My COAL threads split into two, along the way. One thread was hobby cars and race cars (and daily drivers that turned into hobby cars and race cars), and the other thread followed the cars I actually drove on a daily basis, and which served no other purpose during my tenure with them.
This last COAL of my series wraps up the daily driving side on a high note, with a pair of Hondas, sequentially driven, that have provided nothing but dependable and predictable driving. They have done exactly what they have been asked to do, no more and no less. I think when one looks back at cars over time, what stands out is that the compromises in function, reliability, and economy have become so much smaller over the years. To flip it in the other, backwards-looking direction, car owners used to be expected to accept all sorts of major compromises, and the lack of compromises was more the exception to the rule.
Until it became time to photograph the engine rooms of these two Hondas, I had not once actually opened the hood and looked in there, for either car. I knew the Accord was a fuel-injected four-cylinder transversely mounted powerplant, and that the engine in the CR-V shrunk in size and added a turbo. But I never actually looked at or touched either engine (our daily drivers are regularly serviced by a professional mechanic, or irregularly serviced, in the case of the Hondas—only routine maintenance going on there).
The engines provide just enough power for good get-up-and-go, but no more. Handling and braking are extremely competent, as long as one doesn’t ask for excessive things out of the cars. Everything feels calibrated precisely for the purpose of driving it somewhere in comfort and safety, but no more than that. No wasted space, excess power, or other capacities when they will (or should) not be asked for.
In the old days, cars were assembled out of on-hand parts, fitted to bodies and frames that were often designed to do whatever job was asked of them, but not necessarily engineered to work extremely well together. Drivers of cars from the ‘60s and ‘70s can recall all sorts of wasted and unused space in the big old cars. Power that could not efficiently be delivered to the driving wheels without careful application of the driver inputs. Alternatively, lack of power for the situation, where leaning fully into the throttle and waiting around for the car to get up to proper speed was the order of the day. Shredding the front tires in terminal understeer at speed, if one did not slow way down for the corners. Cars that would bottom out and go all squirrelly, as the solid axles, mounted to leaf springs in the rear, would bounce and vibrate over less-than-smooth road conditions. The cars could be fixed with hand tools and duct tape, but they needed to be fixed quite often, on the fly, as parts failed, assemblies disassembled themselves, and weird structural and bodywork failures would occasionally reveal themselves. Five or ten year old cars were considered ancient rattletraps, because they actually were rattletraps. It was how cars aged, in dog years compared to the current crop.
The daily driver thread crossed the threshold for me, when the Mazda RX-3s yielded to the RX-7s. For me, that was the crossover between a car being suitable but jumbled up and a bit uneven in reliability and execution, and a car in which I just drove it and did routine maintenance, and never gave too much thought to any annoying quirks or the likelihood of being stuck by the side of the road. Every daily driver since then, the trucks, the Intrepid, the Honda Odyssey, the PT Cruiser, the Ford Five Hundreds, and, finally, the two Hondas here, all have done their jobs well and with relatively little fuss and drama. Over time and through the string of cars, they have zeroed in on efficiency, on having all systems and functions working well together, and on offering lots of reliability. The continuum of all these attributes can be followed, to some sort of current high point with these latest Hondas.
That said, the personality seems to have drained out of the cars over time. While the Hondas still have some flashes of “Honda-ness” in their features, their styling, and the way the cars are put together and operate, it really is pale compared to the way cars stood out in the past. I think, to a great extent, it is due to the landscape of the current vehicle offerings being uniformly competent, efficient, and well-functioning in the interactions of the systems and in the overall “feel” of the car. I was actually underwhelmed in my recent first ride in a Tesla. Not because of any fault of the car, or even any real mediocrity. But instead because it was not that much of a step up from the Hondas. The Hondas are quiet, comfortable, and capable cars too. The Tesla takes all of it to a higher level, but the Hondas certainly exhibit an overall achievement that is extremely competent, and that is also way ahead of the cars of twenty or thirty years ago. There simply is no comparison, objectively speaking.
