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Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, smart fortwo, MINI Cooper
#9192 of 9848 and the clear winner is
Dec 18, 2010 (2:47 pm)
the Honda Fit. Got the chance to test drive one today, and if what you value most is a driver's car (as opposed to looks or price) the Fit is head and shoulders above the rest. The first time I drove one was very soon after the present model came out, more than 2 years ago, and I had forgotten just how great this car is.
Shifter? FABULOUS. Like a rifle bolt into every gear, no slop, much MUCH better than any of the other cars I drove. The clutch is great too - perfect engagement, easy to read, easy to modulate, and light overall.
The steering really makes this car stand apart - yes, it's electric, and compared to sports cars and sporty models I'm sure it's not as good, but it gives the most feedback and has the least on-center numbness of any of the cars I drove this week. Perfectly weighted, unlike all the rest. As for the handling, that may be the biggest advantage this car has over the rest of the group: NEVER clunky over potholes or bad pavement, not jittery on the highway, but also the fastest through curves and corners with the least body roll. I'm pretty sure this is the only one of the group that had indie rear suspension, which probably contributes, and it may also be the only one of the group with a rear stabilizer bar.
The Fiesta still gets the nod for the interior - the Fit has a lot of hard surfaces, and only a bare covering over hard plastic for the driver's armrest, without any padding. But the Sport does have a standard cushioned armrest for the driver's right arm. The controls are easy to use, USB and iPod hook-up are in the glovebox and and iPod can be controlled through the stereo. But it has no Bluetooth and of course nothing like Ford's fabulous Sync.
You get more engine noise in the Fit than any of the other cars, especially on the highway where the engine turns slightly above 3000 rpm in top gear to go 65. But overall you get less tire roar and no wind noise that I could detect, so it kind of evens out with the other cars. The engine is very willing to rev, loves to rev in fact, which is part of the fun of owning a Honda in my experience. It revs high enough at 65 that you can go up a fairly substantial grade without down-shifting, which is kinda nice.
Also, the interior is very spacious, an aspect common to all these cars and very welcome given their small exterior size. The Fit's seating position is more minivan-like than the Fiesta's and the Mazda's, but the seat is great - perfectly bolstered to hold you in place and firm with great lumbar support. Unlike the Yaris, I could see myself driving the Fit all day without getting sore.
Yes, the Fit looks like a microvan where all the others I drove look sleeker. I dunno how important that really is to me at this point - I bought a car on looks once before (the Matrix) that I ended up hating after a short time because it drove like crap. Every time you drive the car you experience how it DRIVES, but the only time you see the outside styling is when you look back over your shoulder after you parked it. The driving is 90% of your experience of the car, the looks are 10% of it.
One thing I found out which evens the score with the other cars on a point that is important to me: for 2011 the Fit Sport has standard stability control. I had thought that was an advantage the much cheaper cars had over the Fit, but for 2011 Honda has caught back up.
Turns out my local dealership (where I drove this one) took not one but two stick-shift Sports into inventory, so they have a white one and a magnesium (gun-metal gray) one in stock. The guy was trying hard to sell me one on the spot, but I told him I still had one more car to test drive before I made my decision, so we left it at that. I think I would want the bronze/orange color anyway, or maybe the deep purple (officially called blackberry or something) if they still make that color.
Of course, it's a 2011 so there are no advertised promos on it. I figure they would sell it for $17,000 without too much fuss (sticker is $17,6), maybe a bit less if I pushed.
Which leaves me to ponder: is this car worth $5000-5500 more than the Yaris? Is it worth $2000 more than the Mazda? The Fiesta I have ruled out because it doesn't emphasize the driving characteristics I prefer (lively handling, lots of feedback from the controls, peppy acceleration at around-town speeds) in a car in this class.
It's funny but maybe not surprising that in the end, the cars' sticker prices are very reflective of the amount of merit each car has - the bargain basement car has a bargain basement price, the most expensive car is also my first choice. Go figure, huh?!
