I suppose it’s human nature. We recently passed the yearly reminder that time only ever moves one way; the crushing linearity and irrevocable nature of our decisions come flooding into our minds as one year comes to a close and another threatens to open. I often wonder if buying the Z4 was the right thing to do.
Oh, no, it didn’t start out that way. It started out with the top down, smiles, friends, visions of thousand-mile drives to nowhere, and absurd missions like “I heard this one restaurant in Boston has the best clam chowder in the country, let’s go there for lunch”. But then reality set in. The deep and bitter cold that kept the top up on the highway (top down on surface streets unless it dips below 28F, but on the highway, it’s just too much damn wind), repeated light snow that was still enough for me to keep my car garaged, and the lacking quality of roads in the area that tested my spine’s integrity had me second guessing.
Though I imagine it came rushing forward in my brain a few days ago, when I was in the passenger seat of my brother’s Audi, being driven to work because my girl Cecily had told us about a “clipper” that was about to hit us again (apparently this is a weather term used in my area now, I’ve only just recently heard it for the first time). Staring out the window thinking about the mind-numbing day that loomed ever more closely with each passing mile, my eyes caught the familiar fender badge of my old car--a MkV Volkswagen Jetta Wolfsburg that packed the 2.0T, not the cynical exercise they sold for one year with the standard 2.5L I5. Sure, it was silver and not black like mine, but I couldn’t help but think about my old car.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was ever a faithful and eager companion. It was the first car that was ever my decision, paid for with my money. I found it. I chose it. I tracked it down. I hunted it like prey. I negotiated and came to a number I could live with--and then, joy of joys, I bought it and it was mine. A 2008, in black, with a sunroof, with a 6 speed stick, gorgeous 17” wheels, and a neat little spoiler at the back that I really childishly loved, the only option available on the car other than a DSG. Despite its compact size and not being a GTI, it had a massive trunk and a generous rear seat, and that puppy dog enthusiasm that fun cars are supposed to have. Load it up with gear and drive long distance? No problem. Move into my apartment? No problem. Drive like an insane person on the run from the imaginary Muffin Man? Right foot down, let’s go sir. Learn the pivot characteristics of the MkV chassis when subjected to the lift-throttle technique? No issues there. Drive three friends comfortably (and one uncomfortably, if necessary) to a destination? Happy to do so. It fit so many roles for me. Four years and 86,000 miles later, it was a fun weekend ride, a reliable and comfortable, but never snoozy daily driver, a car that taught two of my friends how to drive stick, an Ikea-run hauler, a rally car, and more than anything else, a friend.
The decision to sell it was not an easy one. I wanted a sports car and the timing worked out better than it was going to for at least a few more years. I was ready for a change. It was the longest by time and mileage that I’d ever had a single car. Ideally, I’d have both cars, the Jetta to drive daily and the Z4 drive on the weekends and in nice weather, but if the world were ideal, alcohol wouldn’t give you hangovers and it would rain marshmallows on to chocolate bars and graham crackers on demand.
Yes, I know that this recent bout of doubt is mainly due to the weather. The Z4 was sidelined nearly every day for the last two weeks, as I got rides from family and friends. I mean, it’s one way to stretch a tank of gas, but not exactly what I hope for. And yes, I know that once the sun returns to Pennsylvania and the snow melts and the roads dry my old Volkswagen won’t be in my mind at all. And, I also remember having similar doubts when I traded my old Passat (B5 Passat 1.8T with an automatic transmission) for the Jetta in the first place.
Is it possible to just miss a car without believing that getting rid of it was a bad thing? My Jetta was a huge step from my Passat. The performance from the 2.0T was miles ahead of my old 1.8T, the handling was better (though for what it was, the Passat was no slouch in the corners), it was plenty practical, and the smaller size and lighter weight only masked the fact that the trunk held about the same volume and every meaningful interior measurement of the Jetta was almost identical to the Passat. Oh, and the Jetta was my first stickshift car, an ownership experience that cemented in my heart, mind, and soul that rowing my own is the way that I want to be driving, whether it’s in stop and go traffic, on long highway cruises, or after I messed up my left leg slipping on ice leaving my office at a ridiculously late hour. Was it wrong? No, it was absolutely the right decision. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t miss the Passat. It doesn’t even mean that I still don’t miss the Passat.
The Z4 ticks every box for me in the driving enjoyment category. A screaming I6, a slick 6 speed stick, a top that goes down in just over 8 seconds, and handling that would make even a staunch mid-engine fan like me think that the engine actually belongs up front. The temperature crept up to 50 tonight, so as I marauded the cool, damp streets of Philadelphia with the open air as my ceiling, I felt that smile that had long since been missing creep back on to my face. Was buying the Z4 the wrong move? I sincerely don’t believe it was. But does that mean I don’t miss my Volkswagen? No, because I absolutely do.
Richard Hammond said it best: “A car doesn’t just carry people, it carries memories.” It is amazing to me that we can anthropomorphize an inanimate object to the point that it becomes part of the family in a way that a pet becomes part of the family. Even people who aren’t car people fall in love with their vehicles. My family had a 1983 Mercedes 300SD Turbodiesel that was became more than just a car. Though we sold it before I even had my driver’s permit, it was still the car I ever drove. There’s a little thing that I do; I keep a little memento from the car I had previously as a reminder of where I’ve been and miles I’ve travelled with that companion, and I keep it in always the same way. A keychain on my new keys. In this case, I found a vintage Volkswagen leather key fob that has the Wolfsburg crest on it. And I have that that on the keys to my BMW. Where I’ve been and where I’m going. Two of the most important things to remember.
Driving the Z4 as my only car has been an interesting experiment, one that will eventually come to an end. I foresee a time when I can buy a practical daily driver and give the Z4 the warm-weather duty it so richly deserves. But here’s the thing. I racked my brain thinking about what car could replace the Z4 years and years down the road. All I could think of was another Z4 of the same generation (and definitely not the newer hardtop bodystyle with the feminine looks and softly sprung suspension). That’s not to say that there won’t be other cars that keep it company. Maybe a B6 Audi A4 Avant or a MkIV R32 (not the MkV, since Volkswagen so stupidly decided not to give us a real three pedal transmission on that). Whatever it is doesn’t really matter, though, because the Z4 will always be the one car that I couldn’t replace. Daily drivers will come and go, but I can’t see the Z4 going. I guess I did make the right decision after all.