The New Car Arrives

We took delivery yesterday on the Mini Cooper Countryman All4 we ordered a while back, which makes me happy, since this means I get to drive it a little bit before I trundle off on my three-week book tour. As you can see here, it’s a pretty little machine — but more than that it’s also by all indications also very solidly built, which is more to the point. As I’ve noted earlier, the Scalzi family philosophy toward major purchases is “buy as well as you can, then use it until it falls apart,” which is why the Countryman is replacing a car that is older than our daughter and has enough miles on it to go a significant amount of the way to the moon. We’ll likely have this car just as long, so we made sure we bought something we could live with for that length of time.

I mentioned to Krissy that one of the things that makes this particular car special is that I suspect it will the last car of ours that we ever buy with an internal combustion engine, or at the very least, the last car we buy primarily powered by one. The Odyssey we have is pretty healthy and I suspect will chug along for another five to eight years, and by that time I expect that electric engines — or hydrogen fuel cell engines, or whatever — will have advanced enough that I won’t have to feel like an early adopter (i.e., willing to put up with large inconveniences for the privilege of feeling smug). I’m looking forward to that purchase, although when I say I’m looking forward I should note that doesn’t mean I’m in a rush. Cars are expensive, man.

As we’ll be living with this car for some time, we did pile on the bells and whistles, and the one that’s currently giving me that “I Live In the Future” twinge is Countryman’s key, which is not a key at all but looks like a tiny flying saucer. To make the car go, it doesn’t need to be put anywhere specific, it just has to be in proximity to the car. That achieved, all you have to do is press a button to start the car, and off it goes. Now, I realize this nifty little trick has been around for a few years, but on the other hand, it’s not been around on any car I owned, so the experience is new to me. I have to fight the temptation just to sit in my new car and turn it on and off without a key. Yes, I am just that easily amused.

66 Comments on “The New Car Arrives”

  1. Mazel tov, John. I’m driving an ’06 Ion that replaced a ’98 Saturn, and I’m going to drive this one into the ground before I think about upgrading. Maybe by then, I’ll be able to afford a Tesla.

  2. Very awesome. Just wait, soon you’ll find yourself at your front door, flying saucer in hand wondering why you can’t open the door. Welcome to the future.

  3. Let me be the first(?) to congratulate you. Although there are some Mini enthusiasts who have written that it’s silly to call a car this size and weight a Mini, it’s also true that the standard two-door Mini Cooper is itself much larger than the original 1959 Mini.

    The only trouble with those fancy new keys, or key equivalents, is that they’re extremely pricey – when purchasing new vehicles so equipped, buyers should routinely ask for a third such key to be thrown in (assuming two are included in the first place) during negotiations.

    I see you’ve got fog lights – a wise choice when available; we have ’em on both our Subarus.

  4. I’m the same way about getting the best value one can afford, and I like cars that can put on enough miles to actually reach the moon. I’ve managed to get there several times so far! :)

  5. Wow. I drive a 1994 Toyota Corolla, so I don’t know much about automotive bells & whistles. :-) I’d never heard of a key that just has to be somewhere NEAR the car before. That’s so cool!

    Thanks for keeping this old lady up on the latest, John.

  6. Yes, yes yes. I drive a 84 F150. When I get my next car, I expect it to fly. And still cost less than the F150.

  7. So, theoretically, could you be standing near but not in your car, and then somebody sitting inside the car could hit the button and drive off — at which point they’d only be able to turn the engine off if they came back to you or just drove it all the way to empty?

    Or does the saucer need to be closer than that?

  8. Enjoy.

    My previous car was a ’97 Mercury Tracer that I got over 180,000 miles on and dumped when it became too unreliable for long trips. Currently trundling around in an ’07 Mazda 3 that I expect to be driving until I get at least 150,000 miles.

