The Hunt for Red October Silver Subaru

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The year was 2015, the faithful BMW’s motorplan was about to expire and I just changed jobs with a handy boost in income so the way forward was crystal clear: time to buy a new car!

Little did I know the hunt that is to come would rival that of submariners trying to track down a revolutionary stealthy opponent deep underwater. It started off easy enough as I’ve been eyeing the new BMW M235i for quite a while and the thought never even occurred to me that my next vehicle would be anything other than something from BMW’s stable, ideally an M235i, worst case scenario a 328i (even though I’ve only ever had 6 cylinder BMW’s and could not imagine the horror of switching away from it).

A couple of online searches and some telephonic inquiries to my trusty dealership later and it was patently obvious that I accidentally drove my current car past warp factor 5 and popped through to another dimension where cars suddenly cost about 60% more than 5 years earlier when I bought my second BMW, a 325i, virtually brand new.

Now I may have been tempted to stretch my finances to the ridiculous price tags in the name of fun not that long ago, but this became a matter of principal: I will not have any residual, I will not pay double what I was then paying per month to finance my car and if BMW cannot stoop to my level I will not be buying my third BMW.

Once that determination / disappointment hit home another unexpected thought dawned on me: “hey, if it’s not going to be an awesome rear wheel drive sedan or coupe it might as well be an SUV”. I like the outdoors and I have one of those matrimonial units (aka a wife) that’s all the rage nowadays, why not?

I set some strict limits for myself before embarking on this journey:

  1. it must be a 4wd SUV, not because I’m planning to go off-road much, but rather because I genuinely despise the handling characteristics of any front wheel drive car (BMW driver for the past decade, hello)
  2. it must be German or Japanese, lord I could harp on about why, but just trust me on this one ok?
  3. it must cost R400k or less, either new or used, didn’t really matter

So I arranged three test drives, thinking this will be over quickly and I’ll be driving my SUV soon, I took my favourite, the Mazda CX-5 Akera, for a spin first … big mistake, I’ll explain why later.

It’s a very sleek looking machine like most things Mazda produces these days, here’s an example:

In summary: Excellent vehicle, handles amazingly well on the road and has plenty of power, the interior is by far the best of the bunch, there really is only a single criticism I have for this great SUV … it is too damn expensive! (over R500k and the facelift just came out, used options were non-existent or the dealers were hiding them very well)

So off we went to the next one on the list, the new Nissan Qashqai (1.6 dCi 4wd), interior felt like lesser quality compared to the CX-5, but the price was vastly better and it has as many gadgets, if not more. The wife fell out of love with the exterior design instantly when she saw it in person, I still kind of like it. The nail in this one’s coffin was the gearbox however, there is no manual option just like with the CX-5, but unlike the CX-5, this thing is piss poor at guessing what I’m trying to do behind the wheel. Shifting up and down at the strangest moments and under hard acceleration from standstill it literally took about half a second of thinking before suddenly lurching forward in an undignified fashion. Thanks, but no thanks.

The third of my initial test drives was the Toyota RAV4, much, much better looking than the last generation. The salesman was the first to make some effort, knew his product well and made me a decent offer. The RAV4 handles well enough, and it is quite big compared to its competition. Sadly you’d need to fork out another 100k or so to get the VX over the GX model, the GX has a good old hard Japanese plastic interior that just doesn’t make the grade and though it handles well enough, it wasn’t exactly an inspiring drive. It dawned on me that the CX-5 set my expectations impossibly high, if you want to test a couple of similar cars; save the best for last rather.

So at this point I was fed up and disappointed, I also had to hop the pond to London for a bit and didn’t have time for the hunt. I spent some money instead on settling the BMW’s loan and extending its motorplan by a year. Fast forward to 2016 and the hunt for my SUV had to continue, that BMW motorplan would just expire again.

I’ve never really liked the VW Tiguan, but by now I was getting desperate enough to consider all remaining options.

Traditional VW build quality, solid car, wife hated the styling even more than me, next!

The new Suzuki Vitara got onto my radar at exactly the right time, I was running out of ideas and suddenly there was a Japanese, 4wd SUV that cost less than R400k even brand new! I like the Evoque-like styling a lot and the Vitara GL+ ALLGRIP is a great handling car, if only I didn’t hit the highway on the test drive … it really made it clear that there is a lack of power and to be fair to the others I tested, the Vitara’s interior is very basic. Still, I was going to buy this car, I really was.

I just had to test one well known SUV that seems to have a cult following, the Subaru Forester. Personally I like the styling of the newer and smaller XV more, but the wife wasn’t sold on it so we booked a Forester. Arrive in person and what do you know, the wife suddenly agrees with me on the styling, so off we went in the XV instead. Women can be so mystifying …

While the XV is also not the quickest of the bunch, it has that pinch of extra torque to make the highway less painful. It’s interior can’t rival the CX-5, but it easily beats the basic RAV4 and Tiguan models as well as the Vitara. Handles well, nice ground clearance and of course Subaru doesn’t waste time with building front wheel drive cars. Long story short: I bought one!

I also took as scientific approach to the whole car hunt as possible, because an excellent motoring journalist (ex editor of Car Magazine, Hannes Oosthuizen) made an astute observation at a lecture I’m glad to have attended: there are no bad cars being made anymore.

So it’s up to you to figure out what makes the difference to you personally. I put weightings to the factors I deemed most important and slapped it all into a spreadsheet even. Here it is.

Hell I even started a discussion on a popular, know-it-all, IT forum on the topic.

Painful as it all was I’m glad I went through the effort, I’m still very happy with my choice half a year later and turning into quite a Subaru fan to boot. It really can go anywhere provided you have the guts to ask it.

All I need now is something to provide the thrills I lost when I let the BMW go, my word those cars breed the kind of drivers they are known for, I’m no exception, and I miss it, I’ll have to fill that void somehow. If you see me flashing past in a Porsche (borrowed or stolen most likely) a decade from now just remember: it is not a mid-life crises, it’s all part of the plan …

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