Shopping for the Wife’s Car

So Mrs. Big Picture’s Bimmer comes off lease next month, and I had the "pleasure" of doing some car shopping this weekend.

Normally, I just request some dealer quotes online via Edmunds.com. Its the absolute best way to buy a car — low bid, no haggle, order on line or phone, show up and pick it up. I’ve also had good experiences with Swap-a-lease. But given the present environment, I thought it might be, um, educational, to hit the dealers.

Shopping for a car with the missus is near impossible — we are not SUV people, and I cannot really argue with her claim that most news cars are "pods" — boring, wind tunnel designed, egg-shaped look-a-likes. Which is why she almost ended up with the BMW M Z4 Coupe — baddass, non-orb shaped, totally impractical vehicle as her daily driver (but not a POD).

She had mentioned a number of cars over the past year, so I picked out five of ’em as a replacement for the 330i: Infiniti G35X, BMW 535xi, Altima Hybrid, Acura TL, and AWD Chrysler 300. We looked at the cars in order of proximity to the house, and which side of the street they were on, making a big loop.

Warning: Anecdotal evidence follows.

First up: Nissan Altima Hybrid: She briefly considered a Nissan Murano last year, and was intrigued with the Altima Hybrid: 42 city, 36 local, definitely a more unique car. Last year, at $32k — about $6k over a nicely appointed one — it made no sense whatsoever. About 7 years with gas at $5/gal before it paid off. Apparently, the rest car buying universe felt the same, as they did not sell nearly as well as the Prius — dealers have a bunch of 2007s lying around. The same car (new 2007) can be had right now for $22k. So we drove one — kinda odd sensation, very different from a gas engine (its a 4 cylinder). She didn’t like it.

She did like the 6 cylinder, 270 HP version much better (so much for her going green). I have to get her to admit how glorious the straight 6 in the 330i is (she’s spoiled by it). Oh, and I put myself on the list for the GTR — the production run of 1,500 means most dealers will get just 1 or 2. It was also noteworthy that the Nissan dealer was rather empty.

Next up: Infiniti G35x. Handsome car (Her: its a pod!), nice dashboard, and oddly, not nearly as roomy as its downscale sister car, the Altima. Priced competitively versus the BMW, but way pricey relative to what it is: A gussied up Nissan. Mrs. BP was unimpressed. And the Infiniti dealership was so totally jammed, we never even spoke to a salesguy. That demand explains the premium price.

As we came up on the BMW dealer, she said, "Keep driving; I’d prefer something different." As much as I like the 330, it was goodbye Bavaria. The 535’s twin turbo engine is terrific, but the iDrive was the deal killer for me. Talk about lousy design and engineering — motoring by Microsoft. But its her daily driver, and if she doesn’t want another BMW, I’m not going to argue. 

On to Acura: The Acura TL actually had the nicest interior of all the cars we looked at: Lovely luminescent dashboard, great ergonomics, very comfortable. Downsides: Its an automatic, its a bit small, bland exterior, the 254 HP V6 engine isn’t nearly as smooth as the 330. Its essentially a purtified Accord. Oh, and, there’s a new version coming out in 2009. But it was far and away the nicest interior we’d been in. Their leasing terms were extremely reasonable. And the dealership was also jammed.

