The Vacation 3 – Regarding Driving

I had genuinely been looking forward to the drive from Vegas to Cedar. I do like road trips, and the (comparatively) empty roads out west seemed like a great chance to get some nice relaxing drive time in. And yet, not so much driving as to drive the kid nuts with boredom. But in addition, the views should be spectacular, and we get to drive through the tight-ish bends of the Arizona Gorge on I-15. A nice little road race in a hot little hatchback? Freaking awesome.

The hopes were generally dashed to bits, first by Delta who ensured that, on the first leg at least, the good bits of the trip would be made in the dark in a desperate attempt to find a reasonable hotel with a vacancy. The second bit was upset by Avis not having the cars they’d been somewhat-advertising. And no hatchbacks at all? Come on.

I touched on the low points of the car a post or two ago, but let’s cover it again. The 2012 Dodge Avenger, ladies and gentlemen.

First thing I noticed was that although it was similarly sized to my VW (longer, of course, it’s a sedan after all), it felt quite large. I’m not sure why: I did get used to it such that it wasn’t a problem when driving or anything, but it gave it an odd feeling for a “compact” car.

Problem 2 was the power. My VW has a 2.5 liter 5-cylinder, 170hp. The Dodge had a 2.4 liter 4 banger, 173hp. Should be similar, yes? Was in no way similar at all. You know when you’re in a car and you give it a bit of gas and you can actually feel the engine working? You get pushed gently back into the seat and perhaps a bit of noise to go with, and you know something’s happening? Totally not present in the Dodge, at all. This had the eerie and unsettling effect of feeling like I’m cruising way under the limit, then looking down and seeing I was at 90. If I used the kickdown to pass a truck, I often wouldn’t notice it was actually working until I was moving faster than the truck. So it’s not that it didn’t really have power, it’s just that you can’t tell it’s there at all. 

On the road through Vegas itself, the third issue came up, and boy is it a doozie: the driver’s side blind spot is massive. The position of the windows and the thickness of the interior trim means that if you crane your head around to check your blind spot, you simply can’t see anything. You have to either move even further out of your seat to see (dangerous, of course, when you have to take MORE time with your eyes not forward), or completely trust that you got your mirrors positioned correctly. I had done the latter, luckily, but holy crap it was scary until I got used to it. It’s not just me complaining about that, by the way: I’d looked up reviews of the car to see if my experience was typical and this was commonly cited.

Then there’s the handling. At first I was quite down on the handling as well, but this turns out to have been a combination of my exhaustion on that first night, and poor road quality in Nevada. The car felt wallowy, and it bounced around from lane to lane, which was unacceptable in what’s supposed to be a small car. But at the same time, the steering response felt jittery and over-sensitive. Once we were out on more normal roads the wallowy-ness settled down and it was more comfortable to drive, though still not the hatchback-hilarity I’d hoped for.

Otherwise it was ok. The interior was alright… the trim and dash-goodies were all well and good. The seats weren’t uncomfortable or anything but had a weird, cheap look to them. The steering-wheel mounted radio controls and computer buttons were nice, haven’t had that lately. But otherwise it was a lukewarm experience.

So with that out of the way, let’s address the different caliber of drivers out west. Or perhaps more accurate to say, the non-Atlanta drivers. In Cedar City itself I found it problematic how tame the drivers were. No, really: they were just as stupid as Atlantans often are, but without any of the aggressiveness at all. I’d rather have someone cutting me off at 75mph with just a couple feet to spare than someone moving over in front of me with plenty of room, slowing to 5mph to take a gentle right hand turn, forcing me to slow down to a near-stop while they figure it out. I’d like to think that there was a local news story in the paper about some kind of Dodge-driving Manifestation of Hate that was suddenly on the roads for a week.

Outside of Cedar it was a little more as expected. I’ll never forget on the trip through the Gorge, in the dark, where a jackass in a dualie towing a powerboat was cutting people off at 85mph, flashing his lights aggressively. Assholes are a universal constant. And traffic would pile up here and there as well, most notably in Vegas itself when we got there on the final day. One closed lane on one main road backed up traffic on multiple streets for several miles: a side effect of having so damn many tourists unfamiliar with the roads converging on a city.