#9193 of 9848 Re: and the clear winner is [nippononly]
Dec 18, 2010 (3:00 pm)
I enjoyed reading your review. I drove a Fit 2 years ago. I could relate to much of what you said, although I find I am too big for most of all the seats in small cars. The seat backs aren't too bad but do tend to squeeze me narrower in the back than i prefer, and seat bottoms are not only too narrow, but too short to boot lacking thigh support. This has to be one of the most common seat shortcomings in most new cars under 40k bucks.
As to your question though, a seat makes or breaks a car at almost any price unless you rarely drive anywhere and do short trips only. I'd say you have already made up your mind and according to the priorities you mentioned, u are on the right track. If a manual shift is a priority, then how it shifts is also huge because you use the shifter so much. Are they 5 or 6 sp? I forget.
Oh..but I will say that an uncomfortable left rest for your (either) elbow or lack of room is also huge, especially for me.
#9194 of 9848 Re: and the clear winner is [gimmestdtranny]
by Stever@Edmunds HOST
Dec 18, 2010 (4:17 pm)
I enjoyed the review too. My wife and I weren't so enamored of the Fit Sport when we took one home overnight a year and a half ago (though it was much better than the AT Fit we tried). And we both got seat time in the Fit Sport with just the driver in the car. I remember the shifting being fine and the pep was ok. Just something about the whole package that didn't click.
We both liked the manual Matrix a lot when we test drove it (the 2.4l one). We didn't like the Versa much. Probably boils down to us just liking bigger cars (although we both really liked our '82 Tercel).
Dec 18, 2010 (4:57 pm)
So I was absent for a bit from the boards and I saw a conversation about highs and lows of the Transit Connect go by. I thought that was pretty interesting because I never really thought of a utility van as a civilian transport. In Michigan, they really push the ability to reconfigure the cargo area to meet the needs of a particular industry.
The thought of using it for a minivan (other than taxi) didn't really crossed my mind. There is only seating for 5 and it seemed that the for a minivan, it takes 3 rows/7-8 passengers.
It also has an incredibly high profile. That doesn't make for stellar fuel economy. It does do better than an Econoline or Ranger/S10, with a pretty hefty payload.
#9196 of 9848 Re: Transit Connect [lilengineerboy]
by Stever@Edmunds HOST
Dec 18, 2010 (7:20 pm)
I've had "five passenger" minivans since 1989. And I only had to toss one bench from one of them. The '89 Voyager SWB we had was a 5 seater from the factory. It's a great configuration if you carry more stuff than people. A big tall wagon if you will, but with sliders. Like the TC.
Dec 18, 2010 (8:47 pm)
nice review. I have never driven one, but I do recall magazine reviews that indicated it was not a great highway car (maybe it was darty or wandering?) But, maybe the ESC helps that.
Hey, if you like it, that is all that really matters. Other than the 5K or so in your pocket!
the fit does seem to have the most interior room, and flexible cargo area.
#9198 of 9848 Re: fit [stickguy]
Dec 18, 2010 (9:04 pm)
Well part of my test drive involved about 8 miles in each direction on the freeway (it was rainy today and the salesman was bored, so I got to go on a half hour test drive with him) and it never darted or wandered. That is despite the winds we were having today. So I think they might have just been reaching for something negative to say.
I would say the Fit's negatives are the interior materials and the amount of engine noise at highway speeds, but both are manageable and where they shorted these aspects of the car, they more than made up for it in the mechanicals and chassis.
I guess I should add that in choosing the cars I wanted to look at, I left out the Aveo and the Accent. I couldn't bring myself to drive an Aveo - it has not been notably updated since its debut years ago despite GM's advertising to the contrary, and I drove one for almost a week way back when I was in a rental for some reason I forget. Horrendous, worse than Yaris in every way, but of course the cheapest one of all in this class, so it has one redeeming feature at least.
I have driven an Accent SE and don't like it for lots of little reasons, but it is more fun to drive than a Yaris or a Fiesta. I didn't drive it again now because even if it came out on top there is no dealer anywhere near me and I don't want to be more than 25 miles from the nearest dealer when I need warranty service, regardless of brand.
