Monday, July 18, 2016

Regal Wrap-Up. It was real, it was nice...

Hello, friends. It's been a while. But it's a good time to catch up where we left off. We wound up keeping the Regal after buying another car. But 16 months later, I find myself in a great mood. I feel as if a 3,700 lb. burden has been lifted off my shoulders. Because it has.

Since taking delivery of the 2013 Regal GS back in October of that year, we added some 56,000 miles to its odometer, exclusively on the roads of the Northeast. Our early days of cruising were relatively carefree, as you may know. The GS's easy power and able suspension were a minor thrill as we dashed about the tri-state (NY/CT/NJ) area. And in its signature red, we got more compliments on the GS than any other vehicle we've owned. The most fun of those were the two straight-out-of-the-commercial "That's not a Buick!" moments we experienced.

These fun times dimmed like an iPhone in the Miami sun, after the first brake service. We did put Lola (named after the "Kinky Boots" lead role) through her paces. After all, we are two guys and CAR GO FAST. But after choking on an $750 dealer bill to freshen the designer Brembo brakes just six months in, I began to feel my first twinge of regret.

She also devoured tires at an inordinate rate. The shallow height of the stock $300 245/40/19's were no match for NY/New England potholes. And the GS doesn't come with a spare - just a Playskool inflator - useless when there's a 2-inch gash on your sidewall. Suffice to say we wore the "O" off the OnStar button, after the four stranded-with-a-flat calls they got from us. Buick should spring for tires with rim guards, too, as all four rims endured bad curb rash.

We eased up on her after that first brake service, driving a little more sensibly. Still, things broke and rattled. Decorative pieces fell off in the interior, and a constant mystery rumble lived in the front end that no Buick mechanic could hear. Both rear bearings had to be replaced. A rocker panel broke. And one of the potholes was hungry enough to eat both tire AND rim. Cha-CHING! Some of the mechanical stuff was covered under the thin 50k-mile warranty. But that ran out before a loud rattle developed in the back end, this one even audible to Buick's mechanics! And six months after the new Brembos, the dealer told us they had to be replaced AGAIN. Enough was enough.

Service from among four area Buick dealers was typical. Half the time, we were promised loaners only to be let down upon arrival. The best of them sprung for an Enterprise rental. More than once, I had to escalate to Buick Customer Care, through Twitter, and I have to say the corporate end is on the ball.

But by virtue of the brake maintenance cost alone, we couldn't get rid of the Regal fast enough. And in doing so, we were reminded of why the American dealership model is foaming through its clenched teeth during its death rattle. Such a dirty, stupid, archaic process.

My new mission was to unload the Regal and replace it with a used car selling for $7,500 or less. With a kid going off to college in a month, I figured I'd rather contribute monthly payments to his tuition, rather than a car that I now hate. In the process, I drove probably 10 cars and entered into negotiations with four dealers, two of which sold Buicks. And it was the Buick guys who gave me the worst offers.

Considering the selling price by a dealer for a certified 2013 Regal GS with under 60k miles is somewhere between $20,000 and $23,000, both Buick dealers offered $13,500, citing of course, the "extensive work we'd have to do for certification". This included, you guessed it, ANOTHER set of Brembo brakes. Textbook devaluation, absolute rubbish, and filthy greed. In the end, I sold it outright to a dealer that gave me $17,000 without buying a car from them. And a check of their inventory shows they will re-sell it for about $21,500.

Good riddance.

Buick's mission is to bring their median buyer demographic down from the 70's. And it has worked, if the press is to be believed. But in the GS, they have created a fussy, flinty vehicle, better made for the 70-year-old Florida driver than Northeast temperaments a generation or two newer.

Mission accomplished, as I look out at Lola's $7,500 replacement. Not as new. Not as fast. But pristine and perfect for my commute and upcoming trips to visit my son at school. And with garden-variety brakes, thank the stars.

The new (used)car doesn't have a blog. Yet. But I know how to fix that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Generous Spending

Almost a year and 22,000 miles later, our 2013 Buick Regal GS continues to impress onlookers, who deliver the "THAT'S not a Buick!" look, without fail. And it still brings out the absolute worst in me when I'm cruising alone. Part of it is my enjoyment of outmaneuvering other sporty sedans from Germany. The other part is that the speed comes so easily. And the GS is as composed at 110 as it is at 55, or so I've heard. Wink.

We are harder than most on our cars, racking up miles pretty quickly. Lola*, however, doesn't look much worse for wear. We've scuffed all four rims while overcoming the learning curve of her not-so-great outward visibility. The high trunk and beltline conspire with the lack of any cameras or auto-tilting side mirrors to make reverse-parking of every kind a little difficult. And we've lost two tires along the way, which I don't recommend. They're not cheap. The interior remains flawless, the ribbed-for-his-pleasure, high-bolster seats show no signs of wear and our Weather Tech mats have kept the floors pristine.

