Some of you probably already know I’ve been looking at replacing our 2002 Protege 5. The car has been (and continues to be) fun to drive, but like most of the Proteges from that model year it is rusting away to nothing. (Ask me about the time the floorboards rusted to the point where I put my foot through onto the road.) Really, when you start worrying about whether or not it’s hazardous to continue driving a car, it’s time to get rid of it.
Because Deb and I have two vehicles that are both getting on in years, we need to bound our enthusiasm for the Protege replacement (i.e. “my” car) so that we can afford to pay for whatever we get to replace Deb’s Honda Odyssey (sometime in the next 2..3 years). Her requirements are quite different than mine, since she often needs to drive long distances on the highway, carrying huge volumes of wool and related gear, as she goes to trade shows in support of her business.
Over the course of the last few months, I have test driven basically everything that is available in Canada in the compact, subcompact, and “youth” categories. Weeding out the ones that failed on the obvious constraints (e.g. “needs to hold a cello”, “must be relatively fun to drive”, “Deb would kill me if I bought Kia Soul”, etc.), I was left with four contenders. Here they are (in most-to-least expensive order) with capsule reviews:
- Volkswagon Golf
- For those who haven’t actually driven a Golf lately, this is not your father’s Rabbit. I was looking at the model with the standard gasoline engine, which is a 2.5 litre, in-line 5 cylinder engine that produces 170(!) horsepower. Even during the test drive, I had no trouble getting a 0..100 K/h time under 8 seconds. By comparison, the diesel engine model was not quite as powerful, but made up for it by having a ton of low end torque. Overall, the car was Mercedes-level quiet, had responsive, flat handling and excellent features. My only significant complaint was that it still has the vaguely cheap feeling, plastic interior trim that I remember from VWs past. In any case, if you like driving, this is an excellent choice. Unfortunately, they’ve ended up at a price point (>$28K, as tested) that doesn’t fit in my budget.
- Hyndai Elantra Touring
- I was looking at the GLS trim level with the 5 speed manual transmission. There is a GLS “Sport” version with larger alloy wheels that is more expensive, but that one is close enough to the Golf in price that it wasn’t a contender. This car is definitely the largest of the bunch, with lots of interior cargo space even when the back seats are not folded down. I found it to be unexpectedly fun to drive, but not in the same class as the VW, and it was somewhat noisier — not unacceptably so, but noticeable. I’m fairly certain I could be happy with this one. It clocked in around $23K.
- Ford Fiesta SES
- The Fiesta is a new design for this model year, with an interesting, aggressive, European look. It is clearly aimed at young people who want a sporty driving experience for a reasonable price. It’s faster than the Elantra, approximately the same in terms of noise levels, and much, much smaller. Size, in particular, is the downfall for this one. The back seats do not seem to be usable by adults, and it only passed the “will hold a cello” test by the narrowest margin. However, it was inexpensive (approx. $20K) and handled well enough that it would probably have been first pick if I didn’t know that I sometimes still need to carry Deb, Dennis and a load of groceries.
- Nissan Versa (warning: link contains stupid amounts of flash content)
- The Versa is Nissan’s entry in the sub-compact field. As such, it’s competitors are vehicles like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Aveo, etc. Compared to these, the Versa is the obvious winner. It’s is the largest (easily seating four adults), the quietest, and has every feature you could imagine in a car that cost less than $18K. We’re talking keyless entry, power locks and windows, cruise, 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, a decent audio system (CD changer, iPod connector, speed-sensitive volume control, etc.), anti-lock brakes, traction control… Heck it even holds my cello better than Fiesta.
As is often the case with these kinds of decisions, it was really only the end points that turned out to be interesting. In a world where we weren’t going to buy another vehicle in a couple of years, the Golf would be the hands down winner. I had more fun test driving it than I’ve had since I was in Kevin’s BMW. Unfortunately, $28K is just too much for a “second” car.
The Hyundai was still too much for what you got; the Fiesta was too small.
And that left Versa, which is what we bought. Pick up is Monday eve. Here’s a pic to show the color: