QOTD: How Should I Replace My Current Car?

Replacing a successful, long term owned car is never easy, and is one you may well have grappled with at some point over the years. I know I have, more than once, and CC has had other accounts as examples. Identifying a replacement for my Ford Fiesta was a classic case, and question of what to buy to replace it with was one that ran and ran, off and on, for about a year.

The car I was replacing was (a UK spec) Fiesta 1.4TDCi Zetec – the turbo-diesel mid-range trim five door hatchback. As loyal CC followers may recall, I have been very impressed and satisfied with this car for six years and 145,000 miles, finding only that the interior space, especially the rear seat and boot, was not quite big enough. The same again, but a little longer, would have seemed to be an obvious choice, as was just keeping it for another, say, 3 years. The default, based on 20,000 plus miles a year and British petrol prices ($6.50 a US gallon), was another diesel or maybe a hybrid, and the likely car would be a low mileage, used car rather a brand new one. I’d rather take advantage of depreciation than suffer it.

There was another driver in the choice – a temptation after 16 years of Fords (two Focuses and a Fiesta) to have something a “bit different”, and avoid the (implicitly assumed) default choice of buying one of the bestselling cars in the country again, even if they have all been arguably best in class at the time of purchase. Having said that, the first to be checked was the Fiesta, and there were two main issues.

One was that the UK was in the process of changing from the Mk7 to Mk8 Fiesta, so supply of low mileage, good quality (preferably CPO scheme) cars was not great, being either the old model, and therefore very similar to my outgoing car, or a very limited choice of the new car. Also, as I noted in the blog about the Fiesta ownership experience, the difference between new and old, to the owner, is not as great as Ford might have you believe. The largest difference was the interior, where the materials used are a clear step up and where the rather stuck-on-at-the-end-of-assembly touch screen dominated.

I’m not a fan of big touch screens, seeing them as a distraction from what’s going on in the windscreen. Somehow, the front seats and my back felt like they were never going to get on, either. Those points, plus the desire to change to something a bit different, effectively ruled out the Fiesta. Still, it is the country’s best seller, and deservedly so, and I’d have no hesitation in recommending it many.

The next obvious choice was the Ford Focus, and much thought was expended on this. Another very good car, and plenty to choose from. But it failed the ubiquity test, and the interior felt pretty dark, with a very prominent dash cascading rearward. In a trend that was only to grow, I felt I could not warm to it except as a purely objective choice. Reluctantly, it was not so much actively ruled out, but just faded into the background.

Something similar happened at Vauxhall. The latest Astra looks great, better to me, at least, than any of the Focus, VW Golf, Renault Megane or Peugeot 308. It has a decent interior and gets very solid if not exceptional road test reports. The interior was less special and attractive, with another big screen, and a real sense of trying to emulate the VW Golf in touch and feel without quite getting there whilst feeling a little sparse. It, too, wasn’t lighting fires.

Neither the Renault Megane or the Peugeot 308 lasted long in my assessment, despite in the Peugeot’s case a very attractive and modern feeling interior, albeit with a screen seemingly sized for a John Wayne movie.

The Renault made very little impression at all, which as the company is now focussed on crossovers and MPVs was perhaps no surprise.

As a Curbivore, the perfectly competent Toyota Auris, Nissan Pulsar, Hyundai and Kia offerings didn’t light any sparks either, although a nicely used Lexus CT200h with its Prius drivetrain could have been a solution if I lived in a pollution or congestion charge area. But I don’t.

Time to think outside the box. There were two routes to go – an older car from a semi premium brand or perhaps a different configuration vehicle, possibly a compact crossover.

The leading compact crossover in the UK, apart the polarising Nissan Juke, is the Renault Captur. Based on the super mini Renault Clio platform, and therefore a first cousin to the Juke, it offers everything the Juke does but not is such a challenging way, and the range of colour combinations produces some attractive looking cars. Equipment levels are good, if the interior is a bit sombre without the optional bright work or body colour trims, and few do the compact diesel as well as the French. A strong contender, in the right colour and specification. The Clio featured too, but had the same size issues as the Fiesta.

