My little auto adventure

Vince Leong handing me the keys to the Volkswagen GTI

Vince Leong handing me the keys to the Volkswagen GTI

I guess it’s official: I’m looking for a new car.

I’m taking my time this time, though. Eight years ago, I was forced to part with my faithful, 16-year old Corolla when a kid suddenly pulled out of his lane as I was driving down Nimitz and just about totaled my car. Suddenly, I had to buy a new car, and fast.

In the end, it was a good opportunity to get a car that I’d always wanted. I had always had adventurous visions of me driving a Mini Cooper, sort of like all those good-looking people in “The Italian Job.” I bought my little red Mini not just to bring that vision to life, but probably to jazz up my self-image, too. The odd thing was, my Mini and I never really bonded the way I did with my Corolla. It was like desperately wanting to keep dating that good-looking bad boy, hoping that one day everything would click. It never did for us.

Recently, Vince Leong of Honolulu VW had me test drive the 2015 GTI, which had just come off the dock. That kind of accelerated my quest for a new car, so I’ll be blogging about my test drive experiences and welcome your input on what I might get.

My parameters: I’d love to stay in a budget of around $20,000, although I know that may not be realistic. I need air conditioning and a radio. I want it to be reliable, with not too many (or expensive) problems. And I’d like it to be reasonably attractive, not one of those things that look like an alien space ship. I had wanted to go back to my reliable Corolla line, but Toyotas are all egg-shaped now. I understand that makes them aerodynamically better, but I can’t see a thing while sitting in that egg.

I need a boxy shape like this for best visibility.

I need a boxy shape like this for best visibility.

Car lovers know the Volkswagon GTI as a good-quality, “great driving” car. The exterior is a little too young-looking for me, and I’d probably have to explain myself driving it, but the interior felt comfortable and kind of luxurious (at least, compared to the cars I drive), not to mention the ride was smooth. It’s easy to drive, too — I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt like I didn’t have to think the whole time I was driving. Unlike my Mini, the GTI is extremely comfortable for many passengers, and the back seat has several little features (carseat hook, extra armrest, and more) that my riders seemed to enjoy.

The GTI also is known for having a lot of power. To really test this, I drove it to the top of Alewa Heights. The road goes gradually upward, but as you get near the top, the street suddenly angles up sharply. I usually have to get a running start if I want to make it up that last part of the hill; with the GTI, I didn’t need to do anything … just drive.

Compared to my Mini, the GTI is a bit longer (just about everything is) and it has ample trunk space, so it’s like driving a station wagon. The gas mileage on these newer cars is listed at 25 city, 34 highway, but I drove 160 miles that weekend and didn’t need to fill up gas — not even half, I think. Usually a couple of trips out to Pearlridge will require a fill up at the end with my Mini.

For those of you that know me, I can get lost walking, but the new GTI has a touch-screen GPS that guides you by voice as well as an interactive map, so I tested that going to Kailua (which I can never navigate). There was no problem and I didn’t get lost.

Other features I didn’t get to test: the speakerphone Bluetooth is a great feature, but I rarely make or take calls so it was (surprisingly) hard for me to find someone to use it with. All my guy friends told me to try the cruise control, but I couldn’t figure out if I was hitting the right button or not.

The car was fully loaded and the MSRP is about $32,000. Despite it being out of my budget range, I was ready to buy the car at the end of the test drive weekend. No kidding! But the car nuts in my life — like Fred Paine at Pearlridge — reminded me not to jump at the first one to come along and to try some others before making a final decision on my next long-term relationship. I’m not going to lie: It was extremely hard to jump back into my old Mini after that.

What do you think? If not a Volkswagen, what would you recommend? And what should I test drive next?


GTI best

To get a test drive to see if my assessment was correct, hit up Vince Leong at Honolulu VW!