Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The changing of the car?

So, I have spent my adult life in warm climes within a stone's throw of the southern end of the Appalachians. Roads have always been smoothly paved and curvy, snow and ice were things that made the news when they happened, and dwelling in the 'burbs made long commutes a fact of life. No more.

Now I'm living in a city in the middle of a state with the topography of a billiard table. The frost-heaved and potholed roads are only a shell crater away from those in downtown Beirut. Everyplace I need to go is within a mile or two of the house, via flat, straight roads on which my car is unlikely to need fourth gear. With its stiff suspension and low-profile tires on butter-soft alloy rims, the Z3 is something of a fish out of water here in my new neighborhood, despite its Sunday-afternoon top-down poseur potential on Broad Ripple Avenue. I'm seriously thinking about cashing it out while it's still got a fair bit of trade-in mojo.

You may have noticed that despite this blog being tagged with the moniker "booksBIKESboomsticks", I haven't done a lot of writing about bikes since the sale of the Zephyr last year. I've noticed it, too. I'm starting to feel the itch. RobertaX is nice enough to offer to let me use her spare scooter, a little Chinese-built 50cc number, but I'd feel a little silly in my Mighty Morphin Power Rangers riding gear on the thing, plus the fact that I'd need to re-learn the whole shift/brake thing on a scooter. Also I want my own bike.

Suzuki's super-motard style DR-Z400SM is calling my name; I think it would be a perfect around-the-neighborhood Urban Assault Vehicle. It's narrow, light, flickable, reasonably priced, and its 400cc single is insanely good on gas if your don't wring its little neck. That leaves the more challenging part: Picking a 4-wheeled vehicle.

I'm looking for something comfy enough for roadtrips, decent on gas, with at least the pretense of being fun-to-drive, and front-wheel drive for the icky season. It should be able to lope to Tennessee, Texas, or Georgia with room enough for long guns. I'd also prefer something with a rep for longevity. It would need to be fairly reasonably priced, with good used examples available in the $3k-$5k range. Perhaps a Saab 9000S? Volvo? Maxima? Who can say?

Anyhow, anybody want to buy a Bimmer?


Anonymous said...

If you plan to stay in Indiana, might I suggest something like a small SUV or crossover. Subaru, Kia, Escape, saturn Vue, etc.

These are mostly dead dull cars to drive, but fulfil your other requirements. And they can tote lots of guns to the range, which is important.

Tango Juliet said...

Honda Accord.

Tam said...

While acknowledging their quality, I must say that I'd rather have my eyeballs eaten by rabid ferrets than drive an Accord (or a Camry, for that matter.) It's just not my particular... idiom.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tam. I've got a DRZ-400, and you're right - it's a great commuter bike. It's got great suspension for soaking up potholes and road ripples, super brakes, and it's tall enough so you can see over most cars.

I'm consistently getting over 60 mpg, and over 70 if I work at it.

My dislikes are minor - I'd like a larger tank (easily purchased aftermarket) and a better headlight.

With the stock tire, which lasted about 4000 miles, mine had a sweet spot at 59 mph where you couldn't feel any engine vibration at all. It's minimal at every other RPM (you can actually use the mirrors, unlike my KLR-650) but at 59 it was glass-smooth, kinda like a CBX.

I think you'd like it a lot....

the pawnbroker said...

umm, come next fall (maybe before that if you end up stranded along an interstate) i'm thinking you will have wished you had went the used 3k route on the bike, and went with a 6k-8k enclosed ride...you just cant't get much in a fuel-efficent japper these days for 3k; and avoid that saab unless it comes with a mechanic in the trunk...jtc

Anonymous said...

Even trade for a 1998 Taurus wagon and a box of 50 .22s? :)

CGHill said...

Count me as a Maxima fan: my overwrought Infiniti is a Maxima with an overlay of glitz. At purchase time, I managed to persuade myself that someone who had paid the long dollar for the I30 might have taken better care of it than your average Nissan owner, and maybe its just-shy-of-pristine condition at 105,000 miles supports this premise; on the other hand, I suspect this conviction cost me a grand or so.

I will testify to this platform's abilities in, oh, East Tennessee.

Anonymous said...

I can heartily recommend a Subaru as an all-wheel-drive vehicle. My wife's summer car is a '97 Miata, and we got her winter car last year, an Impreza Outback. Dog-reliable, long-lasting (my friend has over 230,000 miles on hers), and fabulous winter traction.

