There’s a story in my book about cars with manual transmissions where I mentioned that I was thinking about getting a Mini Cooper. After that story was written, I even went so far as to take one out for a test drive, and I have to say it was fun. I was able to gracefully unfold all seventy-three inches of myself comfortably into the car with room to spare for a cowboy hat, should I ever decide to start wearing one. The car was quick and it handled like a go-cart and I was smiling like a fool for the entire test drive.
And then I stepped out of my body and looked at myself, and that’s when I realized something. Even though the car would be a lot of fun (in the turbocharged S version) and roomy (in the Countryman version), the only other people I ever saw driving one of these cars were women in their sixties on their way to the garden store.
This revelation hit hard when I saw a woman wearing purple rubber boots (in summer) coming out of the grocery store and getting into her purple Mini Cooper. She had left a pie on the roof of her car, and as I was pulling out, I drove over to let her know that she had left her dessert on her roof. “Oh, I do that all the time,” she said. As I looked down from my truck at that pie on the roof of her purple car—the car that matched her purple boots—a bell went off and that bell clearly asked if I wanted to drive a car driven by people who leave pies on the roof and who coordinate their footwear to their car.
Regrettably, Mini has an image problem that can’t be overturned by eighteen-inch wheels and a turbocharger. There’s no way around it. Even in black, even with four doors, even with leather and a snarly grill, this is a cute car driven by women who carry Vera Bradley handbags and leave pies on the roof of their car. I hated myself for thinking like this, but I really needed to reconsider my options.
I’m driving a full-sized four-wheel drive truck right now, and as it turns out, I no longer need a truck like this for everyday driving. It sucks way more gas than a trip to the grocery store should require and as practical as it is for cleaning up brush around the yard and bringing home a Christmas tree, it’s just not working out for me anymore. I’ve spent all of my life, from my very first car to this truck, driving practical, bland, purposeful vehicles but I’m at a point now where I can drive whatever I want. I just don’t know what that is.
My wife drives a small SUV that really is the perfect vehicle, but since we already have one of those, why would I want another one? I mean, it makes perfect sense to just get another one in a different color, but that would be inexplicably weird. Who does that?
The big push now is for something with high miles per gallon, and they actually have cars that get respectable mileage without looking like they should be parked in the shopping cart caddy. Finding a car that gets gas mileage in the mid to high twenties isn’t that difficult. If I factored a diesel into the mix, I could approach the upper forties, but the availability of fuel is a little scary.
I’m not likely to spend a pile of money on a car because I don’t think cars are worth a pile of money. Not even a small pile. This rules out a lot of cars that I would like to drive. I need a practical car that looks age appropriate yet doesn’t scream Grandpa’s pearlescent white Avalon. It also needs to get decent gas mileage but most importantly, it needs to be something that won’t require a snippy Teutonic mechanic with a degree from MIT just to change the oil.
I want something nice, but not too nice because I don’t want to have heart murmurs when an errant shopping cart careens into the side of it. It should be quick, but not too tempting and since we’ve already established that I often forget to turn on the radio, it doesn’t need a seventeen speaker sound system. I also don’t want a Radio Shack’s worth of touch screens and voice activation; a good old set of knobs and human-sized buttons would be just fine.
I like leather seats over cloth because they’re more practical and they just feel nice, and I still think a manual transmission would be fun, but my wife prefers an automatic. Since this wouldn’t technically be a “my car, her car” situation, that does factor into the mix.
I appreciate the advantages of all-wheel drive and since we live in an area where it snows, that needs to be considered. Pretty much every car on the road is safe these days, what with airbags and back up cameras and all kinds of whizz-bang features, so I haven’t ruled out any makes or models. Well, that may not be entirely true since a pre-owned BMW or Volvo is the same price as a new Hyundai. We have had tremendous luck with anything made by Honda, but they really don’t have anything that stirs my soul. I’ve had five VW’s of various breeds and I’ve always loved their solid quirkiness, although the unpredictable reliability does concern me.
Then there’s that pesky image problem. I shouldn’t care, but I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a factor. If I really didn’t care, I’d get the Cooper or any number of generic SUV’s, but there is a part of me that recognizes that there is a small window of car driving lust left in me. In about ten or fifteen years, it just won’t matter at all. I’ll probably be looking for the automotive equivalent of Velcro sneakers, but for now—well, I’m not quite Mr. Red Corvette, but I still want something that is kind of cool without making me look like the guy in the Viagra commercial. It should be something that is stylish and masculine and doesn’t look like an old guy’s cry for youth, but not something that would require a tweed cap and suspenders.