So now I can get back to work, too - beginning with my recap of the L.A. Auto Show, which concluded over the weekend.
It's become something of a tradition for us to attend the show with my car-loving friend, Tim, and his family. But this year, it was a serious endeavor: The lease on my Volvo S60 is up in June and I need to make some decisions.
The car is a joy to drive, but it's had some major mechanical issues (all of which were repaired for free under the manufacturer's warranty). The last one occurred during its most recent routine maintenance: the radiator had to be replaced, at just 30,000 miles.
So as much as I love my Volvo, I don't think I can afford it once the warranty runs out.
I'm in a different place from where I was when I entered into my lease nearly three years ago. I had owned my previous vehicle (a Saturn) for 11 years, and drove the one before that (a Ford Tempo) for 11 years as well. With so many new fuel technologies being developed, I was leery of investing in a new car that might be obsolete in a couple of years.
And after turning 50, I think I was experiencing something of a midlife crisis: I'd never owned anything but a small, practical car. I wanted something sexy... European... yet safe. The Volvo fit the bill.
There are a lot more hybrid models on the market today, but more are in the pipeline - and the technology is still in flux. For that reason, I would want to continue leasing... except for a major lifestyle change that occurred when my daughter started training at a new gym that's 35 miles away from my home. For the first two years with the Volvo, I was able to keep within the 12,000 mile per year terms of my lease. Now, I'm struggling. Carpooling helps -- but I'm still 1500 miles above where I should be.
So I'm going to have to buy my next car, and it will likely be a lot less luxurious than the one I'm driving now. While I want one that's comfortable (because we Angelenos practically LIVE in our cars!), it will also have to be practical, reliable -- and offer enough legroom for my soon-to-be teenager and her friends.
Finally, I want to support the American auto industry - so I would like to find all these wonderful features in a Ford, GM or Chrysler vehicle. I have noticed that GM and Ford (especially) have come a long way in the quality and styling of their products and I'm anxious to try some of them out. (I actually did get to try out GM's new Traverse and loved it. Too bad it's out of my price range.)
That said, I'm not going to choose my next automobile purely out of a sense of patriotism. I need to be sure that the manufacturer will still be in business in six months (or ten years). I want good safety ratings, great gas mileage -- and the most car for my money. That means I'm also looking at models from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai and Kia.
These are the models that most impressed me at the show:
Chevy Malibu: It's been redesigned on the inside and out, and there's even a hybrid model (although the savings in mileage might not be worth the additional cost). I am looking forward to giving this one a test drive.
Saturn Vue: It's been redesigned (courtesy of GM's European Opel crew) and is less boxy than the original. Its sticker at the Auto Show indicated a 4-star safety rating, so it appears that they've solved the rollover problems of the older model. And there is a hybrid version due out this spring.
My old Saturn was the most reliable car I'd ever owned and it would be nice to get back into one. I may also look at the Aura (which already has a hybrid model available) - but I'm feeling a lot more partial to SUV's and crossovers these days.
Subaru Outback and Forester - the latter has been redesigned. Both get really good mileage and some models are PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicles). And you can get into a fairly full-featured one for about $26,000.
Toyota Prius: Still the leader in hybrid gas mileage, and surprisingly roomy interior.
Honda Insight: Honda is relaunching its hybrid-only model and it looks like it will give the Prius a run for its low mile-per-gallon money.
I also like the look of the new Civics. I test drove one the last time I was in the market and was not impressed (but at that time, I'd already fallen in love with my Volvo - so nothing was impressing me then).
Other models I want to look at:
Ford's Fusion, Escape, Edge and Flex - although I am afraid the latter two models are too costly for my budget.
Kia Sorento: I rented a Sedona over the summer for our trip to Las Vegas and was impressed with its economy, comfort, and drive.
Nissan Rogue: I think it's cute. I'd like to take it for a test drive.
Hyundai Santa Fe: I hear good things about Hyundais, which look a lot richer than you'd expect for the price. And you can't beat the 10-year warranty.
So there's my list. I think it will be interesting to see what I end up with. The last time I did this, the car I got was NOT one of the ones I was initially interested in seeing.