  9. The Spousal Unit has an ’88 Jeep CJ that he bought used about 7 years ago from a guy who hardly ever drove it. For a car that age, it has relatively few miles on it (possibly even less than my ’01 Odyssey). He plans to keep that thing until he can no longer find mechanics to keep up the maintenance on it. He loves it… I hate it, which is why I’ve got my Odyssey. The BEST car I’ve ever owned! (Ok, minivan. Whatever.) I’ll probably roll over 100,000 miles sometime over the summer, and I’m expecting it to live to see at least 200,000 miles. Probably quite a bit more. After all, it’s a Honda. The Spousal Unit’s Civic was well over 250,000 miles when he sold it.

    I’m not sure I need my next car to fly, but yeah… something with a non-internal combustion engine would be swell.

  10. So, theoretically, could you *swallow* the little saucer key and then start the car with a key that was stored in your stomach (or possibly somewhere in your bowel)?

    Actually, that’s probably a two-part question, as in (1) is the little saucer key of a size and shape whereby you could actually ingest it and (2) would it operate through the barrier of your undoubtedly svelte and toned abdominal muscles?

    Of course that’s an experiment you probably . . . um . . . would not want to repeat. At least not with the same saucer key.

  11. Ah, keyless go. The feature I thought was ridiculously frivilous and only got because it was bundled with other bells and whistles I did want. And now I can’t imagine having to ever live with out it. Getting my key out of purse to unlock or start it — I’m so over that!

  12. Congratulations, Mr. Scalzi! Funny that you’re tripping on the saucer starter, as I was just saying to friends the other day that my Tacoma pickup will likely be the last car I own with window cranks — yes, manual windows. Was saying how my granddaughter will see pictures and ask “what’s that on the door”… then I remembered pictures of my grandfather with his head in the innards of a Model T engine bay, and remembered asking “gee, what’s that crank” sticking out of the front.

    Times change, God willing! Good luck with the new ride, and alternative propulsion can’t happen fast enough!

  13. Congratulations on getting a responsible car that has some style. I wish you many yeas of reliable performance and driving pleasure.

    Did you get the turbo version?

    I buy good used cars that are not too old, maintain them and keep them until the wheels fall off, so it’s always interesting to see what new features have been added to cars when I do get around to buying a new one. Rental cars are also a revelation of what is good and what to avoid.

    You might be right that internal combustion engines will be less likely in your future. For my daily driver, I really would not less if it’s electric (once the problems with very variable “mileage” using the AC or heater, and weather conditions), hybrid, or hydrogen. Still, it does sadden me a bit to think that perhaps one day, a massive, roaring V-8 powered muscle car might be relegated to something only seen in museum or in some hobbyist’s garage. I actually doubt it would come to that, barring “Motor Laws” alluded to in Rush’s song “Red Barchetta”. Then again, 30 years ago, automatic transmissions were starting to overtake manuals as the choice of car buyers, too.

    Today is a beautiful day, and I”m going to devote a big chunk of my pay to buying a full tank of premium, and taking my Mustang out for a ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway. As long as Americans can buy gasoline, a percentage of us will pay the price just to put the pedal to the metal and shake off the blahs. Actually, a tank of Premium still costs less than an E-Ticket at Disney, and I get the same thrills.

  14. John, do you guys name your cars? If so, what’s this one going to be called?

    FTR: Ours are named “Kirby” and “(To A Lesser Extent) Z’Nuff.”

  15. My 1987 Mercedes 300SDL (that I bought a year ago) just tuned over 200,000 miles and should be good for another 200,000. Not only that, it will still be drivable in case of an EMP event. Computerized cars are a bad idea, as I learned with a 2001 VW I used to own. They tend to decide to not even try to start and I was left straded too many times.

  16. Nice car, I’m just excited by the fact that the car I just bought has one of those key fobs to lock/unlock the doors (ok technically I was excited by the freshly rebuilt motor with under a hundred miles on it and the price being two grand under blue book)

  17. Mazel Tov from me as well. Few things about the keyless entry and ignition system (at least if it works like mine):
    1) For the next three months, when approaching the car you will find yourself reaching in your pocket for keys and then feeling foolish
    2) If you get out of the car with the motor running (like to stop at the mail box), there’s a certain distance at
    which the car will start making loud obnoxious noises and then will shut down.
    3) If your wife puts her purse in the trunk with her key inside, you will have trouble locking the car

    Obvious question: Is there a mechanic within 50 miles of you who knows how to work on that thing?