Matching the Captur almost feature for feature is the Peugeot 2008, now openly sold as an SUV. In the right colour and with the right options, another solid contender, with a smart interior if you select your option packs carefully. If you don’t, it’s the usual bonanza of small buttons and slightly insubstantial feeling knobs PSA have got down to an art form. In both cars, any space issues were promptly resolved, albeit at the expense of slightly top heavy on road performance.

What about VW? VW is seen in the UK as at least a semi-premium brand, charging more than Ford or Vauxhall and retaining a better value. The Golf is a first rate car, but unless you go for the GTi, it seems to place rationality and competence ahead of excitement. A Golf can be a great purchase, but will never be an emotional one, unless it’s a GTi or more. Value for money is not Golf strength, at least when comparing new car purchase prices and specifications. Retained value is good, though, which makes a used one look expensive against a Focus or Astra.

Likewise, the smaller Polo, which is no larger than the Fiesta and from experience has seats that didn’t fit me either.

A VW Scirocco was briefly considered, but the deliberately calm interior, minimal rear seat room and access, and pricing soon ruled it out. Another good car, but not my car. Likewise a Golf Convertible or an Eos – just a bit too much sensibleness for me.

The Audi A3 hatchback could make a case, but the value for money compared with the Golf or Focus is not there, especially for something that is so closely linked to the Golf. A Skoda Octavia was too big, a Fabia too small and both felt like VWs with the sense of humour taken out. The Skoda Yeti tempted, not least because of the name, for a short while, but the prices didn’t. The BMW 1 series hatch was also thought about, but the compact interior and pricing were negatives, along with some image issues

The Volvo C70 and Peugeot 308CC coupe convertibles came on the radar, but the practicality (or lack of it) ruled them out. Likewise the Vauxhall Cascada. And there’s an MX-5 in the garage already for the days when a convertible is needed.

A lot of time was spent considering a Citroen DS3. This is best described as Citroen’s Mini competitor, and rides on the history of one of the best names in motoring. Like the Mini, there are many, many variations of trims and colours, and personalisation, and some very tempting combinations and mechanical options. Ultimately though, the slightly insubstantial feel of some of the interior and basically 2+2 configuration ruled it out. If the issue is that a Fiesta is not large enough, its hard to claim that a DS3 is the answer. But a potentially very likeable car, especially if you can get to specify it yourself. It is now sold as the DS3, with DS being a marque in its own right within the PSA Group.

One left field candidate was the Volvo C30 hatch – derived from the V40 saloon, it apes the rear styling of the 1800ES that stands as perhaps the only rear drive Volvo I’d go for. The downside is that the style and glass hatch lead to a very confined luggage space and the rear seats are effectively 2+2 only. An interesting choice, with many variations potentially available, but the lack of space ruled it out. Here was a car based on the Focus platform that made the Fiesta look like an Explorer.

I looked also at the (now out going) Volvo V40 hatch. This was an appealing prospect and figured strongly, but the value was not there and neither was the space, especially in the boot. It felt a little out of its depth, and having driven a V60 fairly extensively, I was less than fully sold on some aspects of the Volvo interior style and layout, however attractive it may look.

Fiat’s range in the UK is now essentially limited to the 500, the 500L and the 500X, none of which fitted the bill or my tastes. There is the new midsize Tipo hatchback, seemingly aimed exclusively at the daily rental market. I even looked at a Peugeot RCZ – Peugeot’s Audi TT aping competitor. An appealing car, but it’s difficult to make a case for it against the use it would see, being essentially a 2+2 with shallow boot. I can see a definite attraction though, and with a very different image to that of the Audi that might also appeal.For about an hour, I was tempted by the thought of an MG6. This is a Chinese assembled mid size hatchback based around the bones of the Rover 75 saloon and with an engine derived from the Rover K series which Nanjing and then SAIC gained from MG Rover’s collapse, optimistically marketed as a competitor to Skoda, Fiat and Kia – it fitted the “something different” requirement and offered great value for money. And then I sat in one. Let’s just say that MG need to raise their interior game very substantially to win over any competitors’ drivers.

One thing that came out of all this forecourt time was that I was looking for a purchase, that if not entirely, was at least partially, emotional alongside a rational element. Rational had won out three times with the Fords, but it seemed right somehow to adjust the balance. It felt like I had an itch to scratch.

So, Curbivores, do you have suggestions on what I would do, or maybe a guess at what I’ve done? Will I be able to scratch that itch?