October 26, 2006

How I decided on a Fit

My '87 Mazda 626 LX Turbo hatchback had been refusing to turn-over intermittently, and the day before my mother was coming over for an extended visit, it finally decided to quit for good. I checked all the normal stuff, battery, fuses, starter, even replaced my distributor, and nothing worked. I'm sure it's something silly like a corroded wire or something. But I don't want to spend a few hunderd in labour just to track down where the problem is. I know that this is actually a pretty rare car, but the people who are looking to buy this car are also rare. So I wasn't worth the money, time and effort for me to fix this 20 year old car, as rare and fun as it was to drive (quite a little sleeper), I decided to give it up and look for something new that I migh keep for the next while.

Since this was an unexpected expense, price was a big consideration. My other criterias included a hatchback (I'm in furniture and interor design), 4-doors (future family considerations), and running cost (fuel, maintenance, reliability). I stayed away from domestic makes because previous experiences with them have not been as good as imports as far as longevity; They drive and feel great when new, but tend to show their age much sooner than imports. Really though, the only domestic I might have considered wold be the Ford Focus. And if they had brought the new one over, instead of facelifting the old chassis, I might have seriously considered it. So it was pretty easy to finalize my short list.

The cars I was considering included the Nissan Versa, the Volkswagen City Golf (a Canada only model, basically a stripped down MKIV Golf 2.0L), The Honda Fit, and I also stopped by a Kia dealership to look at the Rio5 after running errands one day.

The 2007 Volkswagen City

2007 Volkswagen City Golf
My sister currently drives a German made MKIV Golf GLS with the 2.0L engine, and I had previously owned a Mexican made MKIV Jetta GLS also with the 2.0L engine. So I already knew what to expect from the City Golf. The City Golf is a Canadian-Only model, and is essentially the same car as the previous 1999.5-2006 Golf 2.0L cars minus the cubby tray and slide-out cupholders above the stereo, and the folding armrest equipped lower center console. The car are also now produced in Brazil instead. This car is actually an extremely good value for the money; Priced at least $3500 less for a similarly equipped new MkIV from previous years. Good gearing ratio for the city and the highway, comes with plenty of standard features, inclding power mirrors. The engine feels very peppy in town due to the flat power band, max torque is available around 2500rpm, and comes with the biggest brakes in all of the cars I looked at, and it's disc brakes on all four corners.

When I priced the car out, the City Golf was only about $1000 more than the Honda Fit with all of the options I wanted with 5-speed manual, A/C, and convienece package for power windows, doorlocks, which comes with switchblade key fob and remote entry and alarm as well as cruise control. I was very temped by this car actually, since I had been in the VW/Audi scene for a while, I know exactly where to go for anything I might need for this car, service or parts. However, I ultimately decided against this choice because the car is not as fuel efficient, and the Fit has the same interior cargo volume in a smaller and lighter package. Also, the Fit is a new (to us) model, while the City Golf is really a previous generation car. Anyone remember when they released the last generation Nissan Sentra, and kept selling the older one as the Sentra Classic? Resale on the Classics were horrible. Plus, my sister owns this car already, and with my previous Jetta, I kind of did as well. So it's kind of a "been there, done that" feeling. So I decided to let it pass. But I highly recommend people considering any of these cars to take a look at the City Golf; That is, if you're lucky enough to live in Canada.

Nissan Versa

2007 Nissan Versa
In case you didn't know, the Renault/Nissan Alliance was signed on March 27, 1999, giving Renault 44.4% share in Nissan. This car is really a re-skined Renault Clio. And like the Honda Fit, this is only a "new" car in North America (we get the Mexican made versions here). I really wanted to like this car. On paper, this car looked great. Good power from the engine, good fuel economy, huge interior and cargo area, and fantastic price. I know looks is a very subjective thing, and maybe it's because I'm very used to the look of small European hatchbacks. But unlike most reviews I've read, I actually prefer the look of the Versa over the Honda Fit, which in my opinion, looks like... well, a Honda; bland and uninspiring. I know that the aftermarket can help change all that. But that can help the Versa as well. And from my previous project cars, and friend's cars and experiences, starting with a good base style-wise can make a big difference. During my research, I saw some extremely nice examples of modified Versa, or Tiida as they're called in Japan.

