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Q. Dear Umbra,
Long story short, my parents have been thinking about buying me a car since soon I will be going to University and that way, I won’t constantly be using their cars. My mom suggested a Volkswagen Beetle Convertible, which I love the look of. However, it doesn’t appear to be very environmentally friendly. I didn’t do a lot of research since I don’t really understand all the car terms, but the website I checked said that the Mini Cooper was a lot more eco-friendly for about the same price. I was just wondering which car you would suggest, preferably a convertible?
A. Dearest Megan,
Vicarious car shopping is my favorite. Especially for a car I would never, ever buy, like a convertible. And in Canada, to booot! Howevah, I am an environmental advice columnist, so before we shop it is my duty to say this: I don’t understand why you will need your own car. Typical university students spend their time living near campus, attending classes, studying, working at some nearby job, hanging out with proximate friends, and maybe going on an occasional weekend trip.
If you are attending a poorly planned university where a car is a necessity, all is forgiven and we will talk about how to pick one in a moment. Otherwise, we need to discuss. Your needs as a student could most likely be met with a combination of walking, biking, taking public transit, and renting the occasional car. You could also join a car-sharing service (here are your Canadian car-sharing resources). All of these will be less expensive than owning a car (check out this True Cost to Own calculator), be less of a hassle, keep the Freshman 15 at bay, and of course emit fewer pollutants. Please look into the transit situation at your matriculating university and reconsider your plan to add another dirty driver to the planet.
If your situation absolutely requires a car and my officious attitude should be shelved, I do have one further question. What is the point of owning a convertible when you live in Canada? I am familiar with the peri-Canada area, having lived in northern New England and the Pacific Northwest. A convertible is for sunny, warm areas with little precipitation, aka not Canada. Think about the maintenance issues for the hood.
Alright, enough rain on your parade. Your parents are willing to spend at least $25k on a new car, you’re ready to cart all your new friends around, and you think the Beetle is cute. It sure is. Here are other convertibles in the lower price range: the Mazda Miata, the Ford Mustang, and the Toyota Solara. Slight more expensive are the Honda S200, the Volkswagen Eos, and the Nissan Z. Then we move into BMWs, Porsches, and Audis, which we shall set aside. I like Consumer Reports, and they like the Nissan, the Mazda, the Honda, and the Toyota for reliability and performance. Hm. All Japanese cars. Strange …
On the fuel economy front, the U.S. government provides a side-by-side carbon footprint and air pollution score for the cars of your choice, and of course the Canadians compare cars as well. Out of your two favorites, the Mini Cooper does get better mileage — or kilometrage. You wrote me because you were concerned about environmental impact, however, so I would go a little further if I were you and look into the fuel economy of all the convertibles in your price range.
Basically, I’m going to let you do your own footwork. Your first university research project. Look for a reliable car based on ratings. I think it’s worth it to subscribe to Consumer Reports online, but you may also find old copies in the library; you should also take a cruise around GreenerCars.org (which will also require a subscription to get full details). Then evaluate the emissions and go with the best of both worlds. There’s no point in buying a car you yourself have not committed to, and I’m not going to take responsibility for a car you hate. My only vote is against the Volkswagen. The mileage is poor and the long-term performance will be too. Alas for its enticing cuteness.