Wow, I meant to post this earlier in the week and completely forgot. Who’s smart and has two thumbs? Not Matt Hearn. Ihavenowcutoffmythumbsaspunishment.Itmakesusingthespacebarsomewhat…challenging.
Okay, I figured out a way I can use my forehead to hit the space bar as necessary. So, where were we? After we had our 3,483rd child (possibly an exaggeration) last fall, we ran into a slight problem: Sarah’s 2005 Honda Accord could not fit three carseats in the back seat. This meant that either one of the kids was going to have to ride in the trunk, or we were going to have to buy a new car. We managed to get through the first three months of William’s life by simply having Sarah drive the van around, while I got to enjoy the Honda, but since I routinely drop off the kids one place and have Sarah pick them up, this was eventually going to be a problem. Plus, it meant that come summer summer summertime (summertime), our only means of vacationing was in a 13-year-old Grand Caravan with non-functioning air conditioning. Clearly we needed an upgrade.
Our original plan was to look into a Brand-A-New Honda Pilot, but I did a little research on Consumer Reports and discovered a lot of complaints about road noise. This doesn’t surprise me; our only complaint about the Accord was the road noise, which was pretty substantial at highway speeds. My guess is that Honda doesn’t bother to insulate their cars much, since insulation adds weight, which degrades fuel mileage. In my CR digging, however, I discovered the Mazda CX-9, a “crossover” SUV (Mazda no longer makes a normal minivan) that was rated well for power and road noise, and even had an “autostick” transmission (allowing you to treat it kinda like a manual, but without a clutch).
I looked into a new one, but in order to get all the options I wanted, we’d basically have to buy the top-of-the-line “Grand Touring” trim, which was running well into the $40,000 range, giving us a monthly payment of “a metric shitload.” Sarah test drove one at a dealer near where she works, but we decided we’d better start looking at used ones. I checked around a bit, and the best deals seemed to be at CarMax. The problem, of course, is that the nearest Carmax is in White Marsh, Maryland, roughly an hour from us. The bigger problem is that the Mazda we really wanted to buy (Grand Touring with nav system but no DVD, because I think DVD players built into cars are worse than terrorism) was located in Laurel, roughly another 40 minutes south. But the car had everything we wanted, so we dropped the kids off with my folks, cleaned out the Accord, and headed south.
The Carmax experience was great, and I doubt I’ll buy from them again. We’ll get to why in a moment. We met a very nice salesperson, the CX-9 drove great, they offered us a decent trade-in on the Honda and a great finance rate, so we bit the bullet and added a bit more debt to the pile.
I have to say, the car is fantastic. Easily fits all three kids; it doesn’t hold a huge amount of extraneous cargo, but that’s not really a problem except on road trips, and we have a big roof cargo tub to put on for that. The stereo is spectacular, and has an auxiliary input to connect my iPhone and listen to podcasts and weird experimental pop music (just to annoy Sarah). The acceleration is fantastic, the handling is superb, and the braking is good although I think the rotors are a bit warped (more on that in a moment as well). I still think the road noise is a bit high, but I think that’s just the way cars are built at this price level; a BMW X5 probably is better insulated, but of course costs 50% more.
Issues? Well, the nav system is a little weird. It doesn’t let you make modifications to your route while you’re moving, to keep the driver looking at the road instead of the console, but doesn’t take into account that you might have a passenger who can do it safely. Also, it gives you 2-3 options when you enter a destination: “shortest,” “fastest,” and sometimes “alternate;” the car’s definition of “fastest” leaves something to be desired. For example, we went to Ocean View for a short beach vacay a few weeks back, and the car reported that the fastest way down was this:
View Larger Map
You may notice at the bottom where you drive down through Rehoboth, Dewey Beach, and Bethany, aka the home of 35mph speed limits and countless lights. That is not the fastest way, by a long shot.
I also can’t say that I’m a fan of the autostick, because unfortunately, it’s not just a manual transmission without the clutch; it likes to think for you. If you floor it, it downshifts. For me, half the point of the manual transmission is that I can open the throttle and accelerate WITHOUT downshifting. So when it does it on my behalf, I get angry. It also will downshift when you slow down a bunch, which is fairly handy because I’ll occasionally forget to do so. Also annoyingly, the torque converter doesn’t lock up, so even when you’re staying in a single gear, the tachometer moves around a bunch depending on load and fuel delivery, which isn’t really all that bad, just disconcerting if you’re a car nerd like me.
The other issue is the brake rotors, which I think just need to be replaced, and since the car brakes fine even with the shimmying it’s not really urgent, but it leads me to why I won’t buy from Carmax again: there’s not a local franchise. They give you a 30 day warranty, but in order to get it repaired you have to go to the Carmax shop, the nearest of which is, as I mentioned, White Marsh, MD. We wanted to get the brakes taken care of, but just couldn’t find time to get down there before the warranty expired. I really enjoyed the no-haggle Carmax experience, but if we’d needed more serious repairs, getting them fixed would have been a HUGE inconvenience. If you happen to live near a Carmax, I highly recommend it. I know they recently opened a new location in Lancaster, but that’s still a solid 75 minutes away; hopefully they eventually open one near Wilmington, since my van ain’t gonna last forever and I’m gonna want a new ghettomobile at some point.
To sum up: Mazda makes nice cars, Carmax needs to open a location in northern Delaware, and if your car has a built-in DVD system because Madyszin has to be able to watch her Wizards of Waverly Place DVDs or she whines all the way to school, you might be a terrorist.