Shopping for a new car

I currently drive a Mazda 3 on a lease plan. When I got it nearly 2.5 years ago I had just spent a couple of months without a car. At the time I decided that I didn't particularly want to 'own' a car, but was happy to pay to have use of one. Which is what lead me to looking at leasing. That and my employer provided a discount deal with a leasing company as one of many various benefits available.

Prior to the Mazda 3 I'd had a mazda2, and before that an mx-5 and a rover 25. All of which I had from new. Prior to those I had a daewoo something or another. And my first car was a Rover 314 which had previously been my Mum's.

I had various problems with the older cars I'd owned, and also been in other peoples old cars when they broke down etc. Enough that I decided to accept the premium of owning new cars, for the sake of warranty and a high likelihood they won't go wrong in the first place. As someone that likes driving, I found that once a car had broken down on me, I no longer enjoyed driving it. I was always slightly tense that it would fail on me again. And as such tended to get rid of them shortly after any problems.

With the new cars I've not had any problems, and have moved from one to the other for various reasons. The mx-5 was great fun, but completely impractical. but I had it at the same time as the Rover 25 so that was fine. But running 2 cars became an unnecessary expense, and so they were replaced with the more sensible Mazda2.

And after some months without a car, I craved something of the larger car again and got my Mazda 3.

It's been a good car. When I originally test drove it, I tried a 2.0l sport and the 1.6 ts2, and ultimately decided that whilst the sport was great fun for the 7 or so seconds of acceleration. I really didn't have that much use for it, and so settled on the 1.6

Now a couple of years on I started to think ahead to when the lease expires, and planning what I wanted to do. I could buy it at it's guaranteed final value. And I have liked owning it, so that was a real option. But I realised that even this 1.6l mid size car is really over kill for my needs. Most of the time all I do is drive to and from work, about 14miles per day. And that is mostly following other cars. So none of the power is terribly well used. However the weight /size does mean I'm getting about 33mpg. Not awful, but certainly not great.

So I decided that I would not buy the mazda, but instead find something smaller to down size to. And having made that desicion I realised there was no point waiting. My lease costs me £260 per month. However, like most lease contracts, now that I've paid over half the value of the contract, I can walk away. They don't tend to point that clause out, but it is normally there. After you've paid 50% of what you would be paying on the lease. You can just hand the car back and stop. (presuming you've not gone way over your mileage limits)

So since I wanted to down size, why wait? the sooner I swap the sooner I can reduce my car running costs.

So last Saturday I set off around all the local dealers that I could find. And looked at what smaller cars they had, what features they had and of course, what they cost.

I visited: Renault, Nissan, Ford, Mazda, Citroen, Skoda, Vauxhaul, Mini, and Kia.

The intiial pass was to get an idea of which I like the look off, and which I could sensibly afford. And hope there was an overlap of the two sets.

I had thought the Renault clio would be hte obvious option. But they seem to of made it a slightly larger car, and brought in the 'twingo' as the smallest car. The twingo looked good, so was a possibility

At Nissan I saw the micra which I thought I could learn to like and the new one that had a 0% interest deal came with sat nav etc, At ford I saw the fiesta, and again realised that these days the small one is the Ka, but both are relatively expensive . The new mazda 2 looks much nicer than when I had one before, but again is bigger and there is no real small car in the line up and the 2 is over 10k for a basic model. Citreon had some nice cars, but a fairly grotty garage. At the time I was there I was mostly just asking if they did any 0% interest deals (as a couple of dealers did on specific models) Which they did not, but I picked up info for the c1 and c2 and left.

I should also note it rained all day, which did not promote loitering in forecourts.

Skoda I don't really like the shape/style of the fabia. I realise it's basically a VW golf behind a cheaper badge. But no finance deals and not a car I personally rated.

The Corsa looked nice, but I was by now realising there were basically 2 sets of small cars. There where the ones that I'd have to spent over 10k to get the features I wanted. And the ones that could be had for more like 9k. The corsa is definitely in the over 10k set.

Mini's are just crazily over priced. How did that happen? I remember my brothers old mini, in fact both my brothers had old mini's as their first cars. And somehow they are now some sexy 'brand' and command a premium. The show room looked like a high end jewelry store, all slick and shiny with sparkling lighting. I took a brochure, but it was already in the no pile.

Lastly Kia seemed to make some pretty nice little cars, at good cheap prices. But no finance deals because of it.

So step 2 was to book some test drives, I liked the twingo and the micra in terms of price/deal and features. and they are just 2 sides of the same dealership so it was easy to go try both.

Kat came with me and we took each on the same test 'circuit' Firstly the twingo.

