Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Help Prof. Osler Buy a New Car!

It's time to get a new car (which means, of course, that if you are in the market for a loaded 2001 BMW 530i with 79k miles, you know who to talk to). Cars are important to me, in part because I'm from Detroit and that gets in your blood, and in part because I really love driving.

So the question is, what to get? My needs are complex. I don't really need a beautiful car, but I do like one which is quick, handles well, not too large, and has a back seat. There is an additional complication, too. I'm having a bit of a spiritual crisis, as well-- I can tell that my desire for nice cars is probably contrary to my faith. At the least, I want a car with good mileage and that won't shout out arrogance as I drive. I also prefer a manual transmission and rear-wheel drive. Here are the candidates:

1) Honda Accord V-6

The Accord is unpretentious, utilitarian, has decent power, and plenty of room. It is also very reliable and can be serviced in Waco. It is the only car of this bunch which runs on regular gas-- the rest take premium. Front-wheel drive, and no manual transmission.
0-60: 7.4 seconds
21 MPG

2) Acura TL

This is basically a jazzed-up Accord. It is a better driver's car than the Accord, but costs about $4,000 more (about the same as the next two). The basic version, sadly, comes only with an automatic transmission. I'm not sure whether or not it can be serviced in Waco. Front wheel drive.
0-60: 6.7 seconds
23 MPG

3) BMW 328i

This comes in sedan and wagon style, though the latter might make me look like Bates. It's a great driver's car, available in a stick, and gets better mileage than the Accord. Kinda pretentious, though, not the most reliable, and hard to service in Waco.
0-60: 6.9 seconds (with automatic)
24 MPG

4) Infiniti G35

A nice sedan that really goes, and is decently reliable. Comes with a stick. I'm not sure about servicing it locally. Rear wheel drive, but not so great mileage.
0-60: 5.4 seconds
19 MPG

So, what do you think? Any opinions?

Try the Cadillac CTS. Its slick, not too expensive. Plus, its American, so you could be loyal to your Detroit roots.
Tom-- To me, a Cadillac says "Hi! I'm 86 years old!"

Plus, I'll never forgive them for the Cimarron. Seriously. I'll never buy a Cadillac.

I should add two things:
1) I have read good things about the CTS. You do have a good point. I'm not sure how reliable it is, though-- GM products are all over the map that way.

2) My rant against the Cimarron is nothing new-- I posted before about that dark day in Detroit's history.
On the faith issue, how about an Accord hybrid?
They stopped making the Accord hybrid last year.
Try the Mitsubishi Evolution: 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. Manual. All wheel drive. $32,000 Turbocharged 4 cylinder, so decent gas mileage.

Handles better than a Lamborghini Murcielago. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lJwlUJU-f8

Receives my full endorcement (I owed one till recently). -Chris Cheatham
Professor Osler,

I share your concerns about getting the Infiniti serviced. It's no fun having to drive to Temple, Austin, or Dallas to get your car worked on by someone you trust.

I think the Acura and the BMW are both great options. My brother has owned an Acura, an MDX, for the past three years and he really loves it. He's had no mechanical problems. With Acura, you get the mechanical excellence of a Honda with a little more style.

The BMW is also a great option. Downside: you have to go to Temple to get it serviced. In Dallas, Austin, or Houston, the BMW wouldn't raise a single eyebrow. But there aren't alot of BMWs parked in the faculty lot or in Waco. Upside: a safe, beautiful car. If you go with the BMW, both the 328i and xi are good options. Do you need/want a wagon? I thought you didn't want something too large.

Other options:
Volvo S80
An attractive Volvo but not great milage. Safe. Its "Geartronic" transmission gives you both automatic and manual modes. Downside: still made by Ford.

VW Passat
Attractive. German. Safe. Comes in manual and automatic. Decent fuel economy (21/29). Also comes in a diesel (TDI) that is supposed to get approximately 45 mpg highway.

