In our saga to find a suitable new car, we once again hit the dealerships and drove more cars…

More Toyota “Fun”

On Friday, we went back down to the Toyota dealership. Andy seemed to be able as reluctant as ever to actually put any effort into trying to sell us anything. He actually seemed annoyed to see us, saying that they still had no Mark V Priuses.

But with a bit of arm twisting, we got to drive a lower–trim-level Prius. He only let us take it a short distance out and back—about two blocks. I drove it out and C drove it back. It wasn't very far, but it was enough for me to decide I really didn't like the driving feel of the Prius. Driving it reminded me of piloting a shuttlecraft from Star Trek. The view out of the cabin is rather strange, which contributes to the effect, and the car really felt like it wallowed rather than drove. So, the overall feeling was do not want.

So, the Prius is out. That really surprised me, because I had pretty much considered it a foregone conclusion that we'd end up with a Prius, but it just didn't resonate with me.

We also looked at a Yaris in the showroom, but Andy seemed utterly bemused that we would even look at one. He did reluctantly allow us to test-drive a Corolla (following the same short-distance test course we'd driven in the Prius). The Corolla was familiar in many ways because our current car is equivalent, but somehow the interior felt cheesy, like it was aimed at people who wanted something flashy but had to settle for what they could afford.

Trying More Hondas

Also on Friday, we went back to see Kevin at the Honda dealership. On our previous visit, we had test-driven the Fit, but had only briefly looked at the new Insight and hadn't looked at the Civic at all.

So, we got to take both the Insight and the Civic on the same fifteen-mile test drive that we had done for the Fit. Based on our experience at other dealerships, I now realize how unusual it is to be given that kind of opportunity.

Although the Insight is outwardly similar to the Prius, something about the driving experience was different. Unlike the Prius, it was a car that I could consider owning, but it wasn't without its drawbacks. Engine noise was more noticeable than the other cars, and rear visibility when reversing wasn't good. (C thought the engine noise was way beyond what she'd expect in the cheapest car on the market in 2009.)

The Civic was okay (once we got it started; after sitting on the lot for a while it had a dead battery). Yet it was also bland and unmemorable.

Driving the Mini

The next day, we went to our local Mini dealership and test-drove both the Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S. The trunk size and (utter lack of) rear legroom killed the Mini for us. There is essentially no space in the trunk and when the driver's seat is properly positioned for me, there is only one inch of legroom for a rear passenger behind me. In other words, I can't have a rear passenger behind me. That's just stupid.

Also, both Minis we drove seemed to have a small amount of throttle lag, which was annoying. To get anything close to the performance of our current car, you had to have the Mini in sport mode, which completely blows the gas milage; made even worse by the fact that the Cooper S had worse gas milage than our current car even in the economy mode. We wanted a car that was practical, economical, and fun to drive. But the Mini failed on all three; it was out of the running. C was surprised; she'd thought the Mini was about as obvious a choice as I'd thought the Prius was.

Back to Volkswagen

Finally, as promised, we went back to Volkswagen. Alvaro was both nice and attentive, and we got to test drive both the Jetta TDI and the Rabbit. By this point, we were thinking that the 2010 Golf TDI was looking like a likely prospect, so we drove the Jetta (which has the same engine and drive-train) for feel, and the Rabbit to get a sense of what the size and driving position would be like in the Golf.

Our test drives were fairly short (longer than we had at Toyota, but nothing like what Kevin at Honda allowed us), but I still think we got a fairly good sense of the cars. Based on the feel of driving the Jetta TDI, we're pretty convinced that the 2010 Golf is going to be fun to drive.

Alvaro's boss Tim sounded us out about getting a 2009 Jetta (since they were trying to close out that model year), but even though he could have given us a deal on that car, we really had our hearts set on the 2010 Golf.

About my only concern is with colors, which tend towards bland and innocuous (as with all the cars but the Mini). The nicest color available is Shark Blue; I'd love something more saturated, but the only saturated color is red, and C hates red cars.

We Have a Decision!

Based on all our research, we've decided that the 2010 Golf TDI is our best choice. It doesn't have as large a trunk as the Jetta, but it looks like it will be big enough for our usual needs (unlike the Mini, which doesn't have enough room for groceries). Unlike the Jetta, the Golf just feels cuter and more fun—I wanted something with a “cute small car” feel, but some practicality, and the Golf seems to have the right mix. Also, the Jetta hasn't moved onto the Mark VI chassis yet, which in theory means it isn't quite as quiet as the Golf. Also, the 2010 Golf has an upgraded interior design, making it really nice inside compared with the Jetta, and way beyond anything else we'd considered other than the Mini.

By choosing a TDI, we get a good mix of power and fuel economy, so that seems like it ought to be a good thing. (And there is a government rebate of $1300 for buying a fuel efficient vehicle.)

The only problem was that the 2010 Golf TDI isn't even out in the U.S.A. yet, so now we're going to have to play a waiting game. On the positive side, it seems like we're going to have to custom order one to have it built with the options we want.