Finally, the only "non-pod" we looked at all day: The Chrysler 300 AWD. Its a full sized (versus mid-size) with a HUGE trunk, and tons of room inside. Gas mileage was not great. The biggest weakness was the interior — mediocre, cheap, kinda Chrysler-like, and for a high $30s car, I expected a lot more more. Oh, and the place was mostly empty.

~~~

That was my Saturday. Missus BP is leaning towards the Acura. Meanwhile, its threatening to get nice out. Time for me to go shred some rubber off the 330i’s lousy run flats . . .

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  1. Ross commented on Mar 16

    The new Chrysler designs have to be the most butt ugly cars ever ever ever.

    The company needs to take a dirt nap.

    Did you notice the inventory levels? The dealers in my hood are stacking them like cordwood.

  2. Bill commented on Mar 16

    The cost of the ’07 Altima hybrid, is the premium that my dealer is adding for a GTR. Coincidence?

  3. odograph commented on Mar 16

    I drive a Prius, and like it, but it did take me 3 test drives to get over the oddness.

    It might seem strange, but the most distracting thing for me was that the speedometer was so far in front of the driver. My eyes were not used to switching off the road and focusing at that distance.

    I’m used to it now, and happy with it. I got a hitch rack for my mountain bike and a roof rack for my kayak ;-)

    The only question after driving it for a few years is whether I should have got a car that better signaled wealth/status. In a way a Prius is a way to opt out of that, kind signaling (I hope) the opt-out.

  4. odograph commented on Mar 16

    BTW, without the 2-3 weekly mountain bike rides, I might need a faster car ;-) I’m riding a Santa Cruz Superlight with hydraulic disk brakes … more bike that I really need at this point.

  5. Howard Veit commented on Mar 16

    A non pod car? I have a Chrysler Sebring convertible and I love it. Gas mileage is just OK but the car is terrific in all other respects. The other downside would be Chrysler dealers. They are impossible to contact for any warranty info.

  6. Pete commented on Mar 16

    I have an 07 335i (the twin turbo coupe). It is in-friggin-sane. I love it. Get Dinans ECU chip and there is another, instant, 80 or so horsepower.

    Crazy good looks, ultra fast, excellent handling. Thousands less for a “comparable” vehicle.

    Can you tell what my suggestion is?

    ~~~

    BR: When its my turn, I’m fixing for the new M3 — but the 335 (now in IX flavor!) is definitely on the short list.

    If we didn’t have the SL, the convertible would also be tempting . . .

  7. MIkeS commented on Mar 16

    My wife and I bought an Acura TSX, the little sister to the TL, and LOVE IT! My father has a TL and hardly notices a difference between the two. Plus, our TSX is a 6-speed manual, which is rare and fun.

    We bought it right before we found out we were having twins, so it is a tad small with the infant seats in the back, but will be fine once they are in regular car seats (and when we trade the SUV in for a mini-van!).

    It drives fine with regular unleaded, but there is a HUGE difference in performance with premium. At least it gets good gas mileage.

  8. JJL commented on Mar 16

    Wow Barry!
    I am a proud owner of a 2005 Infiniti G35x and am getting the 2008 new model in May. The price for mine was pretty amazingly low, though I only got the all wheel drive option and not all the useless electronic stuff (GPS, dash console unit, etc). As a former builder of stock car race engines (500 plus horses, special tuned suspension) there is not another car on the market for the price that has the great balance and raw power of the G35x. Seemless transmission and unreal cornering ability! I would suggest a rethink and a new test drive of the new one, it now sports 305horsepower.

  9. dukeb commented on Mar 16

    I drive an Acura TL Type S but as little as possible. It makes me drive fast. And I’m too old to drive like that. (It’s a automatic but with manual override which is awesome. Unless you are an Indy driver, most automatics will blow away Joe blow operating a manual.) The interiors are fantastic, but the exteriors…yes, very bland. At the same time, I do sit on the inside not the outside. So it’s kind of like a f*ck-you fence where in violation of general law, you put the less attractive side toward the neighbors and enjoy the pretty side for yourself. Sounds like you lease, but if you purchase, avoid paying extra for built-in navigation. Pop’s at a Benz dealership and says his wholesalers will often pay a tad *less* for a car with a dated factory-installed GPS than the same without. Go figure. Guess they’re like computers.

