Buying a used car after 10 years out of the game

Intro

Here’s a non tech blog post

I love driving, maybe more than I realized when I first started test driving for a used car in May of this year. I’ve only owned 2 cars in my life, both Honda: A 1995 Civic Coupe, and a 2001 Civic EX, both were manual transmission. Prior to owning, I learned to drive manual transmission via my Toyota Corollas my parents had

My current interest in acquiring a used car comes from covid 19 boredom from last year. I live in Montreal, and from October 2020 to the spring of 2021, we had an embarrassing curfew of 9:30 pm. What better activity to just DRIVE AROUND, right?

As Montreal gets a lot of snow, an all-wheel drive car/cross-over seemed a good choice for the 5 months of the year we have hard packed snow. So, I started my search with Subaru Imprezas

However, as I’d not test driven a car since in 10 years, I decided to cluster my test drives, so, as much as possible, each time I went out for a test drive at a user / OEM dealer, I’d try out 2, 3, 4, 5 cars at a time

For my first 5 test drives, my friend Wayne – who already owns a beastly Mustang took me out – thanks man. For the other 15 test drives I did, I activated a car co-op membership (link)

To be honest, using this particular car co-op service served an excellent secondary purpose alongside the main service of delivering me from Montreal to the 3 major suburban areas where the dealers are located (Laval/West Island/South Shore). The secondary purpose , was the temp rental car serving as a “pace car”. 100% of the cars provided by communauto are hybrid/full electric, and some of these cars are excellent. They lack the luxury / power of 75% of the cars I’m driving, but in a few cases, I ended up liking my rental car MORE than the car I was going to drive. For instance, the Mercedes-Benz GLA 250! Lacked headroom, and was super boring to drive. The Toyota Corolla hybrid I used to get to the west island dealer actually had better torque in the lower gears, despite being almost 80 HP less than the GLA 250 on paper. WTF? Sorry, Merc fans, but I feel part of the appeal of this make is BRANDING.

Criteria

  1. Less than 200k KM
  2. $10k on the low, 20k on the high for price
  3. No rust on the body
  4. No weird body kits that will get destroyed in the winter
  5. No lowering
  6. No RWD cars that will be a chore to drive in the winter
  7. No prior accidents
  8. Non-CVT Automatic or manual only
  9. White/Black/Dark Blue/or in some cases, dark gray/silver for the exterior color
  10. Beige/Brown for the interior
  11. Back-up camera and Bluetooth are the only “deal breaker” accessory options I must have
  12. 38 inches or more of headroom. I have a peculiar driving style, where I prefer to sit VERY upright. I prefer this for safety reasons, as it gives me the best possible view for shoulder checks and front visibility. Because of this , the top of my hair brushes the cabin of the car when the head-room is less than inches. I’ve had to remove a few nice cars from the list due to cramped headroom: Merc-Benz GLA 250, Honda Civic 2014 Si

The below is the full list of test drives I did. Most were automatic / AWD. However, as time has gone on, I’m open to the idea of owning a FWD manual car again. If I could deal with winter driving in Winterpeg for most of my driving life, I can do it again here in Montreal. Where I was able to test drive 2,3,4,5 cars in a single day, I’ve shown in alternating colors of light / dark blue. The Infiniti EX35s were the only cars I wasn’t able to test drive alongside another car

