Friday, July 10, 2015

Car bought! The decision, the why, the rundown...

Pleased to report that I'm now the proud owner of a BMW 228i.  

For those interested in specs, here we go:

  • 228i, RWD
  • Midnight Blue exterior
  • Terra Dakota interior
  • Technology Package
  • Premium Package
  • Lighting Package

The car is a blast to drive.    The engine just goes, and having an 8 speed transmission, even better.   It has a couple of weird things I wish you could fix -- I like the "Sport" driving setting a lot better, but you can't set the car to default that way.  It always starts in comfort.  It has a couple of quirks about working with Apple Music on iOS8, but only Tesla really seems to have that software side right with the over the air updates to keep pace.   I still can't get Google Maps to send a location to the car, and I find that ConnectedDrive isn't quite as responsive as I might like when querying from the app (and this might be related to response time), but those are minor details.     Still need to get my vanity plates swapped with the Acura.     

So how did we get here?

Let's break down the cars I drove, comparing now.  I'll start with the Lexus RC 350.   A very powerful engine, a feel like a jet fighter, it's a nice car.   I had a feeling Sharon wouldn't like the way it sat as a passenger, but more importantly, it felt like my "price range" excluded a few things.  Premium audio only comes in the Sport model, jumping the price up a lot, and while a minor detail, the fact you can't enter a GPS address while driving is a massive source of annoyance.   So a car where I would KNOW the audio could have been better that has something that would annoy me every time I used it... yeah, sorry, Lexus, you got nixed.

Onto Audi.  AJ at Audi of Tyson's corner is a fantastic sales person -- I can't say enough nice things about him.     Just the right balance of pushing and being easy going,  I really wanted to give him (personally) the business.   The cars are where it failed.    While the 228 I bought and the A3 actually compare, the A3 didn't blow me away.   The A5 was a "sedan", and didn't have that fun factor.  Trying the S models, the S3 had some roughness to it -- whether it was my driving or the car I don't know, but it stuck with me.  The S4 was nice -- but by the time we're at that car, we're in a whole other price point.     Was the S4 I liked worth THAT much more than the 228 which I also liked?  No, it wasn't.  

I had originally planned to see the Mustang and drive the Mercedes C-class.   Here's why I didn't.

While the idea of a Mustang intrigued, the more I played with configurations, the more I realized this wasn't going to be a good driving around car.   It's a hell of a lot of fun, but this wasn't going to be my "drive us around in comfort" car.   

As for Mercedes, while interesting, I couldn't get a configuration that seemed right in a car with the price balance I wanted.   Because I had a car I liked -- the 228 -- it was baselining against it saying "would this car be better", and I didn't see one that was jumping out to me.

Now, the dealership.

After my visit to BMW of Sterling and the post that went online, I heard back from the Sales Manager the next day via a phone call.   He was quite emphatic about wanting to win my business.   The call started out a bit odd -- he was very focused on letting me know they had handled the sales rep -- but after some discussion, and my very clear statement that this wasn't about punishment, this was about education, we turned a very good corner.   I won't name names anymore -- I'm going to only dole out praise that way!   

He was very diligent about tracking things down -- and very willing to handle my million questions about scenarios for pricing.   I appreciated the patience there.   We found a car in their stock which was nearly what I had dreamed up in my head.    I was initially looking at the M style and some track options, but decided against them due to availability and some thoughtful comments from Scott Lepre.   (He warned about RWD on a car -- when it snows around here, I don't really drive much, and it should be good in most other weather).  

So kudos to BMW of Sterling for the catch and recover.   Their finance department rep, Jim, was absolutely fantastic, and there's even someone dedicated to helping you understand the Tech.    Once in the system, it's a great owners experience.  They do car washes on Saturday mornings too.   

I'll rant a bit about the way cars are bought.   Dealerships just seem so very much aligned with the way sales were done in the 70's and 80's.   In a world where I can custom order anything online exactly the way I want it and have it delivered to me right away, car dealerships have this massive pile of cars where they guess the popular configurations and try and keep some in stock.   Ordering a car is more expensive and the system isn't designed to flex to that -- I give some specs, and the dealerships work to try and find something in stock near by (or that they have) that is close enough, so you compromise some of what you want 

Yes, cars take longer to build.   But the system doesn't encourage you to customize - it actually encourages you to compromise, because the financials behind it point you that way.   The sales system is designed to push you to that, selling existing stock and not encouraging orders.  It's a shame, and different from the rest of the way sales are done these days.   

One other piece of praise.   The internet team at BMW of Alexandria was stellar.   While I was discussing with Sterling, they were also searching for cars that met my specs.    The team there was just outstanding, looking for exactly the car I wanted. I never even went in there, but they made an impression.  They didn't win the business, but not because of anything other than a choice about what stock was available.  

New car, acquired!   The Acura will get appraised at CarMax, and either sold that way to end the lease, or returned early.   The ILX isn't a bad car, but it's a suped-up Civic, and that's not the kind of car a luxury brand should be.  To be fair, the ILX never broke down, never caused an issue, was totally reliable, was cheap to operate... it just wasn't fun.  The first TL was fun, the TSX was good, but the ILX wasn't.  And I missed the fun of driving... which I seem to have back now.

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!

New Retro & Modern Gaming Setup

I redesigned my office, and it deserved a new post to discuss the layout and the setup. The old design  worked great, but didn't look ...