If you want something with some zip, try the WRX version. A LOT spendier, but it'll definitely get up and go:


Just the base version Impreza Outback with the 5-speed does just fine for us, and gets right around 30 MPG. You just have to get used to the sound of that flat-opposed-4-cylinder revving up.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

I'll bet you can find a screaming deal on a Daewoo Leganza :)

Seriously though, in the last few years Mazda's been racking up consistent winners in the fun/economy area, as well as Hyundai.

I'd avoid Saab. I'd also avoid Volvo's FWD cars, knowing what I know now after dealing with a friend's 850 (i.e. electronics borrowed from Lucas).

Is a sedan a requirement? Something tell me you'd enjoy a Hyundai Tiburon after you stripped the badging off. They're the late platforms with Delta series engines (reliable) and the car mags were raving about the handling in the 3'rd gen. For that matter, the Elantra is the same car with softer springs...

Anonymous said...

I'll second the Subaru, I've been happy with mine (14 years) here the deep south of New England.

(A Legacy - not Outback- wagon which they no longer make. Bastards.) The recent models have a serious "light rear end" issue in handling which will make a BMW driver crazy though.

The AWD costs you a little fuel , though with the poor snow clearance down south, the AWD+ decent all weather tires are probably a nice combo.

How about a BMW 3 series station wagon? Or since it's not like you need a back seat. the BMW 0 series (aka Mini Cooper)might work. 40-50 MPG and lots of room up front (I'm 6'7" you'll fit, little Miss Tam) - *WAY* fun to drive too.

Anonymous said...

Check Out Kim DuToit's site and see what he bought

Matt G said...

Power Rangers outfit or no, that test rider was playing some dangerous games involving traction and his limbs.

I know that it's out of the price range and everything, but what if you combined the car and the bike?

I want an Atom in the worst way.

JT said...

I think you'd be remiss, being a BMW fan to begin with, in not at least considering that BMW makes some of the best bikes on the road. I (and my dad, and my brother who started the whole thing) have the F650GS dual sport and it's a dream come true. The difference in handling from the Yamaha dual sport that Dad handed down to me was unbelievable - it's balanced so well you can basically steer it with your knees and it'll do whatever you want it to do almost before you can think it up.

250 more cc will net you lower gas mileage than dcjones', but I still get around 50-55, which ain't nothin' to sneeze at these days. And the MSRP is only about $1k more than the DRZ-400.

phlegmfatale said...

Yes, it should definitely lope easily to Texas where lots of people want to buy you beer.

Tam said...

"Check Out Kim DuToit's site and see what he bought"

Wow. An SUV. I'm sure Kim's a swell guy and all, but we're hardly the same demographic. He's a suburban squire, I'm a city-dwelling single chick. He needs to haul compost and drywall, I need to haul ass. I've had more fun watching paint dry than I have had driving one of those "Minivans For Soccer Dads".

Jeff the Baptist said...

Look at Mazda's current lineup or maybe a WRX. Any of the various hatchbacks should meet all your needs for fun and flickable with good cargo capacity.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Hrmm. I poked at carmax for info around your area (they're a good ref to find the "high" end of pricing) and the only thing they had was essentially Bob's car for $6600.

This is an example of a tibby. I'd have bought one if the Daewoo hadn't popped up and that says a lot...

I know it's rather eh but have you considered nah?

Laughingdog said...

While I love my BMW R1150R, I do have to admit that you pay a good chunk more for that extra quality.

If you don't expect to actually offroad with a bike (and I mean real offroad, not unpaved roads), you might want to consider a Suzuki 650 V-Strom or a Kawasaki Versys. They have the extra height you would want for visibility and to absorb the potholes, but they're a lot more enjoyable on pavement. One big plus for the WeeStrom is that it has been around longer, so you would have a lot more options for accesorizing it.

If you have a lot of time to kill before you buy a bike, go check out the Adventure Riders forum (www.advrider.com). You'll find all kinds of opinions on basically every dual sport that has ever existed. I'll warn you about one thing though. If you spend too much time reading ride reports from people in other countries, it's really easy to start thinking (Hey, riding down to the Panama Canal sounds like fun).

Anonymous said...

I'm not the one to ask about bikes, Tam - I had an 86 R65 Beemer for 21 years, and when I sold it last year, I got an 86 R80RT Beemer to replace it (sense a theme here? Yep, I lurves ma Airheads!). Oh, and you can get a very good one for under $3K, easily. They don't wear out, they just run forever. I'm thinking an R65 would do you nicely... check www.ibmwr.org for their classified ads.

