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The beginning of the end for Yoda

Started: 2015-02-05 20:05:50

Submitted: 2015-02-05 20:59:14

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator contemplates replacing his venerable Honda Civic
yoda with a light dusting of snow
yoda with a light dusting of snow

In 2002, when I graduated from college, my parents bought me a used 1997 Honda Civic DX. Because it was small and green, and had a manual transmission (stick shift leading its way obviously to lightsaber in my mind) I dubbed it Yoda, and then felt compelled to christen it on video that summer.

(The direct-to-Youtube link is Yoda christening, in case the embed doesn't work for you. But I'm reasonably impressed with Youtube's ability to get embedded video to work on most platforms, even when I disable Flash with extreme prejudice on most of my browsers.)

Yoda reflected in semi hub on I-80
Yoda reflected in semi hub on I-80

Yoda has served us well for the past thirteen years. We drove her on our honeymoon to Victoria, on countless road trips to Lincoln, and every day to Greeley for years. We put 160,000 miles on her, for a grand total of 215,000 miles, exhaustively cataloged one fill-up at a time in my gas mileage database. We put an infant car seat base in the back to carry Calvin, and periodically upgraded to toddler car seat and now a gradeschooler's booster seat. (This contingency, as I explained in the video above, was why I chose a four-door sedan rather than a two-door coupe.)

Yoda, tagged
Yoda, tagged

But Yoda's time in our family is drawing to a close. Over the fall Kiesa drove Yoda regularly, on the theory that she drove more than I did and Yoda had better fuel economy than Motoko, and by the time I drove the car once or twice around Christmas the transmission had developed a distinct whine. Kiesa took the car to our friendly (if occasionally incomprehensible) mechanic Chan Foreign Car, who delivered the diagnosis: The transmission was dying. We could replace it (for, say, $1700 from a junkyard) but that was more than Yoda's blue-book value and would just kick the can down the road until something else broke.

Kiesa cleaned out Yoda (which took several days to remove the accumulated cruft) and reclaimed Motoko for her daily commute, ferrying Calvin back and forth to school. I drive Yoda to work when I don't bike to work (which, I confess, is somewhat less pleasant in the middle of the winter). This puts me in the position of needing to buy a car at some point in the future.

The word "need", though, is slippery. Despite living a mile from work, and having the opportunity to walk/bike/ski/swim to work as weather conditions permit, I still live in the suburbs miles from anything resembling an urban center, and the best way to get there is to drive, in my own car. It's possible I could take the money I'd save from not buying my own car and use it instead for Uber/Lyft/taxi/bus rides around town, which would work well enough in the city, but it'd fail horribly for the weekends the time when I want to go skiing or hiking or climbing. I'd love to buy a fractional interest in a conveniently-located car-share, but I can't buy a fractional car share in Gunbarrel; out here in the suburbs cars come in whole units.

(I was hoping, in the back of my mind, that Yoda would last long enough that we could go to Greater China next year without having to get a new car, but that doesn't seem likely. If I get lucky I might be able to score a short-term lease assumption that will take us just until we want to leave; and we can deal with getting another car whenever we come back.)

My first thought for a new car* was to go big: find a vehicle large enough to fit our growing family -- not only with Version 2.1 in March with the au pair we're considering starting in the summer. (This is a big long discussion of its own, but the theory is we can get a Chinese au pair and get exposure to Chinese culture and language without having to leave home, as a warm-up act for going to Greater China ourselves.) We can fit two adults and two children in Motoko, and with the roof box I bought just before Christmas we can carry the family's luggage for the weekend (or to the airport). But that doesn't stop me from lusting after a 4Runner, especially with optional third-row seating (new in 2014; it's like a minivan without actually having to drive a minivan) and an actual lockable center differential for better off-road performance. But new 4Runners are expensive** and arguably overkill for what we really need.

[* I'm using the phrase "new car" as a "new-to-us car"; I am aware of the high cost of buying strictly new cars and would be more favorably disposed to a previously-loved car.]

[** I have more than enough money in my brokerage accounts to buy any car I want several times over, but that doesn't mean I actually want to spend that money on a car.]

My other thought is to posit that Motoko is big enough for our family, even with an au pair (there are three seat belts in the back), and look for a car that's a more direct replacement for Yoda: a car I want to drive to work and errands and on my weekend excursions without having to lug around a third row of seats I'm never going to use. I poked around various car manufactures' websites until I found a car I found interesting: a five-door Subaru Impreza. I like all-wheel-drive for getting around Boulder and the mountains in the snow; the hatchback trunk gives me more cargo space and versatility; and it still comes standard with a manual transmission (with an option for a continuously-variable automatic transmission). I enlisted Kiesa's help for background research and was pleased to see that Consumer Reports thinks highly of the Impreza. Then I looked out my office window at work and saw a five-door Impreza parked right there.

Jaeger prepares to test-drive a Subaru Impreza Limited
Jaeger prepares to test-drive a Subaru Impreza Limited

I went on a brief fact-finding mission to Boulder's Subaru dealership over the weekend to check whether the reality of the hatchback Impreza actually met the picture I had in my mind. I ended up test-driving a 2015 Impreza in the "Limited" trim with a CVT. I actually liked driving the CVT: it was far more responsive than most automatics I've driven recently (though the vast majority of my experience with automatic transmissions over the past decade has been whatever marginal car the rental agency sees fit to provide), and I got a kick out of seeing the tachometer nudge gradually up as I stepped on the throttle for more power while climbing a hill while the speedometer stayed constant. I have no intention of going out and buying a car anytime soon but if I had to I at least know where I'd start.