver seat. It felt like a softball crammed into the seat back that you could move in and out. At its least supportive, it felt like a large fist in the small of my back; at its most supportive, it nearly pushed me off the seat. There was no way I could ever drive it on a long trip, unless I planned to stop every hour or so to relax my back and get some blood flowing back into my legs. A lower model would be better in this regard, but lower models don’t come with Apple CarPlay, so…

I rejected trucks and started looking for other options. I read up on the Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4. I wondered about CX5s, even. I thought hard about BMW’s X1 and X3 . I fantasized about a Volvo V60 or V90 Cross Country . And then I remembered that VW came out with the new Golf Alltrack, a slightly raised Golf Sportwagen with some plastic body cladding and all wheel drive…

For ~$30K and with a turbo 4 that takes regular gas, it looked like the best bet: 4 doors, 1100 lb payload, roof rack, good-enough looking, with all mod cons…

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner!

But first, I had to say goodbye to Hank…

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