There are lots of things I’d rather do than go through the process of buying a new car, too many to count. Heck, it seems to me some enterprising entrepreneur could make a boatload of money by creating an on-demand service for car purchases including everything from trade-in appraisal to test drives and financing, all from the comfort of your house even on weeknights and weekends.
It would be worth it to somebody like me who does not like the sheer amount of time required to make a car deal.
However, I bought a new car this week as the headline suggests, and I’ve never been happier with a big-ticket purchase save a couple of details. The key to a positive car-buying experience in my experience is in knowing what you want and what you don’t and not letting anybody steer you off course.
Most of all, I didn’t want to settle.
That’s what I feel like I did in procuring my second lease with Honda, a dark blue CR-V, a decision made on the strength of my experience with the first Honda I leased from Honda, a white pearl 2012 model. I loved that white CR-V, especially with a beige interior: it was always bright inside, like having a mobile sun room. The dark blue CR-V with a dark interior felt like a clone of my previous vehicle without the aesthetic I liked in the original.
Overall, my experience leasing was positive. I got lower payments with no hassle at the end of the term, and I ended both leases early. No penalties. No pain. The primary drawback was in not having equity in a vehicle when it came time to make a trade-in. If you’re just going to go back to the dealership every three or four years for a new car, you’d be better off leasing. You’re going to fight depreciation either way, and you’ll pay less per month with the lease.
With a week of vacation ahead of me, I was ready to begin my quest.
After nearly a dozen car-buying experiences over the years, I’ve found that the best salespeople are those who listen to me describe my vision for a new vehicle and deliver on it. They focus on what I’m telling them with regard to the vehicle. My first salesperson on Friday night mostly wanted to know about me, my family and my interests.
He might have learned that in Sales 101, but I was there for a test drive not a date.
Not that a relationship with a dealership is a bad thing; it’s just best predicated on service after the sale. That’s one reason I leased twice from my Honda dealership in Norman, Oklahoma. Their service department is fantastic, and they have an awesome li’l cafeteria inside of it. However, I had recently decided that I was probably going to look beyond Hondas for my next vehicle because I found their latest designs to be a major step backward for them. I feel like the CR-V is one step from being the Pilot and the new Pilots are one step from the Odyssey.
My goal for this purchase was to buy a car that I’d pay off in five years and wear out over the course of 15 years and 300,000 miles. What did I want in a new vehicle? It had to be AWD because I plan to drive it in all sorts of weather, and it would need to score well on Consumer Reports because I have super high confidence in them. I wanted a light-colored vehicle with a bright interior. I also wanted something both roomy and sporty, and I wanted it to have some character. I was determined not to impulse shop and to test drive several vehicles although I had eliminated most brands based on taste and Consumer Reports research.
Because I liked my peeps at the Honda dealership, I was going to give them a shot at a sale. And I wanted to test drive a truck. But mostly, I had my eyes on a Subaru Outback. They’re the most popular non-truck AWD vehicles on the road in terms of safety and customer satisfaction, and as I learned during my summer trip to Portland, they’re awfully popular in Oregon.
My first salesman at the Subaru dealership in northeast Oklahoma City was all of 22 years old. It was his first sales gig after spending some time as a lot porter back in Kansas. He chatted me up and went the sales-101 route by trying to get to know me. Instead of going all-grumpapotomus on him, I cut the kid a break and talked to him, explaining that I wanted a car that I could travel cross country in, all weather, all terrain — a car built for adventures.
I was in the right place, a Subaru dealership, and I test drove a Crosstrek and two Outbacks, a basic one and a fancy one. It’s easily the nicest, most luxurious car I’ve driven with any intention of buying, and as a bonus, the headlights were fantastic at night. I’m told the new 2018 Subarus have LED headlights, which mean much better night-driving visibility. They also have lane-departure detection and adaptive cruise control so that drivers can use their cruise in the city. Essentially, the new Subarus are one step away from driving themselves.
So, I talked to the finance guy, and I told he and the salesman that I’d be in touch on Saturday after I visited a couple other dealerships. This was an honest statement although there were some extenuating circumstances that made me pretty sure I wouldn’t be buying from them that are neither here nor there for the purpose of this blog.
I stayed up until 1:30 that night, combing through Consumer Reports. Did you know the highest-scored vehicle right now is the Toyota Highlander? I did not know that, and I was still not interested in the Highlander. Aesthetically, the only Toyota that does anything for me is the FJ Cruiser.
In reality, at this point, I had my heart set on an Outback.
I got up bright and early on Saturday, and I gulped down my favorite coffee, the French Roast flavor from Walmart (seriously underrated). I headed to the local Norman-area Ford dealership and met a salesman named Jeremy. He’s new to the area, having moved here from Wisconsin. I’m pretty sure I talked him up more than vice-versa, selling him on the greatness of Norman. He let me drive an F-150 and an Explorer — and the F-150 greatly impressed me.
The Ford F-150 drives like a luxury mid-sized vehicle. So smooth.
I didn’t want to drop $40,000-50,000 for a decked-out new vehicle, and I wasn’t looking at used vehicles at this point. They weren’t out of consideration by any means. Nevertheless, color me impressed with the F-150. It absolutely does not drive like a truck. In terms of truck design, I like Chevy models much better (Silverado), but they don’t score nearly as well in Consumer Reports as do the Ford trucks. Not close, really, and it was enough of a difference, for me, to eliminate the Chevy.