Domestic Option:
Chevy Impala SS

With respect to your spiritual crisis:
Choosing a car necessarily says something about you. Just like what you choose to wear, what car you purchase reflects upon how you view yourself and how you want others to view you. Clearly, you don't want to have a car that might make you appear arrogant, a trait that is not reflected in your character.

I'd suggest that you try to parse out what features are important to you for what reasons. Let's look at the features you said you wanted: (1) car with good mileage, (2) car that's not too large, (3) car that has a back seat, (4) care that performs well, (5) car that's attractive but not pretentious. First, having a car that has good mileage is responsible: it lowers cost of ownership, it saves fill-up time, and it helps reduce carbon emissions. Having a car with a back seat and that's not too large are good too: you don't want to purchase a car with space you already know will go unused. As a collateral benefit, cars are generally better performers than SUVs. None of these three things should cause you any spiritual alarm.

Having a car that performs well is a complicated criterion. If by performance, you mean a good reliability and a strong warranty, it is responsible to consider those issues. If instead you want V-8 power that you'll never use, that may be more troublesome. With respect to your concerns about arrogance due to brands, I doubt you will run afoul of that with the options you have already selected. Any car that gives you a gut feeling that you may appear like a something of a car glutton means that it isn't a good reflection of you. As such, you should eliminate it. You have already eliminated many such cars (a 5 series BMW and various other luxury makers).

If you find a car that's attractive and that objectively fits your needs, you are going to be happier in the long term and you will likely hang on to your car for longer. I'll look forward to seeing what you choose.
I have owned the same accord for 8 years now and have loved it the entire time. The new V6 Accord has somewhere near 300 horses and actually shuts down some of the cylinders at cruising speed to dramatically increase gas mileage. It is larger than the previous model to make it a true mid-size. Plus, as a special touch, it's stereo system pumps "filler" noise to cancel out road noise for a very quiet ride. I drove one not to long ago and was very impressed with the smooth ride and responsive handling--though it will be a step down from a 5 series BMW suspension. With service in Waco I don't how it can be beat. The new Accord has styling at least equal to the Acura for a lower price.
I like the BMW. Go with it.
I don't know much about cars--especially since I've been fortunate not to need to own one for the last five years--but on the issue of faith/ethical issues attached to car ownership, I think the issue of fuel efficiency is much more substantive than whether a BMW or some other model may appear pretentious.

Go for the good gas mileage. The world is running out of oil.
Of those, the 328 hands-down. And the utility of a wagon configuration far outweighs any aversion to Bates-doppelicity.

Alternatively, you may want to wait until you can test drive one of the new VW Jettas with the 2.0 CDI diesel (available late summer/fall . . . maybe?). They'll be available in sedan and wagon form. Although they're front-drivers, the fifth gen Jetta platform is very stiff and has excellent handling with minimal understeer. Acceleration may be so-so numbers-wise compared with a gasser, but with the fat torque low in the rev-range they feel much quicker than they are.

I've got an '06 Jetta TDI sedan with the 1.9 liter PD diesel, and despite the paltry 100 hp, the deep well of ~180 lb-ft of torque at ~2000 rpms rarely leaves me wanting, especially at highway speeds. And you can't beat the observed ~35 mpg city and 40-46 mpg highway. Even when you figure in the relative cost of diesel vs. premium (the TL, G, and 328 all sip the pricey petrol), and the likely lower 30/40 numbers from the 2.0 TDI, the fuel economy difference should more than covers the fuel price spread.

For me, the difference comes down to this: the Japanese marques may be extremely competent, but the Germans are so . . . purposeful. (And that outweighs the reliability gap.)
One more thing: is repair/maintenance really a problem for Japanese or German vehicles in Waco? I found Luikart's (sp?) to be competent and reputable when I lived there.
Manual transmission and RWD, without being too flashy - that's a tall order. A new G is probably your best bet, although the exhaust is tuned to a Formula 1 pitch making it perhaps a bit to "in your face" than you would prefer. You also have the service issues.

