Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BMW, round two... new dealership. Will anyone sell to me?

Since I was already out in Chantilly, it seemed natural to take a run out to BMW of Sterling to actually drive the 228i and the 235i.    Since in Fairfax I only had the chance to drive the 428, I wanted to be sure about how the 228 compared.   While the salesman at Fairfax said "it's the same engine" and should feel the same, I'm admittedly a touch distrustful.  Acura said the ILX was the same too -- and it's clearly not.

I called out to the dealership, and Mo, who I think was the sales manager, answered.  He said they had some on the lot, and would be happy to have me take a test drive.

When I arrived, I was introduced to Zouhair (Zu) Ghars, who would be my advisor on this run.   I let him know what I wanted to see -- a 228, then a 235.  I wanted to start with the smaller engine, so I wouldn't be spoiled by the feel of the 235 being more powerful.

The 228 was a xDrive model, so AWD.   It was well loaded, with the tech package and premium audio system.   It felt tight, and particularly in sport mode, was great in the corners.   The test drive loop was pretty good, including high speed on Route 28, some back roads, and a couple of exit ramps that were fun to take fast.    While it may have a 4-cylinder engine, I couldn't tell. 

I then took out a 235.  Also xDrive, it wasn't loaded on equipment, but since it's the same chassis, I get a clear sense of the car.  The bigger engine is notable -- but not so much that I really cared.   Yes, it's a touch faster, and yes, a touch louder, but gunning it from the line on the 228 was just as much fun as the 235, and since i live in Virginia, where if you go over 79 you're looking at possible jail time, how much engine do you need?  If it's fast to accelerate, and fun in the corners, isn't that good enough?  

Back to the dealership.  Now here's where things get interesting for me.  I didn't call this out in Fairfax, but the sales process there was just too laid back.   Frankly, I didn't feel they wanted my business. I was hoping for a better experience in Sterling.    

Alas, not to be the case.  I laid out my parameters, giving some guidance on what I was looking for price wise.  While I suspected the deal couldn't be done (and think the car I want isn't on their lot anyway, so I wouldn't be driving home with it), I was actually rather hoping he might try and close me.   I was rather tempted to go home with a 228 that day -- or put money down and start the order.


He showed me the MSRP from the website, and their calculator for the lease.  We all know NOBODY pays that.  He then showed me the straight special from the BMW USA website.  Again, that's the starting point.

I felt like I actually opened the door for him to try and close me, with the "Well, what would happen if I wanted to proceed today?", but he didn't give me anything.   A "well, you would put $1K down, and we would then agree on price."  Yeah, that was my lead question to try and close me, buddy.  

So the lead BMW is the 228.   I've been told on Facebook I should buy the 235, but frankly, I'd rather load up a 228 and enjoy that for the price difference.  The 235 is nice, but the 228 has an awesome little engine and was a blast to drive.   I'm not seeing what the 235 gets me.

Ideally, the car is the M Sport package, Estoril Blue Metallic, Black interior.

Features, as best I can tell (because you have to assemble the thing yourself, it seems):

- Enhanced USB and Bluetooth plus smartphone integration
- Heated front seats
- Premium Sound
- Anti-theft
- Xenon lights
- Driver Assist
- Premium Package
- Tech Package

I'm currently inclined to go with the RWD option to save money and go with the M Sport, as I don't need AWD.  When it snows, I just stay home.  If I'm crazy, someone speak up. 

Of course, the 228 needs to pass the Sharon test -- and we have to get pricing right.  But it's stuck with me so far in terms of the one I was interested enough to see if I'd get sold.  

Still two other brands to look at, and it seems more BMW dealerships to talk to as well.  BMW of Alexandria isn't that far, and BMW of Silver Spring isn't out of the question.  Hell, I'll drive to Richmond if they want my business -- I can have it serviced locally.     I've never actually had a dealer -- and in this case two -- be so casual they don't make me feel like they actually want to sell me a car.    That's off putting on it's own!   Wondering if I should just send them this post -- maybe someone will court me.  Hey, BMW!  Are you listening?  I like your car!  Maybe you could consider trying to sell me one!   

Lexus, Part one

Onto Lexus!  I drove out to Pohanka Lexus to try out the Lexus 2015 RC.   I was greeted by Aba Cole, first out the gate to come greet me.    Since there was only one Lexus I really wanted to take a look at, it was easy.  I opted for the RC rather than the F Sport, as the engine on the main RC is still a beast.

