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car shopping with confidence

This weekend hubby and I are test driving some new cars. I'm a pedestrian and transit user who posts about skincare and pizza, so you may not know I'm also a car girl.

I've loved cars since I was a kid: think I built my first model when I was 5. Had favourite Indy and F1 drivers by 6, went to my first drag race at 7, and my first stock car race at 8. My dad would collect vintage beater cars and fix them up in our barn, so I'd dissect engine parts and figure out what went where. Here's my sis and I in 2008 in the trunk of one of them (car buffs: it's a 1967 Corvair Monza).

When I was 10, I announced to my parents which car I wanted to buy when I grew up. Not because it was fancy (humble farm girl here) but because, as I explained to them at the time, it had excellent handling and was well engineered. In 2009 I bought that exact car, a BMW 3 series. What a feeling that was!

our current car

Our 2012 BMW X1 is a small crossover, and we've had it for nearly four years. She's been good to us: road trips to New York, Montreal, Toronto, Savannah, Charleston, Washington D.C., Prince Edward County, the cottage... she's always had our backs.

When a tree came down in front of us in an electrical storm, our brakes helped us stop on a dime. When we thought we'd blown a tire (or a whole axel) on a massive pothole in New York, our run-flat tires took it like a champ. And this week's snow and ice was no match for our all-wheel drive and traction control.

out with the old, in with the new

We lease rather than buy because it works best for us: we love trying new features, want the most up-to-date fuel efficiency, and frankly, the math makes more sense for us. So every four years we hand back one car and pick out another.

The good: it has a tight, sporty suspension, is great on gas, has the most responsive brakes I've used, has amazing pick-up with no turbo lag, and sweet Jesus, can you ever pack a lot into it. Crucial for NYC trips and cottage weekends. Hatchbacks are glorious! The bad: we've been frustrated by poor interior storage, weird design quirks, and even recalls.

BMW's updates to the all-new 2016 version (below) look impressive, but we've also been researching options by Volkswagen, Mazda, Mercedes, and Subaru.

top 5 car shopping tips

As a youngish woman, I often find car salespeople will talk down to me, assume I have no idea what I'm talking about, or think I only have an opinion on the paint colour. Doesn't matter if you're a car person or not, when you're making such a big purchase you should be treated with respect and professionalism.

Whether you're leasing or buying, here are five tips to help you shop with confidence:

1. Know your needs, and be ready to sum them up to the salesperson quickly and clearly. This will keep you focused if they start throwing fancier options at you. Extra bells and whistles may sound pretty swell but they're expensive. Stick to your guns.

2. Know at least a few details of each model of car you're considering, and certainly the ones you want to test drive. Horsepower, torque, fuel efficiency, and warranty are good ones to remember.

3. If it's a used car, be sure you've checked the mileage and any remaining warranty. Research any major issues for that model year, and ask about its history, maintenance, and how many owners it's had. Consider ordering a Carfax report, especially if you're not buying from a dealer.

4. Be tough but respectful in your negotiations. Crunch the numbers in advance so you know what you can afford, and be straight up with them."This is my budget and I can't go above this number. What can you do for me? Can you match Mazda's financing? Can you give me a free month like VW?"

5. Be prepared to walk away. This is a tough one, but it's critical to making the right decision with such a big purchase. If they think they've got you, they probably do. There will always, always be another car so if something doesn't feel right or if you're unsure, walk away. Even if it's just long enough to leave the dealership and get a coffee, you'll have the chance for a sober second thought away from the sales floor.

Hope that helps! For us, it's been a fantastic four years with our trusty X1 but we'll see if we try something new. And like I said, we'll also be ready to walk away.

UPDATE: our new wheels!

We met with our dealer, went for a test-drive, crunched the numbers, compared models, negotiated hard, and took the leap.

Meet our new baby, Brunhilde! That's her below, ain't she pretty? She's the 2016 BMW X1 xDrive28i with 228 horsepower, 258 pound feet of torque, and she does 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds. She's also got a best-in-class 505 litres of trunk space for trips, shopping bags, you name it.

We honest-to-goodness thought we'd go for something else this time, but BMW's 2016 updates are practical and exhaustive. They fixed the niggly things that bugged us about our 2012 and made her even more beautiful and fuel-efficient.

Brunhilde's being built in Germany as we speak and she'll arrive in Canada at the end of April. Just 8 weeks til we pick her up! Then it'll be time for our new car tradition: take her through a drive-thru and hit the open road. Can hardly wait.


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