Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Tribute to a Really Great Car

In January 2002 I bought my first brand new car, a Mazda Protege5. I have kept it for these twelve years but racked up only 158k miles on the odometer. That’s only half its life at a minimum. I’ve spent enough time behind the wheel in that car to have it feel like an extension of my home. So selling it has been… strange.

I’ve been researching new cars since October of last year, just checking out what was available and pricing. I read many reports and reviews hoping to find the one magic bean in the mix, the car that’s SO great, you’d be stupid not to buy one.

I did not find that vehicle. So why did I buy a new one this weekend?

I’m a driving purist. If I have to operate a motor vehicle, I expect it to do exactly what I want it to do. I want to be in complete control over every aspect. I don’t want a car that shifts by itself, I want a third clutch pedal and a stick to row through the gears. Manual transmissions are going the way of cassette decks in cars. No one else seems to want them so almost no one makes a good one anymore. I want it to handle well and steer exactly where I point it. No play in the wheel, just instant response to every bit. In short, I should be driving a $400,000 supercar. Right.

I don’t give a rip about car technology other than how good the stereo sounds. Now you’ll find cars that park themselves, will stop if you get too close to driving through your garage wall, and will warn you that you’re drifting out of your lane because you just couldn’t wait to make that text. There is technology available on cars now that when added to the lack of manual transmissions, enable drivers to get worse and worse.

I absolutely hate the idea of willingly spending large sums of money for a new car just to get something new. It’s partially why I never was interested in anything new over the past dozen years. It’s partially why I intend to keep my next car even longer. I had even set in my mind that I’d never EVER buy another new car simply because they can’t convince me anything is better than what I have.

So what did I go and do? I bought a new car. With an automatic transmission. I feel like I just sold out. I feel as if I betrayed an old friend, stabbed them in the back so to speak, in order to go with the new flashy trend setting post-hipster to a new kind of party, one that will last just as long, but be a bit more subdued, mature if you will. But there’s some practicality in there. A car is an inanimate object. It has no feelings. My old car is starting to need repairs that will cost as much as its worth. Even though it’s always cheaper to keep repairing an old car, it makes little sense to keep putting good money into something that will not retain value any longer. Besides, I’ve already done that. I’ve put more into routine maintenance and repairs than I ever expected to tolerate, based on my first few cars when I was younger. So what’ interesting about this purchase?

I bought the exact same car as I got in 2002. Only this time it’s called a 2014 Mazda3 hatchback s Grand Touring.

Here’s the stupidity of it: It’s the top trim level, with everything except the tech package, and it outperforms my old car in every way, even in the automatic transmission. It approaches the cost of an entry-level BMW. It has standard features that I’d never buy outright but are cool to have. It looks like a work of art and drives like a car that costs twice as much.

Here’s the smart of it: After thorough homework on my part, I was able to tell the dealer was more interested in selling the car than screwing me over on price. I was so dumbstruck by how his price actually came in lower than I expected, that I didn’t even attempt to haggle. I just said, “Duhhh, dat’s a good price!” Then he went on to offer me more for my trade in than it was actually worth by a few hundred dollars. I completely abandoned my rationale which was to collect the information, go back to the internet and use it as leverage between dealers. You know, get them to compete. Instead I decided that since this guy was playing straight, I’d buy. And aside of a backup camera and a heads-up display, there’s no idiotic technology to get in the way.

Most people drive away in their new car. I did not. Mine has to come from Cleveland because they didn’t have the right color. It has to be black, and I don’t like paying extra for that great-looking Mazda red. I’ll take delivery later today, and turn over the oldster. Weirdly enough, It’s after 4 AM and I’ve been awake since 3:30. I can’t sleep for some reason.

Eventually this will all be water under the bridge. I’ll be comfortable in the new car, I’ll eventually forget what it was like to need the clutch pedal, and I’ll grow a little older. I’ve been learning that life is best lived by taking calculated risks, looking forward and not dwelling on the past. I have always failed at the latter, becoming far too sentimental about trivial things.

Ultimately despite the nature of what’s going on here, this car purchase will be helping me be a little less selfish. My wife will be able to share this car instead of having to learn to shift. My son will come of age and learn to drive on this one. I’ll be less likely to drive like a complete maniac, which I’ve been known to do when I can shift precisely and hit the corners hard on twisty roads.

And the stereo sounds phenomenal.


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