Angelic Paranoia

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My new car

… which is three years old at this point because that’s how long I’ve been meaning to write about it.

Three years ago when I needed a new car, I had a Toyota Yaris. I went with a Toyota Yaris (which they’d since ‘improved’) hybrid version. Electric wasn’t an option because I can’t get it close enough to my house to charge it there and there weren’t any charging points in my town (there’s now one – which is in a car park you don’t want to be spending a lot of time in).

The car itself
They didn’t change any of the dimensions, but did uglify it. A Yaris is a small hatchback. It’s good for just driving to the shops every week (like I did in 2020). They’ve made it look like a much fancier car with alloy wheels and optional go faster stripes to uglify it even more. It’s like they’ve decided the sort of people who want a sports car and the sort of people who want a small hatchback are the same, even though that Venn Diagram has two circles that don’t overlap. I don’t buy cars for their looks, but I wish they hadn’t changed it.

They made the boot bigger, by removing some space between the front and back seats. I used to be able to get adults in the back of my old car – someone commented that the best leg room in my car was behind me. But now there’s definitely not space for anyone tall. Or average height, probably. And you can’t move the back seats to give you more leg room or more room in the boot.

They took away all the little compartments in the front, which I thought was a problem until I emptied them and discovered they were full of crap I didn’t need. The glove box is bigger so there’s space for the tissue box and whatever other crap I have in there (I can’t remember what…)

The steering wheel is designed by someone who has not considered that maybe people don’t have massive hands. The top bit of the steering wheel has some really wide bits that I can’t wrap my hands around. Fortunately, it’s just about ok just above the middle bar, where I hold the steering wheel anyway. But it would be much better if it was all as narrow as it is at the bottom, where it’s far nicer to hold.

Some of the rest of the car things are because when you have hybrid you get a mid-range car, whereas before I’ve had bottom of the range.

You can raise the seat, which was pretty cool when I first got it. I felt so tall! But now I’m used to it it feels normal. And it’s just another thing to potentially adjust when someone else has been in the car, which is when it’s been serviced. No one else is allowed to touch the seat because I’ll never be able to get it back to where I want it. Just like with the old car, I don’t want the seat as far forwards as it goes.

It has a button to start and stop the engine, rather than turning the key. Which would make sense if it was keyless entry, but it isn’t. So you have to get the key out to open the car and get it out again to close it. Which means in reality you leave it out sitting in the car. In which case it might as well be in a hole being used to turn the engine on. It’s also not obvious how to turn the engine on but leave the electrics on – I found it by accident in the manual and have since forgotten how to do it.

It doesn’t have a CD player, but does have DAB radio. I got the car halfway through the Australian Open, so I could then listen to it on 5 Live Sports Extra on my way to work. It does have a USB port, so you can plug in a pen drive (I ripped all my music CDs and put them on there) and you can charge your phone. Although the port is confusingly upside down. You can also bluetooth your phone, so I can listen to podcasts in the car, which I do like.

It has a reversing camera, which is so useful. I still can’t park it straight when reversing, but at least I can be sure its inside the lines without having to open the door. Which is particularly useful because if you do that the car beeps at you until you’ve turned the engine off, got out of the car and shut the door. It beeps a lot, 99% of the time you can ignore. Or rather get annoyed by and/or jump and nearly crash the car, but doesn’t require any action from you. And you can’t turn them off, they’re a ‘feature’.

The camera and radio share a big touch screen. Which is a terrible idea. It’s impossible to eg change radio station while driving because you have to look where you’re touching. It does beep when you’ve touched something, which you might think sounds useful, but I mean that literally. The beep does not mean that you’ve touched something and it will do something, it means you’ve touched something and you may or may not have touched it in such a way that it will do something. So it would be just as useful if it didn’t beep at all.

The heating controls are much more complicated so you can’t do it as easily while you’re driving. So the bottom of the range has dials, so you can easily turn the dial a bit to make it hotter or colder. This has buttons and it changes the heating by 0.5C. I don’t care what the temperature is, I just know whether I’m hot or cold. It also means that if you haven’t turned the heating on and are hot, you have to turn it on in order to turn it down. Whereas with a dial you just turn the dial and it gets less hot.

It does have air conditioning, which is very nice for two days a year. It’s useful if I’m driving with a hamster, although if it’s not that hot I’d rather have the windows down. It means demisting the windows is pretty quick, although complicated. You press a button to turn it on, which is simple. Although it turns the fan on loads, which is great before you’ve gone anywhere, but terrible while you’re driving because then you can’t hear a thing. Turning the fan down requires pressing a button quite low down, so you have to look at it. Turning it off completely requires some combination of pressing the original button and/or the fan off button, possibly with the AC button as well and I always get it wrong.

It does have a screen that tells you the speed in numbers and the gear you’re in. The former is important because my old car only had a digital speedometer. I test drove this car just looking at the analogue speedo and it was really hard. Especially because these days they have numbers at 20mph, 40mph and 60mph, but most of my journeys involve roads with 30mph, 50mph and 7mph speed limits. Since the test drive I’ve completely ignored the dial and just looked at the screen for my speed.

The hybrid engine
The hybrid means that it uses the electric battery when it can and the petrol when it can’t. It needs the petrol when you’ve started the car or it’s been on battery for a while or if you go above 40mph. It means that generally the car is quieter when you’re on roads that people live beside. It does mean that people are less likely to notice your car is there, but then I’ve had someone nearly walk into the side of my (moving) car in Tesco car park and that was my old car. Also, Tesco car park is like that.

It takes about six months to sort itself out, but after that I filled the car up as often as I did before, but went from a 42 litre fuel tank to a 36 litre fuel tank. During the first lockdown when there were hardly any cars on the road I tried to see how far I could go from home before the engine came on. It turns out it’s quite far, but you have to go below 20mph. Which obviously I can’t do when there are other cars around.

The gears (or lack of)
Hybrid and electric cars all have an automatic gear box. Which sounds like a terrible idea because they use more petrol. And are frustrating to listen to because they change gear ages after they sound like they need to. The research I did says that these are better and effectively have more gears so they change more often, and you won’t hear it.

Which is true, at least for the not hearing it, until I accelerate. If I accelerate too fast (ie a normal amount) I hear it changing down a gear. Which is annoying because I want to accelerate at that acceleration in that gear, I don’t need a gear down. It means that my acceleration ends up being a lot slower than in my old 1.0 car – whereas this is a 1.5 car. (Not long after I got this car I put my foot to the floor to pass a tractor, as I would do in the old car, and scared the shit out of myself as it suddenly shot up in speed.)

And the gear lever has been designed by someone who either has never seen a normal gear lever or is an evil mastermind. The gears I have are Park, Neutral, Reverse, Drive (aka all the forward gears) and B. B is apparently for driving in the snow, but I tried it once and it worked exactly the same as drive. They’re arranged in a line, so you can’t change them by feel. You are going to be stationary when changing gears, so it’s not that bad, but it’s still annoying. It’s a good thing the screen tells me which gear I’m in because it’s not always obvious (I’ve sometimes wondered why my car isn’t moving and discovered it’s in neutral).

In a normal car, if you’ve put it neutral, when you want to drive off you’re going to put it in first – which is up and left. Automatic doesn’t have left and right, only up and down. So you’d think that to be consistent and less confusing that netural would be below drive. No. The order goes reverse, neutral, drive. Obviously.

You might think that the solution to this is to not use neutral – after all there’s no clutch to keep pressed down. Except that because there’s no clutch they’re designed to keep moving in drive or reverse, even if you have the handbrake on. The only way to stop the car is to keep your foot on the brake or put it in neutral (or have it on a hill that’s at the right steepness).

It also means that it’s a lot harder to control at slow speeds. With my old car, if I was in a queue, putting it in first gear meant that it wouldn’t go faster than 5mph and I didn’t need to use either foot. With this car it just gets faster and faster and I do need to use the brake.

There are two other problems with not having a clutch. The first is that then there’s nothing for your left foot to do. Your right foot does the two pedals, you need your hands for the steering wheel and your left hand for heating and radio and changing gears. Why isn’t there a control for your left foot? You can’t have too much because you can’t feel that much, but you could have a radio on/off switch or volume control or heating on/off switch. That would make so much more sense.

The other problem is that it’s a lot harder to work out where the seat should be when you don’t have a clutch to test it with. Usually you’d just see if pressing the clutch is easy without straightening your leg. But without it I have to go forward to just before I hit my knees on the dashboard and spend ages adjusting it because no position feels right.

In summary
I miss my old car. 1.5 is a bit much power, even if it’s useful sometimes. I like the DAB radio and the bluetooth and the USB port. I like the hybrid but I don’t like the automatic gear box, it’s a terrible invention that wasn’t thought through properly. I worry that I can’t drive a normal car any more, although if they’re eventually all going to be electric I won’t need to.