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Foxcar's Cars, Page Two

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8th - 2005 or 6 Scion tC (I forget which year and I'm too lazy to look it up)

Not mine, but identical.


The basics:  Ok, I took a test drive, probably not as long of one as I should, and really liked this car.  It was loaded to the gills, I mean incredibly well equipped, let alone for the price.  It looks good, too.  I read several British car magazines, and the looks of the first tC reminded me of the (gorgeous!) current-at-the-time Alpha Romeo GT but with BMW 5-Series headlights.  The boring grill was a small debit, but otherwise a great looking car.  The double sunroof was excellent and I was sucked in by the wide tires on very very tasty alloys.  I chose the light blue metallic because I wanted something different without going off the deep end with something like Nuclear Waste Orange.

The drive:  Here's where it all went to hell.  I kept this car for just under one year.  As mentioned above, the test drive went fine.  But after so many years of Hondas and an Acura, a 6,200rpm redline just wasn't doing it for me.  Yes it was an effective engine (0-60 in about 7.4 seconds), but it had all the passion of a dozing tree sloth.  Months later I still kept bouncing off the rev limiter.  I'm not unable to adapt.  It was just so linear, so utterly utilitarian, so completely devoid of interest, that you didn't even know you were about to hit the redline until it happened.  Hondas have the decency to sound like they're having fun.

Oh, and the handling I didn't get to try out much on my test drive - this car was the snap-oversteer poster child.  One time, going hard on a steady corner with no bumps, I had to lift slightly because of another car.  The back end came out like a whip and I was completely sideways for what seemed like forever.  Counter steering, feathering the throttle, nothing worked.  I was along for the ride until it scrubbed off enough speed to finally straighten back out, giving a middle finger of a small fishtail on top of it.  Lower the pace a little and the handling was competent but inert.  It rode a little better than my RSX, which was nice because I had a 50 minute commute, but I wanted it to handle too.  It didn't.  Plus, I found from this car and other Toyota products I've driven since that they simply don't fit me right, and there was always that small layer of cotton in the steering, pedals, and shifter you get in every Toyota - Scion or not.  I got the subwoofer, and hated it.  Being non-adjustable, it overwhelmed everything else no matter what you tried.  On top of all that, it guzzled gas like nothing else.  I didn't hammer the thing like crazy, but it never came even remotely close to it's claimed miles per gallon figures.  My Hondas and RSX always did better.  So, what seemed a promising, handsome, sporty coupe from the test drive turned into a total fail.

Ownership:  To it's credit, nothing serious went wrong and resale value, even taking a one-year sledgehammer in depreciation, was pretty good.  The only defect was an excruciating, screeching wail coming from the top of the windshield that started like clockwork at exactly 70mph.  It took two trips and a total of five days for the dealer to figure out they needed to glue down the top edge of the rubber windshield trim.

9th - 2007 Honda Fit Sport

There's that license plate again.


The basics:  The Fit had just come out, and magazine reviews were universally positive, to say the least.  I drove one and was impressed.  It had that finely-honed Honda feel, yet offered so much more.  There is, of course, those back seats.  The bottoms flip up and lock, giving you access to a flat floor the whole width of the car.  The interior had that Honda way of using unremarkable plastics to remarkable effect.  Every fit was tight as a drum, it looked nice, and the backlit gauges and other dash lighting were a nice touch.  The fabric was nice and the seats comfortable and supportive.  Except for maybe a little too much tire noise on the highway, it didn't make you feel like you had to suffer to be frugal.

