Thursday, March 31 2011

Vacation substitute

The trip to Japan has been rebooked for late November, so no Kyoto cherry blossoms for us this year, but I know precisely how lovely Kansai is in Autumn, so we will certainly not be disappointed.

Unfortunately, this leaves me burned out and cranky, with no real alternative recovery plan. I have the usual three-free-nights offers in Vegas, but I don’t want casinos and crowds. California is finally warming up and drying up, so I could give my cameras some exercise at Point Lobos and other places, but there’s an air of been-there-done-that to all the nearby sightseeing opportunities, and they’re basically solo activities, where the Japan trip was built around sharing the experience with my sister.

Meanwhile, my 2002 Lexus had crossed the 280,000 mile mark, and despite its excellent health and promise of a long remaining lifetime, faced increasingly expensive service trips.

So I replaced it.


2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Yes, that’s a hybrid, but not of the “ecologically superior lifestyle” variety, and I vehemently refused the optional “love me, I’m green” decal package. I didn’t really want a new Lexus, both because they cost too much for my still-at-a-startup lifestyle and because they all have the stupid Lexmouse, but of the things I looked at, the Camry had the most comfortable cabin for long commutes.

No surprise, really, since I originally chose a V6 Camry in 1994 because it holds me-sized adults comfortably in the front and back, and chose the Lexus RX largely because it was a Camry with more luxury and storage space. 17 years and hundreds of thousands of miles have confirmed that my initial choice was a good one. 0% financing certainly doesn’t hurt, and not paying the next few years of service on the Lexus is worth quite a bit more than the $3,500 they gave me as a trade-in. (side note: they tried to “break it to me gently” that they wouldn’t give much for the RX, and I had to laugh at them. Of course they’re parting it out; it has 280,000 miles on it! The seats are worth more than the car!)

Why the hybrid? It only adds about $1,500 to the sticker price, and saves me over $200/month in gas at current prices. I spent more adding the heated leather seats, premium stereo system, GPS navigation, etc. Toyota now has plenty of experience dealing with the batteries, and their warranty coverage is excellent, so my only real concerns were performance and loss of trunk space.

Yes, you lose 1/3 of the trunk, and I had to go to a dealership to get a good feel for exactly how you lose the space. I think they’ve done a good job with the layout, and I’ll post some pictures soon of how it looks when filled up with stuff.

Performance is definitely better than a 4-cylinder gas Camry, and the combination of the gas engine and electric motor does a quite credible job of providing sudden bursts of acceleration, if the gas engine is already running. If the car is stopped at a light, the initial acceleration will almost always be electric-only, with a slight bobble an instant later as the engine starts. So, “almost a 6-cylinder” on the highway, “better than a 4” in town.

Official EPA mileage is 31 city, 35 highway, and I’m getting a measured average of 36+ after a week of my usual 75-mile commute. With a 17-gallon tank, the cruising range is considerably higher than the Lexus, which averaged precisely 23 mpg under all conditions and was running on fumes at just over 400 miles. And the Camry runs on regular instead of premium, slightly reducing the pain of California gas prices.

Now I just need a place to go to get away from work for a while…