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I'd also like to be two inches taller and have basic athletic ability but it's just not in the cards.
Let me start from the ending. I recently bought a 2016 Audi S3 and here's how it went down.
Life constantly reminds us that we're adults. That pesky job, bills... So when faced with the fun of buying a new car – and yes, it should be fun - I had to weigh my options and find a car that fits. In making that decision I was fortunate enough to be able to ignore a large degree of practicality. Living in southern California I didn't need something to weather winter storms, or something to haul little ones. I really didn't even care about fuel efficiency.
The first adult realization was the "B" word: budget. That automatically eliminated a lot of that aforementioned metal from Stuttgart but a quick search online left me with an embarrassment of riches. Great news adults! There are so many options - the practical, the sporty, the flashy. Sedans, coupes, hatches (both hot and cold).
The wonderful thing about being an adult is making your own decisions but there are little voices inside pulling you different directions; lest we forget possible outside voices chiming in. My beautiful fiancée (now wife) wasn't an added outside voice. She knew I would make the right decision. Over the years she learned the hard way how trusting me with any other form of shopping leads to disaster. I may have failed out of grocery shopping but here - she chose the right area to have faith.
I wanted her involved in the process and she asked one simple question: what's a good car? For me, it became a philosophical conundrum: what's the right car?
I won't waste time waxing poetic on how each person has his or her own idea of the right car or how we can convince ourselves a 911 GT3 is a daily driver (a case can be made). I bought a Porsche Boxster years ago and said it was practical because hey, two trunks.
The fact is, manufactures make a product and they need to sell that product. The interesting thing is, as consumers we expect so much from a single automotive product. We want space, comfort, technology, safety; a good measure of speed and it all has to be efficient.
The true test for me was to find the car that had a balance of all of the above.
I started my search based on three core values. Basically, I like my cars like I like my people: adaptable, pleasant looking and reliable. If I happened to find a car adding in some performance value, well then I guess I was going to have to learn to live with it.
That brings us to the S3. A persistent voice inside kept saying "you're a grown a** man, upgrade to a luxury brand." Sure, but I'm a grown a** man who appreciates subtly and who's on a budget.
Just then the practical voice broke free from its chokehold: "Get a sedan! You're getting married; you're a workingman. Do it!"
Why not listen to both voices? Obviously so many available cars meant lots of research to find the right one.
I had looked into several sedans and ended up really drawn to Mazda and Audi. The Mazda 3 and 6 struck me. The design language is stunning and the fit and finish is impressive. Audi, for me is something I'm a bit biased towards. I learned to drive a manual on an Audi and have followed their racing exploits for years. I'm a fan.
So, I officially opted for a luxury mark because again, I'm an adult and we deserve such things.
I landed in the A3 segment because I fell in love with the styling and proportions. In LA, everything is crowded. I wanted a small nimble car I could squeeze into that elusive parking space.
The S trim symbolized everything I wanted. With the press of a button it could adapt. Comfort mode for commutes, sport for canyons and the rare moments of traffic-free roads. The design is too subdued for some but the S adds just the right amount of aggression without trying too hard. There are no slats, vents or scoops carved places, just creases and edges formed with a purpose. Fit and finish are excellent and in the cabin you feel more up market than you technically are.
The little 2.0-liter turbo kicks out 292hp and that'll do S3. That'll do. There's enough technology to remind you that you're in a German car and it's the year 2016. Comfort, performance, style, technology and efficiency. Balance. Bingo.
Picking the car is one thing. Finding the car available and actually buying it is quite another.
The search for the Audi was the first time I truly leveraged the power of the Internet and it was supremely helpful.
Online, it seems there are as many car-buying resources as there are cars to choose from. I say use them all. I was able to get a good sense of dealer inventory and was quickly reminded that German cars and their options create eye-watering sticker prices.
I had a budget and hated that the cars I found broke the bank because of driver aids I didn't want, premium leather I didn't care about and a slew of acronyms I simply read as dollar signs. The car I spec-ed out on Audi's website simply could not be found in the real world. I was forced into being patient and when buying a car like an adult that is the key. Just because you know what you want and have the means to buy it, doesn't mean you should rush in. The patience paid off.
On a faithful Saturday morning, I was killing ten minutes perusing the Internet, again spec-ing out a car I didn't expect to find. This time though, I struck gold. I was using TrueCar to check dealer inventory and the benefit here is the ability to see invoice price, MSRP and a lovely bell curve of purchase prices people are paying. With this tool you can see how many people are paying below or above MSRP. I don't endorse any one online resource nor do I trust what I see on screen so I rolled the dice and provided my e-mail address and phone number, figuring I would prove that it was too good to be true. No more than five minutes after clicking "submit," the phone rang and it was a salesperson from a nearby dealership.
"We have your Audi," she said.
"No you don't, I've searched your inventory, I've searched everywhere," I said.
She assured me she did and suddenly I found myself walking with my fiancée around the Audi showroom. After a quick handshake, we were escorted outside and there she was – a Sepang Blue, Audi S3 with black optic package and titanium leather. You know when things appear too good to be true? Sure enough, the Audi before us was not exactly what I was looking for - once again proving the difference between the Internet and reality.
This particular model had a few options that carried hefty premiums. There were driver aids like a backup camera and blind spot detection we didn't need. We use our eyes and mirrors, which are much cheaper. There was also 4G Internet and satellite radio and while very nice, were an unnecessary expense given the beloved, stored music on our smart phones.
After a test drive it was time to negotiate. The key to negotiating a car purchase is to approach it like a game. If your opponent knows you need a car, you're sunk. I've never been in a position where I absolutely needed a car. In this case, we were simply in the showroom to prove to ourselves that the car actually existed. We didn't care if we walked away so the game could be played without worrying about the consequences.
In my opinion, when you find a car heavily optioned out, it's a great thing. Now, you can work on negotiating out the options. Dealers won't like this because options yield great margins. Still, why should a consumer overpay for things they don't want? Sure, there were other S3's on the lot without those pesky options but none in the color combinations we wanted. This gave us tremendous leverage.
Honesty is the best policy. Tell a dealer exactly what you want and don't want. They want to make a sale so they should be able to make it happen even if they say they can't.
I immediately had the benefit of saying this was not the car I was looking for. The Internet led me astray; the options on the car yielded an MSRP I wasn't going to pay. Let the negotiations begin.
"We'll take $3,000 off since you came to us through TrueCar."
Not good enough. I'm not going to pretend I know how that relationship works but it has to be a win-win between that website and the dealer, not for me. Time to slash some options. Again, I stated honestly that those additional options were something I didn't want and was not going to pay for them. I went as far as asking them to disable the options (knowing full well they could not or would not do it). This made me look like I really didn't want them and wasn't trying to haggle simply to haggle. The stereotypical dance began at that point.
She would disappear for a while to her manager's office. Two can play at that game. I disappeared outside to "call another dealership." She didn't have to know I was calling my sister to chat. Negotiating a deal on a car is a great time to call that old friend or relative, check in on your accountant. Go ahead: check your voicemail for a while.
The back and forth continued but eventually the day was won. In the end, $5,000 off and a brand new car was mine - I mean ours.
This was the fourth new car I've purchased and as always I learned a lot. Use all of the resources you can to determine what you want and more importantly what you don't. Research what others in your area are paying to give you leverage. Be patient, six months for me paid off and it was worth the wait. Be honest, play the game but do it openly and don't be afraid to walk away from it. You didn't lose the game; it was a draw.
Buying a new car is a decision that carries with it a bunch of factors. It's being an adult at it's finest so next time you a buy a car, pat yourself on the back you adult you and have some fun!