Monday, July 23, 2007

Has Anyone Ever...

This might be my best blog to date. Has anyone ever...

- Listened to all 8 minutes of "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward

- Seriously listened to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (with out it being a joke?)

- Listened long enough to "Final Countdown" by Europe to hear the words?

- Watched the video to "When The Children Cry" by White Lion WITHOUT feeling uncomfortable?

- Watched the video to "Mother" by Danzig and taken him seriously?

- Recently watched an entire episode of night court?

If you have done all of these things, your name is probably Jay Williams!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dinner Conversation

We are having dinner at our house. Attendees include Meghan, her brother Matt, his girlfriend Nikki, and myself. I am opening the water bill and decide to turn it into a game.

Tom: Guess how many gallons of water we used last month, "price is right" style - closest without going over. Meghan - you guess 1st.
Meghan: 900 gallons
Tom: Ok, Matt you're next.
Matt: 901 gallons
Tom: Ok, Nikki - closest without going over.
Nikki: 1 dollar

It's funny because it's the right strategy, wrong units. Nikki was disqualified. Matt won because we used way more than 901 gallons.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Don't Discard!

Here's that great speech by Steve Tomlinson about not discarding any of your passions in life. If you have 3 very separate career interests, keep them all going because you might not yet see how they will all come together.

I tried to link to this before, but here it is! Enjoy the video (although it's just audio!).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Test Drive - Final Round

Test Drive Round #2 - BMW 335xi vs. Volvo S60 R
This is what we have been waiting for! Finally a test drive of manual (stick shift) AWD cars. (This blog is a long one, if you get through this one be sure to comment!)

The 300hp Volvo S60 R
The Volvo S60 R has a nice interior. It's not as nice as the Infiniti but has more of a sporty theme going than the BMW (but we'll get to that later). The Volvo also has all of the features you'd want, they really thought of everything. There were also 3 push-button settings for the suspension. Comfort, Sport, and Advanced. In comfort you really wouldn't feel the road much. In advance a rail road track would shake you silly. Also the seats might have been the most comfy of any we'd seen, they were a fluffy "pillow-y" leather. Also the black leather interior had blue colored stitching, which I know sounds crazy but it went well with the theme (and Meghan agreed).

However, the Volvo S60 doesn't ride well AT ALL. We 1st drove a used 2004 S60 R manual. It's too bad I didn't like it because it's the exact Volvo I was looking for but for the 1/2 price. It had a crazy horizontal vibration, actually I thought there was something wrong with the car. I told the dealer when we brought it back to basically investigate the issue before letting people drive it. So we took out a new 2007 S60 R (automatic) and it had the same thing! (Only slightly less rough). We have dubbed it the "Volvo Shimmy" and the ride is ROUGH. The S60 R also wasn't as fast as the BMW or the Infiniti and you could certainly tell. The engine was LOUD. I mean LOUD. I don't mind hearing an engine, especially if it sounds cool, this one sounded like it was shouting "shift me" but it didn't need to shift. It sounded wimpy and over worked. Also the S60 R has a TERRIBLE turning radius. You'd have a tough time taking a right turn into traffic and staying in your lane, and you need a lot of room the swing in to park. In fact all of the Volvo's parked in a row were crazy over the lines at the dealer. I think bringing them out one person was slightly on the lines and a cascade effect took over. As if this weren't enough the back seat was too tiny, A4 style, and there is a giant oddly shaped speaker in the center of the front dash about 1 foot square! There are a lot of other nit-picky things I didn't like about the Volvo but it's already DOA.

I had read online that while the BMWs aren't discounted much, you can get the S60R for about $4,000 below MSRP. In fact the salesman offered the fact that the S60Rs are "significantly discounted" now because they aren't making them any more. When a salesman on the 1st day is already talking discount that's a sign. I think you could have gotten a brand new one for $6,000-$8,000 off MSRP but why bother. The ride was so poor I didn't even consider looking at the S80s. Besides we drove it after we had just driven the BMW 335xi. It didn't have a chance!