It was pretty nippy for a 1.2 in the lower gears, it felt quite 'grabby' as slipping into gear and accelerating you could feel the gear stick pulling under the torque. The ride was pretty hard, and the cabin pretty basic. I found myself easily losing speed when driving along a duel carriageway. and having to drop gears to get it back.

I did really like the look of the twingo. and it has great back seats. They are 2 independently sliding chairs. Rather than a bench. So if you want to have adults in the back, they slide back, sacrifice some boot space. and give them leg room. If you want more boot space you slide them forwards. And if you *really* want boot space each chair, runners and all, can be flipped up against the back of the front seats. Leaving a pretty large flat boot space. I really liked this feature and wish more cars I looked at had the same.

Next the Nissan. it felt much more 'civilised' the cabin was more standard.  The ride much smoother. Less torque at the low end, but handled itself at speed in high gears. So well in fact that compared to the previous I was prepared to believe it was actually a bigger engine. However the back looked small and inflexible compared to the Twingo, and the exterior shape is not that great. That said the deal being offered on the new one was quite attractive.

I came away very much undecided. I liked elements of both, but wanted them in a combined vehicle rather than choosing what to have and what to sacrifice.

And so I twittered about my search for a car, and asked for recommendations. To which I got a response that I should try the Toyota Aygo. Whilst a very small car, with a 1l engine. The low weight apparently meant reasonable performance and a reasonable price. Also the 1L engine means £35 per year road tax, and a claimed 62mpg.

And so last Monday I left work a little early and headed to the local toyota garage to take a look.

Picture by Matthias93 available from wikipedia under a CC licence

Immediately I liked the look of it, it has some things similar to the Twingo. Small with afairly squared off back. I chatted to the salesman and said I'd like a test drive. Specifically the one I'd seen had a 'multi-mode' transmission. So that it can be used in fully automatic mode, or you could take control of when the gear shifts happen. But not have a clutch pedal. I hadn't really thought much about it until I saw the car with that option on it. It's something I've wanted to try for ages, the idea of something I can be lazy in most of the time in traffic etc. but can, if I really want to, take more control from, really appeals.

As it happened the one I'd been looking at was a loan vehicle, and it was available so I was able to take it there and then. Good start. So I went off and drove a few miles, round some roundabouts, to a pub carpark, then back again. On the way out I used the full auto mode. and on the way back I took control. I liked both. The auto mode took a little getting used to. But it seemed a nice option, and not lacking for power.

Back at the dealership I decided to get some numbers. For that model car, the aygo 'blue' with the MMT the list price was £9205. And they could do a PCP deal over 2 years with a low 3.9%APR. This meant I could put in maximum deposit of 35%.  pay just £88 per month for 2 years, then put in another lump to own the car if I wanted. I'd not really been looking to go back into this kind of deal, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense. I spend more of the time with money in my account. And the interest is low. So low that actually by the end of the two years I'd of paid out less than if I bought the twingo out right.

And so armed with this information I left and went to think some more. It seemed to me that it was a good combination of the features I wanted. pretty nice ride, small, reasonable sized back space if I did need to carry passengers. Air con (a must for me) and an aux in on the stereo. After 2.5 years with a 6 cd changer, I've been craving some way to just plug an mp3 player in. I've tried fm transmitters, but they tend to be hopeless at holding signal. So aux-in was a must.

The boot on the Aygo is tiny. I mean really tiny. But then again most of the time I just need to put a couple of laptop bags in it. and If I really need to do more shopping, flapping down the back seats is a reasonable option. I vary rarely need to carry extra passengers AND baggage.

So on the Tuesday Kat and I took a quick trip back at lunchtime so that she could take a look at this new contender. We got the sales guy to let us poke around another car in the forecourt, and I decided it was time to make an offer. It went something like this...

Me:Ok, so I like the car, and I like the multi-mode transmission. I've been looking at the optional extras, and I'm interested in the Xtra protection pack, and the glove-box lid, I want a whole glove-box not just a hole. And I am interested in both of those at the price you quoted me yesterday... If you can do that for me, I'll walk in and buy one right now. Otherwise I'll have to go think about it.

Salesman:...erm, ok well I'll have to go look at some numbers...

Me:Ok, I'll wait here.

And so I stood outside with Kat whilst the salesman went off inside. By way of background the Xtra protection pack is priced at £330, it includes among other things, floor mats, and rear parking sensors. The glove-box lid, they have the cheek to charge £70 for. Apparently with the lid on, the manuals don't fit, and people were breaking the lids trying to force now their an option...erm ok.

I had gone with the intention of asking for these things, and holding firm.

When the sales guy emereged a few minutes later he said

Salesman:ok, so I've looked at the numbers, and we can do the car, with the multi-mode transmission, and the Xtra protection pack at then 9205 price. but we can't also do the glovebox lid, there just isn't the margin. can you meet me anywhere on the glovebox lid?

