I received my driving licence in the post this morning, and it now occupies pride of place next to the existing UK card in my wallet. This new one is reassuringly elaborate, with a shiny seal across the middle and a much better photograph than the one that was taken of me when I was 17, so it makes it feel like it wasn't a huge amount of wasted effort. It's still sort of difficult to believe that I have it - not just because I'm suddenly going into a buying process, but because it represents this large step towards normalcy that I'd previously accepted that I just didn't have here.
Our aim is now to find a small, reliable, efficient car to get for ourselves, in a price range of about $15,000-$20,000 - we're open to both new and used, apart from the models like the Fiesta where used cars do not yet exist. So I completely failed to spend my weekend relaxing from the turmoil of the last month as I had planned - yesterday, Whitney and I both went out to look at Toyotas and Volkswagens, and on Sunday, with her on the way to California, I was suddenly called by one of the Nissan dealers I'd sent an email to, encouraging me to come down and test drive them. Here is the entire summary of my thoughts so far.Toyota Yaris
- I honestly thought that this one was going to be at the top of our list and an easy buy for us, and it was the first that we went to see, but when we got to look inside one at the dealership, it instantly felt really cheaply made. There are a lot of bare plastic surfaces on the armrest and central console, and the driving position is uncomfortable - I'm a seat-all-the-way-forward kind of person because of my slightly dachshund-like legs, and in this position, the base of the unit for the steering wheel gets in the way of your knee. Instead of having the dials in front of you, they're placed away over in the centre of the console for reasons I can't explain. And the boot of the hatchback sort of nullifies its own usefulness by being too small to fit anything at all unless you put the back seats down. Despite our expectations, the sedan version is slightly better.Toyota Prius
- This is the most expensive car we've looked at, but as it's a hybrid engine, the fuel savings are (theoretically) astronomical. The interior is comfortable while still showing off with slidey space-age designs, and the only thing I found strange was the completely inadequate gearstick
. (While I'm on the subject, why is Reverse forwards and Drive backwards? This never made sense to me.) A physical disadvantage that I found with it is that the distance between the driver and the front of the car is... enormous - it's one of the longest-nosed cars I've ever seen. It doesn't seem particularly unusual in a photograph, but inside, the dashboard is extremely deep. I've talked to wolfekko
and his other mechanically-inclined friends, and have learned a couple of drawbacks - that in reality the fuel savings are not that significant compared to smaller petrol-engine cars unless you're always driving in busy city traffic, and that maintenance is extremely costly, having to go to a specialist dealer instead of any old garage.Volkswagen Jetta
- We looked at one of these at the almost deserted Volkswagen dealership down the road, as Whitney's mother had told us it sounded like a good small car. She must have been looking at a reduced photocopy, because it's the size of a bus. We left without anybody noticing we were there.Nissan Versa
- This one was the model of car that was our favourite to hire when we lived in Brookline, and it drove very well both then and when I took one out for a test drive. The dealership only had two of them, both used and not yet cleaned, and I didn't get to try the hatchback, because after walking out to the car park, the salesman couldn't find it! During the test drive, someone in front of me suddenly stopped dead for no reason in the middle of traffic, so the brakes got a good test and scored highly with me. According to the car reviews on US News
, they have issues with safety and reliability, though, which are things that obviously seem fairly important. I've got another couple of offers on Versas (Versae?) from other dealers as well, and might try to pit them against each other if we go down this route.Honda Fit
- I had just intended to look quickly at the Honda dealership on my way back from the Nissan place, but I ended up going for a second test drive that day. This was pretty much an afterthought on our list, but after driving it, it went right up to near the top of the candidates in my mind - it's actually what I thought the Yaris would be like. It's small but doesn't feel cramped inside, is smooth and comfortable, has the speedometer and readouts in the right place, and the steering wheel is easily adjustable to a much better place where it doesn't obstruct your knee. It also has as standard a USB port on the passenger side, where you can plug in your mobile/music device and then control it from the wheel. I know that shouldn't impress me so much when buying a car, but it does.
I'm slightly wary about this one, though, because Honda Man can tell I'm interested - he asked me if there was anything to do to get me to name a price and buy that day, and I had to say no to him twice. While sitting at his desk going through the likely price and offers, he was on the phone to his boss chuckling away at unheard things like he was Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal talking to the Banker, and he kept relaying questions that shouldn't seem as loaded as they did, like which British football team I supported. Anyway, I'm going to look at this with Whitney again and see if she likes it as well.Ford Fiesta
- In America, this is a new car - I would comment once again on how America seems only to get good things many years behind other parts of the world, if it wasn't really a completely different car from the one that I drove in Britain. This is looking like the other of the most likely choices and it ranks as number 1 on the above site
which says you absolutely cannot go wrong with it, though we're still to actually go and see and test one. Most of the ones that are available at the local dealer seem to be manual-transmission, and I'm not sure why I feel so reluctant about that seeing as that's what I learned on - I suppose I just assumed that every car was an automatic here, and that the availability of manual gears puts yet another choice on to the pile. It's also a little bit more expensive than the others that we're considering, so if we like this and another model equally, it might come down to price.
That's about it.