Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

New car

I bought a new car last night. And I don’t mean I bought a replacement for the Subaru – this is a second car. And I don’t mean I bought a new-to-me car off of craigslist with 100K on the odometer. I mean I bought a brand new car off the dealer lot with ten miles on the odometer. It’s both scary and neat.

I got a 2008 Toyota Yaris liftback. It is black sand pearl, 4-speed automatic, AC, power locks/windows/mirrors, the cold-weather package (heavy duty heater, starter, daytime running lights), ABS, side curtain airbags, and the stock AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo. The Yaris doesn’t have much latitude as far as options on vehicles sitting on lots, and pretty much all of the ones we found in Denver were either this build, or this build minus the power package. The reason for this car is that when I’m commuting in the Subaru, Sarah will be walking to work, but sometimes needs the car for an appointment or a meeting across town, or to get to the airport at 6AM, so a second car makes that much easier. And we don’t need a huge car with every luxury that we could drive across the country every other month and haul 500 miles of lumber and a fridge in the back. We just need an around-the-town deal, and the Yaris is that.

The Yaris is tiny. It is very narrow, very short wheelbase, and very low to the ground. Despite this, the interior is very roomy. I have tons of headroom, even when I am in the rear seat, which is surprising. The car is also set up so the metal is very low around you, and there’s a lot of glass at eye level. The visibility is much better than the Subaru all around. The oddest thing is that the instruments are in a tiny pod in the middle of the dash, so there’s nothing in the dash in front of you. It actually opens up as a glove compartment, and the passenger has two gloveboxes. There are also flip-open drink holders in the dash, plus a center console and holders in the doors. Lots of places to put junk. The bad this is, when you’re driving at night, you instinctively look for the lit dash above the steering wheel, and it isn’t there. Very weird.

There’s a 1.5L engine with 16 valves and some weird proprietary electronic valve breathing monitoring whatchamacallit that promises better performance. It’s not a bad car as far as pep goes, but it gets 44 MPG highway, which is the real benefit. The engine is really crammed into the front, and the hood is like a foot long, so they really shoehorned into there. There are a lot of other engineering feats, like all-electronic steering, and the throttle control is electronic. Looking in the engine bay, which is the size of a glovebox in an SUV, it’s a work of art to see what they crammed in there.

Downsides – well, there’s no trunk. There is a hatch, but seriously, the Fiero has as much cargo space. The Subaru has a lot of power and convenience things that this car doesn’t (keyless entry, trip computer, tachometer, etc.) but you can’t expect that for the price point. The car drives well, but it’s small – it’s a lot ‘quicker’ as far as steering response and handling, so it’s different. It’s not as quiet on the highway, either. But for the around-the-town puttering, it’s excellent.

The paperwork and finance side of things really had/has me nervous. We seriously talked about going to buy a car at noon yesterday, and I had the keys and was pulling off the dealer lot at 9:00. Part of that is that we just wanted something simple and cheap, and didn’t feel a need to test drive 400 cars and search the country for the exact trim level we wanted. Part is it was that you can very easily research this crap online. And part of it was that the Toyota internet sales people were very helpful and to the point, and it was a very no-bullshit experience. We narrowed it down to one dealer with two cars, identical except in color, we drove it around the block, and the paperwork started.

Because Sarah financed the Subaru, the decision was that I’d finance this one. As a point of reference, the last car I owned was a 1978 VW Rabbit with a dented in side, covered in rust, and I dumped it for $100 when I moved in 1999. I did lease a two-year-old car (no thanks to Evergreen Ford in Issaquah), but I’ve never bought a new car. But the guy plugged in my numbers, and my credit score stunned me. I went through college dealing with creditors and going into credit card debt, and then spent years after trying to pull together my debt. Prior to the car purchase, I had $12 in total debt on my report, and a credit score in the highest tier, which meant I could have picked any car off the lot if I wanted to. But I took the cheapest one, and after saying no a thousand times to the finance person, I got out of there for about $15,000 damage.

The Toyota guys were very nice though, and it was almost an in-and-out deal, with no real hitch. But seriously, buying something that big and then taking out a brand new car with almost nothing on the odometer was very daunting. I still can’t believe I did. The rub though is that I’m not the one driving it – I will be putting the miles on the Outback starting Monday. But the Subaru gets 30 MPG highway, so that isn’t a huge punch to the nuts.

As an aside, with this Yaris, why would anyone buy a hybrid? This seriously has as much space as a Prius, but costs half as much. It gets about 5 MPG less, but is also classified as an ultra-low emission vehicle. It doesn’t have a hybrid badge on the side, so you can’t brag to people about how you’re saving the universe. But it also doesn’t have eleventy-million parts and pieces and components and batteries and everything else that will break, and that cost both money and environmental erosion to produce. I should make some “My car was cheaper than your Prius (and gets close to the same mileage)” stickers, and start selling them on the Yaris message boards.

OK, gotta add a car to the insurance, get a spot in the parking garage, then go for a nice drive. Did I mention this has an Aux jack for your MP3 player? That’s basically the only feature I really need.