The car is distinctly bigger than many of the others I've driven.   The cockpit really molds around you too when you get in.  Lexus has their touch pad interface system, which I think would take some getting used to.    Notably, it also has one of those GPS systems that is annoying and won't let you input while driving -- that's a big turn off.  

The car has a serious engine in it, and handles really well. The dash is very "racing" feel, and the tech features seem rather cool, with the ability to really integrate apps into the onboard computer.   The remote control for the car is also pretty sweet, with ability to control the car from an app.

In terms of handling, it didn't feel as tight as the BMWs, but I enjoyed the drive more than the Audi's I've driven.    Not as much a chance to go "fast" nor corner fast with it due to traffic, but it's a very comfortable ride, and I can tell Lexus is going for that feel.

Interestingly, I think it's also probably the "easiest" to get close to my perfect price point.   The fact they don't put a premium sound system in the base model is a bummer, nor the colors I like in the RC (you have to go F Sport for that, apparently), so there's a degree of "compromise" to this car I'm a little less than happy with.   It's a serious contender, however.

Kudos to Aba as a sales person, however.  He was willing to get specific and was looking to make a deal.  More on that in the next post....

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Audi, round two

I had been emailing with AJ about Audi's (see previous post) S4.  I liked the S3, but with numbering like A5 and S3, I wondered what moving "up" the number system would mean in terms of car.   He had arranged to have an S4 ready for me to take for a drive.

I took this baby out.  The Audi at Tyson's has an "Extended" drive path, going out on the Toll Road for a bit, then beyond Wolf Trap and some of the backroads there.   It's a fun drive.  The S4 has a lot of get-up-and go.      In thinking back, the S3 had what I can only describe as a slightly odd feel, in that the engine felt like it shivered occasionally, and while powerful, it wasn't always smooth.   The S4 eliminated all of that, and the engine certainly was responsive.

I also really liked the dash layout:

The S3 dash has a "retro" feel, with large round vents and a pop up screen.   Admittedly, I don't like that as much the more I thought about it, and the S4 has as much more traditional dash.

AJ then showed me a S3 in the back to show the blue which is the best of the looks:

I think Audi has shown me their line now -- I was underwhelmed by the A5, and while I liked the S3, wasn't blown away by it.  The S4 seems the lead from the Audi line right now.   I won't compare brands yet -- let's get through all the brands before I start comparing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

BMW, round one

Being back in town, I figured I had a chance to do another round of testing.   Watson and I are going to catch a movie in Tyson's, so I thought I would do Audi round two and try the S4 and S5, but they are only open until 8, and with the movie at 9:50, I didn't want to just sit around for that long.  BMW of Fairfax is right near the house, so I figured I would give it a whirl.

Asad Khan met me in the building to give me the overview.  As I'm not at all an expert in all things Beemer, I did start with my interest in trying a 235 or a 435.   After a bit of discussion, however, and with the availability there, he offered up a 428 that was sitting in the parking lot for a test drive.

Playing in the parking lot, my first reaction was that the BMW user interface is rather complicated.   (What is it with car makers and bad UI?)   Then I drove it.

I played a bit in comfort mode, but then took it out in Sport. It's TIGHT.   The car felt a lot better than the S3 I drove, and as he listed certain things about the tech package, the only thing that the Audi had that this didn't was the WiFi Hotspot, and some of the app integration (including Spotify) sounds better.   (Of course, I'd need to pair it and actually try my own phone.  Perhaps round two).

The heads up display in the car is quite nice (although my polarized sunglasses neutralize it in the day), and as I settled in, the car was a lot more fun to drive.  

It's a fun, tight ride.  Apparently, the 228 would be the same engine, but slightly smaller.  I performed the "Sharon test" -- sitting in the back seat -- and decided the 228 has enough space.

Asad is going to give me a call when there is a 228 on the lot -- give that a try next time.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Audi, round one

I started the car search today with two test drives.   I stopped off at Audi of Tyson's Corner.   Amusingly, the moment I parked, a salesman swooped in on me.   I told him I had never looked at Audi before, so wanted to look at some cars, noting the A3, A4, S3 and S5 as ones to start with.  

