Economy, Class

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2006

Marty would be mine in Savannah. A wonderful dog, I was assured. In Savannah, I'd meet with Marty's foster mother, sign all the legal papers, pay the required fees and then bring him home with me. He would be mine in our forever home.

Now, all I had to do was drive there.

As it turned out, a $100,000 luxury car wasn't sitting in my driveway to be tested that weekend. Two vehicles were there: a midsize sport utility and a 2006 Hyundai Sonata GLS.

On the SUV sticker, I saw 22 miles per gallon on the highway. The Sonata sticker read 33 highway. At pumps in my area, gas was $3 a gallon. So I pulled out a calculator. The difference in my round trip would be about $30. If that difference had sacrificed comfort or safety, I would not have chosen as I did. But the Sonata sacrificed nothing, not even space. The backseat was roomy and comfortable. Marty would be fine there.

The GLS is the economy Sonata, with a four-cylinder engine and a $19,395 bottom line. Virtually every item I expect to be standard in a vehicle today was included-electronic stability control; traction control; antilock brakes; front and side curtain air bags; automatic transmission; keyless entry that sets an alarm; full-power windows, locks and mirrors; an audio system with a CD player that can play MP3 files; air conditioning; cruise control; automatic headlights and a trip computer.

The Sonata also had the four-spoke steering wheel, not the "sporty" three-spoke that thwarts function. Why? In driving long distances over many hours, it's necessary to move hands around for comfort. One of the favored positions is right hand resting at the base of the steering wheel. In relaxing situations, the left arm can be propped on the armrest or window sill. Balance is lost if the right hand can't rest at the very bottom of the wheel. Any other spot creates tension that will soon become tiresome.

The exterior door handles are of the bar design, not the little flip-lid nail breakers. Why is this important? In an accident, if the door is jammed, would-be rescuers can get leverage to open a door by pulling on a bar. Every manufacturer in the world is converting to bar handles as quickly as possible.

Inside, the upholstery was cloth. Some people prefer cloth. No one slides around on cloth while cornering. It doesn't heat up as leather does when exposed to the hot summer sun. But leather is wonderfully aromatic, cool much of the time. Each has virtues and drawbacks. Marty wouldn't care.

One of the outstanding virtues of the Sonata turned out to be how well it centered on the interstate. It tracked straight and sure, with easy-to-use cruise control taking much of the work out of staying legal in traffic.

Braking was strong, the steering had precisely the right amount of assist, and the suspension was, if anything, a bit biased toward handling instead of comfort. But it never punished us on poor stretches of road.

I'd had trouble sleeping all week, thinking of Marty and how he was about to change my life. Saturday morning, his foster mom, Bobbie Ginnane, was bringing him to me. Right on time, there he was.

I recognized him immediately. I'd admired the pictures Bobbie had sent me, read her description of him. He was every bit as beautiful as she had described. I hugged him and he gave me a kiss. We were off to a good start. Bobbie choked back tears and I opened the rear door of the Sonata. Marty climbed in.

Had it been six weeks since my 13-year-old best friend Manassas had died? Yes, it had. But after a crushing week of grief, I decided the best way to get over a lost love is to initiate a new one. I had searched out Marty, who could be Manassas' sibling, and found him in rescue by English Springer Rescue America.

I applied to adopt him. And after being thoroughly investigated as a suitable "forever home," my wife and I had been approved. Now we were beginning a journey home to a new life, the three of us.

I climbed into the back seat, gave Marty a hug and let the wife drive.

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