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$100,000 Fantasy Garage Challenge: Nathan of Brainfertilizer Fame

Let's start off with the cars my family needs:

2014 Mazda6:

Mazda_6_2013_MIASThis very nearly was a 2010 Mazda6.  I love my current daily driver car.  It has plenty of power, plenty of room for 4 adults on long trips, handles amazingly well, looks nice, and is generally very satisfying to drive in almost any circumstance.  However, the rules state you have to have one brand new car, and after thinking long and hard, I decided my daily driver would be the best choice to select a brand new vehicle.  The main reason for the upgrade is that the brand new Mazda6 looks nice, has plenty of interior room, has plenty of power, and handles just as well as my 2010...but with the SkyActiv technology, its gas mileage improves by nearly 30%.  To have a non-hybrid family sports sedan that gets 38 mpg highway is very exciting to me, because I am not a fan of the massive batteries necessary for hybrids: the environmental impact of creating, storing, and disposing of the battery pack really bothers me, and I don't like the idea of having to spend several thousand dollars to replace the batteries to keep the car in less than 10 years.

So this will be my daily driver.

I'm usually a base-model kinda guy, as long as it isn't a completely stripped down base model.  Automatic transmission, air conditioning, and a music system are my minimum requirements, and the base model Mazda6 has those.  I don't like a bunch of other options, because gadgets break, and many of the appearance upgrades (spoilers, alloy wheels, fog lights, etc), leave me unmoved.

This takes $23,290 from my spending limit, leaving $76,710.  So far, so good.

2012 Ford Explorer:

Sometimes you need to haul as many people in one vehicle as you can, so you need an SUV with a 3rd-row seat.  Sometimes you want to take a cross-country camping trip.  Sometimes you need to haul some furniture, or building supplies, or garage sale objects that you can't fit in a sedan.  Sometimes you want to pull a trailer, be it a storage trailer or camper trailer (after you get tired of camping trips).

2012_ford_explorer_4dr-suv_xlt_fq_oem_1_500To handle all these functions in one vehicle, you need an SUV.  I have a 2002 Ford Explorer, and it has done a great job of all these things for us, and we take advantage of those functions too often to be able to depend on renting one on occasion.

Moreover, my wife just started driving a few years ago at the age of, well, let's just say she is no longer in her 20s .  She prefers sitting a little higher, and feels safer in a larger vehicle.  For all these reasons, I decided to go with a Ford Explorer.

I went with the 2012 year model because of all the years, it gets the best gas mileage (18/28).  I thought about getting the eco-boost 4cyl, but I'm a little nervous about towing trailers with it.  The 6-cyl can tow enough, however, since a 5th-wheeler is not in our plans.

There are conceivably 2012 models still on sale for new, but I decided I couldn't depend on that, and went with a used 2012 with 12,000 miles.  That shouldn't be too hard to find.  The NADA value with 3rd row seat, 6 cyl AWD (because: snow and other poor driving conditions), and towing package takes my spending limit down another $30,500.



I've already spent more than half my windfall!  I'm down to $46,210.  However, I've got the necessary daily drivers, so now I can start having fun and start fulfilling some of my more unusual car lusts. Now we get into the significantly used cars.

Since we are required to pay for cars at the NADA Clean Retail, I'm going to assume the cars have been well-maintained and look pretty good, i.e., no body damage, no coolant problems, no significant paint damage, regularly maintained according to schedule, etc.  Any of the cars could be ready to go bad at any moment, but at the time of my purchase, they will be in drivable condition, and impressive appearance (little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays).

Nathan's MiatasNow that my basic needs are met, there are times you need to put a picnic basket in the storage space of a two-seater, drop the top, and take the love of your life on a picnic.  For me, there is only one car to choose for that: a 2005 Mazda Miata Mazdaspeed.  I'm not really a big fan of convertibles, but even I can admit there are times you need one. The Miata does everything the more expensive roadsters do, but for less.  Still, I'm choosing it mainly for the driving experience: It is just plain fun to drive, so there is no need to spend more.  I picked "2005" at random...not too new, not too old.  I can get the MazdaSpeed, hardtop w/ manual transmission for fun on the twisties...and the  NADA price is $11,675, which drops me to $34,535.

There was a car I drove once as a rental.  I was extremely impressed with the driving experience, and the fuel efficiency.  It might be a little too small to take a long trip with four adults, and it mightMazda3_2006 not be comfortable enough for a daily driver (especially with no fuel savings bonus compared to the SkyActiv Mazda6), but if it is just me or me and my wife for a trip to the mountains, this might be a nice alternative to the 6:  A 2006 Mazda3s.  4-door, 2.3l 4-cyl, electronic options plus standard transmission.  I just like the look, and it was fun to drive in a way different from either the Miata or the Mazda6.  I chose 2006 so that it wouldn't be too old but would still save money compared to the newer generation...but to tell the truth, I like the driving experience of this generation better than the one that followed in 2010.

Subtract $8,925, leaving $25,610.

Four cars, three of them Mazdas.  Sensing a trend?

2002_mazda_626_sedan_lx-v6_rqn_evox_1_150Yep, I'm a Mazda fanboy.  It all started with one car for me.  I had respected Mazda before ever owning one (due to the ravings of various friends), but my purchase at that time was mainly due to it being a below-market-value deal I couldn't resist.  After buying it, however, I fell in love with the driving feel, with the extra room (compared to the Toyota Corolla), and most importantly: the swinging air-conditioning vents.  The only thing I didn't like about it was that it hadn't aged well in appearance; the paint had faded and was starting to scale off.  But at least once every week, I see newer models that still look virtually new, even after more than a decade.  So now that all my driving needs are met, I want to indulge myself and revisit my first Mazda love, but a pretty one: the 2002 Mazda 626.

