When the Open Road Soothes Your Existential Angst

when the open road soothes your existential angst

The year was 1992. Your mullet was uncomfortably shaggy, your jeans unfortunately baggy, your personality unbecomingly braggy.

And Admiral Stockdale famously asked a vice presidential debate audience, “Who am I? Why am I here?”

Midst massive life transitions over the last 10 months — a website sale, a house sale, a much bigger TTAC role, a move to another province, a real job, a smaller TTAC role — I have more than once asked the very same questions, though often to myself, with nothing more than the sound of a Spalding clanging off the rim as I practice free throws in the driveway. These are not easy questions to answer, but I have discovered that jumping into a car and driving into the darkness is a great way of sourcing internal feedback.

I learn by asking questions. I often find answers tucked away somewhere between a perfectly timed downshift in a 2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata and a jaw-dropping upshift in a 2018 Honda Civic Type R.

November saw the virtual disappearance of that Miata, however, a car that clocked 3,100 miles since I purchased it as a post-GoodCarBadCar-sale reward last spring. Parked sideways and covered up in the back of our garage, the Miata’s battery is hooked up to a tender, its tires are overinflated, its interior is spotless, its exterior is waxed, its critter entry points are blocked by steel wool, and its roof is closed but unlatched. I was able to get roughly one more month of Prince Edward Island driving in the Miata than I expected thanks to a blissfully mild fall.

I also took one late night excursion with the top down, the temperature below freezing, and flurries falling.

A Kensington police officer stopped to ask me if I was alright. Wearing a toque and a winter jacket and a scarf, with the Miata’s heater not even on full blast, I was in top-down glory.

Alright? Constable, I am most definitely more than alright.

The Miata’s move to the back of the garage coincided with the purchase of new winter tires for our 2015 Honda Odyssey. Long a believer in Michelin X-Ice and Bridgestone Blizzak rubber, I was tempted into a set of Yokohama IceGuards by an array of service managers and service advisors with whom I now work closely. Reviews at the Tire Rack were largely positive, lending credence to the claims of my colleagues.

Cheaper by $60 per corner than the Michelins, the Yokohamas aren’t so noisy that you notice their winter nature, although there’s a noted loss of sharpness upon turn-in compared with the all-season Michelin Primacys, not surprisingly.

In the meantime, handling a new gig in product training at a number of new vehicle dealerships has granted me access to an array of vehicles. The Nissan 370Z I initially took home manifested a high level of authenticity. Thoroughly modern? Perhaps we should be thankful the Z is not. Instead, it’s a Japanese muscle car with the heritage to match.

The Kia Soul I drove for a few days proved just why I once named it the most easily recommended vehicle on sale today. Meeting such a wide variety of needs, the Soul is quiet, sufficiently powerful, very spacious, and exceptionally well equipped at a bargain price. Even a few years into second-gen form, the Soul still merits success despite the lack of an all-wheel-drive system that many believe to be so necessary.

A brief excursion in the 2018 Honda Civic Type R rearranged my expectations in more than one way. Sure, it’s a sight to behold. But the Type R provides more performance than I anticipated along with more day-to-day liveability than I thought possible.

The 2018 Honda Accord, meanwhile, is the car in which I’ve spent the most time over the last few weeks. I won’t suggest that the continuously variable transmission would be my choice, particularly not with manual availability in Sport and Sport 2.0T iterations, but the degree to which Honda made a CVT a non-factor is noteworthy. The Accord Sport’s Sport mode livens up the 1.5-liter turbo, the chassis is a willing partner on traffic-free country roads, and the 19-inch wheels don’t disrupt the proceedings as they did in the departed ninth-gen Accord.

The new Accord is better in virtually every way than the old car, which will be more than enough to quickly grow the Accord’s market share as the Honda and Toyota Camry make headway in a segment the duo already dominates.

Up next is the Nissan Qashqai. Then a 2018 Mazda CX-5, perhaps? The Kia Forte will sneak in there, and probably another Honda.

By May, I’ll be back in my own Miata, hopefully cognizant once again of who I am and why I am here.

[Images: © 2017 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Join the conversation
2 of 20 comments
  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Nov 30, 2017

    Having a manual transmission again has put me more in touch with driving. I’m an attentive and conscientious driver, but that has been heightened by having to think about shifting again and conserving energy so I don’t have to stop on a hill if I don’t have to. I mean, I usually drive efficiently, but even with a hill holder, starting on a steep hill has never been fun. I put Goodyear Ultra Grip Winter tires on the Sienna and I have them for the VW too from the departed Mazda. They seem to be a decent change from the Blizzak and Dunlop Graspics I’ve been using for years, but those Xi Ice from Michelin are great. With light traffic and the shuffle function on the phone or pandora hitting a decent mix, I can drive for long periods and enjoy it.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Dec 01, 2017

    Thanks for the update, Timothy. Good to hear your thoughts on all these vehicles even if we can't get full reviews.

  • 2ACL What tickles me is that the Bronco looks the business with virtually none of the black plastic cladding many less capable crossovers use.
  • IBx1 For all this time with the hellcat engine, everything they made was pathetic automatic scum save for the Challenger. A manual Durango, Grand Cherokee, Charger, 300C, et al would have been the real last gasp for driving enthusiasts. As it is, the party is long over.
  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.