As some of you may know, my Wife’s ‘00 Camry is in hospice. So Saturday afternoon we headed down to a local Carmax type place to do some test drives to establish a good baseline of what she’s looking for in a car. The place we went is perfect for what we had in mind, as you basically tell your salesman what you want to drive, they pull it around front, and you get up to 30 minutes alone in the car to feel it out. On to the cars and my impressions. I’m 6' and 225 lbs. for reference. (all pictures shamelessly stolen from the dealers website)

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Premier Hatchback

17,594 Miles / $15,800

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Very well equipped. Tons of tech for the mileage and price. It even had remote start. Comfortable front passenger seat with manual adjustment (drivers seat was power), but the rear seats were small and hard. Hatch space was decent but felt the smallest of the four we tested. The 1.4 was gutless and laggy, and combined with a very confused 6 speed automatic made for a very frustrating driving experience for my wife. She also commented that there wasa lot of glare on the “glass” in front of the gauges. This car was ruled out after the next test drive.

2017 Kia Forte5 EX Hatchback

2,901 Miles / $17,730

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Okay, this car seriously impressed me. The interior was very well thought out with obvious attention to detail. My wife loved the way it looked inside. Similar features to the Cruze minus the remote start. The seats were comfortable front (most comfortable of the 4 we drove) and back and felt roomier than the Cruze. Hatch space was good. The NA 2.0l 4cyl generates 164hp peak and felt very lively and smooth. Shifts were quick and unnoticeable. The car had 3 driving modes. Normal, Eco, and Sport which all felt like they made a real difference in performance. The ride was communicative but tuned for comfort so it was a little soft. My wife had an instant emotional connection to this car and didn’t want to get out. She loved its looks as well.

2017 HONDA CIVIC EX-L HATCHBACK

10,791 Miles / $24,080

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So, this particular Civic was out of our price range, so we’d be looking at getting one in the EX trim which would not have leather and navigation but would be pretty similar otherwise. We drove it to get a feel for the car...and what a feel it gave. If it was my choice this would be the one. This little car pulled. I was honestly surprised as I was not expecting the surge of power this car had. The CVT was smooth and responsive and Honda nailed the driving dynamics of this car. It felt very planted, responsive, and communicative with barely any body roll in turns. My wife said she felt “badass” driving it as she grinned like an unhinged lunatic while nailing the throttle on a freeway on-ramp. It was like someone handed adolescent Rambo his first machine gun.

The gauge clusters looked very slick as well; Large and clear and lots of display options. The interior had a cool spaceship vibe going on. Also the Civic had a camera on the right side mirror that activated on the infotainment screen. when you hit the right turn signal. Very very cool.The interior was very roomy. One could easily fit 3 adults in the back seat, and the hatch space was cavernous, easily best in class.

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However, for all the positives, there are some negatives. I felt the passenger seat was too low and that my feet ended up supporting the weight of my legs instead of the seat. I hate the wheels on the EX trim. Surprisingly my wife actually doesn’t mind the plastic fake vents. The leather on the steering wheel seemed a little worn for the mileage. The infotainment system was laggy and unattractive. We mainly used carplay on the test drive, but it was definitely slower than in the Kia. The menus were also more confusing and not as well laid out whereas navigating the menus in the Kia was fast and intuitive. Also to access the climate controls you have to press a button underneath the touchscreen to bring up a climate control menu on the screen. These are all things I could see potentially annoying my wife as she cares more about features and ease of use than a fun drive. But she did have quite a lot of fun driving it, and it definitely is in our top contenders if we can find a good deal on an EX.

2015 MAZDA MAZDA3 I TOURING HATCHBACK

23,659 Miles / $15,330

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I thought this car (at least the Mazda3 in general) was a top contender, but after the test drive we both came away unimpressed. Its not that its a bad car by any means, don’t get me wrong, but it was not very well equipped for the money and the mileage, even compared to the Cruze. It was comfortable but felt plain and cheap. The engine was peppy and the transmission was smooth. My wife complained that the silver around the gauges reflected a lot of light and she found it very distracting and made the gauges (which she felt were already hard to read) even harder to read. Rear seatroom and hatch space was decent.

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Conclusion

The front-runners are the Forte5 and the Civic. We’re going to test a used 2017 Civic EX on Wednesday and a new 2017 Forte5 EX at another dealer on Friday. My wife is very torn between the two cars as there are a good set of pros and cons to either option. The civic has a slick set of features, performance, and practicality, and really offers a lot for the money. The Civic also is rated for better gas mileage than the Forte5. However, the Forte5 may get better gas mileage in the real world as it is naturally aspirated, is priced better, and doesn’t give up much in terms of features, performance, or practicality, not to mention the very long warranty it comes with. We may try to test a 2018 Elantra GT at some point as well(the GT sport is out of budget).

P.S.

I’m gonna sneak a quick update to the resolution of my bike rack situation I posted about a while ago. Swagman responded to my emailto get the batch number of the rack and then sent me a brand new one free of charge! The new one leans a little weird but is solid otherwise. I’m very pleased with how they handled the situation and am happy they stand behind their product. I still plan on getting a different rack in the future as I don’t think this rack is the best option for my particular use-case.

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Thanks for reading! I’m not much of a writer so please excuse my grammar in places.