I'm a little weird I realize but I like station wagons and hatchbacks, both of which have almost disappeared from American roads in the last 20 years.
So when the time came to replace Mrs. Kong's well used 2003 Audi wagon I began my lonesome quest to find another wagon.
I knew this was going to be a difficult task. Go to Europe and every other car is a station wagon or a hatchback. Not so here.
Hatchbacks were plentiful in the 1970s and 1980s but the term came to be synonymous with "cheap car". Americans generally won't buy them. For example, the VW Jetta and Golf are almost the same car. The Jetta sedan far outsells the hatchback Golf in the US. In Europe it's the exact opposite.
I mostly blame people my age for the loss of station wagons in the US. You see, our parents drove station wagons and the last thing most of us want is to look like our parents.
So Detroit in their infinite wisdom invented the "Sport Utility Vehicle" and the rest is history.
When I was a kid we had a gargantuan 1973 Ford station wagon. My father was a salesman and it was provided for him as a company car. I think company cars, like station wagons, are mostly a thing of the past.
The only thing it didn't have was the rear facing seat way in the back, the one that let you pretend to be a B-17 tail gunner.
I remember making the 10 hour trip to visit the grandparents, my sister and I each in our own designated territory in the back that wagon.
"He's on my side of the car!"
"Don't make me stop this car!"
To this day I wonder if Dad really would have stopped the car. I never tested that theory.
Now sure, a truck would carry a lot of stuff but I'm not really a truck kind of guy. I don't fancy myself to be a cowboy. I don't have a contracting business. I don't build houses for a living. I don't need the ability to carry hunting dogs or deer carcasses. Heck, not driving one in some parts of the country may cause people to question your manhood or political affiliation.
Most right-wing assholes, however, seem to drive pickups.
So much for a pickup truck.
For anyone who's been asleep for the last 20 years, an SUV is basically a pickup truck with an oversize station-wagon body on top of it. They became insanely popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. Suburbanites flocked to them. The car manufacturers loved them for the high profit margins.
For a while there was an arms race to see who could build the biggest and fanciest, culminating in the Hummer. High gas prices and the recession put the kibosh on Hummer. No great loss if you ask me. I always thought they were pretty silly. The other big SUVs are still around but not quite as popular as they once were. With gas at over $3.00/gallon it takes a lot of commitment to drive one these days.
Plus I really don't like the way they drive. A car rental agency stuck me with a Tahoe a while back because it was all they had left. They acted like they were doing me a favor. I couldn't wait to turn that thing back in. Once the novelty of being at eye level with truckers wore off, I felt like I was driving a city bus. I never could figure out where the "Sport" in "Sport Utility Vehicle" came from.
Then there's the gas mileage. I'm not ready for a Prius just yet but I don't want to get Christmas cards from OPEC either.
Let's rule out SUVs.
How about a minivan?
Next on the list is a "crossover".
A crossover is neither fish nor foul. It's a smallish SUV that's actually built on a car platform instead of a truck platform. A Toyota RAV4 or Honda CRV would be good examples of a crossover. They lack the off-road and towing abilities of a true SUV, which is fine because most people just drive them to the mall anyways.
They get better mileage than their larger siblings so I'd almost consider one. Still not my cup of tea though. A high center of gravity is never a benefit to handling. People seem to like them because I see a lot of them on the road. I've driven a few, thought they were OK but that's about it. I'd probably settle for one but it wouldn't be my first choice.
What we really wanted was another station wagon. I figured 3 to 6 years old depending on the miles. Not too big, not too small. A little sporty but with reasonable fuel economy. Here in the Midwest all-wheel-drive would be a nice feature to have.
This narrowed the field considerably. There is exactly one built in the US, one Japanese, one Swedish and four Germans.
Cadillac CTS4 - Damn this is a great looking car. I so wanted to like this thing.
We found a used one at CarMax. If you don't have a CarMax in your town, they carry late model used cars and sell them at a "no haggle" price. Unlike a traditional car dealer they don't give you the "hard sell". They're very nice people to deal with but I think a reasonably skilled negotiator could beat their price most days.
Unfortunately Mrs. Kong didn't like the car. Since it's mostly going to be her car, she has veto authority. The instrument panel kind of wraps around the driver and she kept banging her knees getting in and out of the car. She also found the rear hatch to be right at eye level when opened. It was more than I wanted to spend anyway.
OK, let's give Japan a try. Subaru makes an AWD wagon. My brother in law has one and is quite happy with it. It's economical and reliable. They're also reasonably easy to come by. Mrs. Kong thought it was "OK". This translates to "I don't really like it". Sigh.
How about Sweden? Volvo has been making station wagons for a long time. They have a reputation for reliability. The problem is, they took a perfectly nice looking car, jacked it up and stuck a bunch of plastic on it so it would look like an SUV. The marketing executives probably decided that's what American buyers want. The only thing I want less than an SUV is a car that tries to look like one. Sorry Swedes, maybe next time.
OK, that leaves the Germans. VW, Audi, BMW and Mercedes all make AWD station wagons. This makes sense because it seemed like every third car I saw in Munich was an Audi or BMW wagon. Unfortunately they must keep them all for themselves. Good luck finding one.
My online searches produced some interesting results. These cars almost all live in ski areas. There are (very small) concentrations in New England, Denver and the Northwest. Connecticut seems to have more than its fair share.
The other problem is that people who have them tend hang on to them. When you manage to find one it either has high miles or they want big dollars for it.
Finally my weeks of online searching paid off. I found a used A4 wagon and it was even in Ohio, half a days drive from here in Cleveland. Low miles and the right color. Almost too good to be true.
Everyone has a different car buying philosophy. I try to buy a nice used one and drive it for 5 years or so. As such I don't buy cars very often.
For most middle-aged males buying a car is like the Super Bowl, Emmys and the Oscars all rolled into one. We live for this sort of thing.
I envision myself walking into the showroom like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western. All right kid, let's see what you've got.....
The salesman was good, I was better.
He knows I want the car - point for him.
I know he wants this car off his lot, it's not his brand and it's a wagon - point for me.
He knows I drove all the way from Columbus - point for him.
I know I have nothing better to do than sit here all day if necessary - point for me.
We went around and around for hours. He brought in his sales manager. Allright! Two against one! Now it's getting interesting!
Call it a draw. I got the price down as far as I thought they were willing to go. They low-balled me on my trade in but I got them to come up a bit.
I would have done better selling the old car myself but I didn't want to entertain a bunch of Craigs List stalkers at my house. I'll chalk that up to cost of doing business.
In Europe, this car would be a diesel and get over 40 mpg. Unfortunately we can't get those here just yet. Still I averaged a respectable 32 mpg on the drive home. I was pleased.