*We call her "Lola", after Billy Porter's portrayal of the lead in Broadway's "Kinky Boots". Why? Because she's RED. She's SEXY. And she's got BALLS.

The ownership experience has fallen short of our expectations, thus far. The best aspect of it would be Buick's social media team, which responds quickly and follows through on any issues. They were wonderful during our 2012 Regal Turbo experience, when our clutch blew within the first year. This time around, in the GS, every single oil change has resulted in a low oil warning the following day. And this has never been met with anything close to an apology from our local dealer. In this age of no accountability, the last response we got was, "I wish you hadn't topped it off yourself, you should have just brought it back in". Well, Mr. Not-So-Goodwrench, sorry if I keep the driving of a low-on-oil, $40,000 car to a minimum. Perhaps you should PUT THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF OIL IN THE CAR. Either your specifications are wrong or you're just not filling it properly. And finally, YOU failed at your job (four or five times). Why don't YOU drive to my house and top it off? Why should we be inconvenienced? Aggravating. Without any admission of culpability, he did give us a free coupon for the next oil service. We'll see if they get it right, next time.

The first blown Goodyear Eagle RSA was the result of an encounter with some broken pavement. The second appeared to be a manufacturer's defect–a bubble in the sidewall that traveled into the tread. Not only was it not covered by the Buick warranty, but the service advisor claimed clueless of any knowledge of a warranty from Goodyear (on an original equipment tire). He recommended I contact Goodyear, directly. Not a satisfactory answer, especially in light of the fact that we need the car every day. I can't let it sit without a tire (Regal GS has no spare) while I bicker with Buick and Goodyear. The dealer replaced the tire and I was out just shy of $275.

The biggest pain point has been the cost of basic maintenance. At about 20,000 miles, it became clear we needed a brake job: New pads all around and resurfaced rotors. The dealer estimate was $850. After wiping the coffee off my laptop, I called my local mechanic, who set about getting me an estimate. The front Brembo pads alone cost $350. This is the price we pay for performance. The savings from my private mechanic weren't enough to warrant the inconvenience and time lost in moving the car from the dealer to him. Now it's a month later and these new shoes still squeak and throw so much grit that our rims constantly look dusted in anthracite.

We've had an unresponsive Intellilink robot, buzzy Harman-Kardon speakers and subwoofer (Buick: your declining age demographics means that many new owners prefer LOUD Hip Hop/R&B/Rock over Lawrence Welk in the background. Learn from that.) and squeaking/groaning belts when turning the A/C on. None of which have been remedied during dealer visits. They did, however, manage to repair a blown tail light bulb. Bravo.

At our next service, we will complain about a fault in the auto-close moonroof, which bounces back open, sometimes.

Value has dropped more than expected. The original sticker was just shy of $40,000. We bought it with 300 miles on the OD at a gigantic discount. Currently, both NADA and KBB give us trade-in/retail values around $23,000 and $27,000, respectively.

Snarkasm aside, redemption comes when we get behind the wheel or catch our reflection in a store window. It's aggressive, planted, and determined on the road. It is comfortable on long cruises. Sipping on 93, it would get reasonable fuel economy if we didn't drive like fiends. And it looks. so. good.

But the honeymoon is over. Last night, we were chatting with a friend who bought a Kia Optima Limited at about the same time we took delivery of the Buick. We drove the Optima SX in our 2012 car search, but landed on our first Regal for its better composure and manual transmission. Other than oil changes, our friend's Optima hasn't cost him a dime. And when it does come time for him to service his brakes, he won't have to deal with the cost of designer shoes.

All of the driving goodness Regal GS delivers makes us want to drive it a lot and aggressively. Which means we will burn through more fashionista brakes and costly tires as this journey continues. Would I do it all again? No. Maybe a Regal Turbo automatic. Maybe with service at a different local dealer. But with two kids, one on the brink of college, we don't need to be spending money on performance car parts. Volvo offers free maintenance of wear and tear items in their current lease deal, and I love the S60 T5. Maybe a car like that would be better suited for us. Once I'm comfortable with the value/loan balance mix, I'll be embarking on a new search. And YES, I'll bring you along.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Gigantic Savings? Generous Speed? Gorgeous Syle?

40-Large-plus for a 2014 Regal GS, Cadillac ATS, or Volvo S60 T5. Even with the sharpest bargaining skills, neither the Cadillac nor the Volvo, equipped as I would want them, could ever be negotiated down to the price range I was looking for. That left the Buick.

The 2014 Regal GS can be had with a bevy of previously unavailable safety equipment, on par with the likes of Volvo's offering. These camera- and radar-based technologies are expensive and awesome. The new all-digital gauge cluster, reminiscent of Cadillac's CUE system, is also brilliant and fun. But thinking back to our first Regal GS test drive, what we loved more than anything was the power. Probably in an effort to offset the cost of these new technologies, Buick switched from three engine options in 2013 to two for 2014, giving the Turbo and GS a common mill. This move was a boon for the Turbo, which gains 30 horsepower. But it costs the top-of-the-line GS 20 precious ponies.

