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Bill Crittenden/The Crittenden Automotive Library
August 14, 2012
I had a rather unexpected weekend these past few days. After seven years of being a minivan family, it was time to get rid of the ol' 2005 Chevrolet Venture. There were too many parts falling off of it, and my wife, Heidi, absolutely hated the thing and hated being stuck driving it while I stole her more fuel-efficient Pontiac Vibe for my long commutes when gas hit $3 a gallon.
It had become a quality of life issue. After losing my mom earlier this year, I realized just how temporary life is, and spending all of one's time saving up for later needs to be balanced with the idea that tomorrow may not come for some of us, so we need to enjoy today just a little. I'm enjoying the heck out of the Vibe, and Heidi was punished long enough by the Venture, so was time to get Heidi's little dream car, a Kia Soul.
Or so I thought.
She went to the local Chevrolet dealership, a very nice bunch of folks at Reichert Chevrolet. Great bunch of folks, but nothing they were selling interested her. We went to Gary Lang to look at Kias, but we had heard enough about dealing with them to know we didn't want to actually buy it from them.
The Mitsubishis were unimpressive, Dodge's recent quality issues kept us from even looking at them, Subarus and most European cars were too expensive, and my favorite foreign brand (Hyundai) owned Kia and didn't have an equivalent to the Soul.
We found a really nice Kia Soul online. Java brown, houndstooth pattern interior, loaded. It must have been nice, because it had left the dealership lot for good the night before we got there. But we stuck around to take a look at the Fords. I was impressed, they've come a long way from the 1995 Ranger I learned to drive in.
I had completely forgotten about Mazda. From what Heidi read online later it was common mistake, apparently.
We walked back to the Kia dealership, and saw a dark metallic blue CX-7 in the parking lot. Heidi noticed it instantly, asking me what it was. "Too expensive" was my reply. We went into the dealership to ask about a new Soul.
Well, without dissecting my family's finances in a public forum the Soul was more than we were willing to spend on a monthly basis. We were getting ready to leave and go look at used Souls from other dealerships when our dealer, an awesome guy named Chris Koch, went back to talk to a manager and Heidi hit the restroom before the ride home.
Chris comes out with a key and says he has a vehicle the sales manager thinks we might be interested in. It's the CX-7, and he didn't know how much it was yet but the sales manager said to show it to us. I said no. My first impression is what kind of jerk knows we can't afford a new Kia Soul so they decide to dangle something like that in front of us? And they don't know how much it is yet? What kind of run-around is this?
Before Chris could put the key back Heidi comes out and wants to give it a test drive. She thought, "why not?", she was curious, and we had nothing but time. It was pristine, only 2 years old and wasn't showing any signs of wear and tear. But the instant Heidi turned the key, the affordability became apparent: 69,000 miles. Between its young age and the iPass transponder velcro still attached to the windshield, we figured this belonged to a really, REALLY long-distance commuter. Apparently one who didn't smoke and took immaculate care of their car. We could see this firsthand, but the dealership still had to put 69,000 miles on its inventory system to sell it, and that would be a major turn-off to most buyers browsing online for a car.
Heidi went tearing through the parking lot, having quite a bit of fun with it while I quietly freaked out. It was pretty big, not as big as the minivan but bigger than I'm used to driving, but it doesn't handle like a bloated SUV. It's a Mazda, of course.
Most impressive was the fact that I'm 6'2", mostly torso with short legs, so finding a car with enough headroom for me can be difficult and even I had plenty of headroom in the back seat
. The money worked out okay, and we decided to sign some papers. While the dealership was getting the loan approved, we did a little catch-up research. Most places online had a knock on the interior room and power of a 4-cylinder in a vehicle its size, which in considering the original price fuel economy probably isn't the biggest issue to people making the sort of money required to buy one new.
Quite a few driver/owner reviews mentioned that they had gone to a dealership for something other than a Mazda, and ended up going home with the CX-7. A pattern we had followed and were about to repeat. Apparently, they make fabulous cars, but they could use a little help in the marketing department. Not that they haven't tried, we remember the slightly annoying "Zoom-Zoom" commercials of a few years back, and the orange-and-green Renown/Charge Mazda 787B from Le Mans is one of my favorite racing cars of all time, but Heidi had yet to even see a Mazda5 and when we looked it up in the dealer's Mazda inventory the Chris thought we were talking about the CX-5.
We happily signed our life away for the next several years, not at all worried about the Mazda lasting that long even with the mileage it had. It was not only immaculate, but under the hood everything was spaced out enough that I could work on it easily in my own garage. Heck, I could even see a decent patch of asphalt through the engine compartment, just like the old days!
After a burger at Red Robin on the way home I finally got to drive it for the first time. Now I knew why Heidi was tearing through the parking lot like she did, despite being the size of a full-size wagon and jacked up a few inches, it felt as precise and easy to drive as my little Vibe. The power was plenty considering just how light the vehicle felt...it's definitely not a race car but compared to other SUVs and crossovers it follows racing principles that have made Mazda a common sight at race tracks: light weight and stiff suspension.
Upon doing further research we discovered that the vehicle was made in Hiroshima, Japan. I thought Detroit's recent resurgence was impressive, but Hiroshima? To go from being the first town to have an atomic bomb dropped on it to now building cars better than what most of what Detroit turns out is nothing short of remarkable.
Heidi's the sort of person that likes to name a car when she loves it (the Venture was called many things, most of them vulgar and none of them a real "name"), and after trying a few things that were a play on the CX-7 color "Stormy Blue," I thought that because of the Japanese origin it should have a Japanese name. The name I came up with was Aeris, not a particularly Japanese name but one from a favorite of their culture: Final Fantasy VII. Aeris Gainsborough was a major character in one of my all-time favorite games, and in looking for a nice but non-traditional song we even used "Aeris' Theme" by Nobuo Uematsu from the soundtrack at our wedding, so Heidi loved it!
One of Heidi's favorite television shows is Grey's Anatomy, and we've seen Patrick Dempsey in a few of his movies. So the first thing I looked into getting for the new car was a pair of Dempsey Racing license plate frames. They have an online store, but it's just t-shirts and hats. C'mon, guys, you gotta expand your product line!
So now Aeris, a front-wheel drive Stormy Blue Mica 2010 Mazda CX-7 i Sport, is a part of the family. Heidi is happy, I'm happy that Heidi's happy, and I'm enjoying exploring Mazda's history, of which I will share what I can with everyone through The Crittenden Automotive Library.