After 3 weeks of looking at cars I finally found one I liked. My previous car was a 2004 Honda Civic EX 2-door coupe which was totaled by a drunk on New Years Eve. For my next car I wanted to upgrade to a 4-door sedan and something "a little nicer" with less road noise.
At first I was thinking about the new Volkswagen Jetta. However the 2006/07 models are now as big as a Passat and look like a big boat - just sitting in one was enough to change my mind. So I took a look at the new, smaller Volkswagen GTI and the Audi A3 which are basically the same car. They're very sporty (200 hp) 4-door hatchbacks that are a lot of fun to drive. The Audi dealer was especially generous on my test drive, letting me try how sporty the A3 really is on some curvy backroads. However both cars require studded tires or those spider spike things since the tires are too wide for chains.
I did some more new car research on edmunds.com but couldn't find anything else that I wanted to look at. Everything was either too big, too ugly, too expensive or got horrible gas mileage. So I started looking at used cars and after a couple of days found a red 2002 Jetta GLS 1.8T.
It has 40K miles on it and is loaded with every option except the leather seats. The Turbo is great and kicks out 180 hp compared to the 127 hp my Civic had. It gets about 30 mpg on the highway, a little less than my Civic but not a bad trade-off for a car 50% heavier with a more powerful engine. The car was inspected by the same place I use to take my Civic and they provided me with a complete maintenance report. It also came with a 6 month/6,000 mile warranty. The salesman was pretty cool, feed me lunch and helped me return my rental car afterwards.
At first I had some reservations about buying a used car. I purchased my Civic new from autobytel.com and sat at home drinking coffee while the local Honda dealers kept calling back, lowering their prices. In the end I only spent 45 minutes at the dealership and that included a test drive and all the paperwork. This time I used autotrader.com to look for used cars in the area. When I found the one I liked I called the salesman and went for a test drive. The sticker price was almost 25% more than the price I was quoted online, but they immediately gave me the lower price. While I was there I overheard someone else trying to come to a fair price the old fashion way - haggling. It was the usual back and forth, I need to check with my manager stuff - not a lot of fun unless you like haggling for the sake of it. From now on I will only buy a car - used or new - from the Internet.