First test drive

Over the Columbus Day weekend I managed to see a number of car dealers and learned a bit, plus I finally got to test-drive something. Some random notes in no particular order:

That Nissan 370Z is looking less and less likely. It was always a bit of a stretch, but it still looks like a fun car to drive. I may never find out, however, since none of the dealers around here seem to have them. I saw one dealer with an open-top model in the showroom; I checked two other Nissan dealerships and both had tiny showrooms on tiny lots filled with used Altimas and new Leafs. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have an EV — but I don’t have a place to park one where it could charge, and the range is still lacking.

I talked to a salesperson at a Ford dealer and had a chance to sit in a regular (non-hybrid) Fusion and C-MAX. The Fusion feels really cramped and has very limited headroom — and I’m not by any means a tall guy, so that may turn out to be a dealbreaker on what seems otherwise a very nice car. He didn’t have any hybrid Fusions available to test-drive but said he should be getting more soon, so I will go back and give it a try. I’ll try the C-MAX as well just to make sure I’m not discounting a perfectly reasonable option; although its mileage is nowhere near as good as the Fusion’s, it does cost less even in the top “Platinum” trim level.

I also went to a VW dealership where the salesperson tried to tell me that the Passat had more headroom than my current Accord — after I had hit my dead on the door and then almost did so again on the center lamp thingy. He was very eager to push his stock of 2013s, too, even though the incentives rarely make up for the reduced residual value on which the cost of a lease depends. Then when I reminded him that I wasn’t buying anything right now, he went into the typical car salesman’s “and what if I did this” spiel. I’ll try another VW dealership first — hopefully one with some 2014s on the lot. I was ignored at a nearby Mazda dealer, again with a small showroom on a very small lot (so small that I had to park next door).

Finally, today I managed to actually get a test-drive, of Mercedes’ entry-level CLA250 four-door coupe. I found the design to be a bit less comfortable that I would have expected from a Mercedes, with fairly stiff seats, limited headroom (especially in back, although I’m not likely to be too concerned about that), and a very odd information display bunged in the middle of the dash atop the center stack. The ride quality was decent, but the auto-start-stop system detracted significantly from the smooth shifting of the double-clutch 7-speed. Also surprising was the fact that Mercedes has not followed nearly all other rivals in this segment by switching to pushbutton ignition. While the CLA250 does not have a standard metal key, it still requires a physical object (a rectangular piece of plastic with an RFID inside) to be inserted into the dash in order to start the car; this seems like a strange choice considering the fact that competing vehicles even two categories down have supported “keyless” ignition for some time. Last and most definitely least, I personally am accustomed to console shifters; to have a big covered cupholder where the shifter normally sits felt a bit weird to me, and the electronic column shifter would take some getting used to. Those are the major minuses; on the plus side, the residual value on these cars is excellent, so even a fairly expensive final sticker price may actually turn into a very affordable lease. Overall, I don’t think I’m going to end up buying a CLA250, but I haven’t scratched it off the list yet.

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