Subjectively, something has been lost even as other things have been gained. There used to be room to “improve” a car, both visually and functionally. I am not talking here about adding rake and Cragar “mag” wheels, and the things the kids would do to ruin nice cars by making them “cool” or “racy”. I am talking about careful choices of wheels and tires, or perhaps some paint or trim detailing. Raising or lowering one end or both ends of the car slightly. Finding combinations of parts and settings that filled up the wheel wells and improved grip and braking. Taking the styling elements of the car and bringing them out into a more satisfying iteration, perhaps getting closer to what the stylists had in mind before the realities of wheel and tire choice, ride height and bumper regulations, or manufacturing requirements and capabilities introduced all sorts of compromises. Engines could be made to run better and more smoothly. Steering could be quickened and tightened. Springs and shocks could be chosen and matched to make significant handling and ride improvements. It was all there for a “car guy” to exploit and to make the ride truly his own.
These days? Fergittaboudit. The manufacturers have optimized everything for you. Unless you want to enstupidate your car into a “Fast and Furious” machine, there is nothing to do to the car to change it, that would take any visual or mechanical element into much of a different direction from how it sits, right from the factory. The nice thing is that it is all done for you, and you are getting optimized and well-tailored cars. The bad thing is that there isn’t much room for constructive creativity. Is that a good thing, or is that a bad thing? Keep in mind that there are plenty of older cars that can be modified and improved, so the art of vehicular improvement through thoughtful modification is not over. It’s just that the major workovers are going to be on the older cars. The newer ones often offer small room for improvement in lighting, traction, power, or braking, but the changes are generally very incremental. One is not going to fundamentally transform that new car, at least not into anything that most people would consider any sort of improvement.
Back to the Hondas. In my opinion, they have done a great job. But line them up against Subarus, Hyundais, Toyotas, or Fords, and there isn’t very much difference, either in the specs or in the visuals, and in the capabilities and characteristics of how they operate. Differences, yes. Meaningful differences to most drivers and passengers, no, not generally.
This is one important reason to single out, talk about, and perpetuate both the existence and the understanding of what these older cars were, and what they meant to us. That is a basic function of this website, which serves as a sort of catalogue and a narrative of what came before and how we, as owners, drivers, and passengers, related to them. For car people, this is important work, and it means something. So while I don’t really have much to say about these Hondas, it does give me an opportunity to get on my little soapbox and talk about how great things are with the cars today, but also what has gone by the wayside along the way, with vestiges of the old ways that we see parked along the curbs and lodged in our memories.
As for me and my family, I expect the next car will be an EV of some sort. Our daily drivers “go with the flow”. There aren’t too many more new cars for us, in our future. The CR-V is showing the way in elements of “self-driving”, with lane departure warning functions, along with active braking and adaptive cruise control features. Before too long, they will be woven into elements of a real-world automatic-driving car. You can see it on the far horizon already.
As to the toys, I have added a couple of cheap and worn rubber-bumpered MG Midgets to the fleet, for experimentation purposes, and to see what I can do with bringing something basic and crude into a thing that functions more closely to current expectations. The cars are ridiculously small and unsafe, and sharing open roads with smartphone-distracted SUV drivers just seems completely inappropriate. But I do have close access to some rarely traveled winding back roads. So the twin SUs with the Triumph-based engine will be combined with brake and suspension work, and I will see where things go. Then perhaps weave it together with my yellow chrome bumper car, and do some old-school hot rodding. I’m going to leave the version of tuning by downloading readouts and flashing the computer chips to others. I am going to stay with carburetion, parts list mixing and matching, and throwing some old-time racing tricks at an old car. A car that is the absolute minimum in size and weight, which creates a sort of efficiency all its own. A size that can fit in a corner of the Car Barn. A car that is still rather cheap, unwanted, and ignored (the best kind, in my book). A car that might be able to be made into something others haven’t done before.
As to these COAL articles, thanks for sticking with me. I did this to share with you, but I really did it for myself. I always try to put anything I am doing, or paying attention to, into some sort of narrative. After all, storytelling is basic to the human experience. So is conversation, even if it is on-line. I am going to print out all of my COAL articles, along with all of your thoughtful and supportive comments, and bind it all up into a book, for me to keep. I don’t have some of the cars any more, but I do have the narrative, right here.
