My First Car Review, Circa 2001

freelander&s1b

It seems like yesterday, but it was long ago. The year was 2001. I was the owner and operator of bmxbasics.org, a site that regularly got slightly over half a million article reads per month. It was, in real-world terms, bigger than TTAC is today, and far bigger than this site is — but I sold no ads and accepted no endorsements. Only today do I understand what a goldmine I threw away when I closed the site a few years later.

Such is life. I’ve been going through a backup of “BMX Basics” and I found this — an article I wrote for my readers some time in 2001. As I’ll explain below, I had sold two of my family’s three vehicles in the space of one day. A couple of months later, I would also sell my YZF600R to the same fellow who bought my Golf.

So I went test-driving and recorded my impressions for posterity, as you can read below. Try not to laugh too hard at me. I was twenty-nine years old, had a bit of money in my pocket, and thought I knew more than I probably did. What did I end up getting? Three cars: a 2001 BMW 330i Sport for my wife of the time, a 2002 Land Rover Freelander for me, and a Superformance S1, as seen in the picture above.

A brief note: At the time, my pen name for my website was “Jim Boswell”, which is why the “Boswell family” and “Mrs. Boswell” keep getting mentioned. Without further ado, then:

BMX Basics: Driving Impressions

It always surprises me when I meet a cyclist who has no interest in automobiles and/or street motorcycles. As someone who has always had an affinity for machinery in general and wheeled machinery in particular, I see a natural correlation between appreciating a carefully welded BMX frame and delighting in a flawlessly sewn Connolly Autolux hide, or a five-valve-per-cylinder head, or a telepathically responsive, perfectly synchronized, set of four 38mm Mikuni carbs. If you don’t, then there’s no reason for you to keep reading, because today I am going to share my driving impressions of a few vehicles I have had the recent pleasure of sampling.

You see, it all began when I decided to overhaul the Boswell fleet four months ago. I persuaded some former business partners of mine to take my 2000 Saab 9-3 off my hands, and replaced it with a 2001 Nissan Frontier XE King Cab. The Saab, although it was a delightful vehicle, was a bit fragile for the combination of muddy mountain biking and home improvement load-carrying it was being forced to cope with.

I drove and looked at a few trucks prior to purchasing the Frontier, and my opinions are recorded below. However, that was the easy part. The tough part came when I accidentally sold Mrs. Boswell’s 2000 Golf GLS 1.8T to a friend of ours, just hours after selling my 1982 VW Quantum coupe. Oops! We went from having three cars to one. So, Mrs. B and I have been out looking for something for her, as well – and, believe me, she is a lot tougher to please than I am. How’d I “accidentally sell” the vehicle? It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that I’m really in the doghouse with my lovely wife…

I have rated each car below on a scale from 1 to 10 for two different purposes: BMX and Real Life. To me, BMX means the ability for a couple of people to load up bikes and gear and drive a couple of hours. Real Life means driving to work, going to dinner with another couple, meeting with clients, that kind of stuff. Obviously, the trucks have an edge in BMX but lose out in Real Life. Mrs. Boswell still hasn’t made her decision, so feel free to email me with your advice and experiences. Thanks!

Trucks

  • Nissan Frontier King Cab – This was the truck I picked for myself. A unique exterior and a simple, high-quality interior. The 2.4 liter four-cylinder, also seen in the old 240SX, is a little slow, but it is adequate. Very comfortable seats, quiet inside. BMX: 8 out of 10, since you can’t put four people in it without two of them really suffering. Real Life: 3 out of 10.
  • Ford Ranger – I used to sell ’em, and I still like them, but they are now quite overpriced and underequipped. The four-cylinder is dangerously slow, the six-cylinders suck gas and are not durable. BMX: 6 out of 10. Real Life: 2 out of 10.
  • Land Rover Discovery Series II – As a former Disco owner, I was sorely tempted, but there’s no stick-shift any more and the running costs are terrible. The 30,000-mile service can cost eight hundred bucks! Bottom line was that is was not worth paying three times as much as the Frontier for the ability to carry two more people. BMX: 10 out of 10, assuming you are comfortable using a hitch rack. Real Life: 8 out of 10, until it’s time to put gas in it 🙂
  • Chevrolet Silverado LS – This truck had the worst interior of any vehicle I have ever driven – tacky, non-ergonomic, flimsy-feeling. The leather seats felt like vinyl. The stereo was unbelievably poor. The tailgate had a lot of flex in it. The thirty-two-thousand-dollar price tag added insult to injury. The only good points: A large bed and a strong motor. I think you have to be a “Chevy person” to buy one, and I’m not. BMX: 4 out of 10. Real Life: 1 out of 10, because I can’t think of anywhere I would want to drive a jacked-up Chevy truck.
  • Chevrolet S-10 Survivor – This was a nice enough truck, but it was expensive – the regular cab cost more than the Nissan extra-cab. Plus, I didn’t fit properly in it. BMX: 5 out of 10. Real Life: 2 out of 10.

