“Jason, cars are like wedding dresses; the bigger the better.”
Those were the words of Mrs. Jason, my wonderful bride of sixteen years and whose wedding dress rivaled that of Princess Diana. She is quite fond of enormous vehicles. It should be noted her love isn’t from lack of familiarity; she drove a ’77 Jeep Wagoneer in high school and she took her driver’s exam in her grandmother’s 1975 Pontiac Bonneville.
Several factors lead up to her making this highly memorable statement.
If you have read any of my four rental car diaries, you know we have been seeking something different and I have been quite critical, perhaps overly so, of the cars driven and of their manufacturers. This ongoing evaluation of cars was intentional and our not having made an automotive purchase had been primarily my decision. Despite getting our house sold over a year ago (a feat that took only twenty-one months to accomplish), our relocation isn’t officially finalized as we still haven’t found a house worthy of purchase and we are holding out for what we want–a theme that will play out again later. My intention was to hold off on a car until a home purchase was complete.
Most people have experienced times when events don’t transpire as planned and other times when you have to grab the bull by the horns–or whatever else is handy. Divine guidance certainly makes some decisions a whole lot easier.
Several weeks ago I received a call at work. There had been a bad crash involving three tractor-trailers and a compact car. To add to the situation, one of the trucks had caught fire and its load continued its smoldering burn regardless of how much water and foam was applied.
It was ugly with a single fatality and there were some sights I won’t describe. Upon arriving, I saw the compact that had been caught between two of the tractor trailers and pushed into the median. It was greatly deformed from rolling over multiple times yet both occupants walked away with only minor cuts and bruises. The multitude of airbags had cushioned them only upon the initial impact but the overall structure of the vehicle was able to protect them for the rest of that hellish ride.
It took a few days, but I realized that having my wife and daughter in a twenty-one year old Buick Century, itself a survivor of a minor crash, was no longer acceptable to me. They had also been using our 2000 Ford E-150 conversion van; such vans are not renowned for their stellar safety record. After what I had witnessed, I needed to reprioritize.
My wife and I spent an entire Sunday afternoon looking at the websites of every manufacturer to determine what we jointly liked from a visual standpoint. It’s pretty quick to rule out a lot of vehicles these days given the generally overwrought, suppository-on-wheels offerings. Maybe I am being overly critical again, but if the proposition is long-term and costs me money, it will be critiqued.
As you can tell, there was little that impressed us.
After several hours of cussing and discussing, we had our list narrowed down to five different alternatives. Our common criteria was for something that had high safety ratings and was traditional looking. Keep in mind we are both unaccustomed to seeing a twin to any of our vehicles in the K-Mart parking lot.
So let’s examine what we agreed upon. This process had as much of a subjective component for us as it does for anyone else; the results may or may not surprise you.
Ford Fusion: A few days after our research session I took our daughter to a home-school event in the little town of Fulton, where Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech in 1946. Needing to kill time, I drove across town to the Ford dealer.
Small town car dealers are so refreshing. At the Ford dealer I talked to Brad, a regular low-key kind of guy. While there I test drove this 2015 Fusion SE with the 1.5 liter engine. My first question for Brad upon our drive was how frequently customers complained of the very aggressive console Ford had blessed it with. He winced and reluctantly admitted it was a frequent criticism of the Fusion from prospective customers. It’s good to learn I am not alone.
It was nice, although the asking price for the SE trim was in a neighborhood I didn’t care to occupy. Knowing this, Brad showed me this 2013 Fusion SE with the 1.6 liter engine and only 16,000 miles. It had been purchased new there and they had documentation for all its service.
Going back to the dealer a short while later, Mrs. Jason and I drove this 2013. We liked it but we both thought there was something about it that just didn’t feel quite right. We told Brad we needed to think about it.
Later, Mrs. Jason stated the rear glass reminded her of the 1973 Mustang fastback her brother used to own.
Ford Escape: While at the Ford dealer in Fulton, we also test drove a very blue base model 2014 Ford Escape. It just wasn’t us. Buying a car is like dating; there is a lot of subjectivity involved.
Dodge Grand Caravan: I have driven a few of the current generation model and it is extremely comfortable with ample power from its 3.6 liter V6. However, we already own one van and we decided buying a minivan wasn’t exactly changing our position in the world.