Salesman:No, sorry.

Me: ok thanks, bye.

and I walked away.

One of the good things about making the trip over lunch, was I knew I couldn't spend the time debating things, so I'd promised myself if they didn't take exactly the terms of my offer I'd walk away.

I was slightly dissapointed, but I think salesmen rely on the fact that people *want* to buy, and leaving without having done a deal can be difficult.

None the less I left and went back to work, and later on started reading about the citreon C1 and the peugeot 107. These are identical cars to the Aygo. They are made in the same factory, and are litteraly the same except for some very superficail externals to fit with their own brand.

When I looked at the paper work I picked up from the citreon garage I found it included info for a special edition c1 which was almost the same as the aygo blue, but without the MMT option, and metalic paint as a priced option. But the basic model was nearly 1k cheaper than the aygo I was looking at. This was good news as it gave me more to think about, such as how much did I like the transmission, and how much do I rate the Toyta brand.

On Thursday I called back, and arranged another, longer, test drive for Saturday morning. I really wanted to take the automatic through it's paces and convince myself one way or the other. If I really wanted it, then toyota was the only option. If not then I should see who amongst the three would give me the best deal.

On Saturday I returned, and went off for another test drive. This time I took it straight on the m27 and round a bit of the M3 before heading back into Eastleigh. It seemed to perform well at speed. Yes I had to keep my foot down harder to maintain speed, and to get a burst of acceleration I needed to use the kick-down feature to make it drop some gears. But once you've got used to it, that performs very well.

I'd read reviews that mentioned road noise/wind noise at speed, But I didn't feel it was any worse than my existing Mazda3, and certainly not enough to worry me.

I picked up Kat in Eastliegh and we set off for what is out work commute. Since this is where the car would spend most of it's time, I felt it was the most obvious thing to try. There is a nice 'fast' road on the way to work, and I drove it one way with full auto, and on the way back in semi-auto mode. Both were fun, and actually I was really getting used to the full auto-mode doing a good job.

Then I hit the motor ways back to the dealership and prepared myself for making a deal. I'd decided I do really like this multi-mode transmission. So now to seal the deal. I was considering that I'd probably have to accept the offer they made on Tuesday, but I wanted to push them a little first.

I asked about warranties, some dealers do 5 year, or even 7 year warranties. They said it was 3 year non negotiable. But those longer warranites often have terms that cover less and less in the later years. I could well believe it, but had no time to check. Besides the service costs seemed low, and I've not owned a car longer than 3 years in a while (possibly ever) so I probably shouldn't get too hung up on it.

I brought out all the doucmentation I had on other possible cars. I flat out pointed out the Citreon c1 makes a car which is basically identical, without the MMT, but for nearly 1K cheaper. And I'd not even looked at the 107 yet.

He didn't try to argue much, he said it is a matter of personal preference, whether you like the brands etc. He wasn't sure what their availability would be like. He already warned me that the new Aygo's would not be available until October! and that was likely the case for everyone (certainly I'd heard the same for the twingo).

It was now he mentioned that actually, the price is being put up by the manufacturer. For all cars registered in October and beyond. he wasn't sure whether they'd be able to make a deal given I'd been in earlier in the week, when they were still avialable in Septemeber.

This I thought was a tactic, make me feel like actually the price is rising, so that when he ultimately makes me the same offer from Tuesday, I am supposed to feel like I'm getting a better deal, I should be grateful etc.

This is how the deal went down.

Me: Ok, so I guess I'm still interested in the Aygo blue, I do really like the MMT, and I'm still interested in the Xtra protection pack and the glovebox lid. You mentioned prices might of gone up, so why don't you come up with a quote for me

Salesman:ok, I'll have to go talk to my boss (they always do)

He confirmed the PCP plan details I was interested in and he left.

Whilst he was gone I started talkig to Kat about what I'd accept. I decided that if he wanted to charge me *more* for the deal he offered on Tues, just because their availability was even later, then I'd walk. And go look at the C1.

He came back after a while.

Salesman: Ok so we can do the Aygo blue, with MMT, we'll absorb the price increase, and we'll throw in the Xtra pack AND the glovebox lid, at £9205

Me: Then you've got yourself a deal.

And that was that. We did some paperwork, there was a half-hearted attempt to sell me some kind of paint protection that is supposed to save my car from fading in the sunlight (not been an issue I've noticed on any of my prievious cars so no thanks) And of course the obligatory array of insurances you could have. again no thanks.

So I have to wait until October for my new car. But that's not too bad. I'm sure I could of gotten more off, or more extras on, maybe pushed for more in the first place. But no matter, the game was played, and I got what I wanted.