You know as well as I do that it will be hard to go to anything other than a BMW after you have driven an e39 for all these years - it's the perfect machine. What I would do, given the money you are looking to spend, is get a CPO BMW5 series. You could get a 2004 or 2005 just-off-lease 530iT, which is the wagon, although I'm not sure it comes in a stick. Or, if you really want some power, look for a 2003 M5 - expensive to maintain but perhaps the greatest sedan ever built.
Wow-- there's a lot of good points there. TradeLawGuy, the e39 is a great vehicle. I got this one as a CPO in 2003. I drove an Accord yesterday, and it was not in the same realm of experience, at least from a driver's point of view.

Anon 10:21 and Brad-- I have had VW's before and liked the driving experience, but the reliability issues are overwhelming, unfortunately.
I swear every time I take my baby (03 530) in for repairs and it costs me $800 that I'm going to sell her and go back to an Accord. My last Accord I drove daily from Austin to Waco for law school - now you remember me? - and put 165,000 miles on it. Reliable is an understatment. But I can't do it; the BMW is a piece of art that I still stare at in the garage after a wash and wax. You know what I mean.
What about a bicycle built for five?
I have a brand new 328i. It's the sedan, and it has the sport package and a manual 6-speed transmission.

I love it.

The handling is amazing, and the 230 horses feel like a lot more.

You're right about it being a driver's car, though. The cupholders, for example, are not in the best place. On the other hand, features like the Dynamic Traction Control is very handy on slick roads.

The sound system is really good, and it has a line in for an mp3 player in the center compartment.
I'm going to have to vote for the BMW. Let's face it, the Germans know what they're doing.
I'm driving a 2006 Scion A3, so don't ask me!
IPLawGuy, what do you think I should drive?
Get a brand new red corvette. Keep a jag in the garage for backup.
Diesel Jetta is coming back (Jetta TDI). Also, buy a Mini Cooper. All the really cool people have them, and you don't have to let anyone ride with you - because there is no room for anyone but you.


NO, you do not get the ultimate driving experience. Probably not a stick shift or RWD.

YOU WILL get 60 mpg.

The Statement:

I care a lot about the environment and I am doing my part to reduce this country's dependence on foreign oil. I can afford ANY CAR... seriously - I am OSLER....
but I CHOOSE to drive this. By CHOICE.



LL BEAN Edition

Holds people and all of their stuff. Subarus have great reliability, without being so cookie cutter, like Honda and Toyota. Decent gas mileage. You CAN get the LL Bean version, which would appeal to the Grosse Pointer in you. ALSO COMES IN A STICK and I think its ALL wheel drive.

Cons: ???

I like really reliable cars, I am sort of a Woodsy Preppie, and i like that I have a car that NOT EVERYBODY has. The name OUTBACK reflects that I not only CHOOSE to, but also like to spend like 5 weeks a year in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with NO outdoor plumbing.

3. How about a 1970s VW Bus with no Heat? Pretty sure that is what your brother used to drive.. At least he complained about it....
What about a Nissan Maxima? I loved mine, and it is one of the most comfortable cars I have ever driven. They are also really good looking cars, and I think you would be really surprised if you drove one...I have no idea about rear/front/all/partial wheel drive.

Or a Lexus GS 350? I just bought a GS 450h, but that's only because a man decided to hit me going way too fast on a highway in the rain...and I decided I live in Dallas an preteniousness is a requirement here. It is an unbelievably great car.
Oh yeah actually Lexus makes a GREAT hybrid... its sort of like a mini suv but its a hybrid kind of expensive though.



Sorry, but hybrid shmybrid. The savings in gasoline will never offset the additional cost and you can't tell me that the giant NiMH batteries won't cause environmental problems when they reach the junkyard. So, what do you get? Nothing other than an inflated sense of self, which is why in these parts we call the Prius the Pious.