2002_mazda_626_sedan_lx-v6_fqn_evox_1_150This is a true car lust.  There are better cars.  There are faster cars.  There are bigger cars.  There are more fuel efficient cars.  There are prettier cars.  There are more reliable cars.  There are, arguably, cars that are/were better in all these aspects, even in the time period the 626 was being sold.  I don't care, I love it.

I love how it felt driving it.  Sure, my Mazda6 is even more fun to drive...but the 626 was my first love.  Not even close to a "poor man's BMW", but it was still the first car that I enjoyed even doing something as simple as turning a corner or decelerating to exit the freeway. When I see one in good condition on the roads these day, I'm struck by how the shape still looks good enough to be new now.  That was the first year with the permanently-clear tail-light covers, and that contributes to the nice appearance years later.  I fancy it looks very similar to the Toyota Avalon and the Lexus version of the same car...maybe even compares favorably. 

So: 2002 Mazda 626, 4cyl auto base model.  That sets me back just $4,350, leaving me $21,260.  Time for another used Mazda!

800px-98-02_Mazda_MilleniaThis time it will be the 2001 Mazda Millenia S.  To this point, I have definitely been light on the luxury, and in my opinion, the Millennia fits the bill.  Sure, it has some problems, but it looks nice and was the only production car in history (well, until just recently) to have a Miller Cycle engine.  What's a Miller Cycle engine, you ask?  What is it good for, you also ask?  Dunno.  But it sounds cool. 

And per Edmunds.com:

The supercharged 2.3-liter V6 in the Millenia S makes 210 horsepower at 5,300 rpm and 210 foot-pounds of torque at 3,500 rpm. Mazda says powertrain improvements have given the Millenia smoother transmission shifts and the Millenia S better acceleration. Acceleration is strong, and because of the Miller-cycle supercharged design, gas mileage remains frugal.

It really wasn't that great of a car, and it really didn't succeed in competing with Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, or even the Nissan Maxima...but it was unique, and all the more special for being so.  I sat in one once (and probably would have purchased it if the engine hadn't been running badly), and it left an impression of comfort and style.  Since there are plenty of lust-worthy cars that really aren't all that successful at what they are supposed to do, this will be mine.

It sets me back $5,125, leaving $16,135.

I started thinking about the ultimate driving experience.  The Mazda RX-8 has been named one of the best cars to drive because of its amazing handling.  It achieves that top-notch handling with a small engine that helps shift the weight center, providing a 50/50 front/rear weight balance.  But I couldn't choose it.  I'm not slavishly committed to the best fuel efficiency, as you can see by my choices above, but something in me choked on selecting a car that only gets 16/25 from a 1.3l engine. 

In my profile (which needs to be updated since I have found family sports sedans that excite me in Mazda), I mention that I lose self-control when confronted with a poor-man's BMW.  Well, since the 50/50 front/rear balance driving experience is a hallmark of BMW, why not get a *real* poor-man's BMW? 

A used BMW, I mean.

2001_bmw_m3_coupe_base_fq_oem_3_500And if poor mileage is a hallmark of pure driving machinese with 50/50 weight balance, why not get some truly impressive performance for the sub-par fuel efficiency?

So for a pure driving experience, my final car is a 2003 BMW M3 Coupe.  I chose the 2002 because that's the generation with the appearance I like best, and according to NADA, the 2003 model M3 came only in a convertible, and I already have one.  I don't like convertibles enough to need more than one. 

It was only after selecting the 2003 BMW M3 that I checked the price out on NADA.

Luckily, it came to $16,075.  Just under the wire, leaving me $60.  Just enough for a nice meal for two.

--Nathan of Brainfertilizer Fame

Photo credits:

2012 Ford Explorer, 2002 Mazda 626, and 2001 (it's all they had) BMW M3 Coupe: Edmunds.com.  Moreover, the 2002 Mazda 626 photos are the property of Evox Images, used under "fair use" principles.

2014 Mazda6, 2004/5 MX-5 Miata Mazdaspeed, 2006 Mazda3, and 2002 Millennia: Wikipedia

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I never thought I'd be a Mazda fan, but I now have two of them.

Let's hope the next Miata will also be the best sports car bargain on the market.

I do wish Mazda would retire their huge wheel flair designs.
Really, the once trim Miata's flanks now look like Meg Ryan's lips.

Come on guys, sports cars are supposed to be trim...and I don't think anyone is putting drag slicks on the front of an MX-5.


Hmmm...
I kinda like the wheel flare design.

I've got an '05 Mazda3 5 speed hatch and a '10 Saturn Outlook, so you and I are on a similar page.

I love my Mazda3 except how it's is rusting away. Very dissapointed in that, but it looks great, handles great, has enough power and gets decent MPG.

GMs 3 row CUVs are a better bet than the Explorer, in my opinion. A bit roomier inside (a 3 person 3rd row) and a bit better on towing (5,200 vs. 5,000). The eco boost 4 cyl Explorer is a great idea, but doesn't tow much. You have to get the V6 to get the 5K towing.

A real towing powerhouse in this segment is the new V8 Durango which will go to 7,500 lbs. I think it's even less roomy than the Explorer. To be fair, I think they all aren't that far apart.

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