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Reliability vs "Fun" vs MPG

Hi, all. I’m driving a 2009 VW GTI right now that has–in its first 34k miles–spent more time in the shop than my wife’s penalty-box Corolla likely ever will. It’s had a new intake manifold, HPFP, breather valve … and one other repair that I can’t recall off the top of my head. So, as the bumper-to-bumper warranty comes up, and the car goes into limp mode yet again, it’s time to set it on fire and roll it down a hill. And replace it.

I’d really like another 4-door hatchback that doesn’t suck to drive, which I realize puts me at odds with most of the US market. I’m shopping the Mazda3 and the Focus hatchbacks, and the Focus sure looks nice. But of course it’s direct-injected and has a dual-clutch auto. And the Mazda’s got the all-new Skyactiv drivetrain (if I’m not going to have as much fun as the GTI, I’d like to at least get decent mileage, and the 2.5 doesn’t cut it). So they’re both unknowns in terms of reliability (and there’s a thread on here about some serious woes with the new Focus).

I probably can’t wait until the 2013 model years arrive–I just can’t trust the GTI not to leave me stranded (or, worse, get me rear-ended on the highway) anymore.

Am I crazy to be looking in this direction? Should I just get over myself and shop the Matrix and the xB? The Elantra Touring? Really give up and go with a midsize sedan instead? (I rode in a Fusion on vacation last week and it really wasn’t a bad car, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

Thanks!

Check out new Mazda 3 with 6 spd manual or auto with “SkyActive” drive train. Great mpg, and reviews say it is a blast to drive. And there is a hatchback version with all that good stuff.

Yeah, the Mazda is definitely intriguing. The main concern is the reliability of the new drivetrain. I trust the MZR motors to run and run–I drove a 2.3 Mazda3 that I probably shouldn’t have sold, except that it got really terrible mileage with the 4-speed auto–but the Skyactiv drivetrain is still an unknown.

All reports are that the auto trans on the Focus is terrible. Go for the manual trans if you look at a Focus.

Mazda 3 Skyactive got a great review from NY Times last week.

Honda Civic Si a possibility?

I’d have no problem buying the Mazda, the Skyactiv stuff is not all that unusual, I’d be surprised if there were problems. That Civic Si is a good idea, the Fit Sport if you really want to save gas.

Unfortunately, I drive in enough heavy traffic that I’d rather have an auto, so the Si is right out. I’ll probably try the Focus–apparently Ford flashed the transmission in December to address many of the problems–but I do worry about the cost to repair/replace the trans.

I suspect I’ll like the Mazda quite a bit (I really liked the previous generation), and you’re all probably right that I shouldn’t worry too much about the reliability. (Although it is a shame you can’t have heated seats without the pricey Grand Touring trim.)

You might try out the Fit Sport with an auto. Reviewers said it was surprisingly fun, paddle shifters and all. But slower than the rest of these.

Slow isn’t a huge problem, but it seems like the Fit might actually be slower than my wife’s Corolla … which is already a bit trying on the short merge ramps around here. I might pop into a Honda dealer anyhow, though, so maybe I’ll have a look. Thanks again.

The Scion tC isn’t 4 door, but it fills all your other needs. Another option is the 2012 Subaru Impreza. The matrix with the larger 2.4 liter 4.

If you want good performance and decent MPG, I’d look at a WRX, or Lancer Ralliart , or the upcoming turbo Veloster. The performance of the Fit, N/A Mazda 3, Xb , or Elantra will seen pretty tepid compared your GTI

Too bad cars don’t come with a 'Estimated cost-per-mile to own and operate number as part of the window price sticker…They could use their own maintenance guide and frequency of repair figures to arrive at that estimate…People get sidetracked by the MPG numbers but overlook the scheduled maintenance costs which can vary GREATLY between makes and models…In many cases, these costs can overshadow fuel expenses…

Auto trans takes the “Fun” out of any small car, in my opinion.

Look at the Mazdaspeed 3. It’s different from the regular 3. It’s fun. Lots of fun. Also look at the Veloster, which will soon be debuting a turbo model that has good promise. if you can afford it, look at the Genesis Coupe, which is hands down the best performance-for-the-price car on the market today. I’m half tempted to trade my Acura in on one.

The NY Times (and others) sure like the SkyActiv 3, even with the auto (which gets the best mpgs, too):

Have you considered a Volvo C20 T5? It should suit you well, considering your interest in the GTI. MSN Autos finds that there are minimal problems with all systems in 2008. That was the first year of production, and MSN Autos starts providing reliability ratings after 5 years. CR rates it very good in all categories. The WRX and Rallliart are not available with auto transmission. Drive it and see if you like it.

Wouldn’t you rather have a Corvette? If you can get by with 2 seats, a nicely optioned 2008 base Corvette is less than $30,000 from a dealer. Yes, it has a V8, but it gets great gas mileage: All that fun and you get 25 MPG on the highway.

I was gonna suggest the Speed 3 as well, but you said you don’t want to be constantly shifting gears in traffic

Toyota dn Subaru have come up with a joint venture sports coupe that’s been highly rated by the magazines. Toyota calls it the FRS, Subie has a different name. You might want to check that out.

If you really want a 4dr hatchback that “doesn’t suck to drive”, then go with a manual Focus or Mazdaspeed3. The SkyActiv is pretty pokey, but better than your Corolla or the Fit, and the 6-spd auto is actually responsive. The steering is sweet. Mazda 3s have a decent track record, I don’t know if I would be scared off by the newness of the SkyActiv.

If you really liked the power and refinement of your GTI, you will not be happy with a Fit.

And if you are tempted to “get over yourself”, then I would still pick the 2.5 liter Mazda3 over the Matrix or xB. Both Yotas run 2.4 liter engines that are no faster or more fuel efficient than the Mazda, and the handling isn’t nearly as good. The Elantra Touring is a nice little wagon that handles better than the Elantra sedan, but it is saddled with the old 2.0 liter engine that is weak but drinks gas like your GTI.

Thanks, emajor. You know, I’ve really been dreading this car shopping–even though I’ve seen it coming for the last 10k miles or so–because there’s really nothing else “exactly” like the GTI on the market. And a week ago I would have agreed that something like the Fit would never work for me.

But today I drove a Yaris. A rental while the GTI was in the shop. I could have waited 20 minutes for the Focus to come back from the car wash, but I was in a hurry. So I have a stripper–manual windows and locks!–2011 Yaris hatchback.

And you know what? It could be worse. Yes, the NVH are off the charts. Yes, the driving position is a little weird. Yes, there’s no armrest. And actually, I suspect that there’s something wrong with this guy, because it felt much faster than it should have (60-80 came without the expected drama of a 100hp car, aside from the wailing). Overdrive not working? 4th gear missing?

I know from econoboxes–I learned to drive on a 1988 Dodge Omni. And yet the Yaris, which by all measures is pretty terrible … I wouldn’t say that it was “good” or “satisfying” (or even, really, “adequate”), but it exceeded (very low) expectations.

The long and the short is that I’m going to drive the Mazda3 and the Fit and maybe have a go with a couple of bigger cars too and see if they put me to sleep. The Fit is priced so high ($18k, really?) that it’s a damn-near competitor for the 3 on price… a bit surprising. If I skip the moonroof on the 3 (which I won’t), I’m willing to bet I could get within a grand or so of the Fit Sport.

That new Yaris rated surprisingly well in a recent Car and Driver comparison test. If you’re really interested, I think Toyota makes a set of TRD shocks/struts/springs that’ll improve the handling.