A vehicle buying story, in three acts.
I. The truck.
While shopping for my very first new vehicle, I ended up at a Toyota dealership in Parkersburg, West Virginia. I'd given up hope of ever finding a worthwhile pickup truck with the features I wanted. While dejectedly walking off the lot, I spied a truck near the end row and (for only the second time in my life, after the MR2) fell in love with a vehicle at first sight. A dark green Toyota Tacoma Xtracab. The interior was one of the worst browns I'd ever seen, but the outside just sang to me. I went inside the dealership to ask about the truck, and for the first time in my search, got the textbook hard sell. I almost laughed in the sales guy's face with how hard he pressured me. I walked out 10 minutes later.
I couldn't get the truck out of my mind, so as a last, desperate move, I called an internet car company to see if they could get me a similar truck. They searched my region, and in the 15-state area, found only three trucks that had 1) that color green, 2) a manual transmission, 3) bucket seats, and 4) an interior that wasn't brown i.e. grey was the only other option. I bought the truck sight unseen, and the internet company had the truck driven from Tennessee to a dealership in Cincinnati, Ohio. I bought the truck for $500 under invoice, which was a few thousand under MSRP. Both the online company and the Cincinnati dealership were great to work with.
Plot twist: that was 2002, long before buying anything on the internet was the norm, let alone something as significant as a car. Colleagues were horrified that I dared to do something like buy a car over the internet, and to be fair, I couldn't blame them. Nevertheless, I got almost everything I wanted with that truck, and more. A real 12 out of 10 experience, just fantastic.
I drive that truck to this day. The truck turns 20 years old in several months, and just broke 175K miles.
II. The impossible replacement
I knew nothing about vehicles. In 2017, I started to go shopping for a replacement for my truck. I loved driving a stick, but nobody sold them anymore, so I figured I'd go looking for a good automatic. All I wanted was a responsive vehicle with good seats like my truck, and some form of all wheel drive because I live in Ohio, the land of slush, mud, and orange barrels. Should have been simple enough to find, I figured. ...I figured wrong. Several disappointing test drives over the course of 18 months made me wonder why I was struggling to find a decent vehicle. I wasn't in a hurry to get something new because my truck ran fine, but I was long since over driving a pickup.
Early 2019 saw my hopes rise with the introduction of the Mazda CX-5 turbo. One finally appeared on a frigid winter day at a Columbus, Ohio dealership, and I hustled there to give it a shot. While I understood I was comparing apples to oranges, I couldn't express the magnitude of my disappointment with that car's performance. From zero to 40 mph, that 250hp, 310lb-ft SUV ran slower than my (at the time) 17-year old 150hp, 177lb-ft pickup truck. Sure, the SUV had way more passing power than my truck once the SUV got going, but getting off the line and out of the way of legendarily distracted Columbus traffic was no better in the MX-5 Turbo than my old truck. Props to the easygoing, no-pressure Mazda dealership -- they treated me fine. Regardless, I left bewildered and dejected.
That test drive launched my true vehicular education. I spent months falling down YouTube holes learning about transmissions, differentials, tires, turbo lag, NA and forced induction differences, the effects of extreme temperatures, traction control, and countless other subtopics that eventually explained what happened that day at the Mazda dealership. And I learned just how lucky I was to get my particular truck back in 2002.
III. The GR Harbinger
The rest of the world saw the debut of the GR Yaris, and I couldn't have been more envious. And we missed out because the US version of the Yaris was actually a rebadged Mazda 2? Our only hope came from a Toyota exec throwaway comment about how it would be a shame to develop that 3-cylinder engine, and only use it in one car.
And here we are.
On paper, the GR Corolla will give me everything I want. Like my truck, I figured my wants were pretty simple: 1) a manual transmission, 2) comfortable seats, 3) some form of all wheel drive. I had no idea those three desires would make my search so difficult, nor so enjoyably interesting. Other cars also looked good on paper, but nothing wow'd me like my truck first did when I first saw and drove it in 2002. The GR Corolla feels like it has a real shot.
I don't know how this story ends, and I've seen more interesting cars release in the last several months than I've seen in the last five years. The last hurrah of engines and stick shifts is shaping up to make a great closing decade. With any luck, 2023 finds me in a black, core GR Corolla with the performance pack, carving through tree-lined Appalachian roads.