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Meet the new car, (not the) same as the old car

The vehicle to the right there probably doesn't strike anyone as being particularly significant; for the most part it's not. Just a basic early 21st century compact Compact Sport Utility Vehicle (CUV or SUV), not too different from half a dozen other similar vehicles we see about a thousand times a day on the streets of our fair cities, 'burbs, and rural roads. Just a fairly basic 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i. Subaru

It has a couple distinctions though. For one thing, it was Motor Trend's 2014 SUV of the Year:

The Forester combines the practicality of a small, wisely engineered SUV with the fun enthusiasts will enjoy. . .The Forester has the right combination of attributes for many SUV buyers, and seems to do the impossible: It has more power than before, with better fuel economy, is fun to drive, offers generous ground clearance, and achieves all this at reasonable prices. The Forester isn't a wagon anymore. When a vehicle does this much and does it this well, it truly earns the title of Motor Trend's 2014 Sport/Utility Vehicle of the Year.

So it's a decent little SUV. And as a matter of fact, it is now not only my primary vehicle, but the final contestant in an almost year-long search for something to take me into the field and back, albeit not quite at the sub-$10k amount I'd intended.

Even more than that, this thing has the distinction of being the first vehicle I've purchased since George Bush was president.

That would be George H.W. Bush.

While my search for a vehicle wasn't quite the saga that Hafner's was (really, you should go read the whole series), it took a number of twists and turns before it culminated last weekend with the purchase of said Subaru. And the whole process really did end up taking a few years from the time I really decided I ought to be getting something and actually doing something about it. That it took so long is, I would argue, a testament to my enduring patience and thoughtfulness. Others may call it indecision and cheapness, but I don't associate with those kind of people (except the Spousal Unit, that is).

At any rate, you may recall from my previous post on the subject that said vehicle had to meet certain characteristics determined by the rigors of archaeological field work:

-- Must be 4WD available

-- Must have reasonable and secureable cargo space

-- Must have some room behind the front seats

-- Decent ground clearance

I was willing to negotiate on some of those, depending on the cool factor. And I almost did. Ferinstance, an acquaintance whose name will go unmentioned *cough*Hafner*cough* mentioned that he might be selling his Audi S6 which almost immediately caught my Car Lust fancy. AWD? Check. Lots of cargo space? Check. Ground clearance? Welllll. . . . . .like I said, some things can be negotiated. Then again, a finicky high-maintenance import (not to mention premium gas and, oh, 16 mpgs on a good day) cause a bit of second-guessing. In the end, it was held in abeyance, ultimately for too long to be really under serious consideration.

The other major factor to consider here was the Spousal Unit. As Spousal Units go, she was pretty typical: "What do you need that for?" ("But. . .but. . .340 horsepower!") And it had to be used because one of the Prime Directives was that I would not be taking a new car into the field. See, I figured taking it out that first time would get the first ding or scratch out of the way right off the bat and then no worries after that. Alas, such impeccable logic seems to be largely linked to the Y-chromosome. 

In essence, I had two options open to me: get something that we would both be happy with and could both drive, or something pretty much field-only. The upshot was that if I went with the latter option I could get off for a few thousand dollars and something reasonably cool (Helloooo, El Camino); for the former, we'd have something more practical and more spendey. What to do?

One event kind of sealed the deal: One day not too long ago her trusty Civic started misfiring on her way home and I ended up getting a call to come get her at the mechanic's a few blocks away. It turned out to be not a big deal -- plugs and wires needed replacing -- but it (pardon the pun) drove home the point that it was still a 17-year old car and starting to reach the point where things would start to go wrong. I'm okay with that (duh, with a 1970s American car I'm surprised when something isn't broken) but she relies on it for commuting daily. Hence, I found I had to set my Car Lust sensibilities aside and look for something modern and reliable (Goodbyyyyye, El Camino).

And so, for the first time since 1990, I girded my loins and entered the world of automobile sales. We had a couple of rules: Had to be 2010 or later, SUV-ish, and reasonable mileage. Following are a few of the contenders with a snarky comment or two:

My first thought was a previous-generation Ford Escape:


Lots of people around here have them and I like the cut of its jib, as it were. It kind of fell by the wayside when I learned of its rear drum brakes (Drum brakes? Really?) and an apparent proclivity to lose its transmission at around 60k miles. Still, it would have looked great out in The Field.


Ah yes, the Rav4. Solid, good reliability and some of them even have a V6! Sadly, up until the latest version it had a swing-out gate in the back. That's bad. Why? When one is on uneven terrain it has a tendency to either close or open on its own depending on the angle you're sitting at. And it doesn't give you a little break from the rain like a lift gate does (see, lots of little things matter out in the field). I couldn't find any really low-mileage used versions of the new ones, so that went out as well.


The venerable Honda CRV. This one almost made the final cut. Matter of fact I was on the verge of buying one and probably would have if someone hadn't snagged it first -- found one with 49 miles on it that they were selling as used for various reasons. I even test drove a 2012. We have one Honda and it's been super reliable and the CRV had all the right bells and whistles. A couple things held me back: my fellow contributors who had experience with them didn't like their 4x4 capabilities, and. . .well, it didn't feel as 'tight' driving it as the Forester did. The AWD system probably would have been adequate for most driving, but we do get into roughish terrain every now and then so I really wanted something reasonably capable. And I trust these guys' judgement. As far as the 'tightness' goes, the CRV felt more like I was maneuvering it rather than driving it. And, if I'm honest, I liked the looks of the previous generation (thru 2011) better. Plus they're as common as dirt around here.


