Jealousy is an ugly emotion. Indeed, there is a reason envy is one of the seven deadly sins, for it fills you with loathing and contorts your thinking. I have always considered myself lucky that jealousy is an emotion I have never really possessed. When the men in my life have found other women more appealing, my reaction has never been to turn green, but rather to hope they find happiness. When friends have had marvelous events happen to them, I do not secretly hope for a flat tire in their perfect lives, but rather I’m thrilled for their good fortune. So imagine my surprise when my seeing a Cinquecento (a Fiat 500) on the road began to evoke uncontrollable nasty tirades and spiteful thoughts: "Who is she to be driving a 500? I bet she’s never been to Italy! I bet she doesn’t speak Italian. There should be a test involved—if you don’t know the date Rome was sacked by the Visigoths (410 A.D.), if you don’t know who Giotto was, if you can’t pronounce "Medici" properly (MED-ee-chee, not mid-EE-chee), then you have NO RIGHT to drive a Cinquecento!" It was as if I had become a character in Mean Girls, but one of a slightly more academic flavor.
After I begin to see (and react to) 500s seemingly everywhere, two things occurred to me: 1) I had developed an unhealthy obsession, and 2) I had to get to the deeper roots of my reaction. Upon reflection, I realized the driving factor was, of all things, fear. Yes, fear driven by my personal circumstances. One cannot overstate the costliness of divorce, both in its personal and financial toll. My situation has been shared by many—a divorce filled with nastiness and machinations, a dramatic change in financial circumstances, and the sudden and sole responsibility to support three children in their activities, coupled with incredible financial insecurity due to an unstable job market. In the year of the laborious proceedings of separation, many divorced women have had to make the choice between buying eggs or buying gas, and I was no different. The Cinquecento, then, had come to represent a life of economic stability for which I yearned desperately. The drivers of the 500 not only had the car I wanted, but to my mind, their possession of that car also represented security, happiness, and even the luxury of folly. And I was indeed intensely jealous of all that. My apologies to the many women driving Fiat 500s whom I have privately pilloried. I no longer wish upon you a hailstorm to damage your lovely new little car.
Tied to this fear was the growing reality of my impending vehicle dilemma and the dread of having to resolve a costly situation. (See my first Fiat Lust story.) The odometer on my Odyssey has crossed 165,000 miles, and my teenager will have her license in three months. I do not believe that having one’s license equals a birthright to a car. Yet, I am spending as much to have sitters drive my teenager to school and her activities every month as I would to make a car payment. Time to get practical. The only way to fight a fear is to face it, and I needed to slay the dragon. I decided I needed to make "The List."
Making "The List"
What criteria does a vehicle need to make "The List"? Cost and fuel economy, right? I have to be practical, and I would never be so vain as to think beyond the practical considerations. Then I thought back to a conversation with a friend when the 500, with all its metaphorical baggage and lack of space, first showed up on my radar. He was calling me out on my motives. "That car is all about 'sexy,' and that’s why you want it. You play the East Coast nun, but in reality, you send a different message."
I protested, countering with the Fiat’s fuel economy.
"Heh," he replied. "Really? So, where are you going to put the hockey bag?"
I gave him "the look" and then quietly sipped the pale, crisp Sauvignon Blanc in my glass. He was onto something and I was not amused. I will not give him "sexy," but I concede I want cute. Vanity is playing into this. Damn.
The parameters, then: inexpensive—under $20,000; good gas mileage—better than 25 city/30 highway; and cute—popular image counts. With those in mind, I decided that the Super Bowl would be the day I started looking for real inspiration, watching ads for cars that fit my descriptions. With Beyoncé as the halftime show, this was going to be the "kinder, gentler, more feminine" Super Bowl, so that seemed logical. Well, she may have been singing to the single ladies, but the car commercials were all geared to men. My apologies to Dodge, but I am not a farmer, and I do not need a pickup truck. The Volkswagen Beetle still appeals, even though the ad suggests that the car was intended for six-foot male poseurs with faux Caribbean accents. Indeed, the cutest "vehicle" of the Super Bowl wasn’t a car at all. It was the Budweiser Clydesdale. Off the charts on the “cute” scale, and great fuel economy (if we’re talking gas, that is). But even I can admit that there is no way to fit a hockey bag on that saddle. So, what sources are there for investigating the myriad of options for new cars? Research takes time, and I need efficiency. This is not a shameless plug, but the two most useful sites were our very own JeanKnowsCars.com and Consumer Reports. JKC’s car guide lacks the precise category I wanted—“inexpensive, yet stylish small car for the slightly neurotic forty-year-old”—but between "first car," "hatchback," and "sporty," I was able to create quite a list and remove a couple of cars I had thought to be contenders. The VW Golf isn’t as cute as it used to be, the Toyota Matrix is too expensive, and the Smart car can’t get above 70 mph. I had never considered the Scion iQ, but the review seemed intriguing. Ditto for the Chevrolet Spark.
JKC’s positive reviews of vehicles, which makes the thought of purchasing a car fun, stand in stark contrast to the total downer car reviews of the ever practical Consumer Reports, which I have always suspected was published by my mother as a counterbalance to just about any flight of fancy purchase I have ever considered making. It is not very kind to many of the occupants of "The List," and I take rebellious comfort in its stodgy rejection of my parameters, but, in a concession to my mother, I have added the Ford Fiesta due to the begrudging praise it received. Yes, Mother, I did my homework. So, “The List”: Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2,Mini Cooper, Scion iQ, VW Beetle, and, of course, the Fiat 500. Let the test driving begin!