  1. Kia forte 5 2017 – manual FWD: Mechanical issues, felt cheapt
  2. Subaru Impreza 2017 hatchback – Automatic AWD: Gutless and boring
  3. Audi A3 2013 hatchback – Automatic AWD: Fun, but no backup camera
  4. Infiniti ex 35 2010 black cross-over – Automatic AWD: Fun, but feels a bit old
  5. Infiniti ex 35 red 2013 cross-over– Automatic AWD: Fun, but feels a bit old
  6. Mercedes GLA 250 2017 cross-over – Automatic AWD: Head space issues, boring
  7. BMW X1 2017 cross-over – Automatic AWD: Fun, but over-priced
  8. Mazda 3 AWD 2019 sedan – Automatic AWD: Lots of fun
  9. Lexus IS 300 2017 – sedan – Automatic AWD: Awesome
  10. Acura ILX – sedan – FWD Automatic: Boring
  11. Infiniti Q50 2017 – Automatic AWD: Fun, but not as nice as Lexus IS 300
  12. Acura TLX 2017 – Automatic AWD: Fun, but only paddle shifters are lame
  13. Civic couple sport EX 2017 – FWD automatic: CVT, dang! Less fun than manual
  14. Volvo S60 T5 – i4 – Automatic AWD: Over-all, a top 4 choice
  15. Civic 2017 blue hatchback sport LX trim – manual FWD: Lots of un
  16. Subaru WRX -automatic AWD: CVT made this a boner killer
  17. Subaru WRX -manual AWD: Fun, but way over-priced
  18. Acura TLX 2015 – Automatic AWD: Down-shifting issues, no longer considering!
  19. Subaru Impreza – manual AWD: Gutless and weak @ 140 HP
  20. Honda civic SI 2017 – manual FWD: More fun than Civic 2017 sport as it’s got 204 HP
  21. Honda civic SI 2014 – manual FWD: Fun to drive, but removed from list due to only having 37.7 inches headroom
  22. Honda Civic sport 2018 – manual: AC unit wasn’t working in the unit I drove, which was brutal as it was 30 degrees Celsius outside at the time of my test drive
  23. Subaru WRX 2016 manual: Scheduled for Saturday Aug 14, 2021
  24. Toyota Corolla 2019 hatchback SE: It’s FWD, but omg, so much fun to drive with the upgraded 168 HP engine. I’m still keen AWD, but if one comes up for lease take-over or for a reasonable used price, i’ll consider it for sure
  25. 2020 Mazda 3 AWD Turbo hatchback: Amazing ride. Top of the pops for me now, however, I need to try out the same car with a 184 HP engine, the Boucherville, Quebec dealership I visited on Aug 19 only had the turbo to drive, which gives me a “feel” of the interior, and some of the handling features, but the 0-60 tests I did would certainly be different against the 184 HP engine common for this Make/model/trim/variant
  26. 2020 Mazda 3 AWD non-turbo 2.5 L hatchback: Sorry to say, it’s not even close to the turbo. As such, 2020 Mazda 3 2.5 L non-turbo HB’s are off my list. The price difference between the turbo/non-turbo 2019 > 2020 Turbos is about 10-12k, no thanks! 
  27. Infiniti G37X 2013: First time driving an older car in a while. yeah, it felt “old” for sure. I was keen, as it was a great price, around $10k cdn. However, the deal-breaker wasn’t the older infotainment system, it was head-room! I swear, my driving posture is not compatible with how a lot of cars are made! 

Here is a bullet list created from my test drive observations from May 2021 to now. If you’re in the market for a used car, perhaps you’ll find my notes useful

