A Drive to Nowhere – at Over $3/Gallon

At first glance, you might say this column is socially and economically irresponsible. On its face it certainly seems to suggest a total waste of money and finite natural resources, in the form of gas. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. Those of you who are car nuts probably have an idea what I’m going to discuss already.

Gas is very expensive, at least compared to what we’re used to paying for it. By some accounts, gas prices for unleaded regular have gone up from around $2 per gallon a year ago to over $3 per gallon recently. Premium grade is even higher. Luckily we’re not paying what I hear they’re paying in Europe. Someone recently told of prices exceeding $7 per gallon in England. Ouch!

The escalating price of gas has certainly not been lost on me, and I’ve tried to do what I can to mitigate it somewhat. Even though I really like fast, powerful cars (my first car was a Plymouth Duster 340), I can’t bear to suffer the financial consequences of having thirsty cars. I often wince at the gas pumps when I see my fellow motorists filling up their monster SUVs. Sure, it would be nice to have the luxury of all that room and power at my command, but for me the price of keeping such a vehicle on the road just doesn’t make enough sense.

I’d love a new Charger, Corvette or Porsche, but aside from the initial cost of those and many other fine vehicles, there would always be that regular, nasty wakeup call at the gas pumps.

So, my way of dealing with this situation is to go small and efficient, and instead of having one really great, expensive car, I bought two less expensive but very different ones.

My everyday car is a 2005 Toyota Prius. It consistently averages about 45 miles per gallon on regular gas. That is with normal driving, keeping up with traffic and accelerating briskly whenever I feel like it. I hear other, more miserly drivers, are getting over 50 miles per gallon with their Prius (what is the plural of Prius, anyway?).

Believe it or not, I view my Prius as a performance car – especially now. Nuts you say? Don’t be so fast to laugh. Consider this. Thanks to the law that took effect recently, now when I drive solo on the freeway I can – and do, take advantage of being able to use the HOV lanes. When I heard of this new law I immediately applied for the stickers identifying my car to the authorities as a “CALIFORNIA CLEAN AIR VEHICLE.” As required, I plastered all four of them on my car the same night that they arrived in the mail.

You want to talk about performance, just watch as I scoot along while traffic is moving at a snail’s pace beside me in rush hour traffic. That is performance as far as I’m concerned!

My other car is more performance oriented in the conventional sense. It is a 2004 MAZDASPEED Miata – red, of course. This turbocharged beauty is just the ticket for spirited driving when the roads are less clogged. It does get considerably worse mileage than does my Prius, and on premium grade gas, no less, but as performance cars go it is not too bad. It is rated at 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. I can live with that in a vehicle that I only use occasionally – and I do only use it occasionally. Its odometer just turned over 3,000 miles and it’s over a year old.

The title of this column suggested a drive to nowhere. My Miata is great for that. One kind of drive to nowhere is my autocrossing. Every month or two I take it to Qualcomm Stadium and enter it in an autocross – a timed competition event where courses are safely delineated by soft, flexible traffic cones.

However, the drive to nowhere that I had in mind when I came up with the idea for this column is different. A few nights ago I’d just about had enough of the hassles and aggravation that goes hand in hand with living in a busy metropolitan area. I needed an escape. I had just run an errand and was driving home in my Miata, top down. It was a little after 7 pm and darkness was approaching. I was literally about to turn into my neighborhood when it hit me. I didn’t need to go straight home. I didn’t want to go straight home. Instead, I suddenly had the urge to do what I had done so often as a teenager, so long ago.

I drove right past my turnoff and headed back where I had come from. A few turns and I was on Del Dios Highway, heading east, twisting and turning, and going up and down hills, towards Escondido.

It was wonderful. With the sun setting, it was cool. I cranked up the heat a bit and just drove, working my way up and down through the gears. I had a Dianna Ross collection loaded in the Bose CD player, so I turned it on. Slowly but surely I relaxed. By the time I reached Escondido I was feeling great. I turned around on a side street and drove back home, completely refreshed.

That is one great use for a sports car and money well spent for the gas. 

Drive safely and do join me again next time.

Copyright © 2005, 2006 & 2021 by Jan Wagner — AutoMatters & More #157r2

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Jan Wagner

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