Monthly Archives: June 2009

Choosing the minimal car

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White

How many empty seats do you drive around with?  Be honest.

If you’re like most, your car is not just a top expense, but also a top activity, and thus a critical decision to get right.  Here is the Strunk & White perspective.

I have a spouse and three small children.  We thus need at least two cars, at least one able to hold the entire family, including three immense (and possibly counterproductive) plastic child seats.

So the first car must be a minivan or SUV.  I’ll leave that choice for a different post;  here, let’s focus on the second car.

Most choose a sedan.  Why?  Few sedans accommodate three plastic seats abreast, and the rest remain impractical compared to a van. So in practice, families never use the back seat of the sedan. Every outing with children happens in the minivan, while the sedan is used only to commute, alone, accompanied only by a forlornly empty back bench.

Which is why our second car is a 2-seat convertible.

We get interesting reactions from other families.  “Isn’t that impractical?” they ask.  Well, yes. But no more impractical than a sedan.  The only truly practical choice would be two minivans. Short of that, you might as well get the roadster.

We chose the Honda S2000, because it is the second-most minimal car you can buy today, truly a Strunk & White of motor vehicles. Here is a partial list of what it doesn’t have.

Rear seats. Rear windows. Navigation system. Satellite radio. Seat heaters. In-glass defroster. Controls on steering wheel. Cup holders. Cargo space to hold anything larger than a case of beer. Automatic transmission. Suspension control. Climate control beyond basic AC.

Except for the Lotus Elise/Exige — which we avoided due to durability issues — this is the leanest car you can buy. In return for such crippling inconveniences as the lack of in-dash DVD player, you get a car 500 pounds lighter than any competitor, and correpondingly more agile. An adult-scale, street-legal go-kart.

The dashboard is almost unnaturally unobstructed. No constellation of indicator lights. No whack-a-mole field of pushbuttons. There is basically nothing to do but drive.

And that ain’t so bad.