Oh, by the way, do I have any regrets or an unrealized bucket list? No, not really, except for a couple of things. My first RX-3, the red one, the one I made into my first autocross and race car, was the car in which I learned that I could take a car and make something different and better out of it, and completely personalize it. It was my “gateway car” to learning how to modify and transform a car, and it was fully realized into an autocross and club racing creation that was something I was very proud of. On purpose, I tore it down and cut it up, rather than selling it. It was my car, I built it with my own two hands into what I wanted it to be, and it wasn’t right that someone else would get a turn with it. Better to disassemble it. I think I got the idea from the book “Hot Rod”, by Henry Gregor Felsen. He wrote a whole series of young adult hot rod books. I read them all in junior high, and have not done so since, so I don’t know if they are any good. But they were a big deal to a thirteen-year-old. In that particular book, the main character’s own handbuilt hot rod led him and his friends into trouble. So he deliberately disassembled and destroyed his car. He was doing it as some sort of act of penance, and I was not, but the disassembly was part of the story for each of us, each for our own reasons. In hindsight, I wish I still had that car. That’s the only regret, and it is the only mental empty spot in my garage, but what is done is done. The second thing is that I aspire to drive a few laps in a dirt sprint car on a circle track. Everything else I want to do, drive, or own has already been realized. I’m a very lucky guy. My ratio of “want” to “done” is very high on the “done” side.
Thank you, Paul, for the opportunity, and thank you, readers, for following along and for all of your great comments. My wife, Vicki, mentioned to me that the moderation on this site must be very good, to keep the comment section so constructive. I responded that Paul moderates carefully, but that the commenters here do their own great job, because its a car site, and we keep it about the cars and our experiences, encounters, and knowledge of them. Personally, I think this site is a (very specialized) oasis of sanity in a crazy internet and a crazy world. That quality has immense value, no matter any other valuable aspects of the site. But, then, we all seem to be grownups here, and that helps. See you around!
I really enjoyed this series. Part of it is that you and I are right around the same age, so our car experiences (while very different in a lot of ways) was similar in how they relate to different times of life.
And how true that modern cars require so little of us. I cannot tell you when I last checked oil in either of my daily drivers, and they are now getting into the category of elderly. I would check it if either of them had ever shown the slightest tendency to use oil, but you can only pull a dipstick so many times and look at it say full before it no longer becomes a habit.
I hope we have not seen the last of your writing here. It’s been fun.
Enjoyable read as have been your others in the series! 🙂
I agree with the modern capabilities of the Hondas and most other cars, SUVs etc. However, I agree with you about the “feel” of today’s vehicles vs those of the even not to distant past. The car I miss most for daily driving is the very basic ’88 Civic HB, stick we had. It was my first 4 wheeled Honda and despite needing to row the gearbox to keep the engine moving the car along it was very enjoyable to drive plus got excellent gas mileage.
My ’21 Civic EX is certainly far quicker, and with the hi performance Contis I put on it, handles very respectably. The seats are better, heck the ’21 Civic is light years “better” than my ’88 base Civic, but that old one is the Honda I miss! OTOH, hopefully the ’21 Civic will NOT develop the tin worn the ’88 did after several Winters of Midwest driving… 🙁 Had it not been for that I probably would have kept the ’88.
The ’88 I do have, which is a IROC-Z, 350 Camaro has so far remained rust free….go figure. It is somewhat entertaining to drive altho now it has gotten very expen$ive to do so thanks to its thirst for Premium gas in xidenland. $igh. Personally I think this ’21 Civic might be my last car with its electronically controlled, turbo ICE engine. Works for me and no extra strain on our shaky electric grid……DFO
What a great COAL series.
You’ve gone far and wide in this series and, by ending up with two Hondas, gives many of us less brave and/or less talented car revisers a sense of comfort in that we have ended up at – or near – the same place as you.
OK. Some of us do not have a car barn.
I also read “Hot Rod”, by Henry Gregor Felsen in hardcover version for a reading assignment in high school circa 1960. I cannot recall if I got credit for it as I’m sure the assignment was meant to push me in a “loftier” direction. I do recall having mixed feelings when the car was taken apart. But the “I-made-it-I-can-destroy-it” sense seemed an appropriate choice.
And finally, thanks to you, I have a new favorite word: Enstupidate.
