Goodbye Mini, Hello Hybrid

Sadly, I am shallow enough to define myself by my possessions. I love reading and books, so I have amassed a reasonably large library (currently a little over 3,000 volumes) that includes a fair number of first editions, limited print runs, and leather-bound collector’s copies. I love watching movies and television, so I built myself a home theater complete with projector and surround system. I love to swim, so I had a swimming pool built in my back yard. I own dozens of t-shirts with pithy sayings on them like “Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway”. And until yesterday, I drove a custom-built Mini Cooper to show the world my sense of style.

I loved that car. For 44,000 miles I drove all over Florida in a tiny English/German automobile, racking up a fair number of speeding tickets in the process. Despite its looks, the Mini is really a sort of sports car – its tight handling and powerful engine make it the ultimate car for cornering at high speeds. I identified with the car so much that I kept a scale model of it, in the exact same colors as the real one, on top of my desk at work. I had every intention of driving that car into the pavement. I figured that, years from now, when the engine finally gave out, I would convert it to an electric car and still have something fun to show off.

So why am I talking about it in the past tense? Because yesterday I traded in my lovely Hyper Blue Mini Cooper S for a dark blue 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. I do like this new car – it’s comfortable and hi-tech in a way that no car I’ve ever owned has been. Its styling is sleek and modern. But even I have to admit that, compared to the Mini, it is somewhat on the plain side.

I got the Honda Civic Hybrid (that’s “HCH” to aficionados, I am told) mainly because I’m redefining myself a bit, at least in terms of how I drive and how I want to present myself to the world when I’m driving. After I got out of my sixth speeding ticket earlier this year, I realized that my driving habits had gotten out of hand. Although I’ve never been in an accident with the Mini, there is no denying that I always drove way over the speed limit, and I often set the cruise control at 85, even 90 miles an hour. What little fuel efficiencies the Mini might offer were never realized thanks to the way I drove it.

About two weeks ago, I started trying to drive more reasonably. As I got control of my constant speeding, I tried to pay more attention to conserving fuel. After all, good friends of mine are risking their lives over in Iraq to keep the price of gasoline low – I certainly owe it to them to burn as little of that blood money as I possibly can. I found that although I could definitely get more miles to the gallon, the Mini is just not a very good vehicle to maximize fuel consumption. It’s just a little too revved-up, and it’s not very aerodynamic.

So I began thinking about getting a new car. And with a week off for the Christmas / New Year’s holidays, Frank and I starting making the rounds of the car dealers. I drove Toyota’s Prius and Camry. I tried Volkswagen’s Beetle and Rabbit. And then I got to Honda, and tried the Civic Hybrid.

The Civic Hybrid was the only one that made me feel completely comfortable, both physically and mentally. Physically, it’s a extremely nice sedan, with comfortable seats, sleek styling, and just about the best instrument panel I’ve seen. The “mental” part comes from being able to easily and clearly monitor my miles per gallon, and the somewhat smug joy that comes from driving a hybrid (and yes, I have seen that episode of South Park).

I was told there was a waiting list. I was told I’d have to order that actual car way in advance. I was told that most people wait six weeks to 3 months to take possession of theirs. But when I said I didn’t need any financing, thank you, I’ll just pay cash along with my trade-in, I was told “So do you want to drive this one home today, then”? Apparently cash in hand trumps a waiting list.

I don’t love this new car the way I loved my Mini – at least not yet – but I sure do like driving it. I love getting 41 miles to the gallon (and that should go up to 45 to 50 once the car is broken in, according to the many posts I have read from other owners). And it’s almost creepy to sit at a stop light in total silence, and then have the car roll forward with just a touch on the accelerator, still in perfect silence.

I suppose that in a sense, I’ve traded in style for technology. But in another sense, I think this is just another step on my journey towards merging my morals and politics with my actions and spending. Almost two years ago, we added solar water heating to our house, in what we hoped would be the first step towards reducing our total fuel consumption. Now I’m driving a hybrid car.

Huh. I guess I’m still defining myself by my possessions. I’m just working on some new definitions.

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