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Local Column

Akst: Life in the tech lane

One of my best friends in high school, Mike, was a talented builder of muscle cars. My favorite was his 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang. Its acceleration could bruise kidneys, which, back then, was a good thing.

We used to hang out at Mike’s house while he worked. One evening Mike said, “Someday I’m gonna build a really bad car.” We had to ask: given what he had built so far, what would a really bad car be?

“You start it up and little kids cry,” Mike said.

By that standard, the new car we bought Saturday is an epic fail. In fact, the only thing it has in common with Mike’s Boss 302 is that they’re both Fords.

The Ford we bought is a C-Max Hybrid. The C-Max isn’t well known, but seems to be Ford’s answer to the Toyota Prius V (except more economical, peppier and cheaper).

The C-Max doesn’t roar when you start it. It barely makes a sound.

And kids don’t seem afraid. Our C-Max is a cheerful, “candy” blue and has all kinds of lights and sounds, many of which I don’t yet understand.

We weren’t looking to buy a new car. My previous car was paid off. It was only 13 years old and had only 93,000 miles. For me, that’s barely broken in. I’m a drive-’em-into-the-ground kind of guy.

But the air conditioner was losing its cool, the left front wheel shimmied badly, the radio began turning itself off unexpectedly, and I forget what else. Long story short: Repairs would cost far more than the car was worth.

With surprisingly little angst, we found a really good deal on a car all three of us love. The dog hasn’t been in the new car yet, but I’m sure he’ll love it too.

Ironically, the new car has me thinking of previous cars. My first car (technically Mom’s, but I drove it most of the time) was a 1966 Plymouth Fury III with enough steel to build a drawbridge.

Cars have changed so much in my lifetime. The C-Max is a car, but it seems more like driving an automotive computer. There’s more technology just in the dashboard than all my previous cars. There’s also no spare tire, which bothered me until I realized I have not needed a spare since 1989, a quarter of a century and a quarter of a million miles ago.

And far from being an imposing, intimidating ride, our C-Max is helpful and nurturing. Hey, who doesn’t need more help and nurturing?

One interactive display grows a virtual vine. The more economically one drives (braking smoothly, gentle acceleration, etc.), the more the vine grows. The growing vine reminds me of our landscaping that’s growing out of control, but that’s not the car’s fault.

Remember dome lights? This car has “ambient lighting,” which drivers can select from a color palette. I’m not kidding.

None of this is meant as pining for the “good ol’ days.” I’m completely thrilled about the new car. It’s a techno-­engineering marvel that will force me to keep learning and consider life from a new perspective.

I’m looking forward to going farther than 700 miles on my first tank of gas. I like quiet machines. The stereo rocks. It’s difficult to get lost. I can adjust most everything with voice commands. Woot!

My only concern now is that the car will become self aware, co-opt the rest of the technology in our household, and enslave the carbon-based life forms.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @JasonAkst.

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