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2010 Test Drive Day

Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 8 years and 198 days ago. Viewed 1,495 times. #5
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Test Drive Day 2010

As part of the process of getting a new car (see 2010 April Car Pricing), we spent the morning on Saturday 22 May 2010 doing some test drives of our short-list.

After doing pricing runs and discussing the options, my short list was:

  • Toyota Matrix AWD
  • Mazda 3 Sport GS
  • Mazda 5 GS
Jenn's list was even shorter, she does not want the Mazda 5, full stop.

This involves a bit of subterfuge. During the purchasing process for the Yaris, I was frustrated with the way things went. We test-drove the Yaris, then told the salesguy that we wanted to try some of the competing cars. We'd done it in this order deliberately because money-wise the Hyundai was the answer, and so we figured we'd drive it last; if the actual drive had not been so disappointing we probably would have ended up buying it. This meant that when we went back to the Toyota dealer the guy knew we wanted the car and this put us in a weaker bargaining position. The salesguy didn't end up moving any from his pricing from our earlier visit. So we deliberately did the test driving at dealerships that we were not anticipating buying from. This means we can go somewhere else, go through the motions of test driving, then let them "persuade" us to buy then and there. I feel a little bad wasting the time of the salespeople at the dealerships we went to, but I feel worse about the purchasing experience left from the Yaris.

Toyota

Our first stop was at a Toyota dealership. I have to say that I was not very impressed with the sales staff there. Now true, the car we are after is a comparatively rare car, since they don't sell that many of them. The price of the car is a impediment to brisk sales; apart from the AWD, this car does not come well equipped for its price compared to its immediate competition. But that said, I knew more about the car than either of the sales people who assisted us. That to me is not a good sign; at the very least the sales person should know as much about the car as I do, and ideally more since it is their product.

The first car we took out was a 2010 Toyota Matrix AWD. My over-riding impression of this car was disappointment. Yes, it isn't going to be a boy-racer or a world-beater by any means. But the advertising material implies that this is a fun, hip car to drive. I found the drive to be quite pedestrian, closer to that of our 2008 Toyota Yaris, shortcomings of which can be excused by the market segment it resides in. It made me despair a bit, thinking that Toyota might quite seriously believe that this is a "fun" drive.

The car is quite capable, and feel stronger than the Yaris. The automatic transmission is effective but feels mushy; it did not encourage experimentation with higher amounts of input. The steering feels just as disconnected as the Yaris' but will go where the car is pointed, and the brakes are an improvement over those of the Yaris. There is an impressive amount of headroom in the back seat and I found the driving position comfortable.

I was disappointed with the blind spots in the car when backing it up. The slit-window in the C-pillar is a styling cue only and you can't see anything useful out of it. As compensation, the car does have large, apparently usable mirrors.

The layout of the meters on the dash was weird. The speedometer has its zero in the 6 o'clock position, with 100 at the 9 o'clock. The speedometer continues past that, sweeping around to 1- or 2 o'clock, into the clearly excessively optimistic 260 km/h range, a speed that will only exceptionally rarely be seen by a car of this class, and never in a legal scenario. This squashes the legal speed range into a 90-degree sweep that to me is one of the least intuitive I've come across.

The trunk was decently big, and it passed our cargo test (two diaper boxes in the back with room to spare). The headlight bulbs seem easy to replace, even if there are rather a lot of them in the front cluster.

Once we got back, we took out a 2010 Toyota Corolla LE and did the same loop with it. This car had the 1.8l motor in it instead of the Matrix's 2.4. The automatic transmission seemed to be more eager off the line, but the sense I got was that it would run out of breath before the Matrix's would. Again, I'd describe the drive as efficiently pedestrian, although this would be more acceptable given its market segment.

The driving position was relaxed, the mirrors small but effective. The back seat was harder than I expected and there was less leg room. There was also less head room in the back seat.

There was a surprising amount of space in the trunk, although not being a hatch there is obviously a lower limit to what the car can carry.

During these test drives, the salesman was helpful in answering our queries, and there was no pressure on us to negotiate at all. With the exception of their suspect product knowledge, I have no complaints about them.