Cars

  • Mercedes-Benz C230K Coupe – Everyone’s heard of the new “Benz hatchback”, and the first question they usually have is, “Is it a ‘real’ Mercedes?” The answer is a definite “yes”. The interior, despite being finished in the unflattering Oyster shade, was of equal quality to the S430 I drove shortly after (see below). The motor makes neat supercharged noises. The Panorama roof is fantastic. If it were up to me, this would be Mrs. Boswell’s next car, but she has decided to wait to see what the new A4 looks like. It looks like a 20″ would fit in the rear with the seats folded. BMX: 5 out of 10. Real Life: 8 out of 10.
  • BMW 740i Sport and 750il – I drove these at the “Drive For The Cure” event, and I will rate them together. I don’t fit very well in the 7-series, and the Sport seats made it worse. Power-wise, the lighter and lower-geared 740 Sport felt every bit as quick as the 750il, but the 750 has a variety of little touches, particularly for the passengers, that might justify the (gulp) $92,745 price. Mrs. Boswell and a friend conversed quietly in the back seat, unconcerned, as I swept past 125mph down a mildly curvy two-lane road (cleared for the occasion, of course), chasing down a gentleman in a 330i convertible who looked just like David E. Davis of “Automobile” magazine. BMX: 4 out of 10, since the rear seats don’t fold, and the seats didn’t look terribly durable. Real Life: 8 out of 10, perhaps higher if you fit in the Sport seats.
  • Jaguar X-Type 3.0 manual – I loved this car, with its burled walnut interior, Connolly leather seats, and slack-free four-wheel-drive chassis. Mrs. Boswell, a former Vanden Plas owner, thought it felt “too heavy” and continues to prefer the (unfortunately more expensive) S-Type. BMX: 6 out of 10. The Premium package adds folding rear seats, and the roof is pre-drilled for a two-bike rack. Real Life: 9 out of 10, especially if you live somewhere in “snow country”.
  • Mercedes-Benz S430 – The car magazines are right – this is a better car than the 7-Series. That being said, the interior is not up to Audi standards, the stock wheels are terrible, and the “COMAND” system is not without its glitches. Unlike the Jaguar navigation, it requires that you swap DVDs to travel between regions, making it less useful for driving to Nationals. At least I fit in the car well. Bottom line: I liked the old S-class better, which is lucky for me since I can’t really afford this one… BMX: 3 out of 10. Real Life: 9 out of 10.
  • VW Passat GLS – Mrs. Boswell, a former 1998 Passat owner, thought we were driving the V6, but it was just the re-chipped 170HP 1.8T that makes its appearance for 2002. A big, smooth car, equal in many ways to a 5-series BMW. The leather interior is not too bad for the price, and the chrome-heavy restyle is an improvement in my tasteless opinion. The sticker on the car we drove was $25,675 – less than most Camrys or Accords, and it’s a much better car. The most serious problem with the car, VW’s despicable two-year bumper-to-bumper warranty, has been addressed for 2002. You now have four years or 48,000 miles before it’s “your problem”. BMX: 5 out of 10. Real Life: 7 out of 10.

    Still on our test-drive list: the Acura 3.5RL, BMW 525i 5-speed, Passat W8 (if it gets here in time), and the new 2002.5 Audi A4. Mrs. Boswell has stated that she will make no car-buying decision until the new A4 is available, meaning that we have a few months of carpooling, er, truckpooling, ahead of us. In the meantime, if you happen to see a new A4 on a car carrier somewhere, or if you are a Mercedes dealer who has a new C230K, C5 Premium and C7 Sport packages, in stock, contact me!

    * * *

    If I could do it all again, I’d have kept my Nissan Frontier. I paid $14.5K for it and sold it for $6500 a year later with just 18,000 miles on it and a few BMX-related scratches. Back then I didn’t really have “money problems” as such and I didn’t care what I got for the truck. Nowadays, I wish I had that simple, reliable Nissan King Cab in my driveway. What would it be worth today? About six grand.

21 Replies to “My First Car Review, Circa 2001”

  1. Suto

    Man, If I was in the position to buy a BMW and a Range Rover at age 29, I would be the worst insufferable know it all. I mean way worse than I am now.
    “she has decided to wait to see what the new A4 looks like”. Were there any surprises there? I guess it was too early to know how safe Audi would play it for years to come.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      We didn’t wait for the new A4… ended up doing the E46 330i Sport. But when the new A4 came out and it wasn’t close to as dynamic or sporty as the 330i, we had no regrets.

  2. Robert

    Good stuff. The old Nissans of that era were good, honest trucks. I loved my 1990 Hardbody, aka The Great Red Dirt Bike Truck. I drove it for 10 years..motocross and hare scrambles all over Texas, to college and work every day, moving out if my mom’s house, and to my first job out of school. You can fit 3 motocross bikes in the bed if you load the middle one backwards.

