How I found my perfect road trip car after changing 5 cars in 3 years
Automatics have very good engine braking so braking is always smooth on automatic cars. So while we were enjoying our first SUV the baby wasn’t. 2 road trips and the baby hated the car even more.
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So many things have happened over the past few years, so many things have changed. We were frequent road trippers, we had a large group of friends who loved to travel in Kolkata. And every alternate month Sikkim was our place to go. Covid changed everything. It made us stay at home and cancel most of our plans. Most of us are affected by Covid in some manner, directly or indirectly. But not all that happened was bad. We also became parents last year, blessed with a beautiful baby boy. And while I am writing this article after 2 years our little toddler is playing beside me with toy cars. The last piece I was writing was on our Bhutan road trip. It is still in draft and I don’t think I will ever finish it. Memories have started to fade and small details I can’t remember anymore. Of course, there are pictures and videos of Bhutan but now there are more important things to do and remember. (P.S – Bhutan road trip was fantastic, sharing a photo here).
I moved to England in 2019. My wife followed me shortly. This wasn’t our first time in the UK, but this was the first time we thought of getting a car. Blackpearl was somewhat responsible for it, always inspiring us to do something different. We have always rented cars for holidays. And for daily commute public transport is good enough. However having a car has its advantage, and this time we knew we were going to stay here for a few years.
Car 1 – BMW 118i 2005 manual – 115K miles:
- A small car.
- A cheap car.
- Low maintenance and reliable (who doesn’t want this? Stupid !!).
The requirement was pretty clear that we need a small cheap car which could be used for daily commute and occasional road trips. Having very little knowledge of cars and the used car market we didn’t want to spend a lot. The used car market in the UK is pretty good, and because car ages slowly here you can get a decent 10-12 year old car at a good price. There are ways to check the condition of a car through the MOT site. MOT is the mandatory yearly safety test and all test results are uploaded in a government portal. MOT site is very useful if you are getting an old car because the records will tell you what has failed over the years and what has been fixed. Of course this doesn’t give you the latest condition but only when it was last MOT tested. The first car we bought was a 2005 BMW 118 manual petrol for £850 from Gumtree. Before this, I have never driven a BMW so when the guy showed me the car I didn’t know what to look for. I drove the car for 10 mins. The car started on the first crank, the body was without any major dents, the tires were good, engine bay looked clean. of course, I took guidance from the experts in Kolkata, and they helped me as much as possible over the phone and WhatsApp. The 118i was quick, easy to handle, good fuel consumption, what else could I ask from an £850 car? Although I was paying £1200 insurance (hilarious I know, I was on Indian license) and £100 road tax. During the 5 months I owned it I serviced it once, changed and topped up the oil few times. Most of the E87 has engine oil leak issues and mine wasn’t any exception. So frequent engine oil top up was required. We took it on a few long trips and everything was fantastic. A cheap BMW hatchback was the perfect car for the 2 of us until it broke down after 5 months.
Just before the day I was traveling to India on holiday the car broke down in front of my office. The engine seized and I had to scrap the car for a few hundred pounds. I kept it in a garage while I was in India and sold it once I came back. The car was great to drive but apparently was not in very good condition. I never knew what caused the seizure, it was probably less engine oil but I am not sure. Lesson learned hard way that you shouldn’t buy cars without looking at them properly.
Car 2 – BMW 118d Manual 2009 – 138K miles:
- A BMW.
- Diesel because fuel prices were going high.
- Small car, definitely a hatchback.
- Post 2008 model.
- Not particular about any car feature. Because all BMW post 2008 models had pretty good features.
We came back here in January. Stepped into the small town I live and I felt the need for another car. Once you get used to your own vehicle it’s very difficult to go back to busses and cabs. Again back to car hunting on Gumtree and Facebook marketplace but this time I was 5 months experienced and carried a little more knowledge on BMWs. By this time, I was a big fan of BMWs and decided to remain with them. BMWs can be addictive, I would say they are the proper driver’s car. The requirement was similar to last time but a little more fuel consumption won’t hurt, so started looking for a diesel 1 series. Quickly found and bought my second car in the UK – a 2009 black BMW 118d 2 door for £1850. Only with 2 previous owners the car had no complaints and drove like a dream. Even with 138K miles on the car, there was little show of aging. I guess car ages slowly in this country due to good roads, regular maintenance, and weather. The fuel consumption was better than my Ford EcoSport. The road tax was only £30. We kept the car throughout the Covid period. I got my UK license during this time and it helped me to bring down the insurance cost a little. Drove the car to Lake district and a few other places during this time. BMW handles like a dream. It was so exciting to drive that once I drove a friend’s Volkswagen polo and it felt dull. The car was perfect in every sense and offered everything we wanted until it didn’t.
