Friday, November 26, 2010

11/26/2010 Car show

It wasn't a bad idea, but the execution? Ugh.

We drove to San Francisco today to see the International Car Show. The idea was to peruse through the options in one place and decide which dealerships to actually spend time in. Who knows, maybe there's a type of car that could work for us that we hadn't thought of before?

The kids "helped" us look at cars by climbing in the back seats and putting on seatbelts. In every car we tried, the boys would still need boosters to position the shoulder belt properly. Julian clearly needs some additional help with this concept.

Mostly, we were just trying to keep them busy as their enthusiasm for our research venture started to fade about 5 minutes into it.

There are times I wish we had a car with a 3rd row, for when we have adult visitors. Most 7-seater non-minivans (and even some minivans) can only fit kids in the 3rd row, but guess what -- we have those. It's highly likely that if we needed to transport 7 people, at least two of them would fit in the back.

This back 3rd row was especially spacious. (My picture-taking was very random and I'm not sure what car this was, but this 3rd row was one of the better ones -- the Hyundai Veracruz maybe.)

But guess what else we learned about 3rd-row SUVs: you sacrifice a real middle seat in the 2nd row. Look to the left of the measuring tape in the photo. See that small gap between the two seats? That's the remnant of the 2nd-row middle seat, and only if you lift the dividing console up. It's just not a real seat. (That's Katrina modelling the 3rd-row seat.)

One of our 3 kids really is going to spend time in the middle seat -- it's not just to squeeze another grownup in for a quick lunch run at work. I can't remember which car this was, but was either a Hyundai Veracruz, a Mazda CX-9 or a Toyota Highlander, all of which suffered this absurd tradeoff.

All those cars were too big anyway, which is why we didn't even test-sit a Honda Pilot (would even Honda make that blunder too?!).

But by the time we got to this level of realization, the kids were running out of steam fast. Julian was non-stop hyper-pestering, running into people, hands all over Katrina, throwing himself on the floor of the cars and refusing to get out. Katrina overall was OK, but Gabriel was the worst, and not in a way he's known for: he whined. Whined! Complained! Vociferously objected to how BOOOORING this was! Actually, even his whining is intense whining, not the draggy sort of whining. It was directed, stinging, "See how unhappy you make everyone by taking us to this STUPID thing?!" Cripes! Before long, we were more anxious to leave than they were.

Truth is, I'm not crazy about convention centers and crowds either, but an hour there could save many hours later driving around to dealerships just to rule out things like big SUVs with bogus middle seats. Still, it was a big disappointment to Dave -- a car show! The motherlode! This should be fun! Instead, we could barely exchange a few words together.

We did learn a few things however (other than leaving kids at home next time). I was delightfully very surprised when I sat in a Hyundai Tucson, then a Hyundai Santa Fe. Incredibly, I could reach the foot pedals without having intimate relations with the steering wheel! Most cars are just not made for shorter drivers. Only in my beloved old Honda Accord was I able to sit comfortably with the steering wheel at arm's length. In my Subaru, the steering wheel is just a teensy bit too close for comfort. I never understood this -- putting the steering wheel and pedals closer together and giving more arm-room is more comfortable for shorter and taller drivers, why don't more cars do that?

Another major annoyance was that most cars now have electronic hatch-opening and electric driver-seat adjustments -- and many many cars have dead batteries at a car show. So I couldn't adjust many driver's seats to see how I'd fit, and some rear hatches we couldn't open to peek in.

Fortunately the Hyundais all had working batteries. Overall I thought the Hyundai SUVs were really nice, well-priced, decent gas mileage, and they come in a manual transmission if we still insist on one. Hmm! This is exactly the surprise we were looking for.

The Ford Edge was another "crossover" we went to look at. Blah. Overpriced, cheesy fit & finish, some afterthought sorts of things (like an intrusive bar on the rear gate that is probably for auto-open/lift). That was a fast no.

Dave ruled out the Honda CRV because it doesn't have a manu-matic. I LOVE the CRV's driver's armrest, but otherwise the CRV didn't do that much for me, to my dismay. Still, it is a Honda and other than the restrictive transmission there was nothing to rule it out. After 16-1/2 happy years with my 1983 Accord, I am forever a Honda person.

Neither of us liked the Toyota Rav4, and Dave pointed out that the side-opening rear hatch could be a real problem if the car is parked on a slope. A Kia crossover also didn't thrill, nor did the Nissan Murano and Rogue. Dave didn't even want to consider a Volkswagen given the problems the company has had. Then again, kid-meltdowns were well on their way and we were having a harder and harder time looking at the cars.

We didn't go near any of the higher-end brands: Lexus, Acura, Volvo, Audi, Mercedes, BMW. Just no need for that.

Our real objective was to sit in the newer Subaru Outbacks, still the top candidate. After all that SUV-sitting, the Outback felt so .... well, familiar. And carlike. I only had a few minutes in the new Outback before I had to start hiding from our children and pretending we weren't the ones responsible for these ill-mannered, out-of-control brats, but after all the SUVs I'd sat in, it felt very much like my own car (even if it is 9 years newer).

And can I let go of the idea that an Outback fits our lifestyle? I chatted briefly with a very nice woman who has dogs, camps a lot, and does triathlons -- this is the demographic Subaru is after! She seemed so cool, I wish I could have sat and dished at a Starbucks with her for a while. But she certainly isn't us -- though we'd like to think of ourselves as the cool hip adventurous Outback types, our driving reality is that of minivan-life. My Outback is little more than a mommymobile. But I intend to cling to denial as long as possible.

That said, there is one last development in our lives that could actually justify the Outback or some 4WD SUV. Remember we did our first snow trip last March, and my enthusiasm and excitement about snow and skiing hasn't waned one bit. And I'm also newly wild about camping with kids. And these really are good reasons to pick a car that is well-suited to outdoor activities. Not that an Accord sedan would stop us, but loading up for a weekend away is a whole lot easier in my Outback. And Outbacks look cool with dirt on them. Other cars just look dirty. 'Cause you know, cars are all about image, right? You are what you drive, right? Seems I'm just as prone to the vehicular ego trip as a tricked-out low-profiled bass-booming Civic driven by a short Asian guy!

So in the end, my short list is: the Subaru Outback and the Hyundai Santa Fe. Second tier is the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-7 and Toyota Venza (didn't get a chance to see it, thanks kids, but my Outback friend suggested it).

No actual car purchases will occur until our mortgage refinance is complete -- this is not the time for new credit inquiries -- but that gives us plenty of time to do some test-driving and soul-searching (and, apparently, image-preening). Without our bratty little brood.



Charles said...

fyi Phil "aftershocks" Douglas and his wife bought a Huyndai small SUV, and seem to love it. I believe they have made the quality improvements required, and are now a fairly decent vehicle.

DaVE said...

No doubt the Koreans now build some top-shelf vehicles. But while I understand an AWD wagon (or sedan for that matter), I don't get the point of a FWD SUV. And unlike Subaru, with Hyundai AWD means no third pedal -- although to their credit, most SUV manufacturers won't consider a clutch pedal for any model, and at least Hyundai lets you select your ratio-of-choice from their slush box.