Mazda

That done, we were down the road to the Mazda dealership. I have to note first that our first stop was Carling Motors, where we discovered that the dealership was closed for the long weekend. Well good on them for taking care of their staff a little bit.

The salesman we drew when we came in was efficient when we explained our needs for the day. He disappeared briefly and came up with a 2010 Mazda 3 Sport GS for us to try.

Now this car was fun to drive. It had slightly more horsepower than did the Matrix, and the car was slightly lighter due to not having the AWD system, but the whole thing was far more willing to go when you asked it to. I did a more aggressive ramp-shot in the 3 than I did in the Matrix; the 3 delivered calmly and offered more than I was willing to use.

The seating position was comfortable and supportive. The car had a firmer suspension than the Matrix, so the ride over the imperfect pavement spots was a bit harsher. The steering gave reasonable feedback, with the car feeling very willing to go where I pointed it. The brakes were firm and present. Road noise was reasonable.

The windows in the C-pillar were much more functional; blind spots were much smaller.

Regarding the interior, the impression I come away with was one of busyness. There is a LOT in this car:

  • bluetooth
  • aux audio in
  • multi-mode, auto-rain-sensing wipers
  • wipers on the rear window
  • an "auto" mode for the headlights
  • "sporty" fog lights
...all of which had controls on or near the steering wheel. I'm sure we'd learn to manage all this eventually, but it is a bit intimidating the first time you see it.

(And none of which, incidentally, appear to be on the Matrix unless purchased separately.)

The driver's seat is accommodating; the rear seat is a bit small but comfortable enough, although I am sure the boys will be unhappy when they get big.

The other thing was that positioning-wise I would have been happier with the steering wheel lower, but that would have impeded my view of the speedometer.

Our final ride of the day was a 2010 Mazda 5 GS. This car is based on the same platform as the Mazda 3, and shares the same motor that was in the 3 Sport GS we tried.

The car is pleasant enough to drive around in. You can feel the extra weight that is in the car when you ask it to go or change direction. You would probably feel it in stopping too, except this car had a rock-hard brake pedal (which I like, by the way, it makes me feel like I can modulate it much better) and we didn't do any extreme braking in the 3.

You sit up much higher than in any of the other cars we drove. The seating position was upright, and the car has a telescoping/tilt steering wheel that I couldn't locate properly; I am sure that if I lived with it I would sort that out. The styling of this car shares the same way-forward windshield design that the Yaris has. I found on a couple of occasions that the A-pillar got in my way when I went to look at an intersection. Again, I'm sure I could get used to it if I owned the car.

(Aside: the salesguy tried to tell me that the car had a little window between the wing-mirror and the A-pillar to compensate for this flaw, which was a little ridiculous. If the window compensated for the A-pillar's location, I wouldn't have noticed the A-pillar being in the way, would I? The little window was well placed for parking maneuvers and appreciated at that point.)

This being the first minivan I've seriously looked at, I have no idea how it would stack up to others in the class, but this had a lot of interior room with the third row folded down and a bunch of stuff-stashing spaces. The rear lift-gate has a second position which lifts it up another four-to-six inches from where it rises to on its own, high enough that I could walk underneath it without bashing my head.

The interior was similarly appointed with most of the stuff as was in the 3. Naturally passenger space wasn't even remotely an issue.

As for the salesguy, his explanation of the 5's pillar arrangements aside, he was very helpful and knowledgeable about his product. He was a bit keener to talk financing and dealing than was the Toyota guy, but not overly so.

Conclusion

At the end of the trip, Jenn and I shared the same conclusion: the Mazda 3 Sport GS was the winner. It is well priced and has a lot of stuff in it. Jenn said I had a grin on my face the whole time I was driving it, and she liked it too.

The Matrix was a disappointment, was more expensive and not as well equipped when compared to the Mazda 3. The Corolla was never a serious option, but it was worth driving since we were there. And as said above, Jenn does not want the Mazda 5, full stop. Given that to equip it with the 3's gear would cost another $3K to $5K, it is out of our range.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

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