Day’s Verse:
Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.
John 6:11 [Context]

Christmas GumbyWashington time is rapidly drawing to a close. I’d like to feel OK with that, but in all honesty staying here sounds much more appealing than going back to school and resuming my fruitless job search, my three unappealing jobs, my three unexciting classes. I’m taking Principles of Electrical and Computer Engineering (at Ian’s suggestion; I expect to hate it and do poorly in it, but I desperately needed another technical class), Cell Biology (which I’ve never liked), and Science and Scientists in Modern Literature. Then again, at least I’m not overloading with Linear Algebra on top of those. Before all that starts, however, we need to finish sorting the stuff our families have stored for our years at college.

Yesterday Ian and I test-drove the new Honda Civic Hybrid at Kirkland Honda. We’ve intended to test-drive a couple cars since we got here, and somehow everything got put off over time — of course, since reading books and lounging about in PJ pants takes precedence over anything important. For my own reference, this’ll mostly be a record of my reaction to the car.

I liked driving it very much. The front and back seats were perfectly comfortable, with plenty of headroom and space for tall peoples’ knees. I estimate that the trunk could hold a small child. As a front-wheel drive car, it should handle driving in snowy weather tolerably well. The rain-slicked roads didn’t present any particular problem, and it responded quickly to the brakes (a function of its newness, I assume). The Civic Hybrid handled well, accelerating faster and stronger than the Prius I’m used to, as well as taking hills in much better stride. It felt like driving a regular sedan, rather than a special fancy-dancy hybrid. Instead of using a battery any significant amount, the engine seemed to stay on the whole time, with the battery supplementing it for greater fuel efficiency. I’m not sure if this was a result of having the AC/defroster on to keep windows from steaming up or not; but with Mom’s Prius, the gas mileage decreases and the engine stays on when you’re defogging the window because it requires so much energy. I would like to know how it performs in sub-freezing New England weather, on snowy roads, and over the long-term. I have found very little helpful information online. Mom thinks buying a new car in New England is foolish, because the winters will rust it out so quickly. How much should we worry about that, I wonder? And can we do anything to significantly reduce wintertime rusting that will preserve the car better?

Back to the Honda Civic Hybrid. I liked the display better than our Prius’ because it centers the speedometer and other details on the driver. Our model Prius has them in the center (where everybody in the car can see you’re speeding. No privacy!), which I don’t like so much. Also, I liked a small touch: in the front, the car had windows in the corner where the roof meets the hood, which made the whole front of the car feel very light. However, the rear window seemed small to me, and I couldn’t see the back of the car when I backed up. It was a larger car than Mom’s Prius, and its turning radius reflected that, but I still felt it handled quite well. My general impression was that it would serve as a perfectly usable vehicle for Ian’s and my purposes in the future. I’d enjoy driving it, and I think it’d be quite practical and reliable. The total price for that model, which included a totally superfluous (but technologically whizzy) in-dash navigation system, hit about $27,700. Now we have to test drive the new Prius at 1:00 today with a fellow (sadly named Dave Popejoy) at Michael’s Toyota, and we should be able to start making some real decisions here… God help us.

As a side note, the salesman (Armando, another unfortunate name) did a terrible job. When we walked in – Ian, me, and my mother the chauffeur and observer – he immediately walked between Ian and me to shake Mom’s hand. He asked her name first, leaving Ian and me to assert ourselves as the interested (money-carrying) party. He talked too much, and when we went outside, he left us standing in the rain while he expounded on what a great salesman he was. He’d sold Toyota Priuses before, and during the drive talked more about those than the Honda we drove. It seems that car salesman play musical dealerships, always switching around whose car they’re selling. He chattered rather inanely the whole drive, which I kind of expected, but I couldn’t hear what the car was doing as a result. He also didn’t answer my questions in a very satisfactory way, which also didn’t surprise me too much: he’s a car salesman, after all! Thankfully, he also wasn’t pushy at all, and just gave us his card and a brochure about the Civic Hybrid before we left. No slick deals or if-you-drive-off-the-lot-with-this-car-today incentives.

Update: We test-drove the Prius this afternoon. Positives: tons of storage space (two glove compartments, even), with two tiers in the back; as a hatchback with fold-down seats, the Prius provides lots of room for moving larger furniture and such. Ian found that there was plenty of space in the rear for tall people. The new battery is in parts and each part is individually replaceable, a major advantage over the family Prii we each have driven for years. The model we tested automatically unlocked the door when we got near, and it had no key. When you start the car, you turn no key: instead, you press a Power button. The car then turns on, and you maneuver this really weird gear shift into Drive. Backing up, this model had a backing-up camera that displayed on the screen. To park, you press a Park button, then turn it off by pressing the Power button. I found it very responsive and much zippier than the Prius I normally drive, especially on the freeway; on backroads, it seemed approximately equal to the Civic Hybrid we drove yesterday evening. I could tell it was larger, but the nose is still fairly small and the rear window marks essentially the end of the car, so I always knew where the car was. Backing up was no problem, as it has a reasonable amount of rear visibility even without the camera (which we have no desire to purchase). It, too, had the mini-windows in front that I liked about the Honda. The steering wheel had lots of one-touch buttons for various functions that I thought would also be quite handy. Finally, it came with traction control and some other snow-friendly features, as well as standard front-wheel drive, that made it sound like the Prius could handle snowy New England weather well enough.

Negatives: they moved the speedometer display to back in front of the driver, which I would normally mark as positive. But now it is deeply recessed, so much so that I found it slightly difficult to read. It felt far away and indistinct, and I found that quite annoying. Also, all the climate controls are now touch-screen only, so the driver has to take more attention away to operate those (this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that there are standard climate controls available on the steering wheel – front/rear defrost, in addition to stereo and cruising controls). I did not like the feel of the ste
ering wheel as much as the Honda; the Civic Hybrid had some comfy bumps where I usually put my hands that this lacked. I also found the rear visibility less than I might have liked, although Ian contends it equals, if not exceeds, visibility in the Civic Hybrid. Finally, the controls would certainly take some getting used to, but not in a bad way; the Honda had a hand brake and a slightly odd gearshift. Controls I assume we can adjust to. Additionally, the Toyota people certainly seemed pushier — they met us at the car, basically. Our salesguy, however, did much better than Armando; he sat quietly on our drive and let us hear the car. He knew a lot about the car’s features and told us about them, as well as answering our questions most helpfully. I liked him much more than Armando.

Despite these drawbacks, I felt the Prius’ strengths – its storage capacity, its hatchbackness, its ability to handle snow, its slightly higher gas mileage rating (a questionable rating at best, but still) – all weigh in strongly in favor of the Prius. Both vehicles have approximately comparable warranties. The Honda was more fun to drive, had a much better display system, and felt more responsive to me. It also had plenty of trunk space. Our decision has yet to be formalized, but I suspect a 2006 Prius may be in our future.

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