I started this blog six or seven years ago to chronicle our exhaustive and seemingly never-ending search for a house. After a few posts about house hunting, I decided on a secondary theme, a B-story if you will. I would also chronicle the maintenance and repairs of my 1998 Toyota Corolla, better known to my dedicated flock of readers* as the World’s Greatest Car (WGC). Sadly and at the same time definitely not sad, the WGC has provided me with precious little writing material.
The WGC is just days away from 170,00 miles and was given a clean bill of health at its recent checkup. Even the dealer was surprised at its great condition. Toyota is a reliable brand, but I feel that once you pass 100,000 miles in any car, it’s kind of a crap shoot. Each flawless mile comes as a bigger and bigger surprise. I’ve long been preparing for the day when something expensive goes awry and the tough but practical decision is made to trade it in for a new car.
But what would make an acceptable follow up to the WGC? I had previously made the decision to buy a Subaru when the time came, since my husband is a loyalist and I want him to want to take care of the maintenance on the car. But for several years Subarus had been downright ugly. Then came the new and newly styled 2012 Impreza. Subaru was back to being a good-looking car, plus it was boasting an impressive 36 miles per gallon. Since all Subarus have all-wheel drive standard, the mileage had always been lower than similarly sized vehicles. They solved that problem by adding a CV transmission.
So I finally found a vehicle that was good-looking, had all wheel drive and got good gas mileage. On paper, everything was perfect. There was only one question left, and that was whether I would actually like the car. It was a question for the ages, or at least until this past weekend when my husband brought home a new Impreza as a loaner vehicle while his was in the shop. The moment of truth was upon me.
Unfortunately, I found a few things wrong with this car. First of all, the model I drove was a hatchback. I want the sedan. This hatchback just barely fit our stroller and we had to turn it up on its side. It makes me worry about the amount of trunk space the sedan has. However it’s not a criteria that can be properly evaluated at this junction, so I will move on.
The side view mirrors are oddly shaped and placement is closer to the driver than on other cars. On the driver’s side this makes it feel that, despite their largess, your visibility is decreased. The passenger side provided better visibility.
The interior feels sparse. Don’t get me wrong, there are way more amenities than in my ’98 Toyota. There’s a readout on the dash that features temperature, time and alternating information on mpg average, mpg at the moment, and miles left before you run out of gas.
There are several buttons on the steering wheel, including the volume and station control for the radio/CD player. Unfortunately the button to control the information readout on the dash is not on the steering wheel, but stuck behind it next to the button that controls the trip odometer.
It has a standard CD player in the dash, and a USB port and auxiliary jack in the storage compartment between the seats. That’s great but absolutely essential in a car nowadays.
I like the (automatic) shifter. It’s ergonomic and fits my hand much better than the one in my Corolla. But there’s an option to switch it into manual at the bottom left and it’s too easy to accidentally make the switch from D to M while driving.
The reason it has a manual mode instead of 2 and L, like most other automatics, is because it has (oh I’m just giddy to utter this phrase that I have heard a million times on Top Gear) a flappy paddle gearbox. That’s kind of an automatic manual. If you switch into manual mode, you can tell the car when to shift using two paddles on the left and right of the steering wheel. All the fun of shifting without the annoyance of a clutch. I purposefully tried out manual mode, but not knowing how to drive stick I found it too distracting. I think this would actually be a good way to start to learn, but my philosophy is why shift if the car will do it for you?
Also, Subaru finally figured out not to put the cup holders right in front of the heater, and yet the placement in between the passenger and driver’s seat didn’t feel particularly intuitive. It should have been easier to pick up the cup and put it down without looking.
On the plus side, the car comes with my long coveted key fob and the key fob is actually on the key. This is brilliant. You just have to carry a slightly bulkier key on your key chain instead of an awkward box. My only quibble is that is has a button to pop the trunk and try as we might, neither my husband nor I could get that button to actually pop the trunk. Or maybe it’s just meant to unlock the trunk?
I also like the old-school feeling of the dash. It has standard speed- and tach-ometers. I think glowing, moving computer screens showing you a constantly changing digital readout of speed, how the engine works and what your spouse wants for dinner is distracting. Keep it simple and keep your eyes on the road.
The car has a modern, beefy exterior, though the interior is only marginally bigger than my current car. It is however higher off the ground and it has wider-swinging doors and more clearance, making it easier to get my daughter in and out of the car without bumping her head or wrenching my back.
I can’t deny that this car has lots of amenities compared to a 14-year-old car, but not compared to other new cars. Where’s my back up camera and parallel park assist? Built-in GPS? (That’s an option on this car – more expensive.) Keyless start? My concern is that this car will start to feel older sooner as different car makers come out with models with more and more bells and whistles.
Yet one cannot judge a car by bells and whistles alone.
As I entered the freeway on ramp and put my foot down to accelerate, I felt a sensation that I’ve never felt before while driving. Fun. I don’t know the 0-60 time but it’s so easy to get to 60. The car feels stable at high speeds and I’m able to keep up the speed when rounding curves. I had to make a 45-mile drive this weekend, something I normally would have dreaded, but I couldn’t wait to get back in this car. I’ve never ever ever wanted to drive before. It was just a means to an end. Now I get why people like it.
So all this leaves me back where I started, with a perfectly acceptable car and bills that are more important than a car payment. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it when we have to return the Impreza on Wednesday. I admit that there might be other cars I might like if I tried them, but I don’t know if I need to. I’m in love. A more spacious interior might be nice but I don’t like driving big cars. I like the maneuverability of my small car, especially since I frequently drive in Seattle. And I can’t afford an expensive car, nor would that be a luxury I would consider splurging on. So I think this is it.** I’ve been in this great relationship for a long time, but suddenly and without warning I met the car of my dreams. We’ll keep the WGC and it will retain its title indefinitely. A more fun car the Subaru may be, but it will take many a mile before it can claim the WGC throne.
* Ha! Just kidding. No one reads this blog.
**If you have accidentally read this blog and would like to hear more about the Impreza, please, consider contributing to the 2012 Impreza fund so I can buy one. Or if you are a Subaru dealer and would like me to say more nice things about your fantastically awesome masterpiece, please, give me a car.