OFFSEASON FOOLISHNESS: BUYING A DAMN CAR

Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

FAILURE IS THE ONLY OPTION

The first car I ever drove was a 1987 Mercury Sable. It was the first American car made entirely of Shitty Plastic, an official plastic the Ford Motor Company and its subsidiaries used for all their cars starting sometime in the last 70s, but really only perfected in the year 1987. Nothing was manual in this car, and thus half the electrical equipment either failed to work or mewled pitifully when pressed. The tape deck, an auto-reverser that played a double album of Phil Collins' Face Value and Hello, I Must Be Going far too many times for any man to endure, randomly flipped sides without warning. The air conditioning made cameos in the Florida heat, and died altogether about two weeks after I started driving it.

My dad drove it through a foot and a half of Tennessee backroad mud on a whim once, and thus exhausted every last bit of athleticism the car might have ever possessed in a single go. A touch of the accelerator generated a fine wheeze of emphysema from the engine; a turn of the wheel, and every single pound of the car's immense plasticness lurched over one wheel and dared the rest to follow. At its worst the Sable felt like wheeling a very tall and obese elderly man around on a forklift after you'd both had a few drinks. At its best, it didn't have a best, and was 100% worst in all directions.

Worst of all, its automatic transmission had a speech impediment. It stuttered, and hopped from first to second and sometimes third gear without warning. It had a nasty habit of doing this in the parking lot of my high school--the very crowded and target-rich parking lot. An insensate dull zombie of a car most of the time, the Sable heaved to life at the sight of an oblivious pedestrian. A Mercury Sable was, at one stage in its adolescence, very badly bullied by a teenaged pedestrian, and thus has a natural tendency to lose its mind and leap at their kneecaps.

I hit the accelerator on US 19 once and the entire transmission shattered and fell out of the bottom of a car like broken teeth from a boxer's mouth. My first lesson with cars was this: they are all awful, terribly made, and come packed with Phil Collins tapes.

I have to buy a new car, and there is another lesson in this: the car you want is awful, and so is the car you have. You may joke about people taking bourbon too seriously, and you should. It's bourbon, and you should drink it, and pissholing other people for liking a different kind of the same thing to drink is the kind of rank insane timekiller people crave on the internet. You should go do all of that, and then go drink whatever bourbon you like.

Bourbon combat has nothing on autopissantry. The car you want to purchase is horrible. The car you have is worse. At no point have you made a good decision, because every car is full of lies and choices of identity and morals you cannot get right. Welcome to the helm of the consumer's Kobayashi Maru: the goal is to see how well you handle utter and total failure. Choose a Ford and die; choose a Subaru, and well here's another flavor of pinheaded failure.

Before you even start you've already made so many mistakes you will never get back. You drove a MINI? Yes, yes I did, and for the moment still do. I bought it new, too, because I have terrible consumer spending habits like buying a new car simply because...well, because I could, for once? (That's seriously the reason, in total: because I could.)

I also drove it and enjoyed its underpowered engine, weird dash arrangments, and condescending German interpretations of Britishness. (How the fuck would I know it was ersatz? I'm fat, hate tea, happy, and all of the other things that indicate I'm American.) I even liked its tiny backseat until I found that stuffing two children with carseats in the back required doing a kettlebell routine in a low, squatty horse pose just to toss them in the seats.* It got worse when the baby got bigger, and getting the kids in through three doors (hello, suicide door) started to resemble stocking a U-boat for a journey.

*The infant might as well be in his own separate well-ventilated glove compartment. And no: this is not a good idea, no matter how good it may sound to parents with kids who hate riding in the car.

So at the very least I need to buy a car with four doors, an assumption that someone really invested in the notion of clinging to their car will despise. (I live in Park Slope and the Mini's been great! With three kids! I swear, said someone way more slender and generally competent than you.) And I'm probably just going with the four doors, since the other car qualifies as the family truckster, and mine will remain the car I drive around town and occasionally on long road trips.

And yet the failure's just begun. Want to stay sporty? You have quantified amounts to cite in terms of the gas you, stupid moronfaced you, will spend on gasoline over the next three years. Want an economy car? Well, here's the exact amount of fun you will not be having, courtesy of precise horsepower numbers and that test drive where you mashed your foot to the floor on the access road by the dealership and felt....well, the warm but lukewarm thrum of a perfectly normal car engine, and not the sound of ripping flesh and dragonfire farting you got when you ill-advisedly test-drove that hot hatch model.*

*Which you did, you stupid, stupid person.