The drive:  What a surprise after the worthy but dull behavior of my Scion.  The Fit was 10 times the fun to drive.  It was everything you'd hope a small, versatile car should be, then threw in genuinely good handling, nice steering feel, and an impossibly sweet and positive shifter (if you bought an automatic, I hereby decree that you are a slack-ankled, lazy bum unless you have a physical requirement for one).  The Fit is quick enough, with 0-60 coming in under nine seconds, which is pretty good for an economy car.  Better yet, it feels a little quicker than the numbers suggest thanks to a willing, revvy little VTEC engine and that sweet shifter.  I'm not a numbers person, to me it's the feel that matters, and the Fit felt frisky.  Grip was good but not outstanding, but boy, could it handle.  It changed direction like a chased rabbit and never bit you.  In a classic case of handling over grip, the Fit may have been beaten by some in the endless numbers game you find in magazines (I don't remember exactly what it's skidpad G measurement was), but nothing in it's class, or the one above, handled so well.

The Fit is the complete package.  Fun, impeccably built, versatile and roomy, nicely finished, and oh, did I mention fun?

Ownership:  Absolutely nothing went wrong or started rattling and/or creaking.  Fuel economy was good, if not stellar.  The Fit is more a cheaper alternative to a Civic than a mileage champ - the Civic actually got better mpg.  I cross-shopped them, because money wasn't an issue (within limits).  I ended up getting the Fit instead of a Civic EX Coupe because of the practicality and fun nature.  I used it to move and you can probably imagine the unbelievable amount of stuff you could pack in with the rear seats folded.  The thing is like a semi trailer inside, if a nicely finished one.  I had no logical reason to get rid of the Fit after less than two years.  I'm just fickle.  Plus, with a long work commute seeming to be my destiny until the day I die, I went shopping for something that was still fun but more comfortable, more, ahem, mature.

10th - 2008 Honda Accord EX Coupe (4-cyl, 5-speed)

I'll probably have this license plate forever.

Accord Coupe

The basics:  Again, I fell victim to the shiny new model.  The 2008 Accord was immediately earning accolades in the automotive press.  The only criticisms of note were the weird styling of the sedan (very cured on the coupe), and a busy dash, an opinion I disagreed with.  You could get a V6, of course, but a 190hp, 2.4L I-VTEC four suited me just fine, and met my self-imposed requirement that my next car meet or exceed 30mpg highway.  The Accord got 31 - that's a 3,300lb car with 190hp.  Take that, Mazda 3 S (another car I've considered off and on since it first appeared).

You may note in the picture that my car has a chrome aftermarket grill lurking beneath a nose mask.  I got the nose mask because I'd be doing a lot of highway driving for my commute and didn't want to constantly touch up a billion stone chips, and the grill...well, that's part of a long story about me buying this car.  Write me if you'd like to know the tale.  On the other hand, please don't, I'm tired of telling it.  Here's the short version - this was the only 5-speed Accord Coupe in California, with none due for months.  Redwood City Honda had added $7K of garbage - godawful looking black 20-inch wheels, that sucking-in-it's-teeth gaudy chrome grill, and black tinted windows.  Then they had the nerve to ignore my two requests for quotes from the Honda web site.  When I found out from another dealer that they had this car, then found out what they had done to it, I was fuming.  I wrote a furious email to the Redwood City sales manager.  He apologized and offered to remove all the bling and sell it at sticker.  They returned the original wheels/tires, but couldn't remove the window tint (which I liked anyway), or the grill because it had required some cutting.  That worked for me - free window tint.  Suffice it to say that I hated hated hated that grill, and eventually paid out-of-pocket, about $280, to have a proper stock one put back.

The drive:  So, I went looking for something more comfortable, quiet, and, *cough*cough* mature, that was still a bit fun.  The Accord basically delivered.  It wasn't perfect, but it was definitely very, very good.  I would argue against the automotive press that the interior plastics could be better, but in their defense I was coming up from a couple of classes below the giant Accord.  Having said that, the interior was what you would expect of a Honda.  I apologize if I keep phrasing things like this, but to own a Honda is to find a unique balance between refinement and mechanical awareness.  Unlike, say, a comparable Toyota, in a Honda you're always aware there are mechanical things going on - they are just so finely honed that you appreciate their presence.  Anyway, on the driving front it handled pretty well for something so big (190 inches long!), but could have been sharper.  My only complaint is Honda's apparent obsession with Michelin Pilot MXM4 tires, which my Civic SI, RSX, and Fit all had.  This tire lacks grip, squeals, and doesn't offer sharp responses to quick steering inputs.  They never wore enough to be replaced, so I lived with it.

