The Great Used Car Adventure of 2016, Episode 4
Though the GTI had been declared a total loss at the beginning of September, I ended up waiting for Godot Mutual* until mid-October before I got my settlement check and could go forward with actually buying a car. In that space of time, I’d seen several solid candidates appear in the listings for a fleeting moment before being sold off to someone else. In the meantime, the inconvenience of our household being short one daily driver was beginning to weigh on us all.
Once I’d cashed the check, I plotted out a marathon reconnaissance sortie for the following Saturday. My wife and I would visit several dealerships in Cleveland and Akron and try to look at as many cars as possible in the hopes that one of them would meet our specifications and we could get this over with.
Our firststop was at a FIAT dealer offering a 2013 Mazdaspeed 3, the weaponized version of Mazda’s bread and butter compact. This particular ‘Speed 3 had been given a bit of a tuner car treatment, with tinted windows and a louder-than-standard exhaust system.
I enjoyed myself on the test drive. The ‘Speed 3 was very direct and responsive. It accelerated like it had been catapulted off an aircraft carrier and cornered like it was on rails. It was also wildly extroverted, more so than any car I have ever driven, emitting a rumbly exhaust sound that frightened nearby horses and registered on US Geological Service seismometers.
Our next stop was an independent lot in one of the southern Cleveland suburbs offering a light blue 2009 Volkswagen CC Sport with 81,000 on the clock.
The CC is, more or less, a Passat with swoopier styling and, in this trim level, a GTI drivetrain. This particular car was in nearly perfect cosmetic condition, just a little wear on the key and a couple of fittings, and one slightly dinged-up speaker grille on the bottom of the front passenger-side door, being the only evidence of use. Even though this was the base-model trim level, it had such goodies as a rear view mirror that automatically darkened in response to the headlights of the car behind you, and a power-adjusting heated driver’s seat.
Driving it was, more or less, like driving a GTI. Slightly softer suspension tuning, but not enough that it gave away much in the handling department. I took it down a main city street, through a residential neighborhood, and even got in a bit of highway driving, and it performed like a champ. Best of all, my wife really liked it.
According to the databases, the next place on my list, a small independent lot, had two cars I wanted to see, but when we got there we were told that one of them had been sent off to an auction in Columbus. I saw the other when I pulled into the lot; it had some major sheet metal damage that wasn’t mentioned in the listing and did not show in the accompanying photo–surely just an innocent oversight on somebody’s part–and so I didn’t even bother asking to see it.
At the next small independent lot, there was nobody there. The doors were open, the lights were on, the cabinet with all the car keys hanging on hooks was unlocked, but there were no people on duty. (No evidence of foul play, alien seed pods, or an incipient zombie apocalypse, either.) Had I been of dishonest character, I could have ransacked the desk drawers and made off with a car or two and all the petty cash.
Instead of turning to a life of crime, I drove to an indoor used car showroom that had a 2008 GTI with 141,000 miles on offer. I didn’t test drive it, but I didn’t really need to–Except for the paint color, this was an exact duplicate of the car I was replacing.
Our last stop was at an independent lot in Akron which was listing a 3-series Bimmer and an ’08 Subaru WRX for sale. The lot is actually a rebuild shop that acquires beaten-up and written-off vehicles, mostly Subarus, and restores them to full working order. The BMW was a work in progress and not available for a test drive, but the Subie was ready to go.
I can describe it in two words: Yee-haw! Like the Mazda I’d started the day with, this car was aggressive and direct. Wicked fast, quick off the line thanks to the AWD, excellent handling, loud engine roar that told the world around you that this was one badass vehicle that was Not.To. Be. Messed. With.
So which one did I get?
If I were still 25 years old, it would have been a toss-up between the ‘Speed 3 and the WRX. As I am not 25 and haven’t been for a long time, I just couldn’t see myself daily driving a boy-racer special whose exhaust sound arrived in the employee parking lot three minutes before I did and invited every traffic cop within a four-mile radius to write me a ticket. The GTI would have been OK, but the high mileage and the lack of a shakedown cruise weighed against it. The CC was a little bigger, a little more comfortable, a lot less used, and a lot more wife-friendly than anything else I’d looked at.
I called the salesman Monday morning, and took possession on Tuesday. However, the story doesn’t end here with me driving the CC off into the sunset–there was a shocking twist that I will relate in the next episode.
–Mike (Cookie the Dog’s Owner)
*Not my insurance company’s real name. Literary reference explained here.