There is a lot of enstupidatation going around these days and I’m having a hard time understanding it. Sometime I think we all should be required to sit through a screening of the 2006 film “Idiocracy”.
On second thought, that may make things worse.
Thanks for the COAL ride.
This has been a really good series. What you own / have owned truly covers a wide range.
The only critique I can form for newer cars is a nitpick, but it’s there nonetheless. As one who lives with two people having distinct food allergies, we often have a cooler with us for any length of trip. Trunk openings and dimensions of current cars don’t play well with standard sized coolers, which is quite unlike cars from not that long ago. Also, ingress/egress is more of a challenge (perhaps because I’m turning 50 this fall and have noticed my joints more than I used to), particularly in the rear seat due to the slope of car roofs.
Conversely, S/CUVs are great for ingress/egress and for holding coolers, but the storage room they offer is sometimes not as vast (or perhaps more vertical) as it would seem.
Therein lies my only two complaints with modern vehicles. Yes, it’s a nitpick but like so many things in life, there is often a tradeoff.
Dutch, keep writing for us! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what you’ve said and seeing things through the eyes of others.
The price of fuel, along with a lot of “work from home” for the two of us, has turned our actual driving into a 1+ daily driver household, using the CR-V (our live-at-home and very busy daughter pilots the Accord). The trucks are now only being used for moving around lumber and for the big stuff, and also for trailering, given their thirstiness.
Recently spending a whole lot more time with the CR-V, I have found the split rear fold-down seat a very big deal in accommodating big loads and oddly shaped stuff. Unlike the trap doors in the Accord and the Five Hundreds, the CUV shape and the fold down seats really make the thing a stubby-rear-area 7/8s sized station wagon.
If automotive evolution is a real and ongoing thing, and one-car families are going to be normalized again, dictated by the price of operation of a vehicle and the economic constraints of current-era budgeting, then I am not sure where we go from here, space utilization-wise. I can see the EV powerplant evolution, along with hybrids, stacked on top of the CUV layout (hello Mustang Mach-E), but perhaps the CUV is the end of the line, in the sense of optimal size and utilization of space.
Then there is the matter of overall size. Will the size of the CR-V be viewed as extravagant soon, and something dimensionally more akin to the Honda Fit or the Smart car might be the norm? It is dangerous to extend current trends into the future, because the world has a way of carrying you to someplace unexpectedly different. But the CUV seems the ideal, and there are so many of them, of various makes, that appear so totally interchangeable. I think it makes the perfect “one car” space-utilization compromise, even if it is not optimal for every situation.
A CUV for daily use, along with occasional access to a truck for big jobs or as a second occasional vehicle, seems the perfect combination for this moment.
It’s hard for me to imagine where something akin to a CUV becomes more dominant, thanks to its practical proportions. There’s a reason it’s taken over in the developed world, and increasingly the whole world. With EV propulsion, any efficiency gains that a lower sedan has are very modest. The Tesla Model Y doesn’t give up much range (330 miles) to the comparable Model 3 (358 miles).
The Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6 are good examples where the trend is going. I’m not sure the CUV label rally aplies, but they’re taller than typical sedans.
Something like the plug in hybrid RAV4 I reviewed last year is pretty much ideal, basically zero difference in cargo space vs the “normal one”, enough plug in range to often handle much of the typical day’s local errands, but a very efficient engine to drive across the country. And did I mention it’s the fastest RAV4, and the second fastest vehicle that Toyota sells? What’s not to like…
For Jason, I’d order up a Sienna Hybrid. Legit 30mpg around town and on the freeway, and more space than they can shake two coolers and a harp at. I can’t see any reason in the world why anybody would pick a new Odyssey or Kia Carnival over the Sienna with gas prices the way they are and the sticker prices being fairly similar. If supply chains ever get back to normal it’ll be interesting to see how the sales of those three compare.
And I just saw my first Ford Lightning in the flesh around town (on Manufacturer plates, so I guess it’s the one I could be driving for a week if I wanted to). Looks good like any other F-150, most normal people that aren’t car people wouldn’t even know it’s an EV. I also saw a half load of Rivians headed up 287 towards Wyoming and points west, second one of those loads I’ve seen in the last four days whilst heading back from Laramie myself.
