Latest Reader Question (January 1, 2018)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply:

Tom asks: I enjoyed your recent point-Counterpoint column on electric cars, distributed by Tribune News Service. I agree that while electric cars are nice for some people, they are not for everybody. I have driven from Colorado Springs to Chicago twice in the last three years, and am heading to the Grand Canyon when I get the chance. An electric car would not work for me.

In the column you said “One size, obviously, does not fit all.” May I ask you to please take this literally, and not just figuratively, in a future writing? I am mobility impaired by polio and am, quite frankly, obese. I have had difficulty getting in and out of a car all my life, and am currently driving a 2008 Grand Marquis because it is one of the last of the gunboats, and sadly no longer in production. I will keep fixing it up until it dies, or I do.

All cars made today are too damn small for me, thanks to the relentless pursuit of aerodynamics over accessibility. The electric cars are even more so. I am only 5′ 6″ tall, but when I had the chance to sit in a Tesla I literally could not get my head in under the roof. I then needed help getting back up from the low-slung seat.

There are of course SUVs and minivans, but most of them are too high to get in and out of conveniently. Can’t the auto industry produce one accessible sedan? I’m not asking for something built like a classic Checker Cab, but there should be something that I and my fellow aging and arthritic Baby Boomers could get in and out of.

Please consider addressing this issue in some future writing. The auto industry will ignore us, but it would be nice to see somebody recognize the need.

My reply: I also miss the gunboats, Tom!

That said, there are some new cars that might fit you better – and some of these might surprise you, because they are much smaller (on the outside) cars than your Grand Marquis.

The problem for people in your situation is the traditional sedan. They have almost all gone “sporty” – which means low rooflines and low to the ground.

Thus, I’d like to steer you toward some small wagons – and crossovers – like the Maxda CX-5, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa Note. These all have taller rooflines and ample headroom. Another one – and it’s funny looking, but has tremendous headroom and easy access- is the Nissan Cube. I’m 6ft 3 and have probably half a foot of air space between the top of my head and the headliner of this one.

None of the above are speedy or sexy cars, but they have amazingly roomy interiors and their low low step-in height and tall profile make them easier for people with disabilities to get in and out of.

Another possible car to have a look at is the VW Golf. It has a boxy profile – and excellent headroom. It’s also a bit more sporty than the models above, if you’d like a bit more of that to go with your elbow (and noggin’) room!

Hope this was helpful!

. . .

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  1. I would have to respectfully disagree with your suggestions, EP, because while those do, indeed, provide adequate headroom once inside, getting into and out of those may still be a challenge for this gentleman. Furthermore, given that he also mentioned he is obese, none of those vehicles you suggested would be particularly able to manage those of wider girth. It’s not just a headroom issue but a hip room one. I also note that he mentioned difficulty getting up into most minivans, which have seat heights from the ground comparable to most CUVs such as the CX-5 and CR-V.

    I wish Tom had given us a little more information on what his specific wants and needs are for his vehicle. So far we have headroom, hip room, and seat height limitations. These numbers can often be looked up on websites with technical specs for each car model. I suspect, since he mentioned mobility limitations, he may need a large enough trunk to store some form of mobility assistance device, such as a walker or rollator device. A price range would also be helpful to know.

    Other things that need to be considered, based on my experience with elderly family members getting in and out of my vehicles, are things like door opening widths, step over heights, flat floorboards vs. having a high entryway and a low floorpan, location of the B-pillar relative to the shoulder/hip, distance from the front of the seat to the front of the door opening (where one swings one’s legs and feet through), and many other factors.

    Based on my limited experience with this sort of topic, it is incredibly difficult to predict accessibility by merely looking at a car. As already stated, there are no more traditional road battleships being produced, but there are some that are closer than others.

    That said, here are a few possibilities worth looking in to:

    Chevy Impala – the biggest sedan Chevy makes right now. Might be a little more cramped than the Merc he has now, though.

    Chrysler 300 – classic rear wheel drive big American car, though not as big as his Merc. Also not as reliable.

    Lexus LS – the biggest sedan they make also tends to be roomy, especially the longer wheelbase model. Exceedingly reliable, might be able to pick up a lightly used one for reasonable money and keep it for a very long time.

    Genesis G90/Hyundai Equus/Kia K900 – I believe all three share the same basic platform and appear to have copious amounts of room up front and in the rear. This is also the closest thing newly sold to the old land barges from the big three except they will ride and drive better, get better fuel economy, and be more reliable. He should also be able to get a new Hyundai or Kia model for a steal since they never sold well. A lightly used one may come in at a bargain.

    If money is not so much an issue, I might also look at a Mercedes S-class, though they’re very expensive and maintenance and repairs will cost far too much compared to the others on this list.

    For some odd choices, maybe consider a new Honda Ridgeline, which rides a little lower than most CUVs, or a Subaru Outback, though it might have too small door entry for his needs.

    • SM, you make good points. For decades now I’ve heard older people say how much easier it is to get into pickups and SUV’s barring the tall 4WD versions. There are automatic sidesteps that run the length of a vehicle that might help in this respect. They retract upon closing the door but allow a person to easily get into a large, taller vehicle.

      It’s too bad the El Camino and the Monte Carlo with the swiveling buckets are not around. Just back up and fall in and spin around. They were the nads for egress and ingress, comfy too. I can recall times I was very stiff from work or play and those seats were a godsend for my wife and myself. I’m sure there’s some illegality involved with seats like that now. You could even release them and turn slightly if you liked. Damn, I need to fix that Elco and make it live again. A two-seater for sure but Cholley Jack doesn’t mind no seat as long as he has a place to lie down. It’s a good vehicle for denying a rider too. Sorry little vehicle destroyer, we only have two seats.


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