We haven't even gotten into how badly you're going to fuck up choosing by brand.  If you don't choose American, you are a traitor and I dunno, maybe less Wrangler, and may not be able to buy Wranglers by law anymore. If you do choose American, here's a car with sad, tragic styling that reeks of office park and sock stirrups. (The sport models are the worst, and feel like an energy drink label exploded onto a designer's page.) Don't even bother trying to subdivide by European carmakers, because even German car loyalists have their own petty brawls that you don't even want to begin to try to understand. (Morons have died in the BMW vs. Mercedes wars, and that's without VW partisans raging against both.)

God help you if you buy a KIA. They'll never believe it works, much less that it's good and not made entirely of discarded fish scales from a Pusan processing plant.* You could buy a Pagani Huayira in cash, and someone would ask: but where are the cupholders? (Trick question: the newest Pagani actually has cupholders. I assume they were carved from elephant femurs by imprisoned Templars.)

*We have one. It's great, and yes, may be made entirely from reconstituted fish scales.

The last failure will be the weakest link of all: you. A car says how much money you make to some, but that's just a partial disclosure of a sum judgement to be made about you. The worst part is what it says about you personally, particularly if you had some latitude to choose what you were driving in the first place, and make choices based on the worst criteria of all: what you would spend money on to make you momentarily happy. Be overly practical, and you miss on the fleeting fun you could have; be too frivolous, and you're pissing away precious capital in the name of indulgence.

I am the worst case of this. I should get a Mazda 3, the well-reviewed and much-lauded four door hatchback that fits everything I'm looking for. It get 40 miles to the gallon, can squeeze in a rear-facing carseat, and looks beautiful and drives well and it's perfect. It's what I should get, and it is perfect.

And if I were to get something stupidly fast with enough torque to spin the shit off the biggest outhouse pig in the world, it would probably be the equally well-reviewed Ford Focus ST, a car reviewers have been spitting kittens out about for the better part of two years. It's well-balanced, and gets shockingly good mileage for an overpowered pocket monster of a car. It doesn't look bad on the outside, and the engine noise comes out with that kind of incongruous roar you get when you see someone who looks like John Newman sing with the voice that comes out of a John Newman. It is objectively a great car.

Objectively speaking, it also doesn't torquesteer like a large breed dog with no leash training when you slam the accelerator to the floor. It doesn't have a giant maniacal face sculpted into the front of it, and doesn't handle like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and doesn't get a meager 30 mph on the highway if you're lucky. It doesn't have the slight and periodic urge to threaten you bodily harm before zipping out of a dead standstill. If it were a horse, the Focus ST would be a well-trained show pony, and not a loopy paint capable of jumping the fence and scaring the crap out of its rider.

That car would be the Mazdaspeed 3, which is a fool's car so overpowered that the torquesteer could kick in while you're sitting perfectly still in a parking lot. It is the Skate 3 physics engine of cars, a folly, the last mutant baby of a chief engineer surely fired with extreme prejudice the minute they got the car on the track. It's the car that had me laughing out loud the instant I hit the gas, and the one that didn't remind me of every sad Ford I'd ever sat down in and thought, "This is a sad corporate conference room on wheels, and lacks only a derelict conference call speakerphone to complete the scene." It was the car that, for better or worse, matched me: unevenly powered, erratic, speed-addled, and sort of okay with it.

You can fit two carseats in the back and load children comfortably through the doors. (The backseat's actually a little better than the Focus, but only a bit.) Whenever I get around to buying it, it will do for the practical bits. There will be nothing to do about the infant at the wheel, but I'm buying a car. I knew I would fail at it from the start. Everyone does, because it is buying a car. The end product will be the sum of your weaknesses, which is why every truck commercial in the world ends with an unspoken but implied "...UNLESS YOU'RE GAY," and also why I'm probably going to be driving an overpowered Japanese death sled for the next decade.

It'll be one kind of failure or another. You just have to embrace one kind, and ride it until it spits out its transmission somewhere on a six lane highway without a tow truck in sight.

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