He led me around the lot, and frankly wasn't that great - he pointed me at specific (used) cars on the lot, walking me around, but ultimately not answering my questions well.  The 2013 S5 he showed me - but I didn't drive - was closest to what I might like.  After a stop inside at the computer to look at stock, when I started asking about leases, he finally took me to the new car sales people - and I realized he was a used sales person, and couldn't do the new ones.   (A frustrating note - I wanted to see cars, and he was fixated on price, using high end ones to discover my limits.   I didn't like him much)

Thankfully, my new sales person was much better.   After a bit of discussion, we got to a bit of a comparison - I would compare an A5 and a S3.

I drove the A5 first.    After a briefing on the tech, I took it out for a spin.   It did feel tight in driving it, with good acceleration.   The accelerator felt like it had between 3 and 4 speeds.   The dash was impressive - felt like a hi tech car should.   It's notable that the roof doesn't open, just pops up.

Next, the S3.   Very similar tech, but the dash is totally different.   A pop up display, and circular vents made it look rather like a classic Mustang interior with a screen bolted in.   This sucker took off - I could tell the engine had that 70+ more horsepower, and the options for controls (comfort versus dynamic) made the steering and control a lot different.  

Comparable prices.   My ideal lease payment is $400/month with 10k in miles, and I suspect I can get the S3 in this.  It was Memorial Day, and so they were looking to make a deal, but knew we were a bit off.   Super kudos to my sales guy, AJ Pinnamraju, who was not high pressure here.   We discussed what I wanted, my timeline, the fact I wanted to compare, and while he distinctly tried to get something going, was very reasonable about the process and next steps.   He clearly redeemed the first guy, and the dealership.

S3 preferred on these, and it feels better and cooler and more tech than the Acura TLX I drove back in January.   The A5 is nice, but not nearly as much fun.  

Both have nice tech packages - I'm amused by Audi Connect, which apparently makes the car a hot spot.   Apparently it's 4G LTE - powered by AT&T.   I wonder if I can use my T-Mobile plan.   Worth understanding more here.  Streaming music this way is super cool.   I love the idea of streaming from my car rather than my iPhone.   

Pending my schedule, BMW next.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Let the car search begin!

I’ve started a bit of a car search, and I turned to the interwebs to do the search.   Amusingly, my efforts produced quite a starting list of vehicles.     Based on the response on Facebook, I’m going to try and do some blogs on it.  

The basic premise is this.   I have 4 more payments on my lease of a 2013 Acura ILX, a car which I’m not particularly pleased with.  After owning a 2005 Acura TL and then a 2010 Acura TSX, both of which I liked, the ILX is underpowered and feels cheap.   I’m determined to do better this time around, and so I’m being much more deliberate in my search.

In January, I test drove an 2015 Acura TLX — a perfectly reasonable car.   It was better than the ILX by a lot, but felt a bit “big”.   So, here I go on the search. 

Scott Lepre messaged me after my Facebook post, and asked some very reasonable questions.  Here’s his questions — and my answers.

1. What's most important: power (ie, speed, accleration) or handing/feel. There are many options for power but "feel" is something you really only appreciate once you've had a car with it.

Tough question!   I think I’d have to say feel, although it’s been a while since i had that.   One of my measurements of fun of a car is that moment when you’re at a stop light — does the accelerator cause the vehicle to take off, or is there a delay?  Does the accelerator have more than two modes — moving and really moving — which is what the ILX has, or do I feel like I can precisely control the acceleration, the way I could with the TL or the TSX.




2. Do you care about all wheel drive vs. front or real wheel drive. I always like awd but it does limit your choices. I also need to be able to get to work regardless of snow so I need awd.


I’ve never had AWD. I don’t care about weather that much — if it’s snowy and I don’t want to go out, I won’t. I work from home, so this isn’t a “need to get to the office” or “need to get the kids” kind of car. If it’s nasty out, I stay home. I want the car to handle well, and if AWD gets me that, great, else, well, whatever is most fun.

3. Do you care about 2 door vs. 4 doors.

Not really. My family is Sharon, myself, and our two cats. In my ILX, I can likely count on one (maybe two) hands the number of times I need the back seats for passengers. It needs to fit Sharon and I and a weekend of luggage, or my own bags for a week or two of travel to the airport, and that’s probably it.


