I thought I'd give an update in case there's anyone who cares. I got tired of rip-off artists on craigslist, so I decided to go more towards the dealer route. In a quest to narrow down my choices and have a little fun, I spent the weekend on some test-drivey funness.
I test drove an Audi A4, despite the Audi reputation for boring reliability. It was not bad; a sweet amount of luxury for sure. But it did nothing for me. I brought it to the redline (quite accidentally) and there was no kind of grunting "upshift already, dammit!" It just didn't seem responsive. My reaction: "If I were driving around family or business clients from out of town? Perfect." But yeah, I really wanted to like the Audi, but I found driving it boring, even with the V6. Afterwards, I went out to Shrewsbury and test drove a Miata.
Now I know this is the car you were all telling me about. The one I would love, would have no problem fitting into, and would have all my fun needs met by. I am glad I drove it. I think everyone should drive a Miata at least once. I enjoyed the Miata for a bit, but... I don't know. It was a fun little car. 45 feels like 120. I don't mind the suspension; I normally drive either a huge pickup or a KLR, so I know I'm going to start feeling bumps I've never felt before. The Miata just didn't do it for me. I would love it as a rental while on vacation. But I couldn't see it as a daily driver. For one thing, I couldn't put my left foot down without hitting the clutch. I was wearing boots, but I don't usually drive in socks or ballet slippers. So I'm keeping my foot poised over the clutch. And I keep hitting the gas *with* the brake. Though strictly speaking I did actually fit in the Miata, I didn't fit comfortably. I would up with a pretty bad kink in my knee. Sadly, the Miata is the one-night stand, the weekend fling, not the one you settle down and marry. At least for me.
Lastly, I test drove a BMW 323ic. Not a ci, but an ic. When it's second like that, it denotes a convertible. Unless I have it backwards. And finally getting behind the wheel of an E46 BMW 3-series confirmed my worst fears: I loved it. I am such a wannabe assimilant, both 2-wheeled and 4-wheeled that it makes even my sycophantically-devoted, quarter-Teutonic self sick. I want efficient driving zex (in German "effishendriebenzexx"). And even worse, my girlfriend, who I brought along specifically because she didn't get my totally Bimmer fanboyism, was also assimilated. Though in her case, it was more by the heated seats on a day of test drives in cold cars and walking around freezing lots than it was by the driving experience. She certainly enjoyed the comfort, but she didn't like the convertible. Which I didn't either; I mean, I have a motorcycle. (She apparently likes t-tops, though.)
I can't say enough about Ray at Choice Auto in Shrewsbury. Really nice guy, and understands his customers. Too bad he didn't have the car I was looking to buy. So instead I told him I'd tell my friends (that includes you guys, I guess).
Was hoping to test drive an Impreza as a sort of AWD counterpoint to the A4. But at least I've made some headway in narrowing things down. In another development, a coworker of my gf is offering to sell me her Nissan 240sx. I'm going to take a look at it this weekend. Which is nice, since it's manual transmission at least. And there's a distinct dearth of used cars available for less than 8k that are also worth owning. I mean, if I'm going to be making payments on something for a number of months (rather than paying cash outright), it better be worth driving.