  10. Dave commented on Mar 16

    Rule #1) Don’t buy American cars, they’re crap (quality wise, and they lose resale value faster than their finer constructed European and Japanese counter parts). :) – that’ll help narrow it down dramatically

    Also, if you’re considering the Altima Hybrid, I’d add the Camry Hybrid to the list. It’s badass in the fact that it gets ~35 mpg (better than what the sticker says), its extremely safe, and extremely pratical.

    Finally, I must say, its somewhat hurtful that you don’t have an Audi on the list. Did you even bother to visit them? :)

  11. Flic1 commented on Mar 16

    Like MikeS, I also have an Acura TSX and I absolutely love it. I liked the TL but there are so many on the road and I liked the fact you don’t see too many TSX’s….yet at least. I regret not getting the manual tranny but at least I can drink my coffee with the auto without spilling it!! Can’t go wrong with an Acura…..in fact I made get the 2009 TSX for the wife which is coming out soon. We are also considering the new Accord coupe which is lovely…

    BTW-I had an Acura Legend before this car with 230k miles on it…and was still going strong.

  12. Kinchip commented on Mar 16

    My caveat-

    If you opt for the Toyota (or Lexus), do not -repeat DO NOT BUY THEIR NAV SYSTEM. The Toyota/Lexus Nav (and bluetooth phone) cannot be used even by the passenger while the car is moving and the voice recognition is awful.

    Read Toyota owner comments at the site – you’ve been warned!

  13. yoshi commented on Mar 16

    It seems to me that American Car companies are actively -trying- to go out of business. With my partner moving in, our desire to move to only one car, and the fact that he can’t drive a stick – we’ve been looking at new cars. Entering a Ford or Chrysler dealership is akin to torture. The sales drones swarm around you like mosquitoes and the places look like they were designed during the Ford administration – and those are the newly built dealerships!

  14. MikeR commented on Mar 16

    I drove an Acura TSX for 2 years — it was OK (the 2005 model). I now have an Audi A3 which is verrry nice (with S Trim, so it’s basically an S3…) Quattro 3.2 with all the options, and it wasn’t very expensive at all!

    Barry, did you look at the A5? The missus might like it.
    http://www.audiusa.com/audi/us/en2/new_cars/Audi_A5.html

    ~~~

    BR: I like the A5 — and the S5 — alot.

  15. contratrader commented on Mar 16

    I have an BMW X5 (4.4 liter), Audi A4 1.8T and a 2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid nicely appointed (Nav, TV, traction control etc) with third row seat (about $10K less than the comparable Lexus hybrid). My wife quit driving the BMW and I can’t get the Toyota back from her. It is amazing. 285 HP (about 6.5 sec to 60) and it is AWD and she averages 25 mpg city/highway on unleaded regular gas. In 2 years we have put 55,000 mile on it and tow a boat. I will buy another. Just my 2 cents worth… I like the new Highlander model even better..

  16. Rick Schaut commented on Mar 16

    I’ve driven an Acura 3.2 TL for the past 7 years. It has 95,000 miles on it, and you can still eat off the engine. Even with its age, the GPS Navigation system is nice.

    The whole package, from the comfortable interior to the handling to the ability to accelerate, is top notch. It’s the only car I’ve ever owned that I can drive for hours and feel no more fatigued than if I’d spent that time sitting on the couch.

    Oh, and the factory Bose stereo system is nice. I understand that Acura have improved on it substantially, which is difficult for me to imagine.

  17. Marcus Aurelius commented on Mar 16

    Lots of shiny baubles to pick from.

    I don’t care how financially secure you are right now (until tomorrow morning), buying a new vehicle in this economy is a bad move.

    If you’re going to do it anyway, I suggest you go all in and purchase the extended warranty, too.

  18. odograph commented on Mar 16

    I just read a bunch of the econ blogs and their Bear Stearns news. All I can do is shake my head and head out for a mountain bike ride at Blackstar Canyon(OC).