As for cars... a friend had a Tiburon until it committed suicide and trashed the computer. $800 to replace it made her get a new car instead. Apparently, this is a known weakness from what she was able to find out.

I'd second the recommendation for the WRX... I'd have bought one except that seats were not um... sized correctly for me and my wife.

Alan said...

How about a truck?

They hold their value well and they're usually better made than a car.

My F-150 is approaching 200k miles and it's still in great shape.

Even city-dwelling single chicks look great in a truck.

Of course the mileage won't be all THAT great but the marginal cost on fewer MPG isn't that much. I probably get about 4 MPG less than your BMW, which is about 4 cents a mile difference at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Suzuki's little 'tard is a blast to ride. If I lived in a city I would definitely own one.

Anonymous said...

OK, so this could prove to be a maintenance-intensive purchase, but how about a BMW E30 AWD (325ix)? They are in that price range and are all-wheel-drive. Buy an extra set of wheels / tires for winter and you are set.

Here's a couple:



E30 = not boring.

Zendo Deb said...

The problem is, you are going to be hard-pressed to find a vehicle that can handle the potholes and still be fun to drive.

Find a used car lot that specializes in restored muscle cars. (Of course you can kiss the "gas mileage" requirement goodbye.)

And you should brace for $4 per gallon - or more - gasoline. It should be here this summer.

Anonymous said...

Turbo Buick?

or for newer any on the newer (early 90's up) FWD Gm product with the blown Buick 6

Jeffro said...

with good used examples available in the $3k-$5k range.

You want cheap, fun and reliable? Pick any two.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

"You want cheap, fun and reliable? Pick any two."

... could... huh. It's not FWD, but 'stang convertibles are pretty reliable beasts and can be made fun(ner) for pennies. Anything but the 3.8 V6 is a good engine :)

I'm still trying to come up with ideas without my own preferences coloring things, and keeping in mind Tam's past experiences. There just aren't that many decent FWD cars that can be described as "fun" that keep to the reliability and sub-5K cost mark. Some cars, like the afore-linked Cavalier ragtop have decent engines (GM's 2.4 is excellent) but lousy interiors... Bodgers.

You know, all the Saturn SL series vehicles I've ever driven were pretty damn fun, but they're all old enough now to start coming up on major maintenance... 200K miles is about the limit on them.

Dammit Tam, you've given us a task :-D

theirritablearchitect said...

"...might I suggest something like a small SUV or crossover. Subaru, Kia, Escape, saturn Vue, etc.

These are mostly dead dull cars to drive

That stung. Not sure if everyone can agree, but my Subie is a BLAST to drive!

alath said...

Another "stay away from the SAAB" vote unless you do your own wrenching.

Don't know whether long guns will fit in the trunk or not, but Mazda Miatas are fun to drive, relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate, and they're reasonably snow-capable. Guess it depends on how long, exactly.

If you do get a Volvo, A-Quality automotive on West 96th street is a good Volvo shop. Good on most imports, actually.

Anonymous said...

My experience with Kia was SO BAD I'd rather walk barefoot on broken glass than get another one. I still have nightmares about it.

Tam said...

It's too bad nearly every 924S/944/968 you see these days is well over the 100k mark on the clock and/or a slushbox. My 924S, with its rear mounted transaxle, wasn't half bad in the ick the few times I tried it...

Dr. StrangeGun said...

!!! Holy cow, an epiphany.

Nissan Sentra?

Dr. StrangeGun said...

Like this one: Link here, Sentra

It's in Jersey, but from the read and the know (I rented one once) it's damn near perfect.

HAHA! Word verification is oojbt. OO, jack booted thug!

Anonymous said...

Used Jeep Cherokee.

NotClauswitz said...

The DR-Z400 is a big improvement over the wind up and spit-you-off flex-chassis DR-350 - and with a set of Pirelli MT-21's on it you can reliably expand uyour riding envelope to include the grassy space between the curb and sidewalk, lawns and medians, and using any bump as a berm to turn.
I can't help you with cars, they make no impression on me, I drive a truck.

Laughingdog said...

I own a Miata. It won't hold most long guns, and it most definitely would not survive pot holes. It's low enough that I have to creep over speed bumps as it is. The sizeable speed bump I hit when visiting DC a few years ago destroyed my right front wheel bearing.

They also don't do very well in snow once it gets deeper than a few inches. It doesn't take much to lift the front end right off the ground, and I know this from experience. Granted, it's cake to drive it in slick/icy conditions...right up until the front end isn't touching the ground anymore.

Comrade Misfit said...

