We auto journalists love our Best lists. Best Sedan. Best Compact. Best Performance Car. Best Performance Car Under $100K. Best Performance Car Under $100K for Picking Up the Kids at School. And so on.
I’ve got a new one: Best Post-Surgery Getaway Vehicle.
On July 8 I decided to take my 53-year old antique chassis into the shop for a new right knee. The old one was plum worn out. And like an antique race car, this new joint will extend my sports career (in my case tennis).
But unlike a new car, I can’t use my new part right away. Indeed, my mechanic — er, surgeon — has banned me from driving for a month. Something about the painkillers I’m on, and — oh, yes, my swollen accelerator leg has the flexibility of concrete and the strength of a wet noodle.
If my planning goes correctly — and I don’t fall down the stairs on my head — I should be healed in time to pilot muscle cars at the Dream Cruise. But in the meantime, how does a motorhead pass four driving-deprived weeks without going stark raving mad?
Create a new Best Car Award, of course. My test cars? A minivan (Chrysler Town & Country), large SUV (Honda Pilot), small SUV (Jeep Renegade), luxury SUV (Cadillac SRX), station wagon (Subaru Impreza), and compact hatch (Honda Fit).
Hauling around a knee swollen to the size of Donald Trump’s head changes your perspective on riding in automobiles. Rule #1: Stay out of the front seat.
I learned this even before leaving Beaumont Hospital (home of the fashionable, rear-tying, butt-revealing gown) where they keep a wheel-less car on the ninth floor recovery ward. Presumably so no one tries to steal it by crashing it out of a high-rise office building window like Vin Diesel in “Furious 7.”
I opened the door, I put the seat all the way back. My leg fit like a motorcycle helmet inside a suitcase. Which is to say, not easily. Once out of the hospital, I found the second-row bench in the Renegade, SRX, and Impreza problematic as well. It’s awkward sitting sideways with your leg on the seat and a belt across your face.
Obviously, the Best Post-Surgery Vehicle is a minivan, yes? Loooove that Town & Country’s easy access, sliding door, and acres of third-row legroom courtesy of stowaway second-row seats. The trophy, please? Not so quick.
Because Rule No. 2 is your chauffeur has to be happy. And Mrs. Payne won’t be caught dead driving a minivan.
Say hello to my top pick, the 2016 Honda Fit.
The aptly-named hatchback sports “magic seats” for minivan-like interior versatility. Call it the mini-minivan. But its secret is a unique, fold-flat front seat (normally advertised for carrying wood or surfboards). Remove the headrest. Move the seat completely forward. Toggle the side lever and the front seat flattens backwards right to the edge of the rear seat.
Behold! Instant Barcalounger. I scooted into the Fit’s backseat, threw my legs across the front “ottoman” and enjoyed a front-facing, second-row ride whenever I needed to leave the house. Seat belt across chest. Legal. Comfortable.
Mrs. Payne was fast a Fit fanatic. The Honda’s hatch gives good visibility, enhanced by a clever side-mirror camera which — when activated by the turn signal — displays the car’s blind spot in the center screen.
The Fit’s ergonomics — once as complicated as a hospital floor map — are much improved with a single touchscreen and goggle-sized instruments. The dial-less console screen can be a distracting — but the redundant steering-wheel buttons are handier anyway. Storage abounds with a console bin, two cup holders, and trays for smartphones (or, ahem, pills for the patient). My wife’s only complaint was the 130-horsepower four-banger’s snail-like acceleration.
With an above-average J.D. Power rating the Fit will likely pay fewer visits to the surgeon than I have. With my feet in the front seat and my head under the hatch, I was 6’5” of comfortable patient. My wife liked the fact that I was right behind/next to her, as opposed to the back bench of a three-row SUV.
Which brings me to my runner-up. Any three-row SUV will do since most have second row seats that fold flat. With the middle seats forming a sort of pull-out couch, our Pilot tester made for an excellent trip Up North — though I was in a different area code from my wife. She also wasn’t wild about the 21 mpg fuel mileage compared to Fit’s 35.
So there you have it. My surgeon should give me the green light to drive again any day now. If not, my next column might be about the Best Vehicle for Transporting a Mad Motorhead to the Looney Bin.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at HenryPayne.com
Winner, Best Post-Surgery Getaway Vehicle: 2016 Honda Fit
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger hatchback
Price: $16,610 base ($21,885 as tested)
Power plant: 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine
Power: 130 horsepower, 114 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission (six-speed manual option)
Performance: 0-60 mph, 8 seconds (Car & Driver est.); 118 mph top speed (governed)
Weight: 2,642 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA 32 mpg city/38 mpg highway/35 mpg combined
Highs: Unique, fold-flat front seat; The versatility of a mini-minivan
Lows: Snail-like acceleration; Volume dials, please