I’ve been looking at cars lately. I have never really shopped for cars in the past because for reasons that are too complicated to get into we’ve always just bought minivans. But, the current van is reaching the end of its useful life and for various other reasons that are too complicated to explain, it’s time to find a car for me to use as a commuter. I have found the experience to be both enlightening and confusing. Maybe you in the intertubes can help with the confusing parts.
I think the first thing to say about me and cars is that I’m not much of a driver. I didn’t learn to drive until late in life. I don’t find any particular fun or enjoyment in the act of driving. For me, driving and recreation are related in this way: driving is the thing you do, if you have to, to get the bike to the start of the bike ride. My other idea of a fun drive is one where the car is never so noisy that I can’t hear the podcast.
I am using the car primarily to get to work which involves one stretch of suburban strip mall road and another stretch of highway followed by a little jog through the Oakland area of Pittsburgh. This is not somewhere that is “fun to drive” no matter how much you spend on the vehicle. So I want the car to go in a straight line, turn when I tell it to, and otherwise basically be invisible. Quiet, smooth, big enough to fit my bike inside, and invisible. Note: the bike must go inside the car. Bike racks are for insensitive monsters who like to get dirt and crap all over their bikes.
The second thing about cars that are important to me is that I never have to take them to the dealer for any reason any more often than once a year. I take my bike to the shop about once a year if I don’t crash it. I have the same threshold of laziness for the car. The only reason I’m looking for a new car is because I’ve had to take the old car to the shop a lot the last few years, and it’s getting annoying.
After these two priorities, I am mildly interested in good gas mileage. This is where the confusing things start, because as far as I can tell, gas mileage has not improved at all in the last 25 to 30 years. For example, the Prius gets all this press for doing 40-45 mpg (yes I know yours does better), but it seems to me that back in the day the little compact go-kart cars used to do at least as well and didn’t need a gigantic NiMH battery to do it.
This leads to a second confusion: why are all the cars so huge? With only a few exceptions, cars have bloated to ridiculous sizes. The Prius, for example, is a “small” car, and yet it’s not really that much smaller than some of the SUVs that Prius drivers make fun of. Compact hatchbacks of today are as big as small wagons of yesterday. The RAV-4, which used to be a tiny pastel matchbox car is now as large as a Jeep Cherokee. The Honda Civic is now as big as an Accord and the Accord is as big as a really large BMW.
The whole size issue is frustrating because there are very few cars that are actually small that will also hold my bike in a convenient fashion. The best ones are the mutant cross-breedings of cars and SUVs (Honda CR-V), but none of these are all that much smaller than the minivan that I drive now, so what’s the point?
Probably the best current small car for bike hauling is the Honda Fit. But considering that you have to put up with a cheap interior and a buzzy loud engine you’d think that you could get more than 35mpg on the highway.
The Mini Cooper fails the bike hauling test completely, and I conclude that it is more for people who actually like driving. The automatic transmission costs too much.
I should probably consider the VW Jetta TDI wagon. But then I’d have bought a VW. Rounding out the list of possibilities are the Volvos, which are too expensive, and the Mazda 3 hatchback which is well-liked mostly for being “sporty”. The gas mileage on the Mazda is pretty bad though.
In the end, I will probably end up with a Prius, even though it’s a bit too big, a bit too expensive, and a bit too annoying to get a bike into. I think it does the rest of what I want better than the other cars. It won’t use that much gas, and it will be quiet and no fun at all to drive. I’ll be able to enjoy those podcasts as I sit in stop and go traffic and stare at the little graphic that shows you where the power comes from. It’ll be great.
Maybe I’m missing something though.