I think someone (DeMuro?) once referred to Carmax as the mall for car guys (and gals). Maybe I said it, but I'm not normally that creative. Either way it's a true statement: People go to malls to walk around and window shop, I go to Carmax to do the same, but the windows are way cooler.
I went to Carmax today to kill some time on this three day weekend. Little did I know today was the perfect day to visit Carmax...
My salesman was Ryan. Great guy, really nice and the total antithesis of your typical car salesman: no attempts to pressure me into buying a car, knowledgeable about cars, and clearly a car guy himself. I explained to Ryan what I am considering: a two car garage of Corvette and an SUV, making it clear that I was really only there to kill time. No problem, Ryan seemed as eager to look at and talk about cool cars as I did.
Before we were even 5 feet from the door to the lot Ryan mentions that something cool was on the lot today: a Camaro ZL1
(not pictured, but it looked like this)
Unfortunately Carmax isn't keen on $50,000 cars being test driven, but Ryan was more than happy to get me the key and let me fire it up. Good god the sound was incredible. If the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse ride down today, I have to imagine it'll sound similar to the V8 roar of the ZL1. With ever press of the throttle the entire car twists in response as if it's egging you on to drop the clutch and let loose a relentless tire shredding burnout.
Having gotten my blood pumping we shut off the Camaro and started to walk down the row of sports cars and stumbled onto another piece of GM badassery: a CTS V Coupe
Another car I couldn't test drive, but again Ryan was more than willing to get the key out and let me fire it up. It was a bit more subdued than the Camaro, but still incredible. I really liked the lights in the tachometer that follow the needle, it looked cool
As if that wasn't enough, right next to the CTS-V Coupe was another Carmax special: A BMW M5. Having already tasted American muscle I figured I might as well give the Germans a shot at revenge for WWII so once again Ryan eagerly got the key and we fired up the Bimmer
If I'm honest, the M5 was disappointing. From the pilot's seat the car was really quiet and not even remotely as exciting as the GM products. I'm sure it's a hoot to drive, but I wanted more noise, more anger, more emotion. Sorry Germany, America wins again.
By now I was ready to get something out on the road. I wanted to drive something sporty, something I hadn't driven before, and something with the correct number of pedals. The 2 Camaro SS's sitting in the row were autotragic, so I passed. There was however a nice 2013 Mustang GTfor a reasonable price, so I asked Ryan if we could take it out. He replied by taking my drivers license and going to grab a plate.
We got off the lot and I took the drivers seat. I quickly muttered a prayer for forgiveness to the GM gods for committing adultery on my brand, buckled up, and drove off the lot.
The first thing I noticed was the sound: it sounded properly muscular with the 5.0L V8 responding to my every wish with the gas pedal. Once again it didn't quite match up to glory the ZL1 presented earlier, but for half the price I couldn't complain.
The clutch felt a bit odd. It seemed very long and the engagement point was a bit vague. I wasn't exactly smooth at first because I keep passing the engagement point while looking for it. This is probably my fault entirely and not the cars, but it was a bit odd. Easy to get used to I'm sure.
Putting your foot down is a riot though. The whole car lurches back, lifting the front hood as if to scream HELL YES LETS DO THIS! In a car like this you begin to hate other cars on the road because they are just in the way.
The short crispy throws of the gear shift felt great, but as someone who daily's an economy car the tightness of the gearbox threw me off and I struggled to figure out what gear I was in a couple times. Not really a big deal: again, my fault, not the cars, and the Mustang really didn't give a shit what gear it was in it was ready to blow your hat off at any speed.
We took an on ramp to the freeway which gave me a chance to see how it handled a bit. I was impressed: this behemoth of a car exhibited little to no body roll and felt pretty nimble for its size. We exited the highway to turn around and I put my foot down into a turn getting the back loose a bit, grinning as the traction control let me have some fun without killing myself. I get it now, I get why people like these, but I still didn't.
Why didn't I like it? It's too big. While the car is very comfortable and very capable, it's huge. It feels huge. It looks huge. It handles really well, but all I could think while driving it was 'this thing would be so much more fun if it was smaller'.
If I remember correctly the new 'Stang will be lighter and smaller, so I'm eager to drive one. I'm still not a Mustang fan, but I get it now, and boy do I love V8s.
After a quick spin the Mustang I reluctantly gave up the drivers seat again and let Ryan take us back on the Carmax lot. We walked down the row of cars again and stopped to look at a few interesting specimens: A Lancer Evolution poked its wing out as if to say hello so we opened it up and I sat inside. The seats were really supportive, but the whole interior felt stupid cheap. I don't mean that in a 'this feels cheap for a $35,000 car', which it does: it feels cheap for any price point. I get that it's a souped up economy car but come on Mitsubishi, you could at least pretend you're giving me an interior befitting of a car this expensive.
Next stop was a Focus ST. I've driven them and been in them so I wasn't all that interested, but it was there. I still think the Recaro's are too tight, but these were a bit broken in and a little more comfortable. Adjustable bolsters would be nice. This one was a great deal but only because the previous asshole...excuse me, owner...smoked in it. Poor ST.
We reached the end of the row where a pair of Chevrolet Volts piqued my interest. Once again I asked Ryan if we could take one out, and he obliged.
The one I drove was fully loaded with a really comfortable leather interior. With only 35,000 miles on the odometer it seemed like a really good deal at only $21,000. Once again I took the drivers seat and pulled off the lot, but this time was different: instead of a resounding V8 roar all I heard was nothing.
Every time an electric car gets reviewed the reviewer makes some version of the same remark. 'It's so quiet' the reviewer will say, as if he doesn't understand what electric motors are. I always roll my eyes at this inevitable statement, I mean we've all driven golf carts, right? It's an electric car, of course it's silent you monkey! Driving the Volt made me understand this line though because it's truly eerie. Even I with my fleet of electric powered airplanes and my four years of engineering education was shocked by the silent motion of the Volt.
For being a heavy car designed for economy the Volt drives surprisingly well. The instant torque of the electric motor provides a nice amount of acceleration, and the low center of gravity gives the car relatively sporting handling characteristics. Once you get up to speed and settle in the car is remarkably smooth and comfortable, although the road noise is a bit high. It's probably about as loud as any other car but with no engine noise it becomes a bit more noticeable.
The crazy displays in the volt throw a bunch of information at you in an interesting way: instead of a tachometer you have this eco display that changes depending on how hard you drive, encouraging you to be economical. It's fun motoring in a different way, playing the built in video game of economy with the Volt is actually quite entertaining.
I liked the Volt, I came away from it more impressed than I expected to be. If I wanted a basic four door for commuting to work, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. It's far from the best car on the road, but the electric motor provides a great driving experience and impossible to beat economy. While not an exciting car by virtually any measure, it's one of the more enjoyable cars I've driven in recent memory. I will strongly recommend one to anyone looking for a commuter car.
With our Volt session over, Ryan and I walked over the SUVs so I could glance at a few while consider my two car plan, but realistically Carmax doesn't carry any SUVs in the price range I want, and after 5 minutes of looking at Suburbans and Expeditions I was getting bored and my attention started waning.
Ryan and I exchanged information and I thanked him for taking me around and letting me drive some cars. All in all it was a fun hour or so of manly mall shopping, and I couldn't recommend carmax enough if you're looking to buy a car. I've never had a bad experience there, and today's experience was one of the best car buying experiences I've ever had, especially since I'm not actually buying a car.