Ownership:  Absolutely nothing went wrong or started rattling and/or creaking.  Yes, that's a direct quote from above.  Aside from that first hatchback, all my Honda products were of excellent quality.  The Accord has a great, 270 watt stereo with excellent sound quality that you can really crank.  And thank God, unlike in the Scion, the subwoofer was adjustable just like bass and treble.  The ride was good, but with that nibbly feel over broken pavement that most Hondas have.  The interior was an excellent place to be, with comfortable seats that probably would have been a little more supportive if they weren't so BIG.  But I'm a small guy.  For everyone else, they're probably perfect.  Resale value was high, even with a 5-speed.  In the end, although I loved the Accord and couldn't really fault it, the big coupe taught me one thing; I just don't like big cars.  Then along came a new player that caught my eye...

11th - 2011 Ford Fiesta SES Hatchback

Stock photo, in my color (Ingot Silver Metallic), minus my mud flaps.


The basics:  Holy smokes!  A Ford!  After an almost unbroken 20-year string of Honda products, here comes a...Ford?.

Well, I've been reading British car magazines for about 20 years, and I've always been insanely jealous of the great small cars Europe has.  Brands most people in the U.S. wouldn't even recognize, models by familiar brands that have never been sold here, and a lot of them very tempting.  The problem is, Americans never liked small cars, while Europeans prefer basically the smallest thing that fits their needs.  Hence, Euro models tend to be nicer inside and drive much better than what we have typically gotten in the U.S.  When Ford announced that it was bringing it's European Fiesta to the U.S., my ears perked immediately.  It's considered the best car in it's class in Europe, the most demanding market for small cars.  Fun to drive, quick enough to not make you suffer, well finished and well made.

Early magazine scoops promised how Ford was going to great lengths to not ruin a good thing in Americanizing the Fiesta.  Yes, ours is heavier thanks to more airbags, stronger bumpers and thicker U.S.-market glass.  Ford retuned the suspension to retain the great ride and handling of the European spec, they all said, so I signed up for Ford's pre-release factory order.  I got the top-trim SES with the interior lighting and exterior protection packages.  Otherwise it was loaded, with some niceties you wouldn't expect in a subcompact - variable ratio intermittent wipers, side mirror-mounted turn signals, Ford's voice-activated Sync infotainment system, very nice interior plastics and fabric, cruise, Bluetooth, A/C, 16-inch alloys with 195/50 tires, and steering wheel mounted audio, phone, and cruise controls.

So how did it turn out?  I've had it for a week shy of one year now and...

The drive:  Sweet steering!  Sweet handling!  Those are the two first things you notice once you've finished poking around the well-trimmed interior.  The helm is accurate and actually offers some feedback, still a rare thing with electric power steering, so you can trust in knowing what's going on with the front tires through corners.  Body roll is there, but pared back just enough to let you know how much you're loading the chassis rather than making the car feel roly-poly.  It changes direction eagerly and I was shocked that the Hankook Optimo tires hung on so well and didn't squeal except when cold.  I thought they'd be a cheap letdown.  It rides as well as my Accord on the highway (not exaggerating!) and is just as quite at a cruise as well (not exaggerating again!).  It feels stiff and substantial, never flimsy, yet has that eager feel you expect in a good small car.  It's a fantastic all-rounder, this car, and I'm greatly impressed.  I don't feel like I've given anything up in going down two sizes to a subcompact, yet I'm getting unreal gas mileage but can still rev some fun out of it.  Just don't expect 120hp to blow you away.  And if you get an automatic, well, that's your fault.

