Closeup of part of a car’s control panel, the engine temperate gauge is the only notable item, it is almost exactly halfway between Cold and Hot


Published 2021-08-15

Our car, a fancy 7-seat SUV vintage late 2010s, gets about 24mpg. It is very very fast BTW. Comically fast. Far faster than I would ever need a car to be. It has a computer in the dashboard. It has a computerized map that talks to my phone. It has its own satellite radio connection that will alert the carmaker if I get in an accident. If I would let it, it would nudge the steering wheel when I drift out of the lane, or apply the brakes before I can. (I don’t let it do this. I still haven’t gotten used to cruise control. Yes, every time I take a road trip, I keep my foot on the accelerator the entire time.) I never need to know what gear it is in — it has a continuously-variable transmission. If I didn’t own a house, it would be the fanciest thing I ever owned, by a lot. Add together all the other fancy things I have ever owned, all the stereos and computers and bicycles and other cars, and they still wouldn’t be as a fancy as this car.

The SUV replaced a minivan vintage mid-2000s that got about 24mpg. It was not so fast. But it could carry a lot of stuff, it was the most stuff-carrying car I’ve ever owned. It was the last car I owned with actual gears.

Which in turn replaced a station wagon (similar vintage) that got about 24mpg. The station wagon was about as fast as the above-mentioned SUV. Maybe a little faster. This was the last car I owned with a manual transmission.

Which in turn replaced a slightly smaller station wagon (early 2000s) that got about 24mpg. These two station wagons, performance-wise, were almost entirely identical.

The smaller station wagon replaced a wee Japanese subcompact (ca 1990) that got about 30mpg. The subcompact was not a fast car or otherwise featureful, it did not have four-wheel drive, or five forward gears, or air conditioning, or power windows. Indeed it did not even a radio. But, unique among the cars I have owned, it got 30mpg. This was (probably) the last car I ever owned that had a cable connecting the accelerator directly to the fuel injector. I still have dreams featuring this car.

The subcompact replaced a compact sedan, same vintage, same manufacturer. That car had five gears, an air conditioner, and a radio. It got a steady 24mpg.

The compact sedan replaced a late-1970s vintage German compact sedan that got, yes, about 24mpg. This car was not fast but was remarkable for being perpetually on, yet never over, the brink of total failure. Also it was German and this impressed a small number of people (including myself). It was the last car I owned that had a carburetor.

The German compact replaced a 1979 Ford Fiesta which was the car I learned to drive in. It was surprisingly zippy, indeed I am given to understand Europeans often souped up this kind of car for things like off-road rally racing in North Africa. But here in America, among my friends, it was the butt of perpetual jokes. The Ford Fiesta probably weighed half as much as the 2018ish SUV, which would handily race circles around it, and be a zillion times safer besides.

You will never guess what kind of mileage that 1979 Fiesta got.