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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taking the Dip, Part 1

For the past oh say five years or so I've driven a 2000 Dodge Stratus. I'll put it this way, it was good dependable transportation but ugly as sin. It came complete with shit brown paint, key scratch across the trunk from the RIT parking lot drunks, dent in the door courtesy of a runaway Wal-Mart cart, and a three time perpetually rusty hood. It was a great college car but not so much for a young professional.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on the point of view the dependable part of that comment was going out the window fast. The electrical system took a dump twice and the transmission was doing the patented 100k+ Chrysler bomb. So needless to say it was time to look for new transportation pronto.

So what's to consider? Well there is a myriad of options and choices the biggest one being to determine the budget. Being a budding young professional and a recent college grad all those grand ideas of waltzing into the BMW dealership and picking out the hottest M3 on the lot were quickly dashed. Doing some quick math, adding more bills to small pay = no M3. So after running my numbers I was looking at the sub 20k starter car market.

Another decision was new versus used. I have access to the dealer auctions so I could potentially get a very good deal on a nice car but that also means that I could be buying a lemon that grenades in my face a month later. They are all at the auction for some reason or another in the first place. That's not a terrible gamble to take but living in an apartment with no where to work on it and no other mode of transportation its not practical for me at the moment. I could also watch the private sellers market like a hawk but that takes quite a bit of time and the Stratus was in a rapid decline and for the afore mentioned maintenance consideration at good warranty would be a big plus.

So now we have whittled it down to a new car in the 20k price range. Of course that's just about the biggest market out there with just about every manufacture represented. I was looking for a sporty ride with decent features at a good value. Essentially good economy with a high fun factor.

That list is populated by your regular suspects. From the domestics you have the Cobalt, Focus, and Caliber. The foreign market is pretty dominate here with the Civic, Corolla, and the Mazda 3. Now being that I've been around all manner of cars and the car industry I can go ahead and truncate that list pretty quickly, bye-bye Cavalier II, Fuckus, Bloated Neon, and Crappier Camry.

That leaves essentially the Civic and the 3 both of which I've seen, driven, and worked on at some point or another. Both are fine cars that do well particularly in the sporty department with the SI and Speed3 though I wasn't looking to quite throw down that kind of coin. I'll go ahead and say straight off I'm a bit biased and can't bring myself to own a civic (VTECCCC!) and while I do like the Mazda 3 the current smiley face iteration is a bit much for me. So what's really left? If your keeping count thats none...

I guess that means it's time to look off the beaten path. So who's left? The big three left off the initial list would be Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Subaru. There is also Suzuki, Hyundai, and KIA out there as well.

The Lancer styling is a bit on the over aggressive side in my opinion so it was never really in the running for me and I personally think they feel a bit cheap inside. The Sentra on the flip side was as bit too boring while the Impreza is a bit meh unless you go STI.

The other three have a bit of a bad reputation and I don't know that it's deserved. Hyundai is in the middle of the model updates and the Elantra is outdated. The Suzuki is obviously not sporty no matter what their "Mightier Than The MINI" campaign might tell you (They are really barking up the wrong tree there, did they really expect to take sales away from BMW?). The one thing Suzuki has going for it is that it's cheap so I went to the dealership to at least take one for a drive.

The local Suzuki dealership is actually one of the top volume Suzuki dealers in the USA. So you would think that they would have at least one of pretty much every drivertrain option there is. You would think... I wanted to test drive an SX-4 sedan with a stick in the middle trim level. Of course after the salesman who probably runs 330 lbs ran to about every overflow lot they had twice he came back dripping in sweat empty handed. He was able to find a high trim level with a stick however so we were off anyway.

The car itself is a bit clunky, it looks like someone put it in a vise and squeezed side to side. With a big guy riding shot gun I hit his leg multiple times on the shifts. He also attempted to tell me how it had a sport suspension and speed sensitive steering (I failed to mention to him I went to school for this shit). When I pushed him on what the sport suspension modifications where of course he didn't know.

Needless to say I wasn't particularly impressed, it felt like the car was top heavy with a lot of body roll, the styling was boring, the features were just ok, and it wasn't really even that much cheaper than the other options. So with the SX-4 essentially crossed off the list it was time to head over to the KIA dealership of the same ownership across the street.

Now I had seen the Forte come across the various automotive news sites and it was cool but I had the KIA bias in my head and pretty much dismissed it. I had't seen it in person until I went to the dealership that day. At first I just assumed that the Koup was outside of the price range similar to the SI or Speed 3. By definition cars in this class at that price are supposed to be boring right? I was wrong, they had about 20 EX Koups on the lot at the time, mainly in the medium red metallic "Spicy Red" and silver "Bright Silver Metallic". Of course being the picky person I am I was looking for a Spicy Red 5 speed with a dark interior and of course they didn't have one so it was going to have to be one with a stone cloth interior instead for the test drive.

So big boy goes and gets the keys and goes to start it, of course... CLICK... CLICK... So he gets the jump box and gets it started, being its low on gas we have to make a stop. We pull in and of course the moron shuts it off, fills it up and tries to restart it and... CLICK... CLICK... What now? He left the jump box at the dealership. Cue the benefits of a manual... Yes I was pushing a brand new car across a parking lot to bump start it.

The drive was good, we headed down a back road so I could get a better feel. It was responsive, it had a nice weight to the wheel. The transmission was ok, wasn't terribly bad it traffic. Has great standard features, full wheel controls for cruise and stereo as well as bluetooth. Also comes with standard ipod connection and sirus radio. Being an interior person I was impressed with the quality of the buttons, they didn't feel like they were going to fall off on use and had a nice positive feel on position change. Is it better than the Civic or the Mazda 3? No, it's not but it's attractive, it drives well, at least for the moment its unique, and at the price point it's a better value being a few thousand less than those cars similarly equipped.

It was a done deal, I was getting one... Now originally I had settled on a Spicy Red EX 5 speed with the black cloth interior. After calling around they found one in West Virginia, a day later they call back saying its spoken for but they had one in my other color of choice, Corsa Blue. So it was, I was about to be the new owner of a 2010 Forte Koup.

Watch for Part 2, The more in depth 3 month review!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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