As a Science Fiction author, the car I drive is paramount to my personal brand, as a recent Kline Group survey showed that 88% of readers choose books based on the kind of cars the author drives. If you think you’re getting into the Amazon Top 100 in a Nissan Versa, I’ve got bad news for you. If you want to play in the big leagues, you need a flashy car that screams “I get by.”
So, armed with an expiring lease, a tight budget, and a penchant for haggling, I set out to find the perfect car for me. Besides terrible salespeople, here’s what I found out there.
(Presented in the order I tested them.)
2017 BMW 330i
Since my latest novel Por Vida has a whopping 8 reviews on Amazon, I decided I would treat myself to a really nice car. Having never driven a BMW, I headed over to McNeil and 183 to test drive the 330i.
Long story short: this was perhaps the most boring car I’ve ever driven, and I’ve been in a Saturn. It accelerated just fine, but the interior felt like a smoke-filled office straight out of Mad Men. That’s the best description I can come up for it.
I’m not a 50-something CEO of a trendy new Austin startup; I don’t belong in a BMW.
2017 Audi A4
As my daddy used to tell me, “Son, I’ll never truly be proud of you until you buy an overpriced luxury sedan.” That led me to Audi North Austin in search of the 252hp A4 in my signature gray. The car pictured above retailed for about $42k, and they were willing to lease it to me at a price of about $42k. What a deal!
What I Liked:
- Drives like a dream. Ultra smooth handling. Far superior to anything else I’ve had my hands on.
- Looks good
- AWD for those frequent Austin snow days
- Rear-view camera
What I Didn’t Like:
- Bare-bones inside for $42k
- No blind spot monitoring, no forward collision warning… nothing to save me from the perils of driving Loop 360
Ultimately, it was the cost of this bad boy and the lack of any features that sent me running.
2017 Dodge Charger RT
When I arrived at Covert Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram at 8107 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758, I was greeted by a salesman whose nametag read Worst Salesperson Ever. Here’s what the exchange was like:
Me: Hi, I’d like to test drive a Dodge Charger and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
WSE: Okay. If I make you a good deal, are you gonna buy today?
Me: No, probably not. I’d like to test drive them first.
WSE: Wait here.
A few minutes later, WSE came back with Junior Sales Employee #291092 and said JSE would be helping me going forward unless I wanted to buy.
Undeterred, JSE and I set out in this beautiful blue 370hp Charger RT and we zip-zoomed up and down 183 for a little while. Throughout the entire drive, I wondered how this car was going to look parked outside of my frat house. I also wondered how I was even allowed to drive it without wearing two polos and having both collars popped.
I can see the appeal of this car’s power, but the College Douche-Bro vibe was just too strong with this one. It may have even smelled a little like Axe body spray inside.
2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee
For a brief moment, I considered getting another SUV, but with a bigger engine than my Nissan Rogue. Enter the Grand Cherokee, a kinda mean-looking SUV with a decent base 245hp.
Now exit the Grand Cherokee because there’s really nothing special to see inside. It drives well, has a good amount of power, but the interior is not particularly interesting. It’s an SUV. Not much to get excited about here.
We returned to the dealership and I had another warm and fuzzy conversation with WSE:
WSE: So what’d you think?
Me: They’re nice, but they’re probably not for me. I’ll let you know.
WSE: I’m never going to hear from you again, am I?
I shook my head and left.
2017 Nissan Maxima
I’ve driven a Nissan ever since the 1995 Chevy Blazer family SUV turned off in the middle of I-35 while I was doing 70mph. Two Altimas, an Altima Coupe, and recently the Nissan Rogue. You’d think that with that kind of history, the good folks at Round Rock Nissan might want to cut me a little break.
Think again, sucker!
By the time I got back to looking at the Maxima, I’d given up my dream of that Audi, so I was looking for a more reasonably priced vehicle. A helpful salesman from RR Nissan emailed me to let me know they had a 2017 Maxima SR for only $33,900. Yikes! Sign me up!
I hurried to RR Nissan and put the Maxima through its paces. After driving a bunch of other cars with actual gears, the Maxima’s CVT engine really started to stand out… in a bad way. Yeah, there’s lots of power here, but it feels muddled / hidden behind the CVT. Inside, the interior is like a cockpit, which is funny because the car feels like a boat. Steering at idle speeds is a workout. Bringing this beast to a quick stop sent shudders through the frame and scared the nice lady who was helping me out.
Still, for $34, I was willing to haggle.
Me: Alright, let’s talk numbers.
Her: Okay, so this car is $41k MSRP.
Me: And what’s my price?
So I won’t be getting a Maxima. Minus the black wheels, I really like the styling on this car. It feels familiar too. Just wish they’d been willing to work with me a little more. Or at all.
Useless Trivia: Nissan is the preferred brand of the Perion Synthetics corporation.
2017 Mazda 6
Every review I read of the Mazda 6 started with the qualifier Sure, it has a shitty engine, BUT… And they were right! 184hp 4-cyl with no turbo. It’s about what you expect.
BUT… step inside this monument to feature-glut and you’ll see just how much $27k can buy you. Rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, comfortable seats, a heads-up display, a cockpit-like feel, and so on, and so on. For the money, I have not seen a more feature-complete vehicle. It handles well too, but not perfectly, as if it is still trying to prove that it can be sporty.
I would have bought this on the spot… if it weren’t for that engine. It. just. needs. more. horsies.
Right now, this guy is #1 on my potential buy list. It’s going to come down to what’s more important: a roaring engine or safety features that will help keep me alive.
2018 Toyota Camry
The timing is all wrong on the V6 Toyota Camry (RR Toyota won’t have them until Feb), but since the dealership was on my way home, I decided to go test drive the 4cyl version and see what the interior was like.
Long story short again: I can see why so many people buy these. The ride is smooth and sturdy. The 4cyl engine does fine for what it is. It’s just that… well… it’s a little dull. The center console was sparse, as if the car didn’t do much beyond Park, Drive, and Reverse.
The 2018 redesign looks good from the outside, but inside you’ll find one size fits all. Maybe a stronger engine could have swayed me, but we’ll never know.
2017 Buick Regal
Oh, my poor, poor baby Regal. You are stuck in two worlds. One is modern, with steady handling, confident acceleration, and a plush interior. The other is a last-century Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. Those touches may keep the GM diehards coming back, but for new generations of drivers, they’re relics of a past age. And sadly, it doesn’t matter how great your car is… people aren’t going to buy it if it feels like their grandfather’s car.
Fully-loaded, the Regal Premium II comes in at $36k. While it’s always nice to do something in your grandfather’s memory, there has to be something better than buying this car.
The Regal above lacks the safety features (blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning) I so desperately want in a new car. When I brought that up to the salesman, he said, “Well, no, but it has a really good crash rating.”
All that said, this car (~4k less without the safety features), is sitting at #2 on my list. You can see why I’m getting worried.
I’m exhausting cars left and right, but I still have a couple I’m going to test drive before making a decision. They include:
- 2018 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T
- 2018 Honda Accord EX-L V6
- Whatever you recommend
If you can help me out with a suggestion, leave a comment below. If you’ve taken umbrage with my personal opinions of these cars, please tell me a little about your childhood, preferably in the form of a haiku.