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Car Buying: Test Drives Part 1

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I test drove 8 cars today: Nissan Sentra, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus 2012 sedan, Subaru Impreza, Honda Fit, Toyota Corolla, and Toyota Yaris.

I’m not a fan of the whole buying experience in general. The salespeople have such a great information advantage over the buyer. Some of the salespeople are pushy, telling you to buy today, even after you told them you’re only test driving and will purchase in a week or two.

Most people, especially myself, don’t know how to evaluate cars and what initial feelings on the road can become problems later on. We can turn to professionals like Consumer Reports, but their blurbs are short and useful as a pre-filter, but not that helpful after narrowing your selection.

I am looking at hatchbacks and small sedans. One concern I have with hatchbacks is that you can’t really see out the back and the blind spots are large. But they can carry a lot of stuff. On the other hand, small sedans will have trouble carrying things like bikes, but are typically good about being able to see out the rear, but knowing where the car ends requires time and patience to learn the car. I don’t particularly care about rear seat room, but that is a major concern for other people on cars like the Yaris and the Fiesta

This is organized in the order I test drove or looked at it.

Nissan Sentra: I really liked this car. The 2.0L engine gave me adequate performance for highway merging and passing people. I could see out the back easily. The parking lights, low beams, and high beams was placed and arranged in a logical manner. The 60-40 folding seats seems a bit flimsy when you fold it down. The seat cushion is attached to the car by two thin metal bars. You bring the seat up and down into the feet area, then you bring down the seat back. Those thin metal bars seem like they could be easily damaged.

Nissan Altima: This car was more powerful than the Sentra but rear visibility seemed more limited, possibly due to the more sloping style of the body. It’s a much larger car, but for my uses, not worth the additional cost.

Hyundai Elantra: I also really liked this car. Hyundais have gotten a lot better in recent years (according to Consumer Reports, friends, and co-workers). It felt like it had similar or slightly less power than the Sentra, even with the 1.8L engine. This might be because the Elantra is 3,000 pounds lighter. The car seemed to have less visibility than the Sentra. The car comes with no spare tire, but instead it has an inflator, which is supposed to be able to get you to the nearest shop. The salesman said most cars come with that these days, but that wasn’t true. Every other car I test drove had a spare. The Elantra handled well and had a good turning radius. Apparently there’s a break-in period up to 3500 miles (or so) where you shouldn’t drive above 85. Weird quirks. Hyundai has a long-ass warranty though.

Hyundai Elantra Touring: This car had less rear visibility than the Elantra, but it’s a hatchback. It also gets way worse MPG.

I test drove all of the Fords back in California so my memory may be iffy.

Ford Fiesta/Focus 2012 Hatchback: This car had terrible rear visibility and huge blind spots. The Fiesta had no power.

Ford Focus 2012 Sedan: This car had good visibility. It seemed to have adequate power on the highway, but less than both the Sentra and Elantra. It also felt a bit jerky, especially up hills or just accelerating The additional blind spot mirror sound nice in concept, but it takes a lot of getting used to. My eyes and brain were just not dealing with the two perspectives really well. You won’t be able to fit a bike in the back even with the 60/40 seats down without adjusting the handlebars. The port into the main cabin from the trunk is just too small.

Ford Fiesta Sedan: This car had a little better visibility than the hatchback version, but less than the Focus.

Ford Fusion: I’ve been driving this car for a week as my rental. It has great acceleration, probably because the one I drove has a 3.0L engine, but I’ve been getting bad gas mileage, around 24-26 MPG. I had to fill up after one week and it cost me over $50. I would think this week involved more than usual driving because of all the crap I had to do with apartments and stuff, but still that’s expensive. Rear visibility is okay and the trunk is somewhat large so it’s hard to tell where your car is when backing up.

Subaru Impreza: This was a fun car to drive. More than adequate power and great handling, at least when doing figure 8s in the parking lot. Rear visibility is limited when the seats (with the headrests), but put them down and things are okay. The problem is that it has terrible gas mileage.

Honda Fit: This car had great visibility since it had windows in what seemed like every possible area. The bulkheads were thin, unlike in other hatchbacks. It only had a 1.5L engine, but it actually seemed to handle itself well in traffic and merging. The salesman attributed that to its weight, but it seems to have the same weight as the Fiesta. Flooring the accelerator seemed to be jerky and it had problems on hills.

It also suffered from a problem I had when test driving the Honda Civic Coupe. I’m not sure if it’s me, but I thought the brake pedal was awkwardly placed. I felt it was too close to the accelerator and many times I hit both the brake and the accelerator. That’s just dangerous. Additionally, the braking curve seemed a lot steeper, as if the brake wouldn’t engage until it was depressed nearly halfway. This resulted in many sudden, jerky stops. I’m not a fan of that.

Toyota Corolla LE: This was a terribly boring car. Nothing stood out as egregiously bad or totally awesome. It lacked acceleration and could not pass anybody on the highway. Lame.

Toyota Yaris: See above for the Corolla, except worse in every way.

Toyota Matrix: I wasn’t able to test drive this because apparently production has stopped due to the tsunami. The salesman said he won’t be getting these for a while.

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