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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