Curbside Replacement: Decisions, Decisions… Decided!

When we last left our story, I had pretty much decided that I was willing to swallow the depreciation on my 18-month-old Beetle and look for a replacement that A) didn’t have winter weather issues, B) had a higher level of utility, C) was more engaging to drive and D) wasn’t a Volkswagen product (Does that make the Beetle a Deadly Sin? You decide!).

My initial list ran a fairly wide gamut of vehicles, and included a year-old FJ Cruiser, Ford Flex and the funky Nissan Cube. I went and test drove a number of these vehicles, or at least sat in one in a showroom. Some, like the Ford Focus, I ruled out almost immediately (couldn’t get past the console on that one, not to mention the very pushy salesperson). The Mazda 5 has always had some interest for me, but I lost that as soon as I tried to sit in one – my legs literally would not fit under the dash! The FJ was pretty cool, but was also about double my budget and didn’t even break 20 MPG.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I used a 6 Sigma tool (Pugh Matrix) to evaluate and weight various criteria for each vehicle. That helped me narrow my list down to five, then two vehicles. Before you jump out of your chair challenging me on how I scored my criteria, please keep in mind they are *my* criteria – YMMV as the saying goes, and it’s perfectly fine for what you look for in a car to be different from what I look for! The bottom section of my matrix is where I weighted each criteria to come up with a final score.

I test drove the Mazda 3 several times and kept trying to like it (40 MPG!), but Oh! That face! Not to mention that the price quickly jumped when I optioned it out the way I wanted. Two coworkers own M3s and like them, but both also said the dealer was horrible to work with and routine service was often done incorrectly. I finally had to cut it from the list.

The Mini Cooper was appealing from the driving experience standpoint, but as we have no local Mini dealer, I was unable to actually experience that for myself. It’s also getting to be fairly common on the roads and while I like the styling, it’s probably due for a refresh. Optioned out the way I would have liked it drove the price up where it ended up killing that as an option, anyway.

The xB was also intriguing to me, partially influenced by the CC love it gets around here – it was actually one of the first cars I looked at seriously. I think I like the first-gen styling better, but this version isn’t horrible, and it has excellent cargo space and visibility. As you see above, I scored it high enough to make the top three cut-off, but, while utility would have been superb, the fuel economy was nothing to write home about, the test drive was kind of “meh,” and it simply felt like an entry-level car, right down to the steel wheels with cheap-looking hubcaps.

But! On the same lot was this handsome tC that kept singing a siren song my way. I fell into deep “car heat” on the first test drive. With a deliciously raspy exhaust note and tight handling, this would be a fun car to drive and I kept reweighting my criteria to keep it near the top of the list. Unfortunately, the fuel economy was only so-so, cabin noise was unacceptably loud with the sunroof open and the orange instrumentation lighting was nearly invisible when I had sunglasses on – I literally had to take my shades off to see how fast I was going. While some aspects of the car were nicely detailed, others were obviously the result of building to a price point – the “rollup vinyl” sunroof shade looked like it came out of the window of my grandmothers home, for example. The price was a bit higher than the xB, but manageable. In the end, it was the low-ball trade-in offer they gave me for the Beetle that eliminated this car.

So after evaluating everything, the third-gen Honda Fit ended up being the car that best fit my weighted criteria. The local dealer gave me a very reasonable offer for the Beetle, which ended up sealing the deal – in fact, the whole Honda purchase experience was easily the most pleasant I’ve ever had. I had planned on getting a manual transmission (every DD I’ve had since my Vega was a manual), but when I found out that the final drive ratio is a frantic ~3,400 RPM at 70 MPH, I ended up switching at the last moment to the CVT transmission, which turns ~2,300 at 70 for a much less hectic feel on a long road trip. I didn’t waste any time doing a bit of customizing, and so far have found the car to “fit” me much better than the Beetle ever did – it’s more engaging and fun to drive, has excellent utility, and has been returning around 40 MPG on my daily commute. Visibility is surprisingly excellent, and the level of tech is very high for the price – it was easily the best value for the dollar out of everything I considered.

Here’s a shot comparing a first-gen Fit with my third-gen. Personally, I like the cleaner lines of the first-gen, but also think the overall proportions of the third-gen are better refined. I specifically chose the Modern Steel Metallic (grey) in an attempt to visually tone down the busy character lines. Unfortunately, the only “real colors” available for the Fit were either scarce as hens teeth (Mystic Yellow Pearl, I’m looking at you), or a color I didn’t care for. The interior is available in any color you like, so long as it’s black. I purchased the EX trim level, which has durable-feeling cloth seating surfaces, choosing to save my pennies for aftermarket wheels instead of the optional EX-L leather option.

The third-gen Fit is powered by a DOHC 1.5l direct-injection gasoline engine that makes 130HP and will make runs to 60 MPH in 8-9 seconds depending on who’s testing. The CVT has a “Sport Mode” that simulates seven “gears” using steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. I played with it a time or two (mainly to aid in seating the rings), but it’s not the same as shifting a real manual. I mostly leave it in the normal “Drive” mode. The hardest thing to get used to is that you cannot drive based on engine sound like you can with a manual – you watch the speedometer and basically feed it throttle to control how fast you get to your desired speed. Given the disparity between gasoline and diesel prices in our area, I calculated that as long as I get over 35 MPG with the Fit, I’m actually saving money as compared to the 42 MPG I was getting with the Beetle. Insurance is less expensive, too. Really, all I gave up was the convertible top (which *was* quite nice in good weather) and the deep-deep-deep reserves of torque the excellent TDi engine has.

So now we’re at the end (or beginning?) of my story. Someone recently commented here at CC saying, “What most people want in a new car is the car they have, only new.” That was definitely me, but the Beetle turned out to have all of the “bad” of my New Beetle and little of the “good.” Volkswagen lost a loyal customer simply because my experience was filled with the same types of dumb quality issues I repeatedly had with my 2000 New Beetle – when it started looking like the ’13 Beetle was going to follow right in its footsteps, I simply lost patience (and what remained of my loyalty).

We owned a pair of Honda Civics back when we first married (’89 DX three-door and a ’90 base three-door) – they were both excellent cars, and when I slipped behind the wheel of the Fit for the first time, it felt like “coming home.”

Oh, and the answer to my Driveway Outtake from a couple days ago? The F-250 Powerstroke was the “last man standing.”

Related Reading:

Curbside Divorce: 2013 Beetle Convertible – Irreconcilable Differences