As I write this, year-end clearance season is in full swing. And as I perused the online inventories of dealers coast to coast, most of the 2013 GS's I found weren't being offered at much of a discount off of the $38,000 sticker. Perhaps I was among the many for whom power was a major selling point.

The stars aligned, however, when my mouse found a Crystal Red Tintcoat 2013 GS with sunroof, navigation, and all 270 glorious, turbocharged horses, at an outstanding price. In Idaho.

IDAHO? Great Spuds. 

75 miles outside Spokane, Washington is Kellogg, Idaho. Home of Dave Smith Motors. Dave Smith sells Buicks, but their real claim to fame is being the worlds largest Chrysler dealer, with a specialty in Ram trucks. This GS was priced aggressively and I knew it wouldn't last long, so I didn't hesitate to call Tyler Smith (relation?) in Sales.

Buying a car you've never driven, sight-unseen, from strangers, would have seemed outrageous 20 years ago. But now, especially when dealing with a fully warranted vehicle, any risk is greatly mitigated. And dealers like Dave Smith are experts at making the experience seamless. With a little negotiation, Tyler and I struck a deal. A GREAT deal. Two FedExes and three days later, the German designed and engineered GS was mine.

Gute Scheisse.

Flying to Spokane and driving back east was out of the question. So I set about the task of finding a shipper. After falling victim to a site that gave up my email and phone to countless shippers, I was inundated with robo-calls, texts, and emails of quotes ranging from $1,000 to $1,800 for an Idaho-to-Connecticut trip. The only non-robot to contact me was Mike from Safeway Car Transport. Mike is a straight shooter and patiently fielded my thousand questions. His price was a reasonable $1,115. Even with the cost of transport, this GS was significantly cheaper than anything else I researched.

Four days later (and two days ahead of schedule), the trucker showed up with our new baby, in first-unload position. She was covered in 2,600 miles worth of road filth, but what newborn doesn't arrive without a little residue?

Hours earlier, Anthony had taken our white 2012 Regal Turbo to the car wash. When we returned with the GS, the car wash guys went nuts. While the Turbo is a handsome and refined sedan, the red GS is a outright stunner.

37 years ago, my Dad came home with an Independence Red 1976 Buick Electra Limited 225 Landau, with black leather. It was one of several Buicks he would own in his lifetime. I'm happy to continue that tradition, with a brand that has redefined itself through smart, continental offerings, traditional quiet and comfort, and a hefty dose of adrenaline just beneath the right foot.

Genetic Succession.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Easiest Catch

It's almost as though my favorite brands were listening to my dreams. Cadillac brought the ATS to market, Volvo brought AWD to the S60 T5, and my beloved Buick added tons of safety equipment, gadgetry, and AWD to the Regal. Still, none of these are available with that elusive combination of AWD and a manual transmission. Oh well. What is life without dreams?

Frankly, while we LOVE driving cars with manual transmissions, the reality is we do lots of around-town driving, and our typical highway hauls involve volatile routes rife with congestion, construction delays, and toll booths. Clutch-and-shift it for an hour in line for the Midtown Tunnel once or twice and one finds himself longing for something simpler.

That said, we embarked on a new search, starting with a visit to our friend John Beckish at Parsons Buick in Connecticut. Though live examples of the 2014 Regal GS wouldn't arrive for a month or two, he was able to share some literature on the 2014. AWD, digital gauge cluster, and new safety features like adaptive cruise, collision braking, lane departure alert, rear cross traffic alert and more. They basically injected Volvo-level safety features, which we love, into a car that we already have and love.

Next we got online to configure a couple of other contenders on our list, starting with the Cadillac ATS. This new, smaller Caddy competes with the BMW 3-Series in size and performance. It can be had with the same engine and transmissions as the Regal GS, but in a rear drive format. It's a beautiful car, and the critics are raving about it. It's available with all of the features and safety gear as the Regal, but comes with the added prestige of GM's top brand.

Last up was the Volvo S60 T5 AWD. In our car search last year, this was a finalist. It's something about that heritage of safety, the solidity, the great power, and the gorgeous aesthetic that is so enticing to me. Savile Grey with Beechwood leather is a STUNNING combo that makes me wish the Americans would open their minds to more advanced color palettes.

Then, like a waking nightmare, reality set in. The 2014 Regal GS, equipped as we wanted, would run about $42,000. A comparably equipped Cadillac ATS—$45,000. An S60 T5 AWD? Over $47,000. Taking into consideration that we know leasing is not for us, the spend was just too much across the board.

So where did that leave us? Never underestimate the power of thrift genes. A few hours online and I found something beautiful. Something we would ABSOLUTELY love. And a deal that would make my Scottish mother proud.