The 300hp BMW 335xi
I need to preface this review because there wasn't a 335xi manual on the lot. In fact there wasn't even a 335i manual on the lot (no AWD). We had to test drive an automatic 335i because manuals are typically ordered and they don't stay on the lot. Bummer, but it really didn't effect my review (what? is that possible?) Check it out.

The BMW 335xi is FAST. I mean noticeably faster than the Infinit G35 (is that possible when both are 0-60 around 5.3). In fact I liked driving the BMW automatic. I hate to say it but I did. Meghan also commented on how smooth the automatic drove as I tried to take it from 0-60 and ended up at 70 before I even knew it! Of course there was the typical lag of "I just floored it and the automatic hasn't yet figured out to go as fast as it can" but once the automatic figured it out, each shift was seamless. A marked improvement over the G35 where you noticed each shift.

The BMW 335xi has a fairly plain interior. Some call it conservative, I think it's definitely not luxury, but not cheap. It's not sporty like the Infiniti it's just kinda plain. It's fine for me. But visually the interior won't impress anyone, but at least there is nothing to really complain about. The seats are nice leather, comfy but not as comfy as the Volvo's. It was a more rigid leather surface which I think is more typical of leather seats. The pillow-leather of the Volvo I hadn't seen before. The back seats of the BMW have plenty of room. I wouldn't say roomy, not as roomy as the Infiniti, but not much smaller, and certainly fine for back seat passengers. In fact the back seats, while still being a bench, actually had a bucket seat design built in. Once you sit down you kinda sink in. Not only is that comfy but it seems even roomier.

The ride of the BMW was almost like riding on a cloud. In fact it might have had a bit too little road feel, but certainly worth the fact that the car drove extremely tight. Tight corners cause almost no lean and the car seemed to hug the road. It is a totally different sensation than driving an Audi. I love the Audi drive, kinda sport, the BMW drive can best be described as luxury-performance. You know the car is going to drive well, but it almost arrogantly handles the road feel (what road). I guess I just haven't driven something that smooth before. That's a better word. Even a bump in the road seemed smoothed out.

Negatives for the BMW? There aren't too many in my book, and we are really down to looking for small things. The cup holders are hidden in the dash and when you push them they fold out. They are certainly pretty flimsy and don't fill you with confidence. A drive through soda might be trouble, but then again I am driving an Audi where the cup holders have NO SIDES so when you turn the drink tips over! So at least I am still moving up in the world in that regard. One minor annoyance is that I wear polarized sunglasses, and the display of the BMW is polarized too. Therefore when I looked at it from the driver's seat I thought the stereo system was off the whole time, turns out I had to tilt my head a bit to see it. Certainly annoying! The audi has the same thing but the polarized direction is the opposite (the glass may be "upside down" versus the BMW) so I couldn't see it if I were in the passenger's seat. If I get the BMW I might have to invest in some nice driving sunglasses that aren't polarized.

Other things to note, there is no spare tire in the BMW. The tires are run flats, which I hear could ride louder, but I didn't hear them at all. It has all the bells and whistles you could want including 4 year no maintenance costs which is rare now. In fact brake pads and the clutch are covered. They even have my Umass maroon color (as pictured above) though it looks better in person.

If you haven't seen keyless entry, it will become a MUST HAVE. Basically you can keep you key in your pocket, walk up to the car, open the door (it automatically unlocks the door when you try to open it when you are near it). Once you get in, just push the "Engine On" button and away you go. No need to get a key out of your pocket! If you get a car with this option be sure to negotiate for 2 sets of these keys, they are $500+ to replace.

The Results
The Volvo S60 R is eliminated. In fact it has soured me on testing any other Volvos. But I will give a tip of the cap to Volvo for still offering a 4 door sporty AWD car available in a manual, apparently a dying breed of car.

