When people rationalize themselves away from buying the interesting cars they actually want and play it “safe” by buying a modern, soul-less SUV, often one of the commonly-cited reasons why is that they sometimes may want to haul big, ungainly things, and that’s why they need a big, ungainly car. I say this is bullshit, and I’m here to prove it, with my tiny Nissan Pao and a lawnmower.
One of my perpetual issues with most modern crossovers and SUVs is that, for their exterior volumes, they don’t usually have as much usable interior space as you’d think. Being big doesn’t always equate to being useful; clever packaging is really more important, and a big part of why my tiny Pao is able to carry something like a lawnmower as well as many big-ass SUVs.
Of course, a big part of why this is is that, with the rear seat folded flat, the Pao is like a roomy little cube. Modern SUVs and crossovers are often much more, um, thicc in the way they’re built, and that can limit interior volume and loading openings. It’s also the direct result of them being full of passive safety structures and active safety equipment like side-curtain airbags, which, while that does cut into the usable space inside, does make them non-deathtraps, which is likely very important to many people.
But, with the delighted ignorance of someone not currently in a wreck in a tinny little deathtrap, I’m happy to say that a normal-sized push lawnmower easily fits in my sub-normal-sized car.
My old mower was a Frankenstein’d pile of crap made from the corpses of several dead mowers, and this weekend when I sought it out to help me endustificate a lot of leaves I found it with an annoyingly slack starter rope, unwilling to turn. After messing with it a bit, I thought, fuck it, and checked Craigslist, which provided me with the means to get a perfectly good $35 mower, just like a king.
I think a crucial part of why the little Pao managed this job so well has to do with the split tailgate design, a design very under-appreciated for small cars.
The rear window opens up, like a hatch, and below it a tailgate drops down, which allows for the occasional carrying of much larger cargo. It effectively makes the rear into a little flatbed, which can be very handy.
In this case, that tailgate helped with loading the cumbersome mower in the car, allowing me to heft it up and onto the tailgate from a more convenient angle, complete with the usual strain-induced farts of a middle-aged man.
Once in the car, the split-tailgate design proves itself once again by allowing the lower half to close, keeping everything safe and secured, but the window can remain open to allow the big handlebar to extend out of the car.
If this was a one-piece hatch, like most cars, the whole thing would have had to be open, and the mower would have to be bungie’d in or tied down and the whole thing would be a big mess. Not in the Pao, though.
The only other small, inexpensive car I can think of that used this tailgate design was the 1992 to 1995 or so Honda Civic hatch—they had a nice little clamshell at the rear that made those little eggs very useful little haulers.
I’m telling you this for a few reasons: first, I’m still delighted by this little car, two, it’s a good reminder about how important clever packaging design is, C, it’s a good reason to praise the split rear tailgate concept, and ∆, I think it’s always worth pointing out that unusual cars you may be tempted to buy because you just like them can absolutely be used for normal daily life and work, if you’re willing to work with them, a bit.
Also, it’s sort of amazing when the car you’re using to carry the lawnmower only has an engine that’s about four times the size of the lawnmower.