I’m turning 50 this year,1Whether I want to or not and I had big plans for a year-long banger of a mid-life crisis. Grow a wiry, dingy-graying ponytail. Get more age-inappropriate earrings. Pick up a new, ridiculous hobby. And pointedly: get a convertible.
Not a muscle-car convertible, because I may be a soon-to-be-50-year-old man, but I’ve got the heart of a sophomore sorority pledge. I wanted a convertible VW Beetle. I’m a big fan of the 2011 redesign, and I rented a convertible in Florida for a work trip, and it was a ton of fun. Plus I’ve spent the last 20+ years driving practical, fuel-efficient sedans — two of them hybrids — and I just wanted something dumb, fun, and completely impractical.
But getting an internal combustion engine in 2021 just feels a little too irresponsible. Assuming you’re in a position to do otherwise, of course: a lot of very rich people have spent an awful long time and an awful lot of money making sure that electric vehicles were prohibitively expensive for most people. Even now, they’re eye-wateringly expensive. But when even fuel-efficient cars are putting out tons of emissions per year, it feels gross to keep doing it just for fun.
So I’ve got the extremely privileged “problem” of having to decide what car I want to get when my current lease runs out. Some requirements:
- I’m a big boy, and I want a big cereal. And at least a mid-sized car. My fiancé has a Fiat 500, which I like a lot and which is surprisingly comfortable, but my getting the electric version would make us one of those unacceptably insufferable matching couples.
- Absolutely no Tesla, almost solely because I think Elon Musk is an insufferable asshole. Also because I despise the way they’ve sold their cars, specifically, the tactic of listing a bullshit price that included federal tax cuts (which no longer apply, as I understand it), and their completely made-up “fuel savings.”
- Also no Tesla because I’m just not a fan of the design. I just plain don’t like the big screen and the “minimalist” dash.
- I’d want a minimum range of around 250 miles. I’d been hoping they’d come out with one with enough range to get me to Disneyland, but since that’s unlikely, I need one that can give me a week of commutes (post-COVID) on a charge.
- It’s got to have Apple CarPlay. There’s no way I’d go back to a car without it, and it’s ridiculous that any company is still putting out cars without iPhone or Android support.
Based on that, here are the electric cars that look like I could make a somewhat-convincing argument that I could almost afford:
This is my current front-runner. After the TDI fiasco, VW became my second-most-hated car manufacturer after Tesla, and I swore I’d never buy another Volkswagen again. (The convertible Beetle felt like a reasonable-enough compromise, since I’d have to buy it used). But since it was an ecological scandal, I figure maybe I could rationalize buying an electric vehicle from them.2Bookmark this post to consult in a few years, once it’s revealed that VW’s EV base is actually built by burning koalas or something.
From all the reviews I’ve read and watched so far, it sounds like the ID.4 isn’t going to blow anybody away, but it’s a solid car that should have wide appeal. The point I keep hearing is that VW is pitching the ID.4 as a kind of successor to the Golf, instead of a crossover SUV.
Since I’m not a “The Joy of Driving” guy, that sounds like exactly the right approach for anybody trying to sell me a car. The ID.4 seems like a decent car with just enough gimmicks and add-ons to hook me: the custom-color interior lighting, the screen, that panoramic glass roof that I tell myself will make up for not having a convertible, wireless device charging, even the dumb “ID light” idea.
Another point in its favor: VW’s been investing in a charging station infrastructure that’s not nearly as ubiquitous as Teslas, but is included for three years for ID.4 buyers.
This would be my second choice, just because all accounts I’ve heard say that it’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive. I couldn’t be any less interested in whether it’s “really a Mustang”3But I mean come on. It’s not. but it makes me happy to see a company other than Tesla selling EVs on the basis of wanting to drive them, instead of resigning yourself to drive them.
But like I said, I’ve never been a particularly good or adventurous driver, so that whole part of the Mustang’s appeal is lost on me. Back when I got my Altima Hybrid, I test-drove a Mustang convertible as well, after deciding that I wanted it to be a black-or-white choice: practicality or fun. I went with the car that was more comfortable — and which had a dashboard that lit up blue and red like TRON! — because I realized I wasn’t realistically ever going to be driving it over 60, and rarely on a road more winding than I-5.
The main issue with the Mach-E is that it’s out of my comfortable price range for a car. This definitely feels like Ford targeting Tesla owners instead of trying to make a “people’s car.”
My other gripes are all in terms of aesthetics. You only see it in video reviews, but the door handles are just plain weird. I hate the giant screen stuck on the middle of the dash, even if it does have a physical volume button embedded in it, which is objectively rad.
And I’ve got to say I’ve never sat in a Ford of any kind that felt comfortable to me. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but there’s just something about them that always feels like I’m borrowing someone else’s car, even more than when I’m driving a rental.
If I really were being practical, the Kona would be my top choice. It looks like it checks off all the boxes. It’s an average-looking small crossover with a front that’s just weird enough to be interesting. It’s got a pretty good range. The interior looks comfortable enough. It’s got pretty much every one of the features I’d want, both in terms of convenience/technology and safety. And it’s probably the most affordable one on the list.
It just seems kind of boring. I don’t like acknowledging that I’m shallow enough to buy a car based on a big glass roof and some colored interior lighting, but I guess some day I’m going to have to face that fact.
This seems… fine, I guess? I’m not sure why anyone would choose it over the Kona, unless they loved the Kia brand for some reason. (I’m not being sarcastic; I’ve heard from several people over the years who seem to really like driving a Kia).
As far as I can tell, they went the farthest in trying to appeal to the traditional crossover SUV crowd, since I suspect I wouldn’t even know this was an electric car if you hadn’t told me. It’s not just because I’m shallow — it’s mostly because I’m shallow, but not entirely — that I want EVs to try and do something different. This seems like an opportunity to reinvent what we expect from personal cars, so why not experiment?
This one looks by far the coolest, even more than the Mach-E. They’ve even got a dark green color in the lineup that seems like I’m being directly targeted. It seems like a step up into luxury territory. Plus I drove an Altima for about ten years and liked it a lot, and Nissan’s not a newcomer to electric vehicles.
The problem for me is that it’s just a promise for now, and it’s unlikely to be available before the end of the year. More significantly, it looks like they’re targeting the Tesla crowd, so I’m expecting it to be way out of my price range.
What Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Kia are doing right is targeting the people wanting to buy a traditional crossover, not the people wanting to buy a Tesla. That is what’s going to drive the shift to electric vehicles, more than selling status symbols (no matter how well-designed their batteries are!) to the affluent.
None of the Above?
This is getting to be the most appealing option. The pandemic has made reconsider how and where I want to live, and that includes my long-held belief that I was a die-hard suburbanite. There is very, very little that I miss about living in San Francisco, but one thing was the ability to walk to most everything I needed. The only reason I needed a car was because I never worked in the city when I lived in the city.
As much as an EV would be a step in the right direction, it’d be even better if I could somehow eliminate the need for a car at all. But the pandemic has shown me two opposite things about myself: first is that I don’t actually need to make 90% of the trips that I always just assumed were essential. Second is that although I’m not a muscle-car guy by any stretch, I still like driving. There were several days in 2020 where being able to get out and drive somewhere, just for the sake of driving, helped save my limited sanity.
I think my pledge for post-COVID life is to take fewer trips where I’m driving because I thought I had to, and more trips where I’m driving because I didn’t realize I wanted to.