Well folks, it's happened. For the past two weeks I've been guiding my 63-year old mother towards her first ever new car purchase. The strategy was to try and secure a future classic for dear old Mum that I could buy for myself 20 years down the line. After all, she barely drives 4500km per year and never exceeds any posted speed limits. So what iconic specimen of automotive history will I be taking to car shows in 2028?
A Honda CR-V, apparently.
Look, I tried. But buying a decent new car in 2008 is not as easy as it sounds. To begin with, there aren't that many new cars that would make me want to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt in the first place. I've got this peculiar notion that if you're going to buy a future classic, you should buy the best version of that particular car. For example, the Honda S2000 is terrific, but why would you get a new one when the 2004 and earlier models had an extra 1000rpm before redline like a proper Honda.
Same with the Nissan 350Z and Mazda RX-8. Can anyone honestly say they wouldn't rather have a mid-90s 300ZX twin turbo or a FD RX-7 instead? Subaru STIs and Mitsubishi Evos suffer the same fate; the sheer rawness of last year's models make the 2008s seem like Cadillacs. Likewise, purists of the ultimate driving machine decry the new generations of BMWs' softness, not that we could afford one anyway. Don't even get me started on the incessant nannying present on most luxury rides today.
What are you left with? A Shelby GT500 Mustang, 2010 Camaro and the Toyota FJ Cruiser, and that's about it. Coincidentally, they're all retro designs based on legendary predecessors.
Throw in some requirements about fuel economy or number of doors, however, and you've got nothing. So by the end of last week, I had resigned myself to a car that wasn't a classic per se, but one that was symbolic of the times.
At first, I thought hybrid. I can't help thinking that this stopgap measure on the way to hydrogen, diesel, electric or some combination of the three might be viewed as an engineering oddity in the future, kind of like the Stanley Steamer. Plus, my mum's Volvo's 6km/l in town, which is where she drove it, was always a sore spot. But ever since petrol prices in the US caught up with the rest of the world, there's been a two-month waiting for those green machines. So until we invade more oil-rich countries, hybrids are not an option.
Ok, how about a nice Honda Civic, the best selling vehicle in the US? "Doesn't Honda make motorcycles?" my dear old Mum asked me. "Yes, they make cars now too," I assured her. The eighth-gen Civic is huge, roomier than a C-Class Benz and much larger than even a mid-90s Accord. She liked it, apart from the odd double-decker dashboard. That's when the salesman craftily parked it next to an Accord, and suddenly it didn't look so big anymore.
Mum liked the Accord even better, especially the upscale feel of the interior's soft plastics. Personally, I think the new Accord is as ugly as a melted baby, so I suggested that with such a weighty decision, you don't want to buy right away, right?
The next day we visited Toyota to check out the Camry, America's top selling car for the past decade. Nice, but the interior was shod with plastic that was more obviously plastic than the Accord. Mum did not like that one bit. The four-cylinder Camry was noisier than its Honda counterpart too, and while its styling was not as bad as the Accord's, it's tapir-esque snout ain't gonna win any pageants. It did have a 60/40 rear split versus the Accord's dichotomous rear seat/boot trade-off, however.
Having witnessed the glory of the Accord's sumptuous cabin, Mum's bar was set. The Mazda 6 looked, once again, "too cheap" and neither of us cared for a dashboard that glowed red like a submarine control room on high alert.
While ruminating about the unattractiveness of our available options, I realized there was at least one mid-size sedan in America that looked quite good inside and out, the Subaru Legacy/Liberty. But before I could take mother to the local Sube showroom, I let her talk to her sister, the only woman on Earth than knows less about cars than she does.
This woman, my aunt, drives a Pontiac Vibe. Behold its extraneous plastic! It's an ugly runt and, offered in all-wheel-drive, is actually a Toyota Matrix attempting to appear rugged. The Matrix, in turn, is actually a hatchback built on a dull but reliable Corolla platform. I take no issue with the Vibe. No, my beef is that my aunt convinced my mother to get an SUV "in case you need to carry something."
Gah! I couldn't let my mother become one of those people! And by "those people" I mean "suburbanites who think they need all-wheel-drive to scale an anthill but in reality could make do with a minivan or hatchback yet are too image conscious to drive something perceived as uncool."
But once the seed was planted in her mind, there was no stopping it. Combined with her perception that Honda interiors were best (based on that early encounter with an Accord), the CR-V was a forgone conclusion.
It's not that it's a bad car. On the contrary, it's quite capable of anything a typical owner like my Mum would expect. It's comfortable, with ergonomics so intuitive they border on the telepathic. It's spacious enough so that even with a headroom-robbing sunroof, my 193cm brother can sit in it without hunching over like Quasimodo. Plus, the flat floor and foldable seats make the rear seat and cargo area more versatile than opposable thumbs.
Immediately after buying it, we went on a 400km trip to visit my Pontiac-driving aunt, who, when presented with the SUV she inadvertently helped pick, said that she "liked the color." On the highway, the CR-V could use a little more power, but 124kW ain't bad, and it's not like Mum will use it all anyway. Cruising at about 120kph the tach read only about 2500rpm, though the transmission was a bit downshift-happy. We got great mileage though, about 12 km/l on the highway.
So, yeah. It's not what you immediately think of as a classic, but perhaps it's just as well. For picking out future classics, I have another notion: one should not buy an automatic if the car is available in a manual. Also, if a larger engine is available, one should opt for it. Since all trim levels of the CR-V come with the exact same 2.4L i-VTEC engine and 5-speed automatic, the future me will never have to suffer the indignity of "Why didn't you get the manual?" or "Is that a four or a six?"
See you at the 2028 CR-V Fest.