    For you speedsters, I’ll make a defense of the bike. If you’ve got the mountains you can get the adrenalin rush downhill at 30 mph rush you used to get on pavement at 130. You can get endorphins(sp?) on the climbs. It’s legal. There are no cops, it’s just between you and the dirt. If you screw up you might break a few bones but are less likely to kill anybody.

    Oh, and it lowers your cholesterol.

    Happy trails.

  19. SR commented on Mar 16

    Barry,

    You are approaching this process with entirely too much analytic (male) process. It is from her perspective and that is the epicenter of this process, violate that principle and their will be pain to be had.

    Btw Craigslist is an excellent source for those wanting to obtain low miles premium vehicles from those who need to let go of their leases early. At least the supply of vehicles (re audi/bmw/mercedes/porsche)in the Bay Area is ample.

    Note: IF you desire a gps nav system, go with Garmin! I find the versions offered by auto mfg’s pathetic compared to systems that are on some of the flightdecks I inhabit.

    Best Wishes….and your mileage may vary!

    Oh, ’08 base Corvette as a driver with 26+ mpg on the highway. Though toss the factory seats and upgrade to aftermarket version asap.

    What is it with American auto mfg’s that cannot source a quality seat? I just do not get it.

  20. rob commented on Mar 16

    I’ve had two BMWs, now strickly a Japanese car guy, I usually keep cars 6-7 years and the BMWs cost too much to maintain.

  21. john commented on Mar 16

    Ran thru Bimmers 3 and 5, and Audi’s A6 wagon and Allroad wagon. The latter was a very nice car but moody. Basically starting to suffer from on board computer overload for me and the car. About six months ago switched to a Porsche Cayenne which is probably the best car I’ve ever owned, not driven, owned. It sticks to the road like the proverbial merde to a blanket, you can squirt it anywhere and is very comfortable unlike a lot of SUV’s. An onboard computer but not too complicated. Zero problemo. Viva Mr Pischtrieder, did I spell that correctly. A bit thirsty but it’s a 36 lease so I’ll stand the pain before switching to the Prius in 10 or these damned cunning Germans may have a hybrid by then. A word about leases. If you can get the right deal it’s the best route to go. Cars at every price point cost what they cost. However brilliant you may believe you are at playing car salesmen it ain’t going to mean more than a couple of g’s difference and in the meantime you’re sitting there with tens of g’s locked up in your driveway. I’m came to this blinding conclusion about 18 years ago and since then have had no occasion to change my mind.

  22. joe commented on Mar 16

    According to Consumer reports Survey:

    BMW 3 Series is recommended and identifed as safe.

    Altima is highest rated family sedan BUT get optional Electronic Stability Control.

    300 V8 is recommended.

    All Acura’s are recommended AND are identified as safe cars.

  23. Gerg commented on Mar 16

    Do you have anything against GM? The new Saabs are very nice cars and great value for money.

  24. Gerg commented on Mar 16

    And if you were tempted by the Z4 take a look at the S2000. It has a bigger trunk so you could make the case that it’s more practical :) It’s won the Top Gear car of the year drivers survey for a few years running.

  25. Al Czervic commented on Mar 16

    I plan on keeping my 330Ci until one of us (me or the car) dies. Probably be me.

    Is anyone besides BMW working on hydrogen vehicles?

  26. BCS commented on Mar 16

    What about the Malibu Hybrid? I have no personal interest or preference for chevy or the malibu, but it seems to be a good point of reference against the Altima and the 300. It is getting favorable reviews.

  27. bc commented on Mar 16

    Check out the Lexus is350. She will love it. 306hp. Air conditioned seats.

  28. dukeb commented on Mar 16

    Oh, I should mention one fact that is so simple & humbling that it truly scares me every time I’m near let alone driving a car: The only thing connecting it to the planet is a relatively tiny 4 patches of rubber (under ideal circumstances). Period. That’s what keeps you alive, or dead, or something between. I do NOT fill my car with gas without immediately rolling to the air compressor and hitting each tire. And I stare at them while the air pumps inside and always repeat to myself, it’s just those 4 patches of rubber in contact at any given moment….nothing else matters.

  29. Portland Refugee commented on Mar 16

