Thin Is In

A close view of an adult great blue heron against a background of red duckweed

A good Ridgefield car isn’t just quiet, it’s small. Thin in width and short in length. Height is a mixed bag, a low height is useful for shooting into the water, taller is better for seeing over grasses and shooting into trees. But narrow and short, yes yes yes, more please.

The auto tour at Ridgefield is a gravel road that starts off both wide and two-way but most of the loop is narrow and one-way. There are pull-outs strategically placed around the loop where you can pull over and sit to your heart’s content, and other places where the road is wide enough that if you pull over, other cars can still get by. But there are a few places I love to shoot that I can’t really stop without blocking the road, at least if I’m in our Subaru, but with a narrow car perhaps some traffic could get by.

One such place is the culvert where I photographed this great blue heron. I had seen it on previous weeks and looked for it every time I drove by and got some shots of it catching small fish, watching it with one eye my rear-view mirror with the other. On this oh-so-early morning it wasn’t at its usual fishing spot but was standing on a branch over the water, and better yet the duckweed had turned red and presented an unusual background. Fortunately there wasn’t any traffic at that early hour and while the heron never yawned like I hoped (apparently my yawns weren’t contagious), it did pose nicely and patiently against that wonderful color. Another car did eventually come and I had to drive off, but I had my pictures.

I never saw the heron there again.

Most cars have grown wider and longer since I last was in the market. But thankfully the sub-compacts are a hotly contested category these days, chock full of the little hatchbacks I love so much. And one of my favorites, goodness to me, is a Chevy. A Chevy! In the twenty-five years I’ve been driving I don’t think they’ve made one car that interested me.

And now they make not one but two!

The Volt is intriguing as, while not small, it is literally the quietest car I could drive to Ridgefield, at least the 2013 model coming out this fall, since I could drive the entire day on electric power, all without those infuriating artificial beeps and spaceship sounds the Toyota and Lexus hybrids make. I could drive nearly all of my work commute on electric power too, and since I despise noise I think I’d find the Volt a rather charming car.

Unfortunately it has very little ground clearance, which could be an issue for Ridgefield and certainly for Yellowstone and the Tetons. And it has no spare tire, so I’d be more hesitant to take it places with little-to-no cell coverage, which is all the places I go on my weeklong trips. And the layout of the car doesn’t work that well for us either, but even so if they had a version with more ground clearance and a proper spare, it would probably be my next car. And if it had all-wheel drive, oh oh oh! Oh oh oh! I’d better go and have a lie down.

The little Sonic shown below also has a low front air dam but I think it’s not quite as bad as the Volt. Not a hybrid so not especially quiet, but of all the sub-compacts, the turbo version is the closest car to my beloved 92 Civic Si. Not crazy amounts of power, but enough to be both fun and fuel efficient, and I’ve always preferred handling to horsepower in any case. It’s a bit pricey for a sub-compact and, the funny thing is, even though it was at the car show back in January, I wasn’t too taken with it then. The instrument cluster on the dashboard seems extremely gimmicky and I found it off-putting when I sat in it. And the car was too new for much to have been written about it.

The Honda Fit was the sub-compact that stole my heart at the show.

But what got my attention on later review were the Sonic’s stellar crash scores, especially the side-impact tests, even on the difficult federal tests. The more I read about it the more I was drawn in. Surprised too to learn that it’s made in Michigan, we lived there when I was a kid so I’m rather smitten with the American mitten. Eventually the Sonic shot up into my top tier, and depending on the hour and day, even sat at the top.

One nice thing on the Chevy website is that as you build out your virtual vehicle, they show you if there are any available on dealer lots in your area, and even show colors and installed options. One weekend the exact car I wanted was sitting on the nearby dealer’s lot. Fortunately for me I had been without a hot shower for a week thanks to a defunct water heater and I didn’t feel like going out. The Sonic was sold soon thereafter, so that temptation was gone.

I’m not ready to buy yet but I was still surprised by how strong the desire for a test drive was when I knew the exact car I wanted was at my fingertips. Tip of the hat to whoever hooked up Chevrolet’s website to their dealer network like that, a very nice touch.

You almost got me.

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