Though I haven't met you IRL, I think you would do well to look into a Saab. It makes a reserved statement about taste and seems to me to be a practical option.

The fuel economy seems in line with the vehicles you've selected. Out of the one's you have listed, I really am impressed with the G35, but it does sacrifice fuel economy. Either an Infiniti or an Acura would be a nice choice, since both Nissan and Honda engines are reliable and highly serviceable just about anywhere, though I make no warranty about that claim for Waco.
I've driven a Cadillac CTS for 3 years now and have had zero problems. The only thing I've had to do besides routine maintenance was a recall repair to fix a leaky seal. It's a very reliable driver's car that has gotten very good reviews (car and driver car of the year for the 2008 model) and if part of Cadillac's attempt to inject youth into it's 'old person' image. They've phased out production of the Devilles and other 'old person' cars I grew up with and you seem familiar with. They're rebuilding the brand around Escalades and the CTS.

The CTS is also after owning another GM car, a 1999 GMC Sierra Pickup, which I also had no problems with and continues to serve as a 'family car' with more than 100k miles on it.

I've also had good service experiences with Karr Pontiac, Buick, GMC, Cadillac here in town.
I've recently looked into the Acura TL and Infiniti G35; although I have not driven either. In looking at Consumer Reports, etc., the Acura is definitely the most reliable on your list and gets high rankings in other categories. But the Infiniti has also rated highly in reliability for the past 6 or 7 years with little to no major problems reported. It is also more of the driver's car you may be looking for. Both the TL and G35 are great choices.
The G35 is a great car. I know two people who have them and absolutely love them. Very sporty and stylish.

And I can vouch for the fact that Luikart's in Waco was an excellent place for foreign car servicing and repairs.
I hate to warn you off about the SAAB because it is a really cool designed car but honestly my mom had one and it was NOTHING but trouble Also it comes with weird everything Like the tires they are Pirelli and that is the only kid it takes or something and every flat tire was like freaking $235 or something... it was kind of a nightmare... but then this was the 90s

EX: The ignition start is in the middle on the floor between the seats cool right? YES!!! Until your diet coke falls into it... you know what I mean? HOWEVER it DOES have cool HEATED SETAS and it is VERY VERY safe.

If money were no object really I think I would get that Volvo SUV thing. I dont know how it is on gas but its a tank, very safe.

But it probably has $235 tires too.
Heated seats are nice but not often used in Texas. I think every car should have what I recently came across in a BMW 7-series, cooled seats. I'm not sure how they work, but they were pretty awesome.
My opinion?

Of your stated choices, I like the Acura. I agree, manual transmission is important. And if you can get a Honda serviced, I am sure you can get an Acura serviced in Waco. Its the same basic layout and system.

I do agree you should check out the CTS. It has a great reputation.

I must say that my experience with the Scion has been great, repair/maintenance-wise. There have been none. No problems or reparis in over two years.

The Japanese seem to have mastered the concept of making cars that don't break. Even the little stuff.

Contrast that with the Audi I just traded in last month...

I agree with Tyd on Saabs. Nice to look at, but everyone I know who has ever owned one got to know the service guys at the dealership.

And yes, Volvo and Saab and Audi are all notorious for having expensive tires come standard.

If you ever need to buy tires, do it online at Tire Rack. Half the price of the local tire places!
Oh, and I also agree with Tradelawguy re: the Prius. There are environmental issues with them too. If you were just driving around town, it might be worth it, but out on I-35, its going to burn up just as much gas as any other car its size.
By the way, I've read somewhere that the TL is supposed to be redesigned for 2009. So, they may have an even better car out by the end of this year.
Accord all the way. We love it. And it gets great gas with the 3 cylinder eco transmission.
I Rekkomend ve Vord Viesta. Et iz relible to a point and ze can purcgaze et vor graat deescount. My vreind ovned vone vrom ninteen-nindey zeven to ninteen nindy ate. He sezz "zat kar vas veegest mistake ov life! do not perchaz! do not perchaz!". Zat ez my rekkomendation.
-Andrew V. Vladkommen
This little bunny seconds the Evo recommendation...but only if it's hot pink and has one of those hummmmmmmmmmvrrrrrrroooooommmmmmwweeeeeoooooowwwerrrrrrbzzzzzzhummmmm
exhaust pipes.

