This is part three in an ongoing documentation of my quest to purchase a new car. To start at the beginning, click here.
Slow and steady wins the race. As mentioned, I’d bought myself some time to make a slow, evaluative decision for my next big car purchase. As I start this process, I’m collecting mini-reviews for my experience in each car. Since these are in chronological order, some are referential to prior cars I’d driven, and some have no context at all.
I’m going to publish these reviews in sets of three so as not to overwhelm, in total it’s something like 3,000 words and that would be excessive for a single post. This is also special for me, because these were a lot of cars that I’d been itching to drive, and had never had the opportunity. This is part one.
Subaru WRX STi (~2018)
During my high school tenure at working at Best Buy, I owned two small, turbocharged sedans. First a 2003 Dodge Neon SRT-4, then a 2006 Mazda6 Mazdaspeed. But they were never the hottest car in the back of the parking lot, because I had a coworker with a 2006, bone-stock white Subaru STi and what a car it was. Replete with enormous wing and undersized exhaust, the rides around the block that he offered helped me understand the greater context for cars at speed. It became a desirable and potent benchmark.
So now, about eight years later, the opportunity to drive one with the real chance of making a purchase was deeply exciting, probably for both me and the salesperson. I was excited about this option because the newer models are a little more subtle but I love their intense rally heritage and commitment to quality. Plus, they basically don’t depreciate, and are very reliable, so it felt like a safe purchase. The gas mileage was a little under where I was hoping to be, but turbocharged cars can typically be finessed into better mileage so it wasn’t a huge concern.
I guess I’m not 17 anymore, I don’t understand how anyone could daily drive an STi. With the suspension set to ‘comfort’ mode, in a well-paved neighborhood, it made my teeth chatter together. It was aggressively rough and unforgiving – but in a sense that seems to be the point. As a result, its steering was so responsive and it’s cornering so flat that it was impossible not to oversteer by virtue of expecting to need more input. I didn’t have quite enough time to fully dial it in, but I’m sure it’s a monster of a car to drive on the track.
The interior was overall the biggest disappointment; it was almost exactly the same as that of my Crosstrek, save for one small, full-color boost gauge where I originally had a fuel economy readout. The seats were more bolstered but not any more comfortable. At a point during the drive, I came to terms with the fact that my ‘boy racer’ days were over. I would probably never own another Civic (more on that later), Subaru, and I’d frankly forgotten that the Mitsubishi Evolution even existed. I continued to take a chance with the Focus RS and (spoiler alert!) came away with the same sentiment.
So at this point I’ve established: the STi is too rough, its interior too plain, and I’ve grown up slightly more than I realized. So where do we go from here?
Volkswagen Golf R
In initial discussions with a few similarly-minded buddies, this was what I figured that I would end up owning. On paper, it’s a pretty impassioned mix of things I like; it’s softer and more refined than the STi, only marginally slower than the Focus RS, still quicker in the corners and in a straight line than the standard GTI, and a non-flashy marque.
Before driving it, my points of concern would be that it wouldn’t be sporty enough, it would be a little too small, and, having been in a friend’s Audi S3 (with which it shares 100% of its drivetrain), too quiet.
This was one of the cars I was evaluating that was available with both an automatic and row-your-own transmission, so I was interested in driving both. I found a 2017 at Mercedes of Austin and decided to take it for a spin. I came away massively impressed. It felt larger than expected and it was quick as hell after some brief turbo lag. It wasn’t quite as burbly of an exhaust as I would like, but it wouldn’t be prudent for that to be a deal breaker. The suspension and steering feel was so, so good that I would consider it a worthy competitor to my Best Buy coworker’s 2006 STi. It felt that good.
The main dealbreaker was going to be the cost – this model was almost 20% out of my budget, and there weren’t many available on the market. More on that in a bit.
As a side note, this was the car with which I decided I was ready for one more manual daily driver. The automatic was perfectly lovely (and quicker), but I needed one more manual car before a lifetime of responsible daily drivers and wildly irresponsible project cars.
Ford Mustang GT
With what I’m sure will be a pleasant departure from the length of these reviews, I disqualified the Mustang almost immediately. I’m a huge fan of the new Mustang and the Coyote motor. It’s a wonderful Grand Touring car, it’s quick as hell, has a good horsepower/fuel economy ratio, and sounds great.
But it’s honestly shit to drive downtown. Having owned a Mustang, I remember the ardent frustration of just how much car sat between you and the front wheels. That frustration is then compounded when the angle of your frontward visibility; the hood scoop becomes a poorly placed hill that you are constantly working to peer around.
Unlike the other cars I’ve disqualified, I can see myself owning this next, but with caveats. If at some point I end up working anywhere other than downtown, with a commute that required a lot more highway and a lot less traffic, a Mustang GT is the answer. In fact, the exact answer would be a supercharged Mustang GT. There are a few on Craigstlist right now selling at south of $30,000 with north of 700 horsepower. For a car that won’t aggressively depreciate, I think that sounds like a damn good deal.
So this isn’t the one, either, and I didn’t even have a chance to talk about how terribly laid out the interior is. Impractical, with dangerously bad rear visibility. Good thing you don’t need to know what’s behind you with 700 horses in front of you.
More to Come
This was just part one! I can’t buy a new car after only evaluating three, similar models! Although these three were interesting and differentiated, I need to make as clear and thoughtful a set as possible before making a decision. Do you have a favorite out of these three? Let me know in the comments. Part two next week!