Volkswagen Jetta: We test drove a TDI with a manual transmission back in February. Ever since, I have daydreamed about these; it must be a middle-aged thing as my automotive fantasies over the years have evolved from 5.0 Mustangs to diesel-powered Volkswagen’s. The Jetta is very nice, and Mrs. Jason liked it, but then the wedding dress rule kicked in.
So what is now sitting in the garage?
A 2014 Volkswagen Passat.
This almost didn’t happen. While I had driven a five-speed Passat with a 1.8 liter back in June, I didn’t think it was quite worth what VW was printing on their window sticker so I scratched the experience up to wishful thinking. But the end of the model year was nigh and VW was wanting to purge the remaining 2014 models and was putting their money where their mouth is with respectable rebates.
After parting company with Brad, we went to visit the VW dealer.
We initially looked at a 1.8 liter Passat with the Wolfsburg package. The Wolfsburg is a base model Passat with heated
vinyl leatherette seats and a few other trinkets. Our initial concern about the vinyl leatherette was founded; the interior reeked of vinyl leatherette and it was giving us a mild headache. Making it even more challenging was the driver’s seat; I was fiddling with the power adjustments the entire time I was driving and could not get comfortable. Mrs. Jason found the head rests to be in attack mode given their forward lunge. So we inquired about cloth seats.
This dealer had about a dozen base model Passat’s in stock, the only models with cloth seats. The manually adjusted cloth seats fit us like a glove and the headrests, while seemingly identical, were not as aggressive on the back of our heads. There was only one small problem: the interior of every single one was asphalt black, a color that is as invigorating as the interior of a mausoleum.
Rejecting black, we headed out the door. Suddenly the sales manager became involved and offered a Wolfsburg at base model prices. While I don’t remember the verbiage of my rejection, I did referred to the seats as being “not worth a shit,” thus killing the hopes of the salesman and sales manager. Further offers of free window tinting and other assorted goodies were also rejected. When asked why, I provided an irrefutable thought; if one were to get a tattoo of their sweet thing’s name on their arm, it would be a constant and conspicuous irritant to the owner if the name were misspelled. A black interior would be a similar, constant irritant to us.
Upon being told no other interior colors were available anywhere in the state, we left.
Getting home, I undertook an exhaustive and intense ninety second search on the VW website to find a base-model Passat with a gray interior sitting on the lot in St. Louis. The next closest one was in Chicago.
The next morning, I called the dealer in St. Louis. The salesman with whom I dealt was the epitome of every negative stereotype created about car salesmen. Then Mrs. Jason stepped up to the plate.
My wife is a delightful combination of Margaret Thatcher and Sitting Bull; she does not compromise in her convictions and, when provoked, will exhibit profound resistance, making life thoroughly miserable for others. On a side note, I was fortunate enough to see Margaret Thatcher give a speech at the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1996. When taking questions, she verbally annihilated a person who was trying to provoke her; Mrs. Jason also shares this talent.
Mrs. Jason called the first VW dealer. Talking to the sales manager directly, she politely informed him of my rapid findings and asked him what he was going to do to rectify his gross error.
Ten minutes later, the sales manager had a dealer transfer secured. The price he quoted was remarkably less than that of the used, 2013 Fusion. After a bit more discussion, we told him to get it and that we would pick it up the next business day.
While it seems like I’m eating a bit of crow, I’m really not. I have stated in the past how I am not a fan of four-cylinder engines, but that position is thawing. Perhaps it is because adding a turbocharger to a four-cylinder engine is like putting gravy on mashed potatoes–it transforms something truly wretched into something enjoyable. It also helps when said engine makes its peak torque at a barely off idle 1,500 rpm. Somebody at Volkswagen is a miracle worker. Renting a Chevrolet Cruze started the thought process about engines; I’m a torque addict, so any engine that can provide so much easy and accessible grunt is not to be ignored.
Mrs. Jason and I do get a bit stubborn about what we like and it has always paid off. She is truly loving the Passat, having taken it on a two hundred plus mile trip thirty-six hours after purchase. I’m enjoying a car that is comfortable, has terrific power, and achieved 32.2 miles per gallon on its very first tank of fuel.
VW isn’t perfect; they cannot decide between U.S. and U.K. spellings for color. Perhaps this is one of the quirks that has so enamored the VW faithful. Either way, they have a real winner in the Passat, purchased at a time when I was open to (almost) anything. Will I become a VW fanboy? Time will tell.
This is our first new car since being married and we each purchased our first new cars in 1996 while single. For some reason I think this Passat will be around for a very long time. Das Auto macht Spaß zu fahren.