As much as I liked the F-150, I disliked the Explorer. It wasn’t smooth at all; it drove like a tank. What made me even look at it was a design that reminded me some of a Range Rover. I find the Range Rover to be very aesthetically pleasing.
After 90 minutes at the Ford dealership, I drove next door to my Honda dealership to give the incumbent a chance. My first test drive was a Ridgeline, and I could have pulled the trigger on this truck right then save for two things: price point ($40,000-plus decked out) and cargo space. No, I didn’t love the exterior design of the Ridgeline, but the inside was wonderful, and it was a smooth ride.
My salesperson at the Honda dealership is a master mechanic who had wanted to get into sales. Teddy was quite affable, and he let me test drive a CR-V, too. He was also a big Ridgeline fan and owned an older model. The new CR-Vs weren’t close to the Outback for my taste although the CR-V technically outscores the Outback in Consumer Reports. I liked the fact that Teddy was a mechanic. It gave him serious credibility in my book.
After driving an Outback and a CR-V within a 24-hour period, I knew I wanted a Subaru. I knew it before; I was sure of it now.
What I didn’t know was what would happen when I arrived at a Subaru dealership in southwest Oklahoma City right after lunch, an hour-long thinking-and-eating session at Golden Corral. As I tore through some meat loaf and mashed potatoes, the salesman from the first Subaru dealership texted me, asking me when I’d be up that afternoon. I asked him if he could find me a blue Outback with a cream interior. Our conversation went from there to price point and then eventually to monthly payments with him saying my “presence would be my leverage.”
That’s the kind of tactic that turns me off, even though I’m virtually certain that he got that line from somebody about 10-20 years older. Based on my initial conversation with him Friday night, that didn’t fit his personality at all.
That’s OK. I wasn’t headed up there anyway. My next stop would be my last, the second Subaru dealership of the past two days, this one in southwest Oklahoma City.
I was met by a young fellow in his late 20s, a guy named Steven. He had plaques all across his office because he’s been salesman of the month pretty much every month over the past three years, and I’m not kidding. I went looking for plaques in other sales offices: there were none. He won all of them.
Steven asked what I wanted in a car. He didn’t ask about me, my family, my interests, etc. After I told him what I wanted: AWD, roomy, sporty and bright on the inside, the best value, he recommended we look at a Forester before making a final decision. I hadn’t liked the Forester to this point, especially on the outside. Because the Forester is the model right underneath the Outback in terms of price point, Steven suggested we look at it first and then finish with another Outback.
What struck me about the 2018 Forester on the outside was that it’s not as boxy as its predecessors. On the outside, it appears small, but it sits nearly an inch higher off the ground (8.7 inches) than does the CR-V (7.8) and is comparable in terms of cargo space (79 to 74 cubic feet).
What immediately appealed to me once I was in the driver’s seat was how bright it was inside. That’s because the 2018 Forester has a massive moonroof. I call it a skylight. In the voice of President Trump, say it with me: “It’s huuuuuuuuge!”
(By the way: that’s not width. That’s length. The Forester’s moon roof goes from the front of the vehicle to the back seat.)
As I was driving the car, it was starting to register with me that I liked it. A lot. We talked features and compared it to the Outback. Everything available in one was available in the other, including those awesome LED headlights for superior night driving. And, as we discovered in a nearby parking lot, the 2018 Forester can turn on a dime.
It felt sporty. It drove like a smaller vehicle, and it reminded me of what it might be like to drive a mini Range or Land Rover. My girlfriend, Kristi, later noted that she had seen the same comparison between the Forester and one of the Rovers in a blog somewhere. Wheras the higher-end Outbacks had heated leather steering, the 2018 Forester Limited (one step from their Touring model) had a wheel that felt like a go-cart.
That wasn’t a bad thing. Nostalgia.
Steven and I disembarked the Forester for the Outback, and it soon hit me. I really liked the Outback. It’s perfect for all-weather driving, and it’s as luxurious as any vehicle on the planet. But the 2018 Forester had won me over on its sportier characteristics and its massive moon roof.
The salesman had listened to what I wanted in a vehicle, and he showed me that vehicle despite me leading him more toward another model.
As we were going through the paperwork dance, I asked him about all his awards. I asked him if they were for real, and he said they were. So, I followed that question up with, “So, how do you stay competitive like that month after month after month? How do you stay motivated?”
Steven took a family photo from behind his desk, one showing him, his wife and a baby.
“It’s easy. Them,” he said.
Steven doesn’t know me from Adam, but for me, that was such the right answer. It wasn’t about him; it was about somebody else. He explained that his sales strategy is to keep the conversation, initially, strictly about the car. As I thought back to him showing me the Forester, we didn’t chit-chat about him, me, the weather or football. He showed me the car’s features in detail, starting with a tour outside the vehicle, pointing out everything from the back end to the front.
I knew the Forester was well thought of. In Consumer Reports, it scored as highly as the Outback.
What I sensed almost immediately was that while Subaru was absolutely the brand for me this go-round, the Forester was the model, not the Outback. It drives and parks like a small car, has room like a big car, handles snow like a champ and aesthetically hits all the marks for me, especially with the massive skylight that brings the bright vibe my 2012 Honda CR-V once had.
My intention is that I’m not buying another car until I’m 60, and that’s 13 years away. I’m confident that I’ve bought something that will not only last that long but that I’ll like throughout.