March 9, 2008

1130 words 6 mins read

Car Shopping – Day 1

At the current moment, I drive a 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX (Manual). Overall I like the car, there are a few annoyances but over all it has served me well. I only leased the Scooby, and its lease is up in just about 3 months. That being said, I’ve been doing research on new vehicles. In fact today I went car shopping. I didn’t buy anything today, I didn’t plan on it. I simply wanted to do some research. So what does this mean? I’m going to do some reviews of each vehicle and dealership I went to.

‘08 Honda Civic Hybrid (Walnut Creek Honda) — I rather liked this dealership, in fact it was the nicest to deal with. The sales person I talked with (Vic) was very nice, not the most knowledgeable but gave me no BS and was willing to go find out any info I asked, that he didn’t know. The HCH had more kick to it than I had expected from a Hybrid (note: this was the first time I had ever driven a Hybrid), this was a pleasant surprise. It is by no means the fastest, but you won’t be stuck in the right lane (even in California). Granted it does take time to get up to speed — especially above 70mph (and I did push it to 90+). When it gets up there the engine just sticks at 6000 RPM (right under red line) and hums along. Apparently this is ok due to how the CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission) is built. The interior was nice, if a bit cheap — but it is a lower end vehicle. The seats were comfortable enough for me — so I was happy.

Unlike most hybrids the HCH does not run in an “electric only” mode. It uses the electric in a similar fashion to a turbo, a boost to the gas power. It also has an “auto-stop” feature. This is rather self explanatory — any time you come to a complete stop for more than about a second (And keep your foot on the brake) — the engine turns off. This takes a little bit of getting used to, because the engine doesn’t restart till you take your foot off the brake. So getting going again after a stop takes an extra second (maybe half a second) — it also means you have to keep your foot on the brake or the car will start up again. Additionally, the nav/audio system is supposed to be rather nice, but it is missing one feature that I really want — bluetooth integration. The vehicle I test drove didn’t have nav system — so I didn’t get to play with it.

‘08 Impreza 2.5i (Diablo Mazda Subaru) — I just want to say that I really don’t like this dealership. This is where I got my ‘05 Impreza, and the sales guys, both then and now are scum. They aren’t terribly helpful and give you that “bad sales guy” vibe. That being said, I liked the ‘08 Impreza. The engine is more than powerful enough (even though it lacks turbo) to get up and go. They have a feature (of which I forget the name) that I call “semi-automatic” where you can control the gears of the automatic transition. Similar to a manual, but without the clutch. The road noise was a little quieter than my ‘05 Impreza, and the seats were definitely more comfortable. Being an AWD (and a Subaru) it sticks to the ground and still gives you a slight “race car” vibe.

‘08 Mini Clubman (Mini Of Concord) — Apparently, these Clubman are extremely popular. The dealership told me that they get about 5 a month, and the waiting list is about 3 months long. They also carry no financial incentives (since they sell so well). The test drive was interesting. I dislike having to be instructed as to how to turn on a car, but it’s good that they did because the key system is so stupid. It is a wireless electronic “key fob” that you have to stick into a receptacle, then press the power button. You can’t remove the fob until the car is off, COMPLETELY off. When I was done with the drive I pressed the power button to turn the car off and gave the fob a yank, and it wouldn’t give. I tried a few more times before It finally let go — when all the systems had “shut down” — stupid. The ride was pleasant though. The Mini is lower to the ground that other other vehicles which gives its ride a different feel. It does have that fun “zippy” feeling when you are driving it about. The engine had a good kick to it (even though I was driving the non-turbo version). The Mini also has a “semi-automatic” functionality using paddles, and a “Sport” program for automatic shifting (which keeps the engine running higher RPMs). The inside felt very roomy, despite the fact that it looks like a small car. The back seat had enough room to be comfortable for reasonable height people and was easy enough to get in using the suicide door. The storage area in back was a little small — but if you really needed more storage you could fold down the back seats.

‘08 Toyota Camry Hybrid (Toyota of Concord) — Admittedly, the Camry is a very nice vehicle. It has number of features that make it feel more expensive than the rest of the cars I drove today. It’s got the fancy key less entry/vehicle start (ok, “key less” is a misnomer, you have to have a key but it doesn’t do anything other than sit in your pocket), along with a nice sound system that has bluetooth integration (which makes me very happy). The major thing I noticed is that this car has a lot less road noise than all the rest I tested — it was very noticeable (and pleasant). The seats were comfortable, and powered — again making the car feel more expensive (as this was the first car of the day that had power seats).

The Camry does start directly from electric motor and will putter around on electric only at low speeds (automatically). It does have a feature of a “battery only” mode (accessible from the shifter) that supposedly will “force” it to stay in battery mode up to 35mph, but I didn’t test that. I will say creeping about the parking lot in a completely silent vehicle was a lot of fun (even if it was pointless). The gas engine is also a bit larger and has got a bit more kick to it (compared to the HCH), of course you pay for this in MPG.