    I sometimes wonder if I could pick up a clapped out one to go LeMons racing with.

  3. -Nate-Nate

    “thought I knew more than I probably did” .

    And therin lies the rub : the more you learn , you begin to realize how little you actually know .

    This wasn’t bad , you’re better now though .

    -Nate

    • VolandoBajo

      You’re definitely a better, more engaging writer today, but there are no obvious technical flaws in your work back then.

      Certainly it is far better than my first try, a review of the results of a monthly regional NHRA sponsored drag race, as a bright eyed and bushy tailed HS student.

      The type of comments you made then are better than most of the blurbs written today on sites like cars.com and Edmunds.

      As to your comments about waking up to opportunities you had but missed, it still pains me to think of opportunities I failed to notice until I was older, and they had passed me by. All part of growing up, I suppose, as a friend of mine once commented, upon catching a DWI in his late twenties.

      The only upside to situations like that is I believe that they keep us, or make us, somewhat more humble, as we finally recognize that we haven’t learned it all just because we are X years old, certainly true for 18 < X < 70, and perhaps an even wider range.

      I take it you were using Boswell as a nom de plume at that time.

      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        Yes — from 1994 to 2003 I used the pen name “Jim Boswell” when writing about BMX. That’s a long story in and of itself 🙂

    • jz78817

      I thought that as I aged, I’d learn more and more about less and less until I knew everything about nothing.

      as it turned out, I’ve learned less and less about more and more so I’ll soon know nothing about everything.

  4. Ken

    Cudos to you for opening the kimono and putting this out there.

    1. Your writing style, ability, and imagery have greatly evolved.
    2. Fun to look back and see what cars became future classics and what became duds. The C230K coupe, the LR, and the X-Type did not age well.

  5. jz78817

    read your diesel piece at R&T. was looking for how to comment, then I saw it uses Facebook (which I don’t do) and the first few comments are predictably garbage.

    Jack, one thing heavy trucks could move to is (abundant) natural gas engines. the heavy engine manufacturers either offer some of their engines in a spark-ignited natural gas setup or partner with someone else (e.g. Cummins Westport) to convert them. The natural gas versions are just about even with the diesel versions on hp and torque; natural gas has an octane rating of about 130 AKI so they can maintain high boost pressures needed. turbocharging makes engines torquey, not diesel.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      One guy on R&T’s Facebook page wrote “YOU’LL HAVE TO USE DIESEL WHEN THE GASOLINE RUNS OUT” or something to that effect.

      • jz78817

        but you’re the one who doesn’t know anything about diesels, so how can you write for R&T?

  6. VTNoah

    Just sold my 2002 Frontier Crew Cab for $5000. Great truck and will probably end up in Afghanistan ferrying Muhahadin Warriors around with a rocket launcher in the back fairly soon. Got rid of it because I was using it as a commuter and it averaged 15 mpg. $200 a month in gas just wasn’t making sense. Flipped it into a lease for a 2015 C-Max Energi with 20 miles of electric range and a $200 a month payment. Now I’ve got a brand new ride for what I was paying in gas on my truck. I’ll definitely regret it in about 5 years when my kids get old enough to be riding bigger toys.

  7. Tom KlockauTom Klockau

    Good read. My aunt still has an ’04 A4 with the 3.0. Bought new, and currently nearing 130K on the clock.

  8. Athos

    The dog and lemon guide has the kindest words for the LR pictured above. How did you go with it?

    And I agree, Tahoes are awesome. From the first one to the latest, maybe the second gen ones a bit less so. Unfortunately, they’re worth a fortune down here… if you can find one or get it converted to RHD.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I ended up owning two Land Rovers after writing that — the aforementioned 2002 Freelander and a 2003 Discovery 4.6.

  9. DeadWeight

    Jack, don’t you ever find the great car/vehicle chase exhausting?

    I’m stuck in my ways…now…of having a good handling vehicle with reasonable power, a comfortable enough ride and interior room as a daily driver, and a manual transmission, and I do NOT want to throw 10k away per year in depreciation and running costs on any vehicle.

    As it is, the differences between 21 thousand dollar cars (or 30k ones) and 61 thousand dollar cars (or 80k ones) are probably fewer now than ever before, with a Honda Accord possessing many similar attributes to an Acura RSX, and a Chrysler 300 possessing many similar attributes to a Lexus LS460.

    • Athos

      The differences are skin deep. The Lexus could use higher grade and sophisticated dampers than the 300, allowing the engineers to give it a more refined ride/handling balance. Even within a product line, these things happen. I’ve seen personally how much better are the parts for the high content versions compared to the poverty pack models: better tail shaft, shockers and more body insulation just to name a few.

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