Saturday, May 13, 2006

The more things change...

Marci and I have been looking around the past few weeks at yet more cars. This time, however, it's for me. Our Odyssey van lease is up at the end of July and I'll be turning it in for hopefully something... less van-like.

I have only a few criteria for what will replace the Ody. Firstly, it needs to be able to hold my band gear. One thing the GTI did for me was swallow 2 cabs, pedals and amp. Plus, I could keep the stuff covered up and no one would even know it was there. Second, we're working with a budget of 15k. I need to be at or below 15k. Third, mileage needed to be decent. That van takes regular unleaded, but these days (my neighborhood Chevron is at $3.22/gallon! For regular!) it cost upwards of $50 to fill that sucker up. And I'm lucky to break 300 miles on a tank. With the GTI, I'd get 340-360 easy.

So my first choice was the Mazda3 hatchback. Ever since I've seen them, I've really liked them. Trouble is, they start at 17k new. There's plenty of used ones, but they are hot and hold their value well. Most used ones start at about 16k or so. Nevertheless, we went up to Lynnwood to try one out. I actually drove an entry level Mazda 3 sedan as that was in our budget (started at 13k). It was an auto, with pretty much no options. Drove ok, but was boring. Unfortunately I was being quite picky about things. Even though we could afford that, it just didn't do anything for me.

I started searching Craigslist, as well as all sorts of online auto sites. I actually found an S4, Imola, with 33k on the odometer, going for $17500. I freaked out. Couldn't believe it. Called the guy on Saturday night with the intent of going out Sunday to drive it. Turns out, it was a salvaged title car. It had been in an accident and was considered totaled. As great as it was for him, I was in no position to take a chance on a car like that. Factor in the premium gas and lousy mileage, as well as higher insurance rates, well, forget it.

So the week went by with Marci and I scouring the web every night. Since the Mazda3s were out of the question, I started checking out old Protege5s as well as some of the "tuner" cars, like the Mazdaspeed Protege and the Protege MP3.

I found a nice little MSP (Mazdaspeed Protege) on eBay. The guy didn't sell it on the auction, but was willing to move it privately with me. He wanted $13500 for it, but the trouble was, the car is in Illinois. 2000 miles away. Add in T&L, as well as transport/travel fees, we're well over $15k. Nevertheless, I actually found one in Kirkland so I went up to drive it last night.

That car was immaculate. Spicy orange (do a Google search) in color, nary a ding or scratch on it. Insides were incredibly clean. Engine was spotless. Mileage was excellent (26k on a 2003). Unfortunately, the hood was carbon-fiber. Bright orange already screams, "LOOK AT ME!" Putting a CF hood on it makes it worse. But, I drove it anyway. 170 horsepower, super tight suspension, a spring-loaded clutch and a stubby short-shifter. Lots of fun to drive, but as there were only 2500 or so made, it's a rare car. They wanted $17500 for it. I just wanted to see if I liked it or not. I did, but, as I got back in the Jetta to come home, I realized how unrefined the MSP was. I guess I'm gettin' old as I just couldn't see myself driving that little car around. Plus, it wouldn't hold my gear. Pass.

Today we went out and had lunch (at the Old Country Buffet, no less). Afterwards, drove down Auto Row in Bellevue. We stopped at one dealership as they had a couple GTIs on the used lot. One was black, an 05, but had something like 40k on the odometer! In one year! There was a grey one as well, an 04? High miles too and a little gaudy on the inside. But, being back in a GTI was comfortable. It made me realize just how much I missed my old car.

We went down the road to the Audi dealership. SO many beautiful cars. S4 here, S8 there, S6 Avant over thataway. All good. I'd stopped in there a few weeks ago to test drive an A3 with the DSG transmission. Very cool car, but it's in the 30k range. I made a contact there and kept him in mind as I showed up today. I remembered he had 2 GTIs there and thought I'd take a look.

One of the GTIs was Reflex Silver and the other was blue (forget the name). The silver one was stock (but for the radio). The blue one had these ugly chrome 5 spoke rims on it. However, the blue one was going for 1k less than the silver (14900 vs 15900 or so). My contact, Stan, came out and we ended up taking the silver one for a spin.

The GTI was a 02 model, which was a year "younger" than my 01. 35000 or so on the odometer and pretty much spotless inside and out. We drove it out of the lot and immediately I knew there were some upgrades under the hood. Most noticible was the huge sucking (no pun intended) sound: the previous owner put in a cold air intake. Actually, I think that may have been the only upgrade. The engine of the 02 vs the 01 actually has 30 more horsepower (180 vs 150). My old 01 was chipped, so it was a little speedier than a regular one, but this 02 felt stronger overall. Unfortunately, the previous owner didn't modify the suspension. The 02 is stock and looks like a mini 4x4 (a common problem with all VWs). My 01 had lowering springs and though it rode a bit rougher, it looked much cooler.

Anyway, as I got back from the ride, I checked the car out. No curb rash, one little ding in the hood (from a stone, probably) and a tiny scuff just behind the driver's door. As far as wear and tear goes, nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, I think it was in better shape than I'd expect an 02 to be.

I told Stan that unless we could do 15k out the door, we'd have no deal. He came at me with $17625. I basically said no way. That unless it was 15k, we'd have to go. He then countered with $15900 and I said sorry. After a little more dickering, he came with $15200. This gave me something to think about. We're right there, I thought. The $200 I actually thought of as $150 as I had a $50 check in my pocket from our last gig. I took into consideration the fact that the car was in really really good shape. Plus, if I bought it, I'd get free carwashes any time I wanted. So I had two thoughts. One: just buy the car. Two: don't buy it, stick to my guns.

So guess what I did?

I'll put up pictures tomorrow!