Ownership:  Nothing has gone wrong yet, just shy of a year.  There are some intermittent, quiet creaks over broken pavement when the interior is cold, but quiets down once tolerances have warmed themselves together.  Not as tight as a drum, but not really noticeable.  There are two things that I've found genuinely annoying, though.  First and foremost is the shifter.  After almost 20 years of Honda/Acura gearboxes, this one feels long and a bit sloppy.  And to this day I still miss gates occasionally and have to give 3rd a second try.  To it's credit, it seems to become more accurate the harder you drive!  The second shortcoming is interior storage.  There's a good glove box and decent door bins, but all else you get is a small, shallow, mostly useless bin in front of the shifter.  I use the 3rd cupholder for change.  And it would be nice if there was a place to keep your MP3 player out of sight while it's plugged in, but the USB and AUX ports are right out in the open between the seats.  To sum up, it's so good so far for the Ford.  We'll see where my fickle taste in cars takes me next...

12th - 2012 Ford Focus SE Hatchback

Mine, with the old faithful license plate and the 2012-only Red Candy paint  * jump to bottom for a geeky factoid about the color


The basics:  Another Ford!

And to keep it simple, for the same reasons as the Fiesta - a European car brought here intact.

To avoid the ghastly automatic in the Titanium, I factory ordered an SE and loaded it up.  Although the trims and equipment have been shuffled over the years since, I agree with Car and Driver in that what I coincidentally ordered was the perfect Focus:

Color color color.  I don't normally go for red.  I've been there, done that, in two different shades already.  It doesn't help or harm a car, it's just there.  But when I laid eyes on Red Candy, oh...my...God.  This looks like it belongs on a $200,000 Aston Martin or something.  I also don't like black wheels.  They make a car look like it's hubcaps have fallen off.  But these have enough polished aluminum, and a gloss finish, so they actually came out OK.  And they contrast nicely with the paint, so a successful combination, methinks.

I had this for 21 months of a 24-month lease.

The drive:  In a lot of ways, a larger Fiesta.  Although the steering lacked a little outright feel, it was very accurate.  And unlike the Fiesta, the Focus' 5-speed shifter is outstanding (it's made in Germany) with a short, precise throw and nice weight.  I never missed a gear and always enjoyed using it.  The 160hp 2.0L four is smooth and sounds good (not Honda good, but good), and with the 5-speed makes this outright quick for a car that gets 36mpg on the highway.  The only review of a 5-speed I could find last time I looked was from Car and Driver, and they clocked it at about 7.4 seconds to 60.  That's moving for 36mpg.  Handling was seriously sweet, with a nicely balanced chassis that could definitely have benefited from better tires.  The Continental ContiProContact all-season tires basically sucked.  They squealed easily, offered little grip, and were frighteningly dismal on wet pavement.  Ride quality in the Focus is of the genuine European "comfortable but nuggety" kind, and the upsized 17-inch tires didn't make it any worse that I could tell.  And again, the handling was outstanding with an eager but stable feel that used all those lackluster tires could give without trying.

Ownership:  Guess what?  Nothing broke or started squeaking.  The Focus gave me a spotless performance on the reliability and build quality fronts.  It's quiet and refined and feels incredibly rock solid.  It's the most solid feeling car I've ever had.  It really feels like a quality piece of work, and that goes for the interior plastics too.  Magazines complain that the dash has confusing buttons and don't like the way they're arranged, but I disagree on both points.  The seats are nice and comfortable, hold you well when you're having fun, and no one complained of a lack of space in the back.  There is one major ding inside, though, and it's that same shifter I like to use so much.  The problem is that it's mounted about 2 inches too far back.  No matter how you arrange the seat and steering wheel, you never get a perfect driving position because your right elbow is always bumping the center console or seat bolster when you shift.  Resale value, sadly, stinks.

The Focus can be expensive, but the low resale value makes it a stupendously good buy as a nearly-new used car.  I'm jealous of whoever gets mine.  So, the lease is up soon, the Focus acquitted itself extremely well as long as the road was dry, and there's a hot new contender getting a lot of really, really good press...