    I have to agree re: the Prius. We have one (which my wife drives mainly – she’s a dir. of sustainability so she must practice what she preaches) but it does have a novelty type feel. Don’t get me wrong, its a great car for tooling around town, excellent gas mileage but lacks power & I suspect safety. Where we live there is a substantial hill to climb to get home. The Prius has a hard time making it especially in snow or rain….

    In the next year of two when its time for a new one, I will definitely lean towards the Honda Hybrid v. Prius. It has much more power, handling, etc.

    I may even get one myself if gas reaches 4-5 pr/gallon.

  30. Johnnyvee commented on Mar 16

    Barry:
    You don’t like the run flats? I bought a 335i with runflats and it looks and they perform great.

    ~~~
    BR: I find them rather loud, they do not handle potholes well (show up as “flat-needs replacement” after a good NYC trip)

    And, they are god-awful in the snow . . .

  31. donna commented on Mar 16

    We got hubby a 2005 G35 – much nicer than the newer ones. And way cheaper.

  32. SR commented on Mar 16

    Re Greg/Saab vehicles…

    Resale/trade-in is almost non applicable as their (along with Volvo) value follows a steep descent curve.

    Even worse than American mfg’s.

    See NADA/KBB for references

    Then again, your mileage may vary….

  33. demographics_trap commented on Mar 16

    Sorry to poop in your punchbowl, but this comments thread is basically one half of the ‘Two Americas’ that John Edwards was talking about. I read a comment from someone that mused (IIRC) that their Prius let them down in the ‘status’ part of the driving equation…

    Truly WTF.
    //My two cents, just keeping this thread honest
    ///The S5 is sex.

  34. wally commented on Mar 16

    I love Infinitis for the durability – I’ve owned several and I’ve always bought them used (cheaper than you’d ever imagine for what you get) and never had any problems. But it really distresses me to see the direction they have gone in recent years with fuel economy. The VQ engine at 3.0 liters was a perfect blend of smoothness, power and durability. So they naturally made it into a 3.5 and dropped the mileage. I’ve still got an I30 and I get mid-twenties all the time for mileage. The up-to-date models get mid to high teens. That’s just poor engineering judgement.

  35. BelowTheCrowd commented on Mar 16

    I’m with Odograph. Prius and Santa Cruz mountain bike. Although in my case I opted for the Blur LT. A little heavier, but a bit more capable in the bumps. Useful for when I go out past the Santa Monica range…

    Back to the subject at hand though. I had an Acura TSX for three years before the Prius. Loved it, and loved the fact that since it was basically a four-cylinder Accord underneath, pretty much anybody can work on it. My maintenence pretty much consisted of a visit to quick lube every six months. Roughly $100 a year around here. The TL will be pretty similar and as one of the previous posters noted, the ugly part of it is on the outside.

    The Honda/Acura nav system blows away most others. Unlike the one in my Prius which basically just blows…

    But there’s room for the bike in the back of the Prius, and that’s what I use for fun. Can’t do that with any standard sedan and I hate roof racks.

    -btc

  36. kk commented on Mar 16

    Why lease over purchase?

  37. Norman commented on Mar 16

    The $1,300,000 decision (read on).

    On average, and all cars are pretty close in actual cost, over the first five years of owning a new car you will be out about 150% the cost of the car. So, if you buy a 535i for $61,000 it’ll cost you $18,300 per year for the first 5 years. A top rated Honda Accord will cost about $8,500 per year. So, for the big time buyer is the extra $10,000 per year or $27 per day worth the luxury or snob appeal?

    But let me make it even more onerous. If you buy the Accord instead of the BMW and invest the difference in actual costs what does that amount to over a lifetime? Well, if you start buying new cars at five year intervals when you are 35 and you get an inflation adjusted return of 6% in the stock market over 45 years the real difference in your retirement fund turns out to be a whopping $1,300,000!!!! (As Albert Einstein said: “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”)

    Further, in my own realm all of the hybrid owners I know are spewing out tons of carbon by their high living such as having two homes making the hybrid enviornmental savings a joke. Domestics on the other hand drive old Hondas.