I understand your antipathy towards Honda Accords, but for cars that are decent on gas and with trunk space to carry rifles, they are good choices. Plus, there are a bazillion of them on the road, if anonymity is your bag.

The Civic also works, for the additional 5-10mpg it gets

Anonymous said...

My vote goes for a generic pickup to carry stuff, 2WD with a tall rear for mileage, and a cab-height shell on the bed. A good crotch rocket for fun, which can be carried in the truck if need be.

Adrian K said...


I can see it now! Railing through corners in downtown Indianapolis leaving phat darkies in the corners!

In a more serious vein, they really are great bikes and are surpassed only by the far more expensive KTM StreetMoto machines.

If it weren't for my need to commute 60 miles per day on the bike, I probably would've bought a DRZ-SM (and kept my old bike) instead of buying the V-Strom 650.

theirritablearchitect said...

I think the poor lady is fickle.

Sticking with the Beemer and getting the new bike is a solution to her, er... dilemma, that she needs to look into.

Nothing beats 4WD for getting around in the muck of winter, but I'm thinking our hostess is less than excited about the prospects of driving a pick'emup.

Sporty wagon? Dunno, but I can't see her doing that either. Sedan? NO WAY IN HELL! Econobox? Prolly not.

She likes her RWD sports cars, and she just needs to learn to like the snow and deal, methinks.

So Tam, what is it that you are looking for?

Dr. StrangeGun said...

"I think the poor lady is fickle."

I think someone's suffering from poor reading comprehension.

Rabbit said...

It's not on your criteria sheet, but the Wife bought herself a '05 Merc Mariner a couple of months ago- just came off an executive lease, 30k miles. Premiere (high-zoot) trim level, V-6, FWD, heated leather seats. Got it for a little under 2/3 of the new retail sticker. I like letting someone else eat the depreciation. Took it to ETX a couple of weeks ago and recorded 26+mpg cruising at 70+ on I-20. Last weekend we folded down the back seat and fit 6 Mission-style straight-backed chairs and 2 35 gallon Nalgene carbuoys in it easily enough.

Based on that criteria, you should be able to fit enough arms and IPA in it to get to the Big Bend with a couple of cubic feet left over for 'incidentals'. It also has a tighter turn radius than my Zook truck.


Anonymous said...

An older Toyota 4Runner would fit all of your requirements (except maybe gas, IIRC they get around 20mpg highway). Damn things last about a million miles.

the pawnbroker said...

so, you like those rear transaxles, do you? well, in my toy garage next to my little '54 chev ratrod pickup (we celebrated our 50th birthdays together)...is a '67 vw bug that hasn't moved since '00 when i considered a resto for my then 16yo son...it's the same as that 924 except cosmetics, right?

and then there's a half o' goldwing gl-500 silverwing, also immobile since '00...i think these would be the safest choices anyone has mentioned...:)

...add to that not one but two '71 trail 90's which haven't been run since the boy and i used to podunk around our .22 plinkin' woods in '99...why the hell do i keep all this crap? jtc

Anonymous said...

Whats the year on your Zed 3?

The 944 style rear transaxle is great in the snow, but hard to find one that you can count on for reliable transportation.

The Subaru WRX is fun, and fast, but spendy.

You might want to check out the VW Rabbit, its no Z3, but its reasonably fast and fun to drive. Its also got lots of room for guns in the back.


Anonymous said...

I've had more fun watching paint dry than I have had driving one of those "Minivans For Soccer Dads".

Ow, Harsh.

To each his own. I've driven/ridden in some fine cars. 928S4. 944 turbo. Ferrari Dino. Maserati Tipo 61. Oh, we're going fast. Yawn. Oh, we took that corner really fast. Yawn.

When you're upside down in a land rover sliding down a ravine with a precipitous drop at the end, and you're pretty sure you're gonna die, THAT"s excitement. And it can carry the 3500 lbs of tools I need to do my gig.

And while Kim may live IN the suburbs, at heart, he is more a city dweller than anyone I know.

The Z is a fine car. If you like it, do what midwesterners do. Get a set of "winter" rims and mount tires on them that aren't rubberband thin, and swap them out in the spring.

A car with 100,000 (properly maintained)miles is still a new car. Hell, the Exploder has 295,000, and I fully intend to get another 200,000.

Anonymous said...

KTM is the only name in Motard.

theirritablearchitect said...

"'I think the poor lady is fickle.'

I think someone's suffering from poor reading comprehension."