*  Red Candy is a gorgeous shade of red that looks absolutely stunning in sunlight.  It uses an extra layer of tint over regular metallic paints, making it especially pearlescent.  For 2013 the color changed to Ruby Red and is slightly darker.  This change was forced upon Ford by the tsunami that wiped out half of Japan, causing that nasty nuclear power plant problem among other widespread destruction.  Part of that destruction was the loss of a paint factory that, you guessed it, made one of the tints used to create Red Candy.  No tint, no more Red Candy.  The new color isn't quite as lovely, I think, but still better than regular metallic red.

13th - 2014 Mazda 3 S Touring

Lucky 13...
Click the image for a bigger version in a new tab, if you want

2014 Mazda 3

The basics:  Hey, didn't I take a cheap shot at the Mazda 3 in the Accord section above?  Well, that was about MPG, and everything else about the 3 made it a contender.  They solved that problem in a big way and pretty much blew everyone's mind with the 2014 model, a completely new Mazda-engineered replacement for the Focus-based predecessor.

Damn, I am loving this car, having had it for 15 months now.  I got one right when they came out, and, if you read page one, you might notice brings me back around full-circle to what I consider my first car.  Also, this is the first automatic I've had since 1986.  I have ranted, and in some cases continue to, about slack-ankled lazy bums buying up automatics, forcing automakers to strangle the availability of a good manual on the grounds of cost.  This remains true of small cars and sports/sporty cars, but after reading about how good Mazda's automatic is, I decided to give in and opt for the 6-speed auto.  Another major factor was me getting sick and tired of seeing that "you just lost $1,000 for having a manual" look in the eyes of salesmen at trade-in time.  Finally, I went looking for something good enough to keep a long time instead of trading my car in every two to three years.

Everything about this car is basically perfect, except there's too much road noise and it took them almost a year of Mazda Connect updates to get the infotainment system working right.  I still almost never use voice.  I told it to play a particular album once and it started on track three, and it doesn't recognize your favorites as navigation destinations.  But I digress...

They shuffled the equipment around a bit when the manual was made available for the big engined S models, so if you're shopping now I should point out a few differences for my 2014.  The Touring, in 2014, had everything the Grand Touring does except real leather (mine's leatherette), sunroof, automatic on/off headlights, and self-leveling headlights (who cares).  Starting in mid 2015 the Touring lost the bi-xenon headlights, LED running and tail lights, and a few other things in the shuffle of equipment and pricing needed to fit the 6-speed manual into the lineup.

Is it worth keeping a long time, as I hoped?  You'll have to pry this car from my cold, dead fingers.

The drive:  Sweet steering!  Sweet handling!  I stole that line from my Fiesta, yes.  But again, these are two things the car is known for.  The 3 has the best steering feel of any front-wheel drive car, period.  It handles like a sports coupe.  It rides like a family car.  It's comfortable, although the seat bottoms could be a bit thicker/softer, loaded like you wouldn't believe, and the interior feels like an Audi.

As I said above, I'm loving it.  It really does steer and handle like a dream, without beating you up when you just want to get somewhere.  It's pretty powerful, too, with 184hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, so it goes like stink but still gives you 27/37mpg city/highway. Doing not much more than my commute, which involves some stop and go on the effing pain in the ass US 101 in silicon valley, I get about an average of 35mpg per tank when I really try, 32mpg if I misbehave.  Put it in sport mode and the transmission reads your mind, always finds the right gear, and shifts fast and smooth.  Good automatics really have come a long way, and Mazda put a lot of effort into how the torque converter behaves, so this auto feels really connected and quick.  Color me sold.

The interior, again, is top notch.  The materials look and feel really nice, modern fake leather is actually pretty good, and my 5' - 11" roommate says the back seat is awesome.  The 7-speaker Bose sound system is killer.  I'm really stretching to find anything I don't like.  It's so loaded you wouldn't believe that modern compact cars are really this nice, and Mazda gave the whole car the hewn-from-solid feel of the VW Golf with the mechanical ingenuity of an old-school Honda.

