(Thanks, Sue, for the blog post title you accidentally suggested.)
For the last 7 years, I have driven a 2002 Ford Focus. It has been a useful, dependable, if unexciting car for us. It has power uh, nothing. Two summers ago, the AC went out, and we never got around to getting that fixed. I had the windshield replaced a year ago, and one wiper blade has been finicky (at times, nonfunctional) ever since. Although technically an economy car, I have had a hard time getting 30 MPG out of it, to say nothing of the 36 MPG Ford advertised for this car. (Once I got 35 MPG, but that was on the Interstate, heading to Nashville, at 65 MPH with a howling North wind at my back.)
But two things kept this car in the family for longer than expected. First, it's been paid off for years now, and second, the VAST majority of the miles we'd accumulated with this car have been with me, driving alone. And my needs are simple.
This year, the list of items that MIGHT need fixing has begun to pile up. Yes, the AC, we already mentioned that. And there is a new sound in the front right suspension. And a handful of times, the car has almost conked out on me while warming up... a coughing, shuddering, laboring sort of sensation that keeps me from going more than 30 MPH, until it goes away after 10 minutes or so. So while we were at the Honda dealer looking over new Odysseys, we also considered replacing the old Focus.*
* - Sue, when she reads this, is going to be thinking to herself, "Wait, that's not the whole story! You're skipping LOTS of details." Yes, yes I am. And I wrote some of those in the original version of the post, but they were long and boring and tedious.** So yes, there's much more to this.
** - Others are thinking "Longer and boring-er and tedious-er than what you've already got going here..." Yes, believe it or not...
Since I drive mostly by myself, potential replacements were going to be small and extremely fuel efficient. I weighed the idea of getting a VERY large, and/or VERY nice, albeit used vehicle, but I'm betting that gas is going back north of $4 sooner than later, so my attention was mainly focused* on cars that get 40 MPG or better. On a Honda lot, that means Hybrids. After considering a used Civic Hybrid and a new Insight, and after getting about $800 more for the Focus than we realistically expected, we opted to purchase a new Honda Insight EX.
* - Heh, I crack myself up. Moment of silence for the Focus.
Clark Kent, in the 1950's TV series drove a Nash Metropolitan. A humble, simple little car that conveyed a concise message about the driver: "I am a simple, unassuming, harmless nerd." I drive the modern equivalent of a Nash Metropolitan.
Fuzzy dice... were these standard back in the 50's, or a dealer-installed option?
On the one hand, there are lots of bells and whistles that are intended to help improve driving habits, to the end that the driver make better use of the Hybrid (excuse me, "Integrated Motor Assist") technology. Driving is sort of like a video game, with all these lights and charts and graphs grading you, evaluating you at every moment. For instance, there is even a soft green / blue backlight that provides a general idea of how well you are driving (green for "very good", of course, blue for "you are emitting more Carbon than is necessary"). BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! On the dashboard, there is a little plant that grows leaves as you drive intelligently, even growing a flower if you behave yourself for a very long time. As if to convey the message that driving isn't interesting enough, there is lots of attention-demanding eye candy for my inner nerd.
But, there is also a basic simplicity to the car that is also, well, beautiful. And it is here that the Nash Metropolitan reference holds a little more water. It is a small, simply sculpted runnabout, perfect for the 99.9% of the miles I will accumulate, driving solo in the car. All-wheel drive? Not available. Fog lights, power seats, heated seats and mirrors, copiuous horsepower, limited slip differential? Nope. A back seat adults can sit in? Negative. Audio controls on the steering wheel? You can't have those, either. (Which is a shame, those are handy.) It's a simple car, made to keep costs down, and mileage high. Think of it as a 4-door CRX from 20 years ago.
Early returns are in, and I averaged 37 MPG on the way home from the dealer. Clearly I have plenty to learn. Although the EPA estimates 40 MPG in the city, 43 on the highway, I'm aiming for 50. I'll keep you updated.
- Aw2pp, wannabe hypermiler