When I bought my ’20 Fit 6-speed just before everything shut down for the pandemic, it felt as though I was getting the last “real” Honda (the Honda e looking promising but isn’t sold in the US) in terms of character. Since I keep my cars around 10 years I fully expected it to be the last gas-powered car I bought and the manual transmission was a “get one while you can” feature and brings a ’90s-style “VTEC kicks in, yo” power curve.
Keeping it below 4000 rpm, however, brings a significant gas mileage reward, something in the realm of 6-8 mpg compared to accelerating hard at every opportunity and bringing the indicated average over the psychologically important 40 mpg threshold.
Thank you for a stellar COAL series. It went to places that I did not expect, and have substantially expanded my knowledge and insights on amateur racing, rotaries, and Midgets, among others.
I am a fan of (auto)biography, as the narratives of people’s lives is endlessly fascinating, especially of course when they are involved extensively with cars, as in these COAL series. It gives me a chance to live other’ lives vicariously, and ponder how some of their choices might have been made by me under different circumstances. Not in the context of regrets at things I didn’t do, but just to imagine if I had. I try to avoid regrets, but not having ever raced on a track is a bt of one for me. I still could, but that’s not the point, as my life is plenty full already, and other things would have to give.
The modern car is a highly evolved thing indeed. I sometimes speculate what car was the first “modern” car, the first that embodied many or most of the features of the modern car? I’d have to say the W124 Mercedes, although it undoubtedly feels a bit dated now in comparison to new cars in some respects. Maybe a good QOTD?
Never opened the hood of your Hondas before? I admit to opening the hood of the 2013 TSX a few times, if nothing more than just to admire it, although I have replaced the battery and air filter (it’s the only car I have never changed the oil on, as it sits so damn low). The engine in it is actually quite lovely to look at, but it appears Honda made some significant changes to the “Dream” version in your Accord, with the exhaust now in front. Ours still has its lovely intake runners there. And yes, there’s gobs of room in there, which makes it almost a shame not to have to work on it. 🙂
I did a QOTD regarding the first modern car a few years ago. I’m not sure anyone mentioned the W124. Interesting choice though. I actually just checked my post from 2018 and you commented with the Model S.
Ha! I knew we had done a QOTD on the subject, and also went back and looked at that post of yours. It ended up being a bit different, as many commenters pointed out that “modern” is a relative term, and gave examples much older. I think it would need to be rephrased a bit, as in what was the first car to embody many/most of the characteristics of current cars.
Actually, my answer was the Model 3. 🙂
You said 2017 and there was a tiny thumbnail which I didn’t enlarge. So I did some quick mental math and ASSUMED Model S. Because the Model 3 just came out recently … oh, never mind 😀. Seriously, your question is a bit different, though many of the comments on my 4 year old post alluded to some of the different definitions of modern, including the always-changing relationship to the current day. Certainly, by the time ICE goes the way of the manual transmission and then the crank starter, these CRV’s and Accords will seem old-fashioned. Though maybe that will happen regardless of propulsion, when the steering wheel and driver disappear.
Another angle of the “modern” car experience is that the roadside support and service infrastructure (at least here in So Cal) that is calibrated to the newer cars. What I mean by that is the towing is designed to “get the broken car off the road and shuttled somewhere” for diagnosis and repair. There are not many roadside gas stations with mechanics and common parts “in house” to get you back out on the road. Part of that is that repairs now often involve application-specific electronic sensors, not fairly universal and cheap/easy points, condensers, coils, on-the-spot tire/tube repair, or perhaps a universal radiator hose to replace the one that just split open on a hot day.
This means that the older car driving experience, today, is a bit like a fish out of water, in that the older cars did and do unexpectedly break down more often, but the automotive infrastructure was prepared to deal with the typical problems on-site, or close by. Now it involves, rather universally, towing the broken vehicle somewhere to have it looked at on the next Monday, at the shop that it has been towed to.
For those of us driving older cars and having the capability of self-diagnosis and repair, it means carrying a “go-bag” of parts and a good and comprehensive enough set of tools to do the repairs on site. Put a set of points and condenser in the bag, and a coil, some hoses and hose clamps, some light bulbs, maybe some spark plugs and wires, and then all the tools and perhaps a good jack and some jack stands. I like to trade out older, proven parts for new ones, then box and label the old ones with a bit of information about them.