    Carry on,

  18. Dr. Jim:

    If something happens to the car in the next four years which requires a mechanic, they will come and take the car from us to be serviced and give us a loaner until it is fixed. Which is ridiculous but nice.

  19. I like the keyless ignition, but in the long run, its the keyless entry that I love. Since I carry a large and disorganized purse, it is luxurious to not have to find keys. At some point I got so used to the car knowing who I am that I started to get angry at other doors for not unlocking themselves for me.

    Also, does the ignition work for any key location in your car? Mine can tell the cabin area from the trunk and won’t start if the key is in the trunk.

  20. Keyless entry is nice but I’m mostly looking forward to my car opening the door for me and welcoming me. Autopilot would be nice too.

  21. I keep hoping every vehicle I buy will be the last purely internal combustion engine vehicle I drive, but it hasn’t happened yet. I see that used Priuses have dropped enough in price that it may be true.

    Also, perhaps I’ve been living a sheltered existence, but I’ve yet to meet a smug Prius owner, though I’ve met plenty who were pleased by them. And having driven a couple and ridden in many more, I can see why.

    You know, I’ve been meaning to check the US legal code. Does anyone know the relevant law that requires the use of “smug” or an equivalent term by the news media when mentioning Priuses and/or other non-pure-ICE vehicles, even in passing? (Snarking at the media, not John.)

  22. My 2007 Versa has keyless entry and ignition (although there is a physical key embedded in the fob that you can use, too–it’s a slightly earlier iteration of the technology) and it is one of my favorite things about my car. I love not having to juggle keys along with everything else as I get into or out of my car.

  23. Ghislord @ 24:

    If and when self-driving personal vehicles become widely adopted (*), I may occasionally miss driving myself, but it’ll be worth it. Such systems will obviously be fallible, but it’d be tough to be more fallible than the current system. Sartre wasn’t quite right; hell is other *drivers*.

    (*) This assumes — among other things — that we find an end-run around peak oil.

  24. Having dealt with several vehicles with the RFID keyfobs, here are two little pieces of advice:

    1. Buried somewhere inside the thing is a physical key, so that you can unlock the door after the battery in the fob expires. I’m sure you’ve found that.

    2. Somewhere in the driver’s compartment is a little nook for stuffing the keyfob with the dead battery–it’s got a little excitation ring/antenna built into it so you can still operate the car. You will need to know where this is, as the only way to find out the lithium battery in the keyfob is discharged is to wait for it to stop working.

    Enjoy the new ride.

  25. Congarats! My wife got her Clubman earlier this year and she loves it. Very solidly built car and gets excellent gas mileage. So far my biggest complaint has been with the satellite radio controls!

  26. Beapaw @27

    Exactly. Having an integrated global autopilot also means that every vehicle on the road will be aware of the planned moves of every other vehicle thus increasing safety and greatly reducing trafic. Trafic and other drivers is the reason I traded my car for a bike for my morning commute. Plus I’m way more fit.

  27. Congratulations! I hope you love your Mini as much as I love mine. I had it for 5 years now and it’s still better than any other car I’ve considered buying. Hopefully, I can drive this for many more years until the electric or other alternative energy car of my dreams arrives. Have a great time with it!

  28. hey, congrats!


    We just got keyless entry a couple months ago. I am finally past the point of reaching for the key to turn off the car. Well, mostly. Damn muscle memory.

    the last car of ours that we ever buy with an internal combustion engine

    That seems a bit optimistic, but I hope you’re right. Well, not only that, but I hope by that point they’re cheaper than they are now. We compared a corolla versus a prius, and based on how much gas the prius saved, it would take ten years for the savings in gas to pay for the extra ten thousand dollars it cost over the corolla. Being somewhat broke, we couldn’t justify that.

    Self driving cars? I might see that in my lifetime, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be like flying cars. Keep showing up in sci fi, but not in real life.

  29. Congrats on the new wheels, John.

    Fortunately, since I don’t have the budget for a new car, I managed to solve the whole digging-keys-out-of-purse problem (as well as the not-realizing-I-don’t-have-the-keys problem) by putting a carabiner on my key ring and clipping it to the OUTSIDE of my purse. Also works on belt loops if I’m not carrying a purse.

    Low-tech, but hey. I’m also a big fan of mirror box therapy.

  30. I must say, either Krissy and Athena are munchkins, or that car is much larger than the name Mini Cooper tends to suggest.

  31. Paul:

    1. They are standing back some small distance from it, making it appear larger.

    2. That said, it is larger than the standard Mini. It’s still a small car overall, however.

  32. Greg @ 32:

    What gas price were you assuming? Most comparisons like that I’ve seen work from current prices … well, current at the time the comparison was done.

    (I’m aware that retail gas prices haven’t really (yet) increased all that much, adjusted for inflation. But (a) gas prices *contribute* significantly to inflation so that’s somewhat self-referencing and (b) the price difference between two vehicles priced now *won’t* be affected by inflation.)

  33. P.S. To Greg:

    Google has road-tested a driverless car, though I haven’t looked into the details. I assume it’s X years away from public adoption, where X will decrease at a rate of something less than 1 per year.

  34. If there is an autopilot that will get the DelMarVa drivers out of the left hand lane when driving less than the speed limit, I”m all for it.

  35. ROB @ 41:

    Yeah, that. Also, I’m looking forward to losers being able to play the latest iteration of Need For Speed while their car does the actual driving, instead of subjecting those of us in reality to their wildly unrealistic beliefs in their leet abilities behind the wheel.

  36. I certainly hope that whenever I need to replace my ’86 Camry, I will still be able to find a vehicle with manual doors and windows. If there is anything I know from riding in friends’ vehicles, it is that that stuff will break early and often, and be hella expensive to fix.

  37. whooooo, magic disk, pushbutton start, great gas milage, Pretty girls, you have it all….. NOW I be jealous … but congrats anyway on FINALLY getting the new car.

  38. I’ve only used one of those funky keys once, on a rental–it was around midnight after I’d spent all day waiting in airports/waiting on planes on runways/being bumped because of weather. After all of that, being faced with a rental car which didn’t appear to have a key, only and odd keychain, almost drove me to tears. Fortunately, the very nice woman at the rental agency was very kind and spoke very slowly as she walked me through how to turn the car on!

  39. Understood completely about driving vehicles for a long time. Our fleet does not yet have one whose model year begins with a “2”. (grin) And all were bought used. (double-grin)

    Dr. Phil

  40. I agree with #37. The perspective makes this thing look like an SUV. It’s a good looking car, a good looking family. My wife’s aunt and uncle have one and they love it. They take 600-mile road trips in it.

  41. I too have the keyless ignition on my MX-5 which also unlocks the doors when I’m near it. It has spoiled me since I expect all doors to magically unlock when I near them now.

  42. Thanks to this post, I have a new response whenever someone asks what’s wrong with my car: My car has traveled more miles than there are between the Earth and the moon. Actually, since it’s just under 272K, it’s passed the moon and headed for a very exotic retirement location. It is allowed to need a part or three replaced in one year.

    Thanks for making my day.

  43. “an early adopter (i.e., willing to put up with large inconveniences for the privilege of feeling smug)”

    We bought a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid in 2003 for JUST that reason!

  44. Greg@32: A self driving car already exists.

    We own two Prius’s. Bought the second because we loved the first. The first replaced a 19 year old Honda and the second replaced a 14 year old Camry, so we’re probably in good shape money-wise in the long run.

    It drives me nuts to see people replace cars every 4-5 years. We only replaced the Camry because someone hit it, and the insurance company called it a “total loss” (despite it being drivable.)

  45. Very nice.
    We looked at Mini’s a couple years ago but the dealer was about 100 mi away. I was not aware of the “pick it up and leave a loaner” option- that might have swayed us. On cool new tech, I’m still getting used to the built in Blue tooth cell connection in our Honda CRV. Leaving the phone in my pocket and ‘talking to the car’ is fun, but probably looks a bit odd from the outside..

  46. very nice new car.. I bought a Honda Fit in 2009 and thought the same thing, probably will not get a new car again with an infernal combustion engine..

    my Ford Econoline would have reached the moon, the Subaru would only have gotten there at perigee (but that wasn’t its fault, I traded it in on Cash for Clunkers), and the Sienna is still working on it, only 200 000 miles so far..

  47. crypticmirror @ 19: the very first thing I thought of too. I wish my friends could afford keyless cars so I could do it to them.

  48. We try to run our cars (old minivan to be exact) into the ground also, until some errant teenager wrecked it. Then we buy a Honda Fit. Luckily it wasn’t his fault, but that minivan had so many miles left on it. I keep asking myself though why I let the teenager drive the new car?

    What’s nice about a new (or newer) car is all the bells and whistles, mainly they are safer with all the airbags, traction control, etc. Don’t lose your keys. Those suckers are expensive to replace.

  49. congrats on the new MINI. i’m on my third cooper and i love it. i went for a test drive in the countryman and am probably going to order one in the next year or so. i like that it has a higher stance than my MINI, plus i just love the idea of configuring a new one. i hope you’ll post more about your countryman after your family has had time to wander in it and use it for everyday driving.

  50. Your Mini key recharges when it’s plugged into the dash. Did you get the S turbo version? Manual or automatic transmission? We’re very happy w/our 2009 JCW Clubman & are looking to replace her Matrix w/a Clubman.

  51. I remember my first Mini – it was an 1963 850cc bought just after I’d passed my driving test in 1970. A fun car to drive and one that has become a wonderful piece of motoring history. Whatever else might have been done with the Mini brand name over the years I remain adamant that what you have bought today is NOT a Mini. However as the ugly duckling branch of the BMW empire goes it does look like a nice way to travel.

  52. @32 Greg,
    Driverless cars are pretty much doable right now but face near unsurmountable obstacles in terms of adoption. The biggest problem with driverless cars is that they primarily rely on ‘talking to each other’ to properly maintain spacing and positioning safely but cars with those pesky drivers are unpredictable and incommunicative which negates much of the value. With 100% simultaneous adoption driverless cars could be great but with anything less than total switchover would require the technology to advance significantly to avoid the hazards that drivers create on the road. The other concern regarding driverless cars is the possibility of serious injury or death. While we are willing to accept thousands of annual deaths due to driving, even a single failure that resulted in a death could completely destroy public trust in a driverless car. Somehow a machine that could fail and kill you is worse than the (much higher) chance of personally making an error somehow because a mechanical/programming error is a design failure while a mistake is a ‘unexpected’ accidental event.

  53. Just cleared 200K miles in my 93 Ranger. Coming up to final aproach for my lunar landing. That and decsion time, do a rebuild and try for a lunar round trip or get something new.
    EV’s are here if you are cool with the range. The range is plenty for most commutes. It is just that we are used to esentially unlimited range with 5 minute stops to fill up every 2 or 3 hundred miles. I haven’t really looked at new cars so I have no idea if I would go EV, hybrid or ICE.
    A major breakthrough is needed in order to displace the ICE. That or a major shift in what buyers want in a vehicle.

  54. While the thought of a new car is nice, I am adverse to paying large quantities of money to the mechanic. I have repaired about 75% of my 1994 car’s problems myself, and usually only take it to a garage when it is more cost effective for someone else to do the job, or requires specialized tools. Newer cars seem to have fewer and fewer user-serviceable parts, which annoys me.

  55. Congratulations! As it happens, we took delivery of our “new” car today also. Of course ours is from 1989, and in need of some assembly. My husband figures he can get it on the road in about six months, whereupon he will be sitting pretty in the cool car department. It’s fortunate that he can assemble disassembled vehicles (and enjoys doing so), since that’s the only way we’re able to afford the prime condition (other than the in pieces thing) Porsche that’s currently sitting all over our garage.