4. What is your target price range?

Ah, price. I actually don’t look at cars as a “how much am I paying for the vehicle”. I look at how much the monthly payment is, and does it get what I want. I paid $425 a month for the TL. I paid $452 a month for the TSX. I pay $395 a month for the ILX. I anticipate I could probably put down about $3K or $4K for my new lease, and I’d like to keep the monthly payments the same. Or, I could always buy the car and get a 1.99% type APR, but I anticipate I’m going to want a new one in about 3 years anyway (the Tesla Model III comes out then!), so I’d be selling it at that point, so the goal is enough value in the car to get rid of it then. Thus, the goal isn’t price as much as monthly budget. From basic research, without looking at a specific price, it seems that cars in the $35K - $45K are all doable on a lease of about $400/$450 a month. I’m happier at $400, slightly less at $450, but we’re looking to land in this range.

The current list of vehicles on the “To Test Drive” list.

Audi: S3, S5, A4, A5, TT
MW: 235i (or possible 3/4 series)
Mercedes B
enz: C-350, E350
Lexus: RC 350
Ford: Fusion, Mustang

I'm eliminating the following:

Lincoln MKS - just don't like the look.
Chevy Volt -- look, plus if I'm doing electric, I'm going to buy a Tesla.  I’d need to do an electric hookup at the house, which isn’t standard on the townhouse, and so that’s a fight for another year.   

I'm also eliminating the Hot Hatch category, more just because while I get it, I'm not a huge fan. The Mini Cooper, Volkswagan MKVII GTI and Ford Focus ST Ecoboost are all nice vehicles, but just not for me.

The target is to get the new vehicle around late July / August, and I figure considering how much research and test drives I have to do, I’m going to need the time.   Finance deals from the dealer matter  if they make it easier, thats an influence.  While my lease expires in August, Virginia state law says I can go month-to-month for up to two years, so I’m not under time pressure.

I’m currently thinking I’ll blog it all — why not!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Am I missing the boat on Blu-Ray?

I'm a media junkie, I admit it.

I love all kinds of movies, TV shows, music, video games, and the like.    I'm also a wanna be audio and , , videophile -- I wish I was into super high quality, but ultimately, I like a bit of convenience instead, and will sacrifice a touch of that "perfection" because in the end... I don't think I can tell the difference.

A great example of that is something with my love of Sonos.   I love Sonos devices, and I have them all over my house.   I recently replaced my Bose surround sound system in the living room, which delivered 5.1 Dolby Surround sound, with the Sonos kit, knowing that the Sonos stuff is delivering a "faux" 5.1 experience, only in that my TV doesn't do the 5.1 pass through on the digital audio line, meaning that my Sonos is actually doing upscaling or some voodoo to make the 5.1 surround I hear.  It doesn't really matter to me, tho, as it sounds good and I like the additional features I get in favor of sacrificing this.

And so I've been thinking about Blu-Ray recently.   I own a pile of DVDs -- collected over the years -- and when the shift to HD happened, I resisted buying all my content again.   Frankly, I didn't want to spend the money.. again.  

But slowly I've been collecting HD movies... by buying them on iTunes.   It's because it's easy -- i have Apple TVs all over the house, I have my iPad for watching on the go -- and the content is easily available wherever I want to watch it, including just on my desktop in a window in the corner.   Since Sharon isn't a "movie buff" in the way that I am, I tend to see movies for the first time on the big screen, and only on occasion do we sit down to watch one together.    My movie watching is more about seeing the story again than it is about a first time cinema experience.

So I skipped Blu-Ray.    More discs didn't seem like the solution.

This morning, in doing my morning blog reading, I read about the demise of Blockbuster and there was some commentary on how streaming really can't replace stores yet, mostly because not everything is available.  (And they are right -- things like Star Wars aren't available yet on HD Streaming, or even on iTunes).

Am I missing the boat here on Blu-Ray?  Can it be part of my portable movie experience?  Should I consider a short list of "must have" DVDs, and not try and recreate my collection?   Is the quality that much better that I'll actually notice?  

I might end up with a Blu-Ray player.  I have my eye on an original PS3, because the retro gamer in me wants the ability to play PS1, PS2, and PS3 games on a single console, and so I could end up with a single player in the house.  

Am I missing something?