To those who might not have heard the news yet, a few weeks ago my wife, 8-month old daughter, and I packed up our things, sold our house, and moved to The Netherlands. That's a dramatic life change, coming on the heels of our first child last April, but one that we both have been desperately seeking for quite some time. My wife Mary was the one who managed to make it happen, with a lucky web forum post and a skillset that perfectly matched a Dutch company's needs, but I was not only happy to follow, I was thrilled at the opportunity.
For me, living in Europe isn't a novelty. I spent a year of High School as an exchange student in Italy and did all of my University studies around Europe (Switzerland, France, Italy), holding a diploma from a school in Paris (whose name shall remain unspoken due to a pathetic and continuous downward spiral since). I didn't leave the continent willingly either. I was unable to find a job as a car designer and lost my visa, pure and simple. Hadn't managed to get back (to live) since.
But despite my previous multiple years of residency in Europe, I have never really lived here. As a student, I never had the money or time to enjoy the things that I coveted so much. The food, wine, and cars remained largely objects of desire, and only when I've visited have I really had a chance to sample them first hand. For better or worse, that's all different this time around.
And the first order of business? Buy a car (well, technically it's "wait for the visa to come through and get a bank account", but I'm not going to go into that here). My Peugeot short-term lease car goes back in just 2 short weeks (unless I choose to extend it), and it's becoming apparent that our current apartment just isn't as public-transport friendly as we'd hoped. We really need a car to get around here, especially in the winter months with a little baby. Bikes are nice and all, but you can't take a baby on a bike to theÂ airportÂ to pick up your mother-in-law and her three oversized American suitcases.
So what to get? The options here are endless and fascinating. There are entire segments of vehicle in Europe that don't exist in the US, as well as dozens of brands (or, at least one dozen). As a true gearhead, and a former car designer, my simpleÂ goal is to buy a car that is not sold in the US, fulfills all the needs of our little family in our little Dutch town, and is either fun to drive or quirky enough to not be (something French, for example).
But the options are staggering. Under â‚¬20,000 is my target price. That's not bad, but quite limiting actually. First of all, 20K Euro is roughly equal to 27K USD, but add on top of that the painfully high taxes the Dutch government slams on car buyers, and all of the sudden things are tighter than they seem. That said, there are still tons of options, new and used, to look at. A 4-year old Alfa? A brand new Fiat? A year-old Citroen? A Skoda or Dacia or Opel?
So I'm putting the first round out to the readers. Drop me a comment and let me know what you think I should buy. Keep in mind the requirements of a young family with a 9-month old, city living, and only the occasional road trip to southern France or the Nurburgring. Tell me what you'd like to see me test drive, what you've read about and never dared consider, or why I'm being a dope for not just buying a German car outright.
Help me make sense of the European family car landscape, and I'll do my best to document the process.
Ehem. Is this “the” Robert for whom this blog is “not” named? If so, I’m honored – and you’re absolutely right. After extensive discussions on Twitter, what I actually ended up with was a Mercedes A-class, used, for exactly the reasons you specify. Unfortunately, documenting the process only happened on Twitter. So much for my embracing long-form prose again.
Ultimately Scenics and Picassos were less available here in the Netherlands, and tended towards extraordinarily high mileage, which they don’t wear well. They also were mostly petrol-engined cars, which the French don’t have a wonderful reputation for. My wife was not enamored with the Italians like I was, so we ended up with the A-class. Much to my wife’s joy, an automatic to boot.
What never was added to this post was the discovery that the road tax here in Holland penalizes diesels very heavily, making them justifiable only with high yearly mileage (upwards of 15-18k km), something we’re unlikely to hit in this EasyJet world. It altered my searches significantly and made calculating ownership costs much trickier than I’d expected.
I do have a half-finished post written to outline the process and discuss my reasons. Hope you’ll be back to read it.
And thanks for the comment! Don’t get many of them with the Twitterverse so accesible to readers.
Probably best to face up to the need for a Scenic or Picasso, one or two years old to let someone else suffer initial depreciation.