The BMW 335xi has jumped to the top of the list. Basically I can't go wrong with it. I feel like every other car so far has had some trade off (no car is perfect) but at least the BMW the trade off is price, where other cars it might be automatic only or tiny back seats that make the 4 door a 2 person vehicle!

I was also encouraged by the BMW because a few days before I drove one I went to the dealer to see it and I had a great feeling about the car. I think Meghan could tell I was excited about the BMW when I got home, so at least the emotional instincts match my more analytical testing. It was the 1st car I could picture in my garage which is a big deal to say since I was actually biased against the BMW based on it's equity. I couldn't picture myself a BMW driver since I appreciate the Audi's low key equity. I don't want to be too flashy and I am cringing a bit thinking about rolling up to a softball game in a BMW but it'll be worth it since I love the drive so much.

So is it a done deal? Maybe. I could order a mid-year 2007 now but if I order in August I'd get a 2008 for the same price (plus a bit for inflation but I am sure I'd get that back in trade in value by selling a 2008 vs a 2007). So in the next few months I plan to save up some more money, see if I can get comfortable with the investment, and look around at a few more cars for fun. There is also the SLIM chance that a 2007 335xi will be on a dealers lot when the 2008s come in and I could get a deal but since I can't even test drive one yet, seems unlikely. Over the next few months I plan to find a 335xi manual to drive before ordering and give any other cars their last chances. But I am really excited about finding a car that I like because apparently my taste is pretty picky, I didn't even blog about how hard it is to find all the options I want including 60 / 40 folding rear seats for trunk access (which BMW has but not the Infiniti)). In fact the BMW has every feature I want except for ventilated (cooled) seats which is really nice but I can live without that in order to get the other 99 things I wanted.

Infiniti G35 Side Note
If the Infiniti G35x (AWD) could come in a manual, it would probably be the car I would buy. I don't think I would have liked the drive as much and there are some minor things I wouldn't get (like 60 / 40 rear folding seats) but for the money ($10,000 less than the BMW) I would have had a nice car that I would have enjoyed and felt like it wasn't CRAZY expensive (it's still on the pricey side). But the automatic seems to be a deal breaker. In the following months I plan to drive the G35 back to back with the 335xi to re-affirm this feeling.

Audi Side note
What about another AWD manual in the Audi. Certainly a possibility, and I plan to drive on soon. While the reliability isn't great, I have had no problems of late and over 9 years I'd say the reliability was between fine and manageable. However the A4 price point is higher than the Infiniti G35x and not much lower than the BMW 335xi and you''d compromise on the tiny rear seats. Infiniti has put Audi in no man's land in my opinion. But I have become nostalgic driving my Audi of late, it has certainly been a fine car to drive, I guess the older you get the more "nice to have's" add up and the back seat is just a bit too small.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Test Drive - Round #1

As you have seem from my previous post, a number of cars were eliminated at first sight and didn't make it to the test drive round (The Acura TL, VW Passat, and The Hyundai Azera).

Test Drive Round #1 - Lexus GS 350 AWD vs. Infiniti G35x
I am sure you may be asking, why are these automatics on the list? Well they made the cut because they each brought something special.

Lexus IS 250 AWD 204hp - I started looking at the IS 250 AWD, however at the Audi A4 price with a small interior (and no rear leg room) I couldn't pick this car over another Audi A4 so it was eliminated before driving. Also the hp just didn't cut it.

Lexus GS 350 AWD 303hp - At $10,000 above the Audi A4 the Lexus GS 350 AWD goes 0-60 in 5.8 seconds. The "Chardonay Pearl" color pictured here is the color we drove. It couldn't scream "florida retirement" any louder. As a positive, It is full of luxury features, and a lot of attention was paid to hide the buttons and controls away which is pretty awesome. It's a little bit like James Bond where you slide the arm rest back and there are rows of buttons and controls. I really enjoyed the ventilated seats! They are awesome! The back seat is roomy. The front dash left much to be desired as it is 80% rubber. I didn't like the look, the salesman said it was for safety. Overall the car didn't impress me on performance. It came across a little big and slow, but that could also be because I drove it AFTER the Infiniti G35.