An Acura RDX. Seriously! A dealer nearby had a 2012 with very low mileage and in my price range. That was the first one I test drove, too (I just couldn't help myself). Mama mia, that was nice. Great interior, drove like a car, about the same space as a CRV. Yeah, man, I'd be BMOS (Big Man On Site) driving up in that thing. Sadly, that all came at a price: like 16 mpgs and premium gas to go with that nice turbo 4. Hence, not exactly economical.

But I still managed to come up with a whole host of reasons why none of that really mattered.


The aforementioned Audi S6. Yes, I was seriously considering it. Given all the priorities above, one might wonder why. Well, the seller was trustworthy and I knew he wouldn't rip me off price-wise or with a (known) lemon. And you know, at the price we were batting around, the 16 mpgs and premium gas would probably take a few years to catch up to it. And besides. . . .it has 340 horsepowers. Plus tons of room and legendary Quattro AWD. Not the best ground clearance and apparently they break rather easily and cost a lot to fix, but. . .did I mention it has 340 horsepowers?


Lastly, had I been left to my own devices, I probably would have ended up with a Nissan Xterra. I love these. Still mostly a truck and it looks the part, plus it's probably the most capable off-roader of the bunch. And it's really designed for this sort of work. Alas, the Spousal Unit was rather adamant that it was too big and clunky. I think it would have been perfect were it just me driving it all the time, but it wouldn't have made the best commuter vehicle. Still, I can think. . . .what if. . . .

There were some others that caught my fancy momentarily. One dealer had a nice VW Tiguan for an excellent price, but its cargo capacity was way too small. There was also a white Mistubishi Outlander that would have worked well and I was dying to buy it just so I could put a rising sun decal on each door but it had too many miles on it for its year.

And so, I ended up at the Subaru dealer. They had a couple of low-mileage loaners for a bit over my price range, but they had everything I needed: good cargo capacity, very good mileage, stupidly reliable, and short of a true 4x4 truck one of the better AWD systems. I test drove it and it drove really well, almost car like, much more so than the CRV. And that flat four boxer engine has probably got a million miles in it. And now it sits in my driveway, my first car in 24 years and really the first 'new' car I've ever owned.

As much as I love my Mustang II, at least now I won't feel guilty loading it up with shovels and screens and junk and driving it on gravel roads and hoping it doesn't rain because it has a couple of small leaks. Not to mention going deaf after driving it on the highway for an hour or two.


And so it sits quietly in the garage, now entering its golden years of retirement. I'm planning on keeping it. It's been to a couple of Mustang shows already and gotten two 1st Place trophys, and that while being a daily driver, not to mention being used as a field vehicle every now and then. I'm really looking forward to being able to clean every nook and cranny of it knowing it won't be dirty again the next time I take it on a job. I'm looking forward to giving it the care it deserves after serving me well for the last 24 years. My only fear is that the longer it sits in there not being driven the less I'll think of it, and the memories of what it's like to drive start to slip away, as memories sometimes do. I can't imagine it not being a part of my life, and I don't want to imagine not imagining it either. So we'll see.

Oh, and the Forester doesn't have a name and isn't going to get one either!

Credits: All photos via Wikipedia except for my Mustang and the Forester.

[minor edits for clarity after publication]


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Nice post.
My family is going through a similar search, albeit longer.
Out of curiosity, did ya consider the FJ Cruiser/4Runner/Tacoma Double Cab? I know that some of the reasons why your choices fell wayside may apply to that trio, but still, did ya give 'em a look?

FJ and such were too big (Spousal Unit) and a pickup was right.out. If not an Xterra, a Tacoma would have been one of the other top picks.

Or a big ol' black Bronco. . . .yeeeahhhhh. . . . .

Soooo...did you consider the 2014 Jeep Cherokee? I think you referred to your new vehicle as the Beast. I think that counts as a name.

A FiatJeep? Why no. . . .no, I didn't. "Silly boys, Jeeps are for girls" and all that.

And I believe that was with a small 'b'.

Congratulations on finding the right vehicle. Yes, sometimes it takes a while to get the right one, but perseverance pays off.

I agree that the CRV is more meant for grocery stores than field work. They also share Honda's recent styling trends, which are debatable at best.

Long live the Mustang II. I hope it enjoys its retirement.

I have one of the earliest 2014 Foresters. I bought mine last year, and love it. My only knit-picky thing is I find the cargo space lacking. A baby stroller takes up the whole space! Luggage and camera equipment fill it up pretty quickly too, but other than that I love it.

I call mine Pearl. I took a photo of her last week when I was out on the bluffs in Pescadero, CA. You can see her here if you'd like.

I hope you like yours as well as I like mine.


Thus far my only real complaint is that either the radio or the antenna sucks.

We bought a green 04' Forester new. Now, over 110k, and nothing but new bulbs for the fog lights and scheduled maintenance.. No Regrets. Recently the dash lights are half out, that will be fixed soon.

We will have it for a very, very, very long time.

5 speed manual shifts clean still. It handles like a sporty sedan. We get over 28 mpg, as much as 33 highway.

Solid vehicle. Great for road trips.

So glad we skipped the TDI Jetta. Most folks I speak to love the 40 mpg, not the very high and constant repair bills.

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Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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