It even looks pretty cool, with evil eye headlights and overall proportions that make it look like something the Musters would drive if they cared about cars.  In other words, it has that cab-back, chopped-down roof look of a sporting rear-drive car.  The long hood is there mainly so they can fit a genuine four-into-two-into-one tubular exhaust header (is that not just freakin awesome?!), which takes up a lot of space - hence the long hood for a front wheel drive car.  I took a good look at my muffler, it's one of those big full-width ones, in April 2016 and it's bluing in the middle where the pipe comes in.  That's some hot exhaust, and is that not just freakin awesome?!

Ownership:  Except for the software updates, nothing has gone wrong or started rattling.  It's tight as a drum and perfectly reliable after 21,000 miles.  Sometimes I miss having a manual, but that's not the car's fault.  And as I said above, the automatic is really good.  A partial consolation prize comes in the form of the heads-up display, which is genuinely nice to have as well as being cool.  Mazda chose to use an electronic flip-up screen vs. embedding it directly into the windshield mainly to (1) maintain the line of sight they wanted and (2) keep the cost of windshield replacement down.  I'm glad for the second, because I did have to replace my windshield once already due to some truck throwing a mountain against it.

Oh, and I've been wanting a lush metallic gray ever since the 1990's Aston Martin DB7 came out.

You know, I think I will keep this one for a long time...

14th - 2018 Mazda 3 Grand Touring

Mine, looking terribly dirty thanks to recent rain and my abusive work schedule.  The AFOXCAR license plate is officially retired as of this car.

2018 Mazda 3

The basics:  Well, I kinda did keep my 2014 for a long time.  For me, four and a half years is forever.  So what did I do? 

I traded my 2014 Touring for a 2018 Grand Touring with the Premium Equipment package.  This marks the first time I ever bought two of the same car within the same generation.  The Mazda 3 is that good.  I had no intention of letting my 2014 go, but while looking at the Consumer Reports/Truecar build n' buy service I was surprised to by the quoted price.  I could trade my '14 Touring for an '18 GT, including that package, and not pay any cash up front!  It helped that I had a lot of equity in my '14 because I had made a large down payment.

The drive:  Same as above, nothing really has changed as far as the ride and handling.  Mazda's G Vectoring Control was added, and it makes cornering even better.  This one really digs in through corners.  You can stay on the throttle through corners and it just hooks up and goes (within sane limits).  That said, the stock Dunlop tires truly suck, especially when the road is wet.  I really want to replace them but can't afford the extravagance right now.  One other notable improvement is noise.  When I test drove this the difference was immediately obvious.  It's clearly quieter than my '14.  With better tires this could improve even more.

Add to that some small improvements inside, and this car really, really gels as a package.  Competitors may do better in some categories, but none of them come together like the 3, except maybe the VW Golf.  But despite fine engineering, it's apparently assembled by gremlins with small bladders.  And I am forever baffled as to why people buy Toyota Corollas.  They SUCK.

The one thing I'm not a fan of is the dark blue color (my Acura RSX was also dark blue and I didn't like it then either).  The problem with dark blue is that, unless you're looking at it from the right angle in clear sunlight, it always looks dull.  It doesn't even look black, it just looks...empty.

Ownership:  I've had it for almost 14 months now and not a thing has gone wrong, squeaked, or rattled.  It's pretty much my '14 plus lots of goodies like all the active safety stuff (which you can adjust and/or turn off).  For example, I have the lane keeping assist set to vibrate but not beep, and not steer itself.  So they are all nicely adjustable.  City brake support is a little too aggressive for me, flashing "BRAKE!" in the heads up display and slamming on the breaks when I was about to just brake moderately.  On the other hand, you could argue that it's better safe than sorry if it save you from a fender bender just one time.

So, now I've had Mazda 3s for just shy of five years now, and yes, I'm getting itchy for a new car.  But I want to keep this one.  Actually, what I really want is this one with another 30hp.