In July 2021 we had our first baby and everything changed. The world started moving around the baby and for the uncertain future all road trips were postponed. Weekend drive to the nearby supermarket was the only drive we were having apart from the occasional drive to soothe the baby. The good thing was the baby was enjoying those small drives. The 1 series had just enough boot space for our stroller. The problem started with putting the baby in and out of the car. Because we had the 2 door version it was getting difficult with the car seat. When the baby was 4 months we were doing frequent long drives (2-4 hours) but not long enough. There are plenty of things we took everywhere. His car seat, his stroller, his bag full of nappies and cloths, sterilizer etc. Car seat by law is mandatory here (it is also very safe, comfortable and practical) It started getting a little difficult with that weekly shopping because there was no space left in the boot. Was it time to get a bigger hatchback or a sedan? I posted an ad to sell the 118D on Facebook and it was sold the next day. After driving it for nearly 1 and a half years sold the car for the same price I bought it. The car never gave us any problem, sad it had to go.
Car 3 – BMW 520d Auto 2011 – 155K miles:
- A BMW sedan or estate.
- Either a 3 or 5 series.
- As cheap as possible.
Till Nov 2021 we were only doing a few hours on the road with the baby. Long road trips required much more planning (I can write another article on that) and we were still not there yet. There were things we had to carry, places we had to stop, food, the weather, and the house/hotels everything requires planning. It was apparent that we needed a car with 4 doors and a bit more space. But at this point I was still not convinced we needed an SUV. UK roads are pretty good, it also doesn’t snow much like in Canada and I don’t go offroad. So all these were signs for me to look for a sedan or an estate/touring. There is a say that you all need is a 3 series touring for cross country road trips with family. 3 series touring is the perfect car with just enough space, power, and stability, and was very fun to drive. The rear of an estate car makes the boot bigger in size. Initially, I was looking for a 3 series and then someone put ideas (Dip27in) in my head that the 5 series is the best money could buy. And who doesn’t want to be pampered? Luckily there are plenty of 3 and 5 series on the used car market. This time I bought a 2011 BMW 520d auto from a Romanian guy via the Facebook marketplace for £4800. The road tax increased to £115. I switched to auto because of the superb 8-speed gearbox that comes with it. Even though I wasn’t a fan of auto transmission but the 8 speed blew me away. I used to think the 1 series was fast until I drove the 5 series. The boot had enough space to carry a stroller, a few bags, a travel cot etc.
The 520d is a luxury sedan. The 2011 model had more features than my 2015 EcoSport. The rear seats were so comfortable that my wife instantly loved the car. It came with a BMW navigation which I updated to the latest version. The fuel consumption wasn’t bad either. F10 ran on a 2 ltr diesel engine and I was constantly getting 36-40 mpg. The suspension was just the right setup. A pleasant car to drive on the motorways, and very quick when required. With my friends from Leeds this time we went to Cotswold and the surroundings for a Christmas road trip. Even though the boot space was enough for 3 of us, I had to fit a roof box for our Christmas Road trip. With the 520d we did a few more long trips up north in ’22.
Everything was going well and there was no need to replace the 520d. Then there are those Instagram reels that come up every other second which show how people are having fun in their SUVs. How they are doing road trips with family and a dog, camping in jungles or in the middle of a valley, going off the road when required, and seeing the first sunlight straight from the car or roof tent. Those Instagram reels spoil you. The advertisement algorithm senses your deepest desire (much like Lucifer’s) and shows you your dream. They make you spend money on things you don’t need but want. And the desire of many like me is to own a Landrover.
Car 4 – Land Rover Freelander 2 XS TD Manual 2009 – 128K miles:
Selling a BMW 520d isn’t a problem in the UK but getting a decent Landrover at a decent price is. The Landrovers have a very bad image of being unreliable. Still, you will see a Landrover every other minute. Landrovers may be unreliable, but they are worth the drama . So the next task was to convince the wife to sell off the BMW and find a good Landrover.
I always wanted an RR Evoque but there was none under £10K. My budget was £5k and I won’t get any good RR in that budget. So after doing some research I found out that Freelander 2 (I will be calling it FL2 for the rest of the article) is relatively cheap. FL2 production was stopped and the Evoque replaced it with RR badge. It was also relatively less unreliable, doesn’t have those air shockers, and comes with fewer gizmos. But finding a good reliable seller was a challenge. Since I don’t know much about cars, and if I have to fix small things at a garage every time I would not have a penny to drive the car. So this time instead of buying from a dodgy Romanian seller on Facebook I started looking at decent dealers. Dealers charges you more but they do provide some warranty. It took a while to find a good FL2. Sold the 520D for £4500 and bought the FL2 for £5500. It came with a 12-month warranty. The tax was £350 py. My insurance cost was coming down every year.
Switching back to manual wasn’t challenging. The gearbox is 6-speed and smooth. This was my first real SUV (I know people make fun of EcoSport) and every time I looked at the terrain response dial it would make me smile. Even though I haven’t really taken it anywhere challenging it is still a good choice for daily usage. This brings me to the point that I don’t think all people buy Landrovers to go offroad, they are also very pleasant to drive on the motorways and in cities. Of course, it isn’t as fast as the BMWs (which I miss sorely) but it is also fun to drive. But (yes there’s always a BUT) Megh (our child’s nickname) didn’t seem to like the car. Every time we took him for a ride he vomits. During our entire road trip to Cornwall and Dorset he didn’t feel good. At first, I thought it was due to the ride height and body roll. Opposite to the BMWs the body roll was significant while cornering. So I drove slowly on the corners and even changed the link rods. But the vomiting wasn’t improving. The other reasons could be manual gear shift and braking I think. Automatics have very good engine braking so braking is always smooth on automatic cars. So while we were enjoying our first SUV the baby wasn’t. 2 road trips and the baby hated the car even more.