But yes. Hot pink.
Ok, dog, I'm going to give it to you hard. You are "from Detroit and cars are important to me." Yet you depict your BMW for sale in the pic and every car you are considering is foreign. Do you see the irony? Our economy is tanking and I drive a Honda, but it is time to buy American. If Detroit is important, do the same or we only have ourselves to blame. Peace. Out.
honda civics are surprisingly smooth. but all four are great choices and would be my entire list for small sedans as well.
I have to agree with TradeLaw, even though I own a Toyota. BUT the other car is a Dodge Grand Caravan Minivan.

If you are maybe thinking about American cars, I would choose Ford or Saturn probably. Maybe the Ford Edge? or the Saturn Outlook, Vue or Aura? Also if you do get Saturn, it comes with ONSTAR. So does the Cadillac... if you are into getting one of those.

It all depends what is most important to you:
Buying American, saving gas, being really safe, how the car feels to drive, how you want to appear to the world, how much you want to spend this kind of thing.

A place to look at safety ratings:

I think a great place to get tires is COSTCO. They put them on there and everything. You can also get a discount on cars through them.
hey you know what car is really cute? that Toyota FJ Cruiser. I think those are cool. jeeps too.
Getting a new car is a very difficult thing given all the choices and advice you've been given here. American cars break down a lot. My last Ford (Found on road, dead) was pathetic. Chevys aren't much better, and I think Cadillac invented the leaky oil seal and includes it as standard on every vehicle they build. I drive Mazdas--good mileage and they never break down. Their small SUV, the CX-7 holds lots of stuff, comes in a standard transmission, and can be serviced in Waco. You should at least drive one. Their Mazda 3 hatchback is also a rather spicy little number. Toyotas and Hondas are pretty utilitarian, but unless you can find the three they built with the standard transmission, don't bother--they are just wheels and keys from a driver's standpoint--nothing special.

Once you are used to a stick, all automatics will eventually let you down. Your BMW is a very sweet ride, so I'm not real sure why you want less. Mercedes makes a couple of nice things right now, the 2008 C300 Sport Sedan comes in just under $33,000 and it has their dream standard transmission in it. I believe there's a dealer in Temple? Anyway, that car is not just wheels and keys. A little more, perhaps. What do they say, let the English do the policing, make the French cook, the Italians write the book on love-making, and let the Germans build the cars?
Fj Cruiser-- the only Osler criteria it meets is "has a back seat."
Per my comments today, get a Grand Marquis...ride around in style, with a large trunk.

I have a 328i (a coupe w/standard transmission), but I love it. I have had it for a little bit over a year now and am just coming do for a service check. I agree that having to drive to Temple is a pain, but just having to go once a year is not bad at all. Plus, they throw in service for the first four years.

I actually like where the cup holders are placed because they are hidden when not in use.
Acura is made by Honda and Infiniti by Toyota. Consequently, I THINK the local Honda and Toyota dealerships can order said makes and, at the very least, should be able to service them.
79K miles and your getting rid of it? you can go at least another 170K and then let your kid learn to drive a stick on it.
YES!!!! Get an old Jeep Wagoneer from WAGONMASTER!!!!

I mean the realllly old ones. with the fake wood. Seriously. I'll bet NO ONE ELSE has one. And this has a backseat!
Actually, Infiniti is Nissan. Lexus is Toyota.
I didn't know about the Accord hybrid, but I'd still seriously consider a hybrid - esp with the price of gas today.
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