As for the "5K in my pocket" remark, it is a solid chunk of change, eh? Enough to make one consider very carefully one's priorities!
#9199 of 9848 Re: and the clear winner is [steve_]
Dec 19, 2010 (7:11 am)
I had an AWD Matrix with the auto (only way u could get AWD) and 1.8 Corolla engine. It ran very strangulated in the Matrix, due to floor pan design differences over the Corolla (had a down sized forward premuffler/cat) and even moreso in the AWD model because the exhaust was forced to sneak around a maize of IS bits which the FWD models didn't have. Totally changed the character and breathing abilities of the engine. So not only urge suffered due to some extra weight, but so did FE.
I demo drove a manual FWD Vibe and was not impressed with the shift linkage at all. I have driven worse but knew it would bug even if I had considered a FWD (i wasn't).
Interestingly enough, I also spent some time in an 08 5 dr Versa rental. Over a month in it actually. The seat bottoms were so bad I thought a 400 pounder had kneeled their knee into the centre of it with all their weight. Before I left the lot I sat in the passenger side and it was almost as bad! The car only had 3000 miles on it. So before i left town I went over to the Nissan dealer to see if they all were bad. They were! Except the top line model had ever so slightly better seats ,but barely. To this day I am shocked, cuz in almost every other regard I was considering buying a new Versa to replace my totalled X Trail. Altho i knew i would probably regret going without AWD i have had for 22 years. My rationalization was better FE etc and hopefully while I had it, a turbo dsl something neat and affordable AWD would surface, like a 4 door mid-sized p/u with about a 2.7 litre inline 4 cyl, std tranny 5 or 6 spd, with Japanese roots. (I'll die of old age first likely). But what a great car in most other repsects. It was an auto, the 4 speed, thank goodness not the CVT, had a pretty strong running 1.8 and over a couple thous miles of totally varied driving in heavy city often and numerous long highway trips , and all the while not really trying for FE it still averaged 37 ImpMpg, so about 30 US. And I drove it pretty fast most times. It had certain well thought out extras that simply worked well that I have not seen in any other cars, especially in its price range...for example, it had two adjustable dash vents that was the perfect choice for hot humid evenings at night when you didn't need the cool air on your arms, and if you chose defrost position it would keep fogging the windshield, so these vents were place up high on the flat top of the dash, but kept the cold air from hitting the windshield and you could adjust it away from you and it was far enough away that it didn't chill your arms. Just a great idea and surprised more mfgrs don't copy it.
Remember the prev gen Tercel to your 82? They went 78 to 82 i think, they were great little cars, the engine was placed longitudinally in the front. (north to south) The stick went right into the tranny with no linkage. I had a 72? Corolla 1200 it reminded me of.
#9200 of 9848 Re: and the clear winner is [gimmestdtranny]
by Stever@Edmunds HOST
Dec 19, 2010 (8:50 am)
We didn't get the X-Trail down here in the States, but I liked the one or two I've seen. Boxy, not frou-frou at all, good size. And I'm partial to Nissan drivetrains.
I never got to test the 1.8l in the Matrix/Vibe but we were interested in it for the mileage.
I'm back in snow country again and I must admit the AWD Outback is getting a lot more use than our FWD minivan. But the van is top heavy and just heavier in general I think. It's more comfy but doesn't feel like the better choice this time of year, even with newer all-seasons on it.
I only had to chain up the FWD '82 Tercel a few times in 17 years - had that one during my Anchorage years. I think the lightweight FWD subcompact cars with skinny tires tend to do pretty good in snow country.
#9201 of 9848 Re: and the clear winner is [steve_]
Dec 19, 2010 (9:37 am)
I had an 81 Tercel hatch, and it was a solid snow car. Skinny tires rule.
I noticed the Transit Connect has pretty skinny tires and a lot of ground clearance...I wonder what it is like in the snow?
Gimme: I think you might be thinking of the Toyota Starlet. Even smaller than the Tercel, and RWD.