Dear Dr.,

I'm merely noting here that this isn't the first time that our beloved hostess has brought up the subject, and it seems that she can't settle on a car that she likes. IIRC, it was the, what'd she call it, Atomic Doorstop, or something like that? The first-gen MR2?

She's now going on about how much she misses her old 924? Is that right?

My comprehension is just fine, thanks.

Again, she's fickle.

NotClauswitz said...

If I lived in flatland Indiana I'd get a Crown Vic or Lincoln Marauder with the police pursuit suspension package and some serious motor-work and learn to enjoy all the glorious elbow-room. It would be bitchin' with a 4X4 underneath a lift-kit too, as long as we're fantasizing.

Anonymous said...

MIght as well throw in my 2 wheaties.

Jeep Wrangler (TJ preferably) or a Mini Cooper. Obviously the Jeep is a blast to drive has teh whole 4X4 thing for ssafety and fun, though admittedly has the aerodynamic properties of a brick. That said I still get 20+ mpg on highway roadtrips with my 4.0L I6.

OTOH the Mini is a BLAST, it's tiny, light weight, sips fuel and is insanely fast and stable.It even has space for guns and loads of headroom. Yeah, I think it's RWD, but a couple of bags of kitty litter would resolve any potential problems.

GeorgeH said...

Nothing like a big light thumper around town. . . . on in the dirt either.

The Maxima works nicely and is very friendly to tall people.

Anonymous said...

You should just go for the gusto.



the pawnbroker said...

we have a winner!

tam, xavier has your bike posted...

not sure wtf steampunk is, but it seems to have a snowplow option...jtc

the pawnbroker said...

still think my dead bug and gl would be safer, not to mention googolplex mpg from nonrunning engines...not very fast, though. jtc

Anonymous said...

For 2-wheels, you can't beat the Motard. Great mileage, and the only thing that could outpull me from a stoplight was a Nascar Limited.

Anonymous said...

Sv650 or 599, and a Unimog. ;-)

Grumpyunk said...

There are a lot of nice bikes to pick from now a days and the DRZ would be a perfect Urban Assault Vehicle. I'd have a hard time picking a middleweight bike right now. The SV, Verseys, 675 Speed triple, KTM, the old reliable KLR ..... Lot's of good choices.

You need to venture South 50-60 miles and see the part of Indiana that's not all flat. Draw a line, East to West across the state at approximately the Columbus area and the terrain gets a lot more interesting. There's quite a few nice curvy roads for that Beemer and whichever bike you decide on. Granted, it's not Eastern, Tennessee but there are a lot of nice places to ride.

So bring the BMW South before you sell it. I'd be happy to direct you to a few if you like.
Or get a Gazzetter at WalMart and look there.

Anonymous said...

Careful of the VW and Mercedes products, the last few years have dropped them way deep into the "low customer satifaction/reliability zone" on Consumers Reports.

(Fun to drive though. Nice gearboxes.)

I understand they are climbing outof the reliability pits, but there were a couple of awful years.

Anonymous said...

Tam, keep the Z#, buy an old rusty 4 WD pickup truck, pre-computer if you can find, like an late 70s Chevy or Ford. You can fix them yourself, drive the snot out of them, then park it after the nasty winter, once the potholes are filled and get your speed fix with the Z3. Besides, if you get into a fender bender, who cares? You're a bike person but I've had two friends almost die on them due to car attacks and don't want anything to do with them, you're on your own there

perlhaqr said...

The DR-Z is cool, but for only $800 more, you can have two cylinders and 250 more ccs.

Weighs a hundred pounds more, though. It's my personal feeling that the 650 will be far better suited to long runs on the highway, though, if you're so inclined to such. Thumpers have a nasty habit of flogging themselves to death at sustained high RPMs.

Anonymous said...

Buy the DRz SM I ride with a friend who did one before Suzuki and just bought another actual SM because it was a good buy. I have a KLX650 with decent 70/30 tires to do the SM work as well as dirt/gravel. These things are great in town as well as on any back roads you can find. Just not comfortable for the long haul.

I moved to the "flat lands" of Columbus Ohio. I plan to do some days back in SE Ohio near my old home in New Philadelphia. We do a lot of SM/dual sport back in SE Ohio.

I will tell you I did buy another street bike after moving here - a 550 Zephyr. I wanted something to do some of the crap running around the straight roads of the suburban outskirts of Columbus - I live in Delaware. Great bike, great combination of bikes; a big single (400+) and a smaller mid displacement naked bike. I like the SM look and the old superbike look. You sound a bit like me in those tastes.