May 022014

Gasoline hit $4.499 a gallon in late spring 2008, and when it did Lea and I started talking about a small car.

I was commuting in a 2002 F-150 SuperCrew pickup. It reliably swallowed NINETY DOLLARS every eight days. Every time I filled it up, I thanked God for success sufficient to afford it.

I still have that truck. But what I drive most days is my 2008 Nissan Versa, aka the Technical Writing Express.

When we committed to buying another car that was more fuel efficient, we decided we had a budget of $15,000 or so. Immediately, I began entertaining notions of a 3-year-old Volkswagen GTI, or Mazda Miata, or Acura Integra GS-R or RSX-S. I stuck a 6- or 7-year-old BMW 3-series with a 4-cylinder on the list. There was an awful lot of cool stuff out there that got good gas mileage, and I wanted something fun to drive; something to rev the piss out of on an on-ramp with that giddy smile on your face.

But Lea said we would get something with an automatic.

I fought her on that, but she took me to the mat and eventually pinned me. I lost the battle for a manual transmission. And after that I didn’t much care about fun to drive. We narrowed it to the Versa, the Honda Fit, and the Toyota Yaris.

I liked the external styling of the Yaris, but it was a joke inside. It looked like the instrument panel was designed by Fisher-Price. We never drove the Fit, but I was leaning heavily toward a traditional sedan, and the Fit only came as a wagon.

bkfrontSo, the Versa.

There are two killer features on the first-generation Versa. One is that it really will seat four huge adults. Seriously. I can have my seat all the way back and have another 250-pound guy sit behind me in the back seat comfortably.

The other is that it’s a serious car. Its instrument panel looks and functions soberly, not whimsically. Its 122 horses will enable a comfortable cruise at 77 mph.

So that’s the Technical Writing Express. I’ve developed a somewhat begrudging affection for it. It’s not a penalty box, but neither is it particularly fun to drive. Sybaritically, it doesn’t register. Driving my Versa is about like using a well-designed photocopier. It’s the automotive equivalent of baked chicken and vegetable medley. It’ll solve your problem, but it won’t make you smile (even slightly).

versampgExcept that I’ve turned fuel economy into a video game for it. I’ve had a ScanGauge in it nearly from the beginning. My daily goal is to keep it above 20 mpg all the way out to Burgreen Rd., and then see what I can grow it to for the rest of my commute.

This is the best time of the year for fuel economy in your car. You don’t need the air conditioner for comfort or visibility (as in keeping the windshield clear). So you don’t have that drag on the engine, and the intake air is reliably cool and dry.

I actually turned in 36.3 mpg today. I’m shooting for 35 mpg from the tankful. (This would be up from the 30 mpg I reliably get if I pay no attention whatsoever.) And I’m not hypermiling. I used to be peripherally acquainted with a jackass who would do things like drive 12 mph under the limit in the interest of economy. Know that I’m driving unobtrusively, no matter what.

I think 400 miles before the low fuel light comes on is my ultimate goal.

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 Posted by at 9:13 pm

  4 Responses to “I drive a clown car because…”

  1. It does not look like a clown car. Just sayin’.

    Often what you write is above my head. Thanks for throwing in the food reference. That is something to which I can relate. 🙂

    • Thank you, Lynda. So, you’re like a hot babe patting me on the head saying “no, your car’s not at all emasculating.” 😉

      I’ll need to mull and maybe discuss the rest of your comment with you the next time I see you.

  2. I average 37-38 mpg in the Elantra. And that’s on my daily commute, which is about 50/50 smooth sailing vs. creep-n-beep. I’m up to 41 on a long-distance haul. I made it on a tank and a half from the 757 to Central Leatherstocking country last month…. Plus it’s sporty, zippy, and the Big Man doesn’t have to fold himself up several times to sit in it.

    My wallet is very happy.

    • My number reliably sinks on the road because I drive relentlessly on the interstate. I’m all about feathering the accelerator to and from work, but on the road, I take it personally if I average less than 76 mph or so. That’s really tough on fuel mileage for a car that has basically a large motorcycle engine.

      I like the Elantra very much. We probably built that here in Alabama, btw. 🙂

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