Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the Beginning . . .

Anyone who knows me is probably of the opinion that I'm obsessed with cars. Maybe obsessed is a bit strong, but cars have been one of my loves from as far back as I can remember. It all began at an early age. In the fifties and sixties, my father had a subscription to Mechanix Illustrated. Every month a new issue would arrive, and I loved reading all the car articles. I was especially fond of Tom McCahill's monthly review of a new model.

As a member in good standing of the Baby Boomer generation, the cars from that era have been a part of my life since the day I bought my first set of wheels in the form of a jet black 1957 Ford Fairlane. As first cars go, it wasn't bad. In fact, I loved it. Unfortunately, Mother Nature and the laws of physics are always on the job, and things mechanical don't last forever. When they wear out, as they always do, we eventually have to part with an old friend and become slowly familiar with a new one. Such was the case with my Fairlane and every other car I've owned since then.

A few months ago, my 2001 Lexus ES300 and I moved into a new phase of our long relationship. We both seemed to know that our time together was growing short. And it was a sad thing, really, because the Lexus had been a faithful and trouble-free partner for eight years. But as time passes, the years and the miles move behind us. The intuition that our time together was coming to an end started to trouble me. It didn't come all at once; it was more of a gradual "knowing" that snuck up softly and slowly.

That's a good thing, actually, because I take the "new car" decision very seriously. Since the choice of a new car is something that I will typically live with for several years, I spend what time it takes to ensure that I'm making the right choice. And since this is a new blog, I thought that decision process, and how it came about, might be appropriate fodder for the first post. So let us take a look at what's happened so far.

STAGE ONE: Research.

I drove a lot of cars during the research phase. I visited numerous websites and read a lot of reviews, including Edmunds, Car&Driver, and Kelly Bluebook. My situation was somewhat unique in that I was looking for a luxury vehicle to replace the Lexus and something sporty to replace my 2001 Corvette. The short list of contenders included the Audi A4, Mercedes C300, Lexus ES, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, Cadillac CTS, and Infiniti G37. I had a brief fascination with the Chrysler 300 HEMI, but I've had some bad experiences in the past with Chrysler products, so I decided to look at other options.

STAGE TWO: Narrowing the Field.

During the data-gathering stage, I drove American-made cars as well as imports. I even test drove the new Mustang 5.0 and the 400+hp Camaro SS, but I nixed both of those because they were only available in RWD. Although either would have satisfied the "sport" aspect of my requirements, Kansas City winters require more traction than either car would give me on those nasty days when we have a few inches of snow on the streets. If I lived in a more temperate climate, the result may have been different. But I don't.

Since the Lexus ES was something I was familiar with, that seemed like a logical starting point. The ES has a great reputation, and, as I mentioned, mine has provided flawless service for eight years. Unfortunately, since we have only one Lexus dealership in KC, they seem to be of the opinion that they don't have to deal with buyers. I decided to investigate other options.

The Acura was a potential choice, but I couldn't get past that evil jack-o-lantern smile of the new grille. The Honda Accord was another possibility offering a well-respected and attractive sedan. But that turned out to be a dead end because of the overly busy center stack in the cockpit. There was just too much going on there.

In the same class, Mercedes offers the C model. Nice car, but they're missing the boat and losing a sale to me because of their interior. It's surprising that they are still trying to pawn off that pitiful MB-tex material on their customers. Why not just put leather in there and be done with it. At that price point, leather should be a standard feature.

At the opposite end of the price continuum, I found the unpretentious Nissan Altima. This is an understated jewel that deserves some consideration. It has a great body and ample power. A unique feature is their CVT (continuously variable transmission) which was a unique experience for me. If you haven't driven one, try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.

 Known for their excellent interior material and workmanship, the Audi was another possibility. But with only four cylinders, the 2.0L A4 was obviously underpowered, and it wasn't difficult to discern that when I drove it. Conversely, the Cadillac CTS had more than ample power and a high quality interior, but there's something about the angry, angular lines of the body that was a turn-off for me.

Of the cars driven, the Infiniti G37 was the strongest contender. It actually finished in second place. There is really a lot to like about this one: the body style is classy, the power is definitely available if needed, and the interior quality is good. The one thing that killed the deal on this entry was the automatic transmission. There's something not quite right about it. I experienced a definite and significant delay from the time the accelerator was punched until the resulting acceleration kicked in. If that issue hadn't been present, my final choice may have been different. Once Infiniti gets that bug worked out, I think they'll see an increase in market share because everything else about the car puts it near the top of its class in my opinion.

STAGE THREE: The Decision.

When you look at the BMW 335i, it doesn't scream sports car. It doesn't yell luxury car. It just sits there, sedately, waiting for you to get inside the cabin, turn the key, and drive it. That's when it happens. You simply fall in love. My first impression was WOW!

There was an immediate response from the 300hp twin scroll turbo engine when I punched the accelerator. The steering wasn't sloppy or mushy, and the tires held the road like velcro, even in the sharp, high-speed turns I put it through on the test drive. The brakes had a more-than-capable feel about them with no noticeable nose-dip, even in the quick stops.

The interior is leather, and the sports seats wrap around you like they were custom made to fit your exact shape. The instrument panel is simple and uncluttered. The ride is firm, but there's no jarring from any uneven surfaces you encounter. It feels solid and capable in every situation. Overall, it was highly impressive, and the car's response to my directions seemed almost intuitive.

So, in the end, after four months of struggling to come up with the perfect choice, this was too good to pass up. A deal was struck. My new car is currently at the Port of Entry in New Jersey, hopefully off the boat by now and getting ready to be transported to the dealership.  According to my salesperson, it should be here within a week "or so." I'm not sure how long "or so" is, but hopefully something less than a second week.

Tomorrow I'll provide more details including the packages, options, and colors of my new BMW. Stay tuned! The best is yet to come.

If you're a BMW enthusiast, owner, or fan, feel free to leave a comment. I'd love to hear your input. And I hope you'll come back to read more as the story continues to unfold.

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