  • With an automatic transmission, having paddle shifters on the steering wheel or shift over-ride via the automatic gear shift is a must to keep things fun
  • Manual can be exciting work if HP is around 150-170, Civic Sport, however, it’s super boring for cars that are closer to 140 HP, Subaru Impreza
  • CVT based transmissions take the fun out of automatic
  • There’s not an easy way AWD during normal driving, I only had rainy conditions once, with the BWM X1
  • Close to 300 HP / 290 lbs torque is really exciting. The Lexus IS 300, Acura TLX, Infiniti Q50 all featured V6 engines close to this spec
  • Cabin head room is important, at 5’11, anything else than 37 inches was problematic for me
  • The Interior color and trim is more important than exterior, a black interior is really boring. Beige/brown is best
  • A backup camera is a must, I learned to reverse park / parallel park without one in the early 90’s, but backup cameras really do make for better parking
  • For whatever reason here in Quebec, there a lot of BMW X1/3 / 5 series that come in my KILLER exterior / interior color I covet: Dark blue outside/beige inside
  • A third-party cradle for smart phone is a must, ones that tactfully insert into the air vents are the best
  • USB is a must, GPS when driving is a KILLER on battery
  • The Toyota Corolla hybrid is an excellent pace car
  • Electric cars have a “pulse” like acceleration which is quite different. That being said, I can see the future, where a huge % of cars will be electric. I’m ok with it
  • Using consumer reports to review car reliability / recalls is a MUST. However, it’s not enough. For instance, the Acura TLX 2015 model I drove twice, has a serious issue with it’s double-clutch transmission, where it will randomly down shift or shift to neutral. This happened to me on the last test drive I did on a 2015 model, it’s not indicated on the related ConsumerReports.org entry for the Acura TLX 2015 onwards, but sure is here and here. I’ve removed the Acura TLX from my searches, if I want a “big dog” V6, it will be Lexus IS 350 or Volvo S60 T6
  • Any research you do for a potential used car needs to be offline (driving the damn thing), as well as reading owner feedback on car forums and reddit
  • Of the 20 test drives I did, I had to call ahead to book the time I would arrive. For 18/20 of those bookings, the dealer was NOT ready for me when I arrived: Car was sold, car was at another dealer, car wouldn’t start, car was dirty, front desk didn’t have my name. It was frustrating the first 5 times, then I made peace with it, as is the case in Quebec where customer service is generally terrible. As per the famous Maya Angelou quote, you sometimes need to accept the things you cannot change.
  • I drove 3 German flag ship cars: AUDI/BMW/Merc-Benz. For me at least, the higher cost / repair issues / maintenance cost aren’t worth it. I will focus my remaining search on Japanese cars
  • I didn’t drive a single American car. I could I guess, but I really just don’t feel like it. None came up recommended on review sites or recommendations from friends. If you know of one that fits nicely into the above, let me know!

Updates:

Aug 11, 2021 Shortlist
  1. Lexus IS 350 2014-2015
  2. Volvo S60 T5/T6 2015-2017:
  3. Honda Civic Si 10th gen 2017 onwards
  4. Mazda 3 AWD 2019-2020 – the 2.5 L 184 HP version
  5. Subaru WRX 2016 onwards – manual only with sport or sport tech

Aug 2, 2021:

During this week, I took a bunch of time to evaluate cheaper cars $10-14k. In each case, I had to remove them from further consideration, low HP / headroom issues

Aug 11, 2021

My search is now focused solely on cars that are $15-23k in price, and from the years 2014 onwards with absolute bare minimum headroom of 38 inches

Aug 12, 2021

Honda civic tenth gens have been removed my search! CR ratings are untypically low for a Honda Civic!

Air conditioner failures are common, and I noted this on my test drive yesterday of a 2017 Honda Civic sport. See #1 and #2

Civic FYM

Aug 19, 2021
 
I’ve removed the Lexus IS 350 2014 from the list. I do enjoy the exterior look and power of the V6 294 HP engine, but the interior feels a bit old against the other cars I’ve been driving. As such, here are the two models I’m now focusing my search on:
  • Mazda 3 AWD 2019 hatchback- the 2.5 L 184 HP version
  • Subaru WRX 2016 onwards – manual only with sport or sport tech

Aug 24, 2021

  1. Volvo S60 T5/T6 2015-2017:
    Removed Aug 24, 2021: These can be had for about $13-15k, but NONE feature backup cameras, and really, they look boring. For the same $$$ , I can get a nicer looking Infiniti Q50 / G37X with more HP/features, sorry Sweden, this car hunt is now ALL JAPANESE
  2. Mazda 3 AWD 2019-2020 – the 2.5 L 184 HP version
  3. Subaru WRX 2016 onwards – manual only with sport or sport tech
  4. Infiniti G37X 2011 – 2013:
    After some consideration, I should not be scared of buying an older Japanese luxury car. They can be had here in Quebec for about $10-12k. Feature 320+ HP engines with leather interior and backup camera + AWD! I enjoyed the Infiniti Q50 2018 I drove in July, so am now looking at it’s predecessor 

Aug 26, 2021

  • Infiniti G37X 2011 – 2013: Nope, too old and headroom issues!
  • As such, the last car standing is the mighty Subaru WRX 2016 onwards. I’m looking at used purchased around 20-22k CDN or ideally, a lease-take over via leasebusters.com or leasecosts.ca to get something a bit newer, and with warranty!

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