James Lileks
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This might be the worst time of the year to buy a car. The promotions are over, and your shiny, fresh vehicle will be besmirched by salt and grit after a day. But you have that itch. Your old car is falling apart, and it’s been 12 years since you went to a showroom. Why not spend a nice Sunday looking at cars?

Oh right, they’re closed. Who’d want to look for a car on Sunday? So you decide to stick with the old car just a little longer.

Four months later: Now the glove compartment light isn’t working. This is a sign. Let’s go to the manufacturer’s website and see what they have.

There it is: “The all-new Hondaru Exploit. Drivability, renewed.”

I don’t know what that means, but the pictures are pretty. There are people who have driven the car to a lake and are having a picnic. That’s the life I want. Nice option package, too; all-leather radio, automatic map-folder.

But let’s not be hasty. First, let’s read some reviews about this zippy-looking crossover mini-SUV hybrid demi-sedan class. You soon learn that the reviews aren’t all that helpful. Every car gets 3 out of 5 stars, except for something so expensive they offer complimentary Learjet flights to the showroom in the middle of the Nevada desert.

Drive & Car Magazine: “The crossover demi-sedan class has become crowded lately, with new entries from Ford’s maxi-compact line mixing it up with GM’s Brelavia-D series and Mercedes’ class-leader 2.0 Liter Lieder. The new Ford Otto, a successor to the popular Ford Motive, continues the tradition with 3.2 pico-stressed modulated suspension, but falls short when it comes to ... ” And by now you’re lost. So you find another site that boils it down to plain language.

“What we liked: round wheels; doors that open and close; roomy cupholders.

“What we didn’t like: acceleration is lacking, with tests showing 0 to 60 in less than a week; corners like the Queen Mary; tendency to shed trim at speeds over 50; radio only plays ‘Green Eyed Lady’ by Sugarloaf.”

The only thing left to do is to go to the dealership and kick the tires. I sat in the car that had the pictures of the people picnicking at the lake. But sitting in the real thing was different. It did not sing to me.

When I got my last car in 2006, I was surprised by the choice I made. It was called an Element; it was as aerodynamic as a microwave oven, but I fell in love with it on the spot. I didn’t buy it, I adopted it. Before that, I had a hot little sports car with a stick shift and turbo boost; I think the salesman said, “You can really see yourself wrapping that around a phone pole, can’t you?” Both of those cars sang to me.

This one? Well, it hummed, like someone stocking the shelves at Costco. Then I saw the deal-killer. A slot on the top of the dashboard, right by a speaker, sculpted and styled: a CD player.

This car is meant for people who have CDs.

“Where do I put my Boxcar Willie eight-tracks?” I asked the salesman. “I have some 78s of the Columbia Military Band playing ‘Over There’ in foxtrot style; are they compatible? How about Edison wax cylinders? And I like to carry a small group of troubadours around the back to make merry with diverse musical madrigals; how’s the ventilation in the cargo space?”

I’m not demeaning people who have CDs, but it’s a rather mature technology. Nowadays we have all our music on small pocket computers, and if you can pair your phone to your car — to use a phrase that would have sounded nuts when I got my Element — you can tell your radio what to play: “Radio, play ‘Green Eyed Lady’ by Sugarloaf.” And then the voice says, “I’m sorry, I can’t find ‘Grind Aid Luddy’ by Sugarlove.” And you’re relieved because it’s not as if you needed to hear that song again.

In any event, I crossed that car off the list. I was intrigued by the smaller version sitting next to it. The salesman said it was popular with millennials and, oddly enough, the 55-65 demo. The former was moving up from small cars, the latter moving down from big cars.

“Yes, yes,” I told him, “the bony hand crooks a beckoning finger from the dark depths of the empty tomb. Get on with it.”

His sales pitch focused on how I wouldn’t have to crouch down like I would with a sedan. It would be easier on my knees.

That was all I needed to hear. I was not buying a car because I can get in without my kneecaps issuing the sound you normally associate with a Black Cat firecracker.

I went back to my old car in the lot. “I just put four new tires on you,” I told it, “and had that emissions system solenoid replaced. No, you don’t have Bluetooth, old friend, but we’ve been through a lot together. We’ll stick together, you and I. Thick and thin.”

Until the dealership springtime incentive programs roll out, anyway.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks