OutWheels: Find A Car That’s Right For You

  • by Lou Marino, BAR Contributor
  • Saturday May 18, 2013
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"A Subaru? Do I look like a lesbian?" My client was not happy. As the Gay Car Guy, I work as an automotive consultant to help LGBT people (and some straights) buy and sell their cars, and a Forester fit all of this gay guy's criteria - except for image. He ended up in a convertible, which was a long jump from the SUV he'd had previously.

It's that unpredictability that makes it fun to help the LGBT community shop for cars; our interest in vehicles seems to be more exploratory than those of straight folks. My experience has been that unless an LGBT client has a certain car in mind, we'll be driving everything from Mini Coopers to Teslas and everything in between, with the most common question being, "How long is it?" (When it comes to parking, we're reverse size queens.)

So once a month, I'll be covering a variety of cars, with three or four capsule reviews in the paper and more writing and content on the ebar.com website. Scan the adjacent QR code with your smartphone to be taken there directly.

To be clear, I'm not here to tell you to buy a new car. The Bay Area has oodles of transit and car-share options, and there's always used cars - most of the vehicles I've owned cost $1,000 or less. But if you need new wheels, this column is here to help you find them, whatever they may be.

Honda Civic

Honda Civic Si Coupe: $24,805, 25 mpg, 176-inch length. "It looks customized," said the clerk at the Mission Goodwill. The Si is the hot rod in the Civic family, and its 17-inch wheels and chrome exhaust tip had caught the clerk’s eye. These high-contrast touches enhance the subtle sparkle of the Civic’s Dyno Blue Pearl paint, and they make the car seem special.

It drives special, too. There are 201 horses under your right foot, and the dash has a turbo-boost-like gauge to show the engine’s i-VTEC activity. The higher you rev, the more the VTEC comes on, and faster you go. At lower speeds, there’s plenty of torque to move off the line, and the Si’s blatty exhaust had a Chihuahua’s owner rushing to pick up her pooch when the Si was still a half-block from the crosswalk. This is a Civic with power and presence.

Much as I liked the two-door coupe’s wedge shape, I’d choose the four-door sedan for better visibility, particularly over the shoulder. And I wished that the clutch pedal didn’t have such a long travel - the shorter engagement of, say, a Mini Cooper’s clutch would have been better at keeping the VTEC in its sweet spot. On the other hand, the clutch’s light engagement made it a snap to back up a steep hill into a parking spot. So overall, the Civic Si is like a good fuckbuddy - it asks very little of you, but it’s always ready to play.

Nissan Juke

2013 Nissan Juke SL FWD M/T: $26,555, 27 mpg, 162" length: At first I was put off by the Juke’s Pod People styling, but the car’s virtues quickly overcame that. In many ways, the Juke is an ideal city car, and yet it’s substantial enough for comfortable, all-day cruises.

Start with the short length - just 162 inches, about 14 inches shorter than the Civic. You sit up high for a better view, and the ride smooths over the streetcar tracks and broken pavement that can make driving in SF a back breaker. Handling is stellar, as the body stays level when things get speedy.

And the Juke is quite speedy. The 188-horsepower turbocharged engine is like the Civic in needing to be revved up - the turbo doesn’t wake up until about 2,800 rpm - but when it does, the Juke is off like a missile, and you’ll want to be pointed in the right direction when it alights. But then you head to the highway, and the Juke settles into a supple murmur. That such a goofy-looking car can be so well-rounded is a nice surprise.

Toyota Avalon

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited: $42,195, 24 mpg, 195" length. "That’s a nice car," a cabbie was shouting just as a friend was raving about the Avalon Limited’s sumptuous interior. We looked over, and the cabbie gave a thumbs-up. Inside and out, this Avalon created good feelings all around.

That was another surprise, as the Avalon up until now has been Toyota’s better-built but blander Buick. Both Buick and Toyota have jazzed up their big cars, but this Avalon was remarkable in being universally admired - even the twentysomethings in my building were smitten, also giving it a thumbs-up. An Avalon with sex appeal, who knew?

It drives well, too. The Avalon’s 268-horsepower V6 engine has a deep well of power, and the six-speed transmission shifts with firm conviction. Firm also describes the handling, although a trace of floatiness can be felt in, say, a blast down a tight on-ramp. No matter: you’ll probably be too relaxed to care.

Kia Rio

Kia Rio SX Sedan: $21,340, 31 mpg, 172-inch length. A $20K Rio? The Rio LX starts at under $15K, but the tested top-line Rio SX had the additional $2,350 premium package, with heated leather seats, navigation, push-button start, and more. Seems pricey, but not so long ago, you’d pay $30K or higher to get access to these features. Now budget cars offer them, and the Rio’s overall quality is high enough to carry it off.

One feature has become difficult to get in a Rio: a manual transmission. It’s available only on the base model, and the manual model is excluded from even simple items like power windows and locks - they and just about everything else are reserved for Rios with the six-speed automatic.

Fortunately the six-speed automatic is fine, with quick downshifts for a nimble feel. To get better mileage, the test car had Kia’s "Active Eco" system, which moderates performance to extract better miles per gallon. I didn’t notice much difference with the system on, mostly because Active Eco shuts off on steep hills and other high-load scenarios. Add in the Rio’s firm suspension and tight body structure, and you’ve got a car in which it’s a pleasure to move through the city.

Philip Ruth is an automotive journalist and consultant at www.gaycarguy.com.