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Say hi to Sparkle, my Civic Hybrid

Say hi to SparkleI’ve been on this car-purchasing odyssey, made wild and crazy because it’s the summer when people will do irrational things to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, including paying way above reasonable street value.

I changed tactics to a new car late in the game, when I could not find a used Honda that met my specifications through dealers, Carmax, or anything else, only to find that I had now entered the long weird season where dealers are depleting existing stock in a year when they could be turning out small cars like waffles at Cracker Barrel on Sunday morning.

So do not ask how I ended up (at a reasonable price) with a gently-used Civic Hybrid in a pretty sparkly silver (touched with just a hint of aqua blue) with navy cloth upholstery and oodles of time and miles left in its warranty (extended by Honda Certified).

(The “Earth” magnet is one I found in Provincetown in June, with no other plan for it than I was tickled by the sentiment.)

Even Internet dealers, including a very nice one whose mom reads this blog, expressed surprise I had found a hybrid. I suspect I could scalp this car on Peachtree Avenue (just so you know: every other street in Atlanta is called Peachtree Avenue) and with the proceeds buy a bookmobile or a warship. Though after getting over 50 mpg on the drive north (not bad for someone who thinks 65mph is the legal minimum on most highways), I don’t really want a bookmobile or warship. It’s much nicer to have gas in the car left over from the drive.

When I test-drove this car I was puzzled by how much I liked it. I finally realized it’s because it feels like what it is — a Honda –and I’ve long enjoyed driving my 15-year-old Civic (still in the family and doing quite well at 170k, thank you very much). Things were in the right places and did the right things in the right way.

Some things were new to me, though not new to anyone who has bought a car in the last few years. Two cupholders, with cunning prongs to ensure the cup fit just so! A seat I could raise up (and immediately did)! TWO accessory outlets! An MP3 plug! A whoop-whoop (as we call the fob’s homing sound, from Sandy’s dear departed Corolla)! Places to tuck things! A sliding armrest!

But overall, I now understand why people buy the same car; it is for the same reason they sometimes marry the same spouse, several times over. Life is full of surprises. I could see getting used to a lovely green Prius, with its varied amusements and so forth, plus the joy of knowing I was driving an Obvious Hybrid, and there was a mad moment when I almost over-spent and bought one — even though it didn’t have the accessories I wanted and the local dealers are charging a hefty pile of cash above MSRP, which ain’t no peanuts to begin with, so it felt gluttonous and foolhardy and yet strangely underwhelming.

There are even some things the Honda does unequivocably better than the Prius — remember I’ve rented and driven Priuses for very long (but pleasant) trips.

The Civic Hybrid mpg gage is both understated yet positioned in line of sight on the dash, not off to the right on a glitzily distracting panel; after a while, I realized the gage was right above the battery-charge indicator, so I could eye both at the same time. (I’m sure this has been written about to a fare-thee-well, but you don’t drive a hybrid — it drives you, by managing your feet through the consumption data.) You can also see out the back of the Civic Hybrid, and it doesn’t whipsaw when a truck drives by. Plus however solid a ride is the Prius, nothing hugs the road with such eagle-taloned determination as a Honda.

But those are mere quibbles. More to the point, there’s something comforting about not having to relearn my car, for heaven’s sake, in a life where since I last bought a car, I’ve lived in four states and six houses.

Maybe that is why I kept looking for a Honda, and maybe that I got my hands on a hybrid is the best of both worlds. My car is my touchstone to the past, the continuity through homes I no longer live in, rosebushes I gave away, friends I buried, opportunities that will never come around again. Yet my new-to-me car is also, in its own small way, with its modest fuel habits and its alternative fuel technologies, a steppingstone to the future.

One fellow at the dealership made a big case that though it’s a hybrid the Civic “looks like a car,” which made me smile, because I think the intimation was as opposed to that crazy-looking Prius those latte-drinkin’ Obama-votin’ Democrats drive. Beyond the obvious point that all cars look like cars — because they are in fact cars — the bottom line is that I, a latte-drinking, Obama-voting Democrat, am happy to have a sparkly almost-new horseless carriage with an excellent pedigree and well-tended life history, a vehicle that sips delicately of finite resources, has well-engineered cupholders, and feels, at once, both warmly familiar and brightly new.

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