I actually do this with the trucks and their array of electronic sensors as well, along with an OBD-2 reader, as they are older now.
We forget about the puddles of oil front-and-center in each parking spot (or in your garage, and those wide, flat trays people would put in their garages to catch the oil), and the oil “stripes” running down the center of each freeway and highway lane, back in the day. Also that cars could often not go up a hill on hot days without overheating, or the random carburetor issues that would sideline cars. The way a condenser would “pop” and then you had no spark. That was the old days. The auto infrastructure accounted for and accommodated all of that. Not so much any more. Yet more reasons to use “newer” cars as daily drivers, especially among the less mechanically adept.
I’ve never carried spare parts in my old vehicles, as it seems that if something does go, it’s invariably something other than plugs and points and such, which have never died on me.
As always, Dutch, a superbly written and thoughtful (and thought provoking) post. We have three late model cars, and I still do all the no-brainer maintenance like oil changes and brake pads. So the hoods get opened, even if only to blow off the dust and refill the washer fluid. I’m a few years older than you, and raced a bit also, so I remember the old days. And I have come to accept at least two significant aspects of modern cars: 1) I rarely check the oil between 5K or in some case 10K mile changes. And I’m an ex-Vega owner who added oil at every other fuel fill-up near the end of its life. 2) Of our three cars, our 2015 Golf VII is still far from appliance-like. Manual transmission, manual seats, no climate control or even a USB port. But I can’t imagine wanting or needing more luxury or amenities. As such, so unlike an older Beetle or even a 2nd or 3rd gen Golf.
Our other cars are light trucks, which even though newer than the VW, do offer a rawer (or just rougher) driving experience. I like that. But it’s the practical and/or recreational travel value of those trucks that is their real attraction. I see myself in an EV soon, but only when they offer that kind of value. I have every intention of bypassing the CRV/Accord phase of automotive history. At least that’s what I’m saying now 😀
I have never owned a Miata and likely never will, but I am so thankful that a “seat-of-the-pants” driving convertible two-seater with a manual transmission still exists. Also that there are the occasional sedan “Q-ships” with manual transmissions and some capability of real driver involvement in the on-the-road experience. The automotive world will be a lesser place without that kind of thing being around.
Not everyone wants a Mustang Cobra or a Corvette in order to “zoom-zoom”.
A lot of old time car guys like me have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to new cars. They constantly bemoan the loss of personality and individual character of older cars. Cars get better every year, unlike during the Malaise period of lost power, mileage and efficiency. Most people don’t want to think about their cars and I really don’t blame them. People have always bought new cars to avoid hassles, and now that is pretty much true. That’s why I also occasionally bought them.
As I get even older ( I’ll be 68 soon) I don’t need anymore headaches, so I plan to have either a new car or a newer car with low mileage available as a daily driver. I’ll still keep some of my older fleet until they need more involved repair, then I’ll replace them with something newer.
I’ll probably still keep some kind of hobby car, I just sold two, but that still leaves two left. At this point, for me, there are only two new cars on the market that I have any interest in. One is the Mustang, and the other is the Lincoln Aviator. Anything else is pretty much interchangeable in my eyes. I prefer Fords, but a Hyundai, Honda, or Nissan could fill the bill. There are a lot of useful little transport pods out there. Thanks for sharing your COALS.
PS. I think your idea of printing out your series and binding them into a book is a good idea. I have produced a blog of my own for going on nine years. Who knows what might happen to the hosting service/provider someday, and my work, though modest, holds some value for me. So I printed out many of what I consider my “best” posts and have them collected in a binder. I enjoy looking at them and as someone who would like to have been an author, if I had the talent, I gain some satisfaction from that.
My newer car is now 19 years old the display told me this morning to refill the screen washer bottle I cant be bothered so I parked at the storage yard where I keep my old car and drove home in that it started on the button just like it would have for its original owner 56 years ago today when it was first registered, thats the problem with old cars if you buy the right one and this particular one has been reliable as the sun uses no oil or coolant it just goes when required copes with modern traffic very well and is comfortable and quiet to drive so I’ll hang on to it a bit longer.