Car 5- Land Rover Discovery TDV6 HSE 3 Ltr Auto – 138K miles:
- A SUV with less body roll.
- Back to auto transmission.
- A bigger SUV – 7 seater.
- 4 wheel drive.
Only 3 months and the wife keeps telling me FL2 was a bad decision. The baby hates the car, I don’t go offroad and she misses the BMW 520d. All these made me think that was it really a bad decision. My In-laws and friends are visiting us during Christmas. We will be on a road trip to London, Manchester, Edinburgh and a few other places for 2 weeks. I was looking at rental and for a people carrier for 2 weeks rent will be more than £3K. Public transport isn’t an option for us, it would be too hard to travel with the baby to so many places on trains and busses for 14 days. And the cost would go significantly high. Another option was to buy a used 7-seater, drive it during Christmas and sell it afterward. This is a popular option this year because when the flights restarted after covid the fares were sky high and there was a huge queue at the airports. People started to avoid flights and take more road trips. They started buying cars, drove to Europe, spend a nice time with the family, and come back and sell it. In this option way I would save all the money and still enjoy a long drive with the family.
I started looking at multiple options. My first choice was a BMW X5. It handled better than any other SUVs which was a major point for me. The body roll must be minimal or controlled. The other options were Ford Galaxy or S-MAX, Volvo XC90, Audi Q7 and Discovery 3/4.
- The X5’s third row isn’t usable at all, probably meant only for children.
- Even though the old XC90 is very sturdy and reliable it was very outdated. It is not exciting to drive (I was driving old models 2009-11). Otherwise it was a pretty good family car with lots of space and safety. The AWD was all-time and there were no terrain modes.
- Ford MVPs were not exciting to drive and didn’t have any AWD options. Scotland in December would have snow in certain places hence the AWD.
- Q7 was okay. Has a good engine has enough space and is comfortable. I drove a few of them and actually liked the car. But I wasn’t getting any decent Q7 within my budget.
BMW X5 third row.
That left me with the D3/4s. And man I was glad I didn’t choose any other. D4 came with the new 3 Ltr engine which was way better than the 2.7 in D3. The first time I took the test drive of a 2011 D4 I was blown away. The car is like an elephant, it was huge and bulky but it felt just right to be in that driver’s seat. At first I was scared that the brakes won’t be able to handle the cars and won’t stop. This was my first time driving such a big car. I started liking it. The 3 ltr engine has got enough power to pull 7 people onboard and more (read about the towing capacity). The interiors of the 2010 model was best of the lot. 6 Speed auto wasn’t better than BMW’s 8 speed but it worked well. Third row seats are usable for adults. The middle row can easily accommodate 2 people and a child seat.
I found a few good 2009-11 D4 in the market and finally found the one that fits the bill. If you are buying a car from an individual it is important that you do a thorough background check. There are several websites that gives all information such as theft, insurance, damage, mileage, ownership etc for a little money. One of the cars I like very much was written off, but the owner chose not to tell me. The one I finally bought is a 3ltr Auto from 2010 with 138K miles on board. When I bought the car, it had an almost dead battery. I bought it for £8.5K. The road tax went up to £650.
We are slowly going back to our previous life when we used to take frequent road trips. Covid made us stay at home for most of 2020. We had big plans of visiting Europe and Iceland that year. Even the North Coast 500 seemed a distant dream. We have big plans starting from Christmas and the D4 now seems to be the perfect companion. I always want to take the wife and boy camping. If I put down the 2nd and 3rd row there’s enough place for 3 of us to sleep. We have already done a few hundred miles now in the D4 and the baby seems to like it. Looking at those Overlanding vehicles we always wanted one of those and now we have a chance. So now D4 will be our primary vehicle for long trips. The next task is to save money to customize the car, starting with getting a roof rack and engine guard. I also have some work to do on the underbody rusts if I want to keep this car for long. The air suspension is fantastic and I tested them during a quince green laning session near to home. I am going to take the car to more green lanes this month hoping to get some autumn colors. Even though the initial plan was to sell the car after Christmas but I guess we are now keeping it for good.
Now we have 2 Land Rovers and an empty bank account. When I bought my first car in 2019 I never thought I would land up with a Land Rover in 3 years, but each car I bought had served its purpose for that specific time. 3 years and 5 cars later we found the perfect one. People ask why do we need so much space, you are only a family of 2.5. Honestly, the baby and his things take up most of the space. And keeping him comfortable and safe is the primary motive along with having fun. So there goes our journey from a hatchback to one of the best SUVs. During this time I have become a BMW fanboy but the Landrover stole our hearts. Unless there’s a major drama with the Discovery 4 its going to stay with us and I am going to make it better.
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