  56. Beth: Driverless cars are pretty much doable right now

    I have worked on fail safe hardware designs for avionics and space. When I said “not in my lifetime”, it was taking into account technical hurdles (which I don’t think have entirely been solved), systemic hurdles (relaying all the streets and highways with embedded markers or soem other such thing), liability hurdles (if I recall correctly, private aircraft has some sort of term limit after which you can’t sue the manufacturer for failures. twenty years or some ballpark as that. autopiloting cars would see similar liability/lawsuit/no one would give the company insurance/etc problems as private aircraft manufacturing, only about two or three orders of magnitude worse due to the number of people driving autocars versus the number of people currently flying their own planes), and adoption issues (The first time I flew in one of the aircraft I worked on, I was pretty damned scared cause I knew all the problems we ran into. And that was a system that was fundamentally human controlled and manually overridable for most failures except the worst. I can’t even imagine handing my life over to a machine intelligence computer designed by a company that still has to do recalls for deadly floor mat issues. Jeebus).

    And yeah, at some point, autocars could have something like 1 percent of the fatalities of human-driven cars. The problem is (a) the perception that people have that they are somehow master of their own destiny when they’re at the wheel when reality is random events occur all the time beyond their control that could kill them and (b) the heirs of that 1% will go after one or two sources and likely make it impossible without some sort of government intervention (like the liability limits on private aircraft).

    The only solution I can imagine is there will be some sort of auto equivalent of the FAA which will institute all manner of safety and design requirements for cars, and if you meet those requirements, you are given some sort of liability protection. Having done aircraft design to FAA requirements, satisfying those requirements results in a massive chunk of money on the pricetag of each aircraft, and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how you could sell a car that only has a lifespan of 10 or maybe 20 years, (whereas aircraft essentially live forever) that comes with this ungodly overhead cost to design the autopilot system.

    With all of that taken into account, I would be willing to bet the standard amount that it won’t happen in my lifetime. I’d be perfectly happy to be wrong, lose the bet, and pay a dollar, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was right either.

  57. “…Tires spitting gravel I commit my weekly crime…”

    For those who are principally commuters, auto-drive would work, and be welcome. Hopefully those auto-drive routes would be separate from the roads I’ll be driving for pleasure.

    New cars are great, but I do like have an older car that I can fix myself. one without electronic ignition so after the EMP event I can still drive.
    Seriously, I do like to tinker and wrench, and there is a market that supplies newer parts for older cars, if you want the style of the old with the improvements of the new.

  58. I suspect the IC engine and hydrocarbon fuels will be around for quite a while longer. There simply isn’t anything else that combines the energy density, practicality, mobility, and safety of the hydrocarbon-fueled IC engine. (Yes, I said “safety.” Think a gasoline leak is dangerous? A hydrogen leak is worse. That stuff burns with a completely colorless flame; firefighters fighting such a blaze basically find out where the edge of the fire is by tying a rag to the end of a long pole and jousting around until it bursts into flame.)

    However, who says we have to pull the hydrocarbons out of oil we pump out of the ground? Given sufficient energy input, we can make all the hydrocarbon fuel we need, for instance, from coal (which we have lots more of than we have oil) using the Fischer-Tropsch process (which the Germans were using successfully in WWII). Or you could create biodiesel from grown plant matter, using another German-developed process. (And you can get the energy input needed by extracting the thorium that is a natural contaminant of coal and using it to run so-called “LFTR” nuclear reactors…a type that is inherently MUCH safer than “regular” uranium/plutonium pressurized-water reactors, and that was developed back in the Sixties at Oak Ridge. The complete plan and its advantages are too large to reprint here: see this post by Karl Denninger for more information.)

    That said, there’s room for more incremental improvement. In particular, greater use of Diesel-cycle engines would provide an efficiency boost, as they have greater thermal efficiency than Otto-cycle engines, and diesel fuel contains more stored energy per unit volume than gasoline does. And “clean diesel” technology is becoming more prevalent in Europe, and this should work its way over here. So your next car may not be an electric or hydrogen car…but it may very well be a diesel.

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