Infiniti G35x AWD 306hp - Loaded with options the G35x Sedan is about the same price as an Audi A4 and looks like a fighter jet inside. Seriously, it has an awesome interior, the picture doesn't do it justice, go sit in one. The best interior on the list by far! The G35x goes 0-60 in 5.3 seconds. And it is fast! In the Lexus I was flooring it, in the infiniti I was "feathering" the acceleration because I felt like I could spin out (I'm sure it wouldn't with AWD). But needless to say it was plenty fast enough. However, I did notice the lag from the automatic (can there be lag at 5.3 s from 0-60). I guess I am used to a manual where the car responds so much faster. The infiniti was missing the iPod adapter but the nav system has a 9.3 GB harddrive that you can put all of your MP3s on as your own personal jukebox. While every other car give you a 4 yr / 50,000 mi warranty, Infiniti throws the 4 yr / 60,000 mi curveball.

The Results:
The Lexus GS 350 AWD is eliminated.

The Infiniti G35x survives. It will be driven again after the Audi, BMW and Volvo. If the Infiniti G35x AWD was a stick, it would be a no-brainer. It is a sharp looking car with killer performance for it's price.

Cars: Elimination Day

OK a lot has happened. A number of cars have been eliminated before the "test drive round" just by looking at them in person.

Quick Note: Many cars eliminated here are automatics that have a paddle shifter (shiftronic) to pretend to be a manual. After driving a shiftronic I am confident that it is fair to just call them automatics.

The Acura TL (type S) at 286hp is eliminated because it didn't have AWD until the RL model at 290hp (which is an automatic only) and then the price was in the Audi / BMW range so that's not happening. The Acura's are fairly roomy and can get a lot of "extras" like bluetooth, but they didn't make my cut.

The Hyundai Azera at 263hp was also eliminated. Don't be shocked, the Azera was on the list intentionally as a "low benchmark" but it's reasonably priced and it's a good looking car but not AWD and no frills. They also have the best warranty in America (10 yr / 100,000 powertrain).

The VW Passat at 280hp also did not make the cut. I do like the passat, it's a sporty 4dr car with AWD. However the AWD is only in automatic. You can pretty much pimp out a passat these days except for bluetooth, but the interior is pretty plain.

Making the cut to be Driven:
Infiniti G35x AWD
Lexus GS 350 AWD
Volvo S60 R
BMW 335xi
Audi's A3, A4

BTW - The Audi A8 is totally pimped out now. They are made to be chaufeured so everything cool is in the back seats too. The leg room is CRAZY. But at $84,000 it's too close to the Maserati to be tempting.

Looking for a New Car

I am in the market for a "new" car. I may go the 1-2 year old Certified Pre-Owned route or get a new one if I can't find what I want. The Audi has been good to me. I have 108,000 miles on it, and it is still fun to drive (Thanks Uncle Ed!). I will miss it. Considering Audi's are usually known for below-average reliability, over all the Audi has been pretty good to me. Right after the warranty expired I had a number of odd things come up but since then it has been pretty good. Ignoring the fact that you have to continuously add oil!

Besides the Maserati Quattroporte nothing is jumping out to me. So I am doing the test drive circuit and plan to blog my results for anyone else who might be thinking about a new car.

- 4 door
- Sporty
- Heated Seats
- Manual (Stick) Shift

- Bluetooth enabled
- iPod adapter
- Ventilated (Cooled) seats
- XM radio
- Power passenger seat (not in the audi)

The Short list of potentials includes:
Volvo S60 R, S80
Audi A4, A6, A3
BMW 335xi
Lexus GS 350 AWD
VW Passat
Acura RL
Infiniti G35x

I will post the results of test drives.

Monday, July 02, 2007