If 21-year-old Joe VanHoose was here right now, he’d hit me in the back with a folding chair. I think 16-year-old Joe VanHoose would, too. So would 28-year-old Joe VanHoose, for that matter.

But I’m 29 now, and I took a Buick for a test drive on Tuesday because I’m thinking about buying a Buick.

The car in question is a Buick Verano. Peyton Manning drives it in commercials. The car lets him audible, I’ve been told.

The Buick is my audible in a car search that is going on its sixth month. After whittling the field of contenders from 16 down to 8, I’ve entered the test drive stage.

The possible suitors?

  • 2013 Ford Fusion
  • 2012 Ford Focus
  • 2012 Chevy Cruze
  • 2012 Mazda 6
  • 2013 Hyundai Elantra
  • 2013 Nissan Sentra
  • 2012 Buick Verano
  • 2006 Mazda 3

I currently drive the 2006 Mazda 3 and have since, well, 2006. I love this car as much as a man could love a machine. For the last six years, we’ve been the perfect pair. It’s seen every state in the Southeast, hundreds of miles of Blue Ridge Parkway and a few hot laps at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

But like an old dog that starts wobbling a bit as it walks, my little Mazda — Little Dale, as I’ve referred to it on many occasions — is getting long in the tooth. It has more than 165,000 miles on it. All the rattles, shakes and hard shifts tell me it’s time to grab my shotgun and take my beloved car out to the “park” or “farm” — or the dealership.

But what will take its place? There are many contenders.

First up, the Buick:

I test-drove the Verano first because I wanted to get the worst car out of the way. Instead, the Verano has become the standard. This car feels very competent in the corners and under acceleration. The transmission pulls you forward on every gear change, even if the car isn’t making a lot of noise. Buick went the extra mile to deaden the sound inside the cabin of this car, and that extra attention shines.

The interior is lovely, with pieces that feel good to the touch everywhere. The touchscreen command center is easy to use, and the leatherish seats look and feel like the real things. Not bad for a car that can be had for a little more than $20,000. The styling could be better — the portholes on the hood make no sense — but the biggest issue to overcome is the perception.

Buick may be aiming its new efforts toward a guy like me, but a 90-year-old man drove off the Buick lot in Athens Tuesday in a new Verano.

I wish I didn’t know that.

Ford Focus

This car has earned a lot of positive press over the past year. I have no idea why. It feels cheap and clunky, and the dual-clutch transmission sounds better in theory than in practice. This car was a favorite on the list before the test drive. Now, it’s off the list completely.

Ford Fusion

This thing looks like an Aston Martin and drives like a European cruiser. It’s the biggest car on my list, and it feels that way, but it also feels pretty refined, especially considering it’s in its first year of production. The interior makes a lot of sense, too, but the price tag — $25,000 or so — is keeping this car in dream territory.

Then again, sometimes dreams come true.

On the other hand, I think the Buick was a little better. That 90-year-old has fine taste for a man who probably can’t see. Be safe out there.