Today while I was in a neighboring city, I had a couple hours to kill, so my wife and I went looking for an RV dealership, as we're in the market for a new travel trailer. We couldn't find one. As we were driving towards Staples (the only place to drop off a UPS package), we passed a Mazda dealership, and I mentioned to my wife that I was really curious what the CX-5 was like. I'd read online about their fuel mileage with a manual tranny, and have been mildly curious about them for a while. I wasn't extremely interested, because I'm a serious Ford guy (all 3 of my cars are Fords), and figured my next would probably be a Focus or Fiesta ST, based on everything I've read about them.
My wife said "Why don't we go check them out?" I gave her in incredulous look, disbelieving that she wanted me to look at cars — that would be like me telling her that we should go hang out at Hobby Lobby — but she insisted that it would be fun, so we did.
We pulled up to the dealership, and looked at what they had; no wagons or even any 5-doors, so the only car I'd really be interested in is the CX-5. I'm a diehard wagon guy; a CUV is sort of a 'they didn't have what I wanted so I got this instead.' I was actually really surprised at how long the noses were on all of their models; they're not short, invisible-to-the-driver things like most cars being sold today.
We went in and asked the salesman if they had any with a manual tranny, and he said they didn't. They did have a Mazda6 with a 6-speed, but that was it. I asked if we could try out a CX-5 anyway, just to see if it was worth considering, and he happily complied. The one he chose was fully loaded with the backup camera and navigation, but I think those are the only optional creature comforts; he said that the rest of the things (adaptive cruise, lane assist, collision avoidance, push button start, etc) were standard on all trim levels, which I found surprising for a $20k car.
The car was actually a lot of fun to drive. It was basically just like my wife's first-gen Escape (not really a surprise, since the CX-5 replaced the Tribute, which was just the Escape with a different logo), but it felt more sporty. It definitely had a little more power and cornered better. It didn't have a lot of headroom; I wear a fedora, and it was hitting the ceiling when I got into the car. I lowered the seat until it was comfortable, but was still surprised to hit my head; I'm only 5'7". Overall, it was a pleasant experience, but not overly so. After all, it was still an automatic. He showed me the manual gear selector, but it was unimpressive and sluggish. I was, however, really curious what the manual would drive like, so he let me test the Mazda6.
I was really surprised. The car was a lot of fun to drive. It was a base model, but it was still equipped with all sorts of fancy features. He told me it was about $22k, which seems pretty reasonable for a full sized sedan. The clutch felt a little like a spring, but I liked it. The big thing, to me, was the fact that it felt like a sporty car, while being a full-sized sedan. If only they sold a Mazda6 wagon here in the states. He did say that the drivetrain was identical to that in a CX-5, so the sport edition with a 6-speed should drive about the same.
I was impressed enough with the CX-5 that I asked for the salesman's card, and may call him in a month or so to see if he has gotten in any with a 6-speed. I'm still very much in love with my Escort, but having a bit more cargo space and better fuel mileage at the same time would be pretty awesome. It would also be nice if I could have an excuse for avoiding replacing my clutch in a month or two lol. I wasn't looking for a car before today, but now I might be.
After leaving there, we headed to the Ford dealer. I was intent on trying out the Focus or Fiesta ST. What I found was rather surprising.
While the Mazda salesman was friendly and happy to let me try the cars, the Ford guy almost immediately wanted my contact information and gave me a card. I asked if they had any Fiestas or Focuses with a manual, and he said that it was only available on the ST trim level. While walking to the only Fiesta ST they had, I talked with him about how I wanted a fuel efficient fun car, so he brought up the 1.0L ecoboost. He told me about how the Fiestas are so much better than other cars, and how he tests all of his cars on a 1/4 mile-ish road behind the dealership. He said that the used "really fast looking" Hyundai Veloster he had only got up to 83 on the stretch, but that the Fiesta he had with a 1.0l made it up to 117mph in the same space. Okay, maybe it's faster than a Veloster, but I find it hard to believe the 1Litre hits 117 in a quarter mile. Or even a half mile. I just smiled and nodded. He showed me the only Fiesta ST they had, and informed me that Ford doesn't make the Focus or Fiesta with a manual, unless you buy the ST. He didn't have any Focus STs in stock, and he had just received his Fiesta ST, so he wasn't willing to let me try it — or even open the door — but he allowed me to look in the window. Undeterred, I asked to look at a Transit Connect, as I've always been somewhat fascinated by them. He let me test it, but first told me about how they were great people-haulers, and how they'd recently special ordered one with 3 rear bench seats, so that it could fit 15 passengers. I didn't really respond to that, because I have no idea how that could possibly be done. Maybe double-decker?
It was pleasant to drive, but felt much more like a minivan than I realized it would be. I had always seen them as mini work trucks — but they're seriously minivans. Not terrible, but not really my style. They were decent to drive, and EXTREMELY spacious (at least, I think so; the salesman refused to let me fold any of the rear seats down, although he insisted they fold down to only 1" above the floor level, which I find doubtful).
I then asked if I could "just sit in" a fiesta to see what they felt like, and he begrudgingly got me the key. I was expecting them to be a little small, but it's always hard to tell when you're just looking at them through a window. After a while, he came back with a key, and I hopped in and looked at it. It had a weird, 'too high up' feel; the car was small, but it felt like it would be topheavy. As soon as I got in, I noticed it was a 5-speed, so I asked him if I could try it out. He was speechless, and insisted that he didn't know they had a manual in stock other than the ST, but that I could try it out, so we took it for a spin around the block. I'm not sure what engine it had in it; it felt peppy, but sounded tinny. The transmission was terrible. When I was parking it, it ground going into reverse. The car actually felt more top heavy to drive than it felt just sitting in it. I seriously felt like my 17-year-old Escort was significantly nicer, an infinitely sportier. The Fiesta just felt cheap; like a modern remake of the Geo Metro. I was extremely disappointed. The salesguy said that the Focus was identical, just slightly larger. I noticed that the Fiesta 5-door had less room in the back than my '93 Civic hatch had, even though the Fiesta had more doors. The Civic was barely large enough for all my tools (I have a lot of tools I carry with me, for my work), so I'm not sure if the Fiesta would be. The Focus would probably by enough larger, but I'm not sure. The salesguy had had enough of me by that time, so he told me to call him if I wanted to look at the ST when it was ready, then walked away.
I'm okay with my wife driving an Escape, but I feel like a CUV is kind of a betrayal to my gearhead-hood, so I would tend to lean more towards a wagon. That having been said, there don't appear to be any wagons that would suit my needs. In the absence of any real wagons (specifically a Mazda6 wagon), I'm thinking my next car might just be a CX-5. Or a used Protege5 or pre-2009 Mazda6 wagon. We'll see.