  38. BDG123 commented on Mar 16

    You aren’t going to support your brethren and buy a Cerberus 300?

    If you liked the TL’s interior, you might just go into your ‘uncomfortable’ zone and look at the 2008 Cadillac CTS. The new interior is very nice, very unCadillac and the new exterior design is very sharp. The 6 is smooth as is the tranny. I’ve looked at them and I never thought I’d say this but …… it is a really nice and very distinctive car.

  39. odograph commented on Mar 16

    I used to carry my bike in the Prius. Then I had hitch-crafters weld a receiver on my Prius. Once I had disc brakes taking the wheel on and off became less fun. My Hollywood Sport Rider rack rides in the wind shadow, 50mpg road trips.

    Great ride today, and as luck would have it I saw a speeding 750 almost take out a 535 on the way home. A close thing. It would have been “BMW on BMW” violence.

  40. Movie Guy commented on Mar 16

    Well damn Barry. Skip right over the local Porsche and Audi dealers. No puppy pods sitting there…

    If you gotta buy some iron outta Japan, try this: (you only have about 3 hours to nail it down)

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/porsche-928-GTS-5-4L-not-S4-GT-MINT-W-Movie_W0QQitemZ190205521383QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item190205521383

    Stepping up…to a bad boy

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/2003-Porsche-996-Twin-Turbo-TechArt-GT2-Cabriolet-look_W0QQitemZ270218595167QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item270218595167

    And, finally…the beast

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/2008-Porsche-911-Turbo-WoW-Techart-GT-Street-Call-NOW_W0QQitemZ150223216493QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item150223216493

    And apparently, she has never owned a Typhoon or anything built by Lingenfelter Performance Engineering. We own a 2004 bad ass Lingenfelter 4-wheel drive Suburban that will burn off 0-60 in 4.6 sec, and 13.0 sec in the qtr mile. Nothing boring here and it’s almost as fast as some of our Typhoons and Syclones.

    If she can hanle older muscle, step her back to the ’64-’70 era screamers. I can loan you a ’67 442 4-speed that will scare the hell out of her, but you’ll have a great evening thereafter. :)

    Pods? No fucking way. Life is too short.

  41. R commented on Mar 16

    I had an ’04 G35, and it was in the shop 12 times in the first year. At best, it got 20 mpg. I traded it in for a Mercedes E350 and haven’t looked back. My buddy has an Infiniti M and it was in the shop constantly for the first year.

    The E is like driving a tank, no problems, it’s got all sorts of goodies, and it gets 30 mpg. I will trade it in for a diesel version when they start selling the bluetec in CA.

  42. Chester White commented on Mar 16

    Before you make the purchase, check the price through the Costco buying program.

    I saved a ton that way.

  43. Grodge commented on Mar 16

    2005 Lexus SC430 or
    2006 Mercedes SLK coupe
    Either is about $38K.

    Both hardtop convertibles and great looking cars. And fun!

    The cars you described are okay, but new cars simply are not worth that kind of money. Lexus and Mercedes are the ones to beat.

    I realize that automobile purchases are among the most personal items to buy, but since you brought them up.

  44. kunal commented on Mar 16

    Lexus i350 is sublime! u got to have your wife test drive that.

    it may be a pod but sure beats an acura

  45. DB commented on Mar 17

    Sigh. So no convincing her that being a small efficient pod is a GOOD thing for our poor beleaguered environment, and she good get a much better rush for the same price by buying a comfy pod and then adopting a couple dozen WorldVision or Compassion International children with the cost difference?

    Sometimes I feel like I don’t quite fit in in the finance world…

  46. la grande poussée commented on Mar 18

    forget all that stuff – Get A Chevrolet Duramax Diesel – with leather – the nicest car I have ever owned (truck) Ride above the traffic. If you are creative you can buy the
    “juice” addon 4 levels of creative electronics. Stage 4 – 0 to 60 in 6.9 seconds
    and a quiet diesel too. Break the mold – ride high- stay high and stay away from Larry Kudlow.

  47. odograph commented on Mar 20

    Some of you must have missed Barry’s AGW threads.

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