Friday, June 15, 2012

The new cool in driving: Elantra-wise

I never would have guessed that I'd say this,  but my car is changing my driving behavior. For the better.  A year ago I began to look around for a vehicle that would get better gas mileage than my eight year old Subaru (not so economical),  have great safety features and reliability,  and yet have more panache than a Prius.   For some time I was looking almost exclusively at the Honda Civic, a well-built vehicle with good gas mileage and resale value and a bit of sporty character.   I actually ended up researching and buying Honda Accords for my daughters so I was keen on the market.  

The reality, though, was that there were few quality used Civics on the market and their price was beyond what I was willing to pay,  being on a somewhat limited income.  In 2011, however,  Consumer Reports ranking of small cars showed the Hyundai Elantra to be a substantial step up in quality, performance and mileage.   Amazingly,  the price was also excellent.  And when I saw the body configuration of the Elantra,  I was really impressed.  The car was styled like a BMW with a sculpted, wasp body that appeared to be moving fast even in a still photo. 

I started looking around to see what dealers had on their lots in spring 2011 and found that there wasn't much.  The Elantra Touring,  its cousin,  was available but there were perhaps twenty or thirty of the regular Elantras to be had.  Every week all the ads would feature the same small subset of cars.  Email inquiries to dealers led to flurries of emails asking for my ideal car and saying they could have it - soon.  At a premium.   And the premium put me back in Civic territory.   

I wasn't willing to go there. I didn't want to pay the premium to roll it off the lot new.  I wanted to see if I could find an Elantra I liked even in this seller's market.   So I began haunting all the sites where people sell cars and searching on the car I wanted.  In early June I found a couple who had a black Elantra with about a grand on the odometer who wanted to sell.  They were moving to California and had a Yaris and wanted to get out from under the payment for the second car.   Discussion ensued and I bought the car for a great deal less than I would have paid for a similar Civic.   

So what am I talking about with the "Elantra-wise" driving syndrome?   The car has a bevy of helpful electronic features.  The one that makes the most impact for me, though, is the MPG setting on the dashboard display. I find that when I select the MPG display,  my driving behavior changes.   It's like a video game in which I win if I keep my miles per gallon high.   

In the early decades of the automobile,  the 'possible' became a powerful force.  Can we make this faster? Can we make it more stylized?  Can we add more features?   Speed was a powerful driver and dominated the auto industry.  Mustangs were valued more highly than Escorts.  Always.   Today we know we can indeed 'make it faster' but the more interesting question has become 'at what cost?'.    Whether it's cost to my pocketbook because gas is expensive or cost to our culture because I'm using up hydrocarbons for hedonistic pursuits, cost is right there in front of us. 

So back to Elantra-wise driving.  I find myself looking for opportunities to coast in neutral on road sections where the slope means gravity is my friend.   I find myself shifting into neutral at stop signs and,  recognizing that the real gas savers do this,  shutting down my engine at stops which I know will be long and where I can predict when to fire up again so as not to hold others up.   For example,  in a five lane roadway,  the left turn light going yellow is usually a good indicator for imminent acceleration.   Additionally I try to time my decelerations so that I don't use up all my momentum with a stop.   All of this is a great contrast to my youth when revving one's enginve on 'the line' even for fun was standard behavior.  When riding the accelerator hard and downshifting rather than braking was stylish.  I kind of like this new game though.  

And one final note.  I'm not believing that my Elantra is going to save me a pot o' money on its good gas mileage. I just thinki it's the right thing to do to reduce my consumption.   And the reality is, if I need to,  that little black sedan will get up and go like a sportscar.   I expect to be playing this game for a good long while.

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