Living (with) the Dream.
Frankly put, it’s my job to have driven every single car on the road. To that end, we have a constantly rotating fleet of vehicles at our Ann Arbor offices (and, of course, our year-long Four Seasons fleet.) Because I escaped from Michigan’s bitter cold (and replaced it with San Francisco’s damp cold), I don’t have access to those cars on a daily basis. Instead, I have a couple of cars per week at my disposal here in California.
Like so many things, on the surface it seems like a dream come true to have a constant rotation of cars. For me, it was. And still is. But the perfect situation it’s not.
First of all, you’re almost always in a car that’s foreign to you. You never have your EZ-Pass-type-device or change for parking meters.; Your radio stations are never memorized. And a couple of times per week, you’re looking for the perfect seating position, steering wheel position, and mirror adjustments.
Yeah, I know, sucks to be me.
More importantly, driving the cars is my job-it’s work. That means I’m paying attention to things that normal motorists don’t have to. I’m taking mental notes the whole time (transcribing them when I get home). I’m playing with every button. I’m driving both in a manner that I would drive (my friends would describe this as a NYC taxi driver on a cocaine binge) as well as the manner in which the particular car’s customers would drive. That means that shiny new Honda Fit outside? I’m forced to drive it -gasp- “normally.” There are some other magazines out there (many of which I respect tremendously) who love the Fit for its sportiness. I find nothing sporty about the Fit-and judging from how I see the subcompact Hondas driven in the real world, neither do their owners. So, behind the wheel of the Fit, I channel Sally Safedriver. And I’m currently averaging 31 mpg, thank you very much. Yawn.
Since I’m driving the cars in a real environment-around my house-and that environment is relatively constant, I can draw some pretty clear conclusions about each car. I can repeat the same tests: Does it have enough torque (and short enough gearing) to maintain a constant speed up that steep, mile-long hill on the highway in top gear? How does the suspension cope with that big whoop-de-do in the right lane coming out of the tunnel? What happens if I’m sliding around my favorite highway on-ramp (a 270′ downhill right, starting out with positive camber) when it transitions to level ground with negative camber at the end? What’s the torque steer like at full throttle in first gear up some of the bumpy, insanely steep San Francisco hills?
That Honda Fit is the 716th car I’ve driven in the last two and a half years. And it’s a perfectly wonderful little car. (Now that it has a telescoping steering wheel. I just plain didn’t fit in the last Fit.) But after a hundred or so miles, I’m done with it. I want it to go away and I don’t particularly want to see it again.
Am I just exhibiting that typical male one-night-stand, commitment-phobic mentality? Nah. What’s going on is that my work is done-I’ve spent enough time living with the Fit in my everyday life that I’ve gathered all the information I need about the car. And I want to move on to the next one.
This isn’t a phenomenon that happens just with inexpensive cars like the Fit. There are plenty of $100,000 cars that I get sick of driving, too. And that’s when my friends start with the “oh poor Jason” jokes – or they recoil in horror when I pull up in my 20-year old, peeling-paint BMW track rat with no interior and a suspension that’ll knock your teeth out. They just can’t comprehend why I’d rather drive the paintless wonder E30 instead of, say, that gorgeous Lexus sitting in front of my house.
For the longest time, I didn’t understand it either. Sometimes, I got sick of a car quickly and couldn’t wait to drive my own stuff again. Sometimes, though I couldn’t get enough of the press car. Through careful analysis (an alcohol-soaked discussion with friends), the answer became clear: as much as I love my job (and I looove my job), there comes a time when I just want to be Jason. Jason wouldn’t choose to drive that particular Lexus. And Jason definitely wouldn’t buy a Honda Fit with an automatic transmission in come-ticket-me Red.;
If the car is something I’d buy for myself, I sail right past the hundred mile mark. Porsche 911? I won’t put the keys down. BMW 1-series and 3-series? Yep, gimme more. Honda S2000? Volkswagen GTI? Mazda 6? Infiniti EX35? CLK63 AMG Black Series? These are all cars I’d consider owning myself-and so I don’t tire of them.
So if my neighbors ever see me pulling out of my driveway in the Dirty E30 (as I call it) right past that shiny, new car I can’t afford, they know why: it may be a great car. But I don’t want one.