The interior room was impressive, but what killed the Versa for me was the fact that the rear seats do not fold even close to being flat with the cargo area floor. There's literally a "step" going from the cargo area to the folded rear seats. Being a furniture and space designer, I often need to move longer items in my car that have some weight to them. The uneven floor in the Versa can potentially break my cargo because much of the weight of the piece would be resting on the edge of the forementioned "step". I simply cannot understand this oversight by Nissan. Most people who are looking for hatchbacks, especially in North America, are doing so because they need to carry cargo more often than Joe Average. I know there is a JDM accessory which raises the cargo area floor with a compartmentalized tray with a cover. But the cover is supported by thin plastic partitions and would probably not be able to hold as much weight. And because of the height difference it has to make up, this piece eats into the cargo capacity quite a bit. The hatch opening of the Versa is also much smaller due to the taillight design, this seriously impeeds loading of large items such as the ones I would likely need to carry. I actually started my dealership tour thinking I would end up with a Versa. But the uneven cargo floor killed it for me. However, if your vehicle's main purpuse is to transport adults in the back, the Versa is definately a good choice.

Kia Rio5

2007 Kia Rio5
This car was quite a pleasant surprise. Maybe it's because I really didn't have any expectations for this car. I just stopped by the locak Kia dealership because it was close to where I was running some errands. However, I was quite impressed with the car. The car was quiet, had a solid feel to it when driving and operating the doors. I actually felt that it had better initial turn-in response than the Honda fit. I know most magazine reviews said the Honda Fit handled the best out of similar cars. But for regular, and "sprited" in-town sprints, I actually felt the Rio5 "pushed" less than the Fit.

The design of the car I quite liked as well. It has a very European look to it. A slight bit last gen European, but still very nice. The interior design and layout was very nice, and the materials used in this car, especially in the sports trim, was georgeous looking. It looks like a much more expensive car than it is priced at. Kia actually made more cars worldwide than Honda did last year, and I can definately see why they are the fastest growing automaker in the world. I urge people to give this car a look, and a drive before completely skipping over it.

Honda Fit

2007 honda Fit
When I started this search, I didn't think I would end up picking the Honda Fit. With the windows behind the rear doors and sloping hood, it's the most minivan looking one of the bunch. It doesn't come with a cargo cover, dead pedal, floor mats, map lights, or a locking gas flap. The car already looks dated to me (granted, it is not really a new design since Honda's been selling these elsewhere for a while). But since I didn't want to by a "new" City Golf, and the Versa didn't suit my needs, my choices were down to the Kia Rio5 and the Honda Fit. Kia has improved their quality significantly in recent years, and offers a longer warranty than Honda. But when people talk of Kia reliability, it's still a question, not a statement. This is reflected in their resale value as well. Therefore, for about the same price with the options I wanted (though there's probably a slight bit more room to move on price for the Kia), I decided to go with the Honda. Even though on looks alone, it would have been my last choice. I guess I am growing up. Or I'm subconsciously trying to give myself an excuse to dive into the aftermarket with this car when I told myself I would not. *grin*

As a side note, the Honda Fit is actually a fairly old car. It was introduced in Japan in June of 2001 and released to great success worldwide as either the Honda Fit or the Honda Jazz. There is also a sedan version in some parts of the world called the Fit Aria with a different front end as well as a trunk. Since it has just been introducted here in North America mid 2006 as a 2007 model, The Fit will have a much longer life than the typical 4 year cycle for honda products.

Final Notes

I did not consider the Toyota Yaris because it was simply too small. We do not get the any Scions up here in Canada through the dealerships, only grey market imports. Call me superstitious, but Suzuki just doesn't sound very good in Taiwanese (sounds like "lose it all"). The Chevrolet Aveo/Pontiac Wave is really a Daewoo Kalos, and has one of the absolute worse crash test results of any car, any size. I also looked for clearance '06 Mazda3 Sports, but the selection was limited and price was still a bit high for me, which meant so was the subaru Impreza 2.5 wagon. As I said, this was an unexpected expense. It also helped that one of my good friends works for Honda, and funny enough, my previous salesman from VW now also works at the same Honda dealership as my friend. So I got them both to be on this deal for me.

Understanding my situation with my car breaking, they also tried to help me out by trying to put me into a car sooner (since the Fit, and actually the Versa and City Golf as well, all have at least a 2 to 3 month waiting list right now) . I wasn't too picky on the colour, so they were able to help me out by putting my name on a Alabaster Silver Matellic LX 5-speed manual that was allotted to another salesperson, and not a customer. I am told that although the car is technically at port already, and was suppose to arrive at the dealership by the 23rd, the wharf worker's strike has prevented the trucks from getting the cars out of port. Supposedly , they've contacted head office of the situation and Honda has agreed to help get the cars out and to the dealerships, hopefully before the end of the month. This expedited delivery also played a huge role in my decision to pick the Fit, since my situaton really needs a car ASAP. So I put down my deposit on the 19th of October, and now am waiting to hear the good news.

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