Thursday, May 18, 2006

5 door roll call

Just a review of 5 doors, my latest obsession. I spent a lot of time researching what's out there, reading comparison tests in print and going to Edmunds and manufacturers' web sites. I had some criteria for my comparisson, price under $20k with high option content, utility and some level of fun driving. I almost forgot, a manual transmission is a must have option.Obviuosly for me the Mazda3 fit the bill. But what else is out there, and what are their strengths and weaknesses? The Mazda is middle the road as far as utility, there are others that have more cargo room. But the Mazda has the best driving dynamics and in my opinion is the best value for the money.
But the Focus may be the value leader if price is the biggest factor. With Ford's aggressive discounting and incentive financing it's a tough one to beat. And while I wouldn't buy one because I knew the C1 Focus existed, there are plenty of buyers who couldn't care less C170/C1. And if you don't need all the extra bells and whistles like I have on the 3, then the Focus can still be equipped nicely and perform adequately. But it does suffer in cargo capacity compared to other 5 doors.
Take the Cobalt based Chevy HHR for example. It's got mega space for people and cargo. And it's 172 hp is not too shabby. But there's a weight penalty for all that space that negates some of those extra ponies. And while many love the styling, I'm sick of the Me Too PT Cruiser clone. And when you start adding options that sticker price climbs quickly. A manual trans is offered, but I think you'd have a tough time finding one.
The original retro wagon PT Cruiser is a little shorter than the HHR and doesn't have as much usefull space behind that second seat as you would think. Certainly not much more than my 3. The PT pictured here belongs to a friend and co-worker and I compared it to my 3. This particular PT is loaded to the gills, matching almost all of my 3's features. But the PT pricing is a little high when equipped like this. I know several people that have them and all are impressed with the power. I've never seen a manual transmission in one, although I know it's available.
The Caliber as many will know was a serious contender for my hard earned money, with it's muscular styling, utility to match any in this class and some unique features like the chill zone and music gate stereo. But no amount of gimmicks can make up for it's poor performance on the road. Although horsepower ratings are on par with the others, the CVT transmission is just too alien to me. I'm sure this will sell well for Chrysler and most people will love the smooth transision of the CVT, but I had to pass. The base price of $13,995 is among the lowest in this class. A manual is available, but tough to find according to dealers.
Now Chrysler is going to get the most out of their development money for the Caliber, giving it not one but two Jeep clones, the Patriot and Compass. The prices will be slightly higher than the Dodge, but they will have more AWD options. Like the Caliber it's based on, manual trans is available in FWD.
The Toyota Corrola Matrix has the power and the utility, but is a little quirky for me. Another one that if you check those option boxes can get quite pricey. And I may be one of the few people that just can't stand Toyota. Not just on principle, but I've never liked the feel of any Toyota, the interior materials or the road manners. Just bland as anything. The white bread of automobiles.
And the Pontiac Vibe is just a Matrix with different grille. No excitement here.
Trying to give Ford another shot here, I've looked at the Focus wagon. It's got as much usefull room as the HHR, but you can't option it out as nice as some of the others. It's technically available with a manual transmision, but I've never seen one. It's price when nicely equipped, is middle of the pack. Hell if it just wasn't so dull, it could be a contender.

Now there are others, but I can't load all the pictures in the post. So the Kia Rio5, Suzuki Forenza, Suzuki Reno, Subaru Imprezza, Hyundai Elantra GT,Honda Element and Honda CRV you'll have to look up photos on your own. And none of them impressed me, so they're getting the quick down and dirty.

The Kia Rio is cheap, that says about everything you need to know. Oh and it's gutless too. And ugly. Warranty is one of the best.

The Suzuki Forenza is a nice looking wagon, not really a 5 door. But it's not quite the bargain it would seem. Sure the base price is low, but add on a few options and it bumps $20k without leather, which is not available. The Reno is a 5 door, and suffers the same weakness, the price climbs with options which are limited. Power is adequate on both, but not class leading. The warranties like the Kia and Hyundai are outstanding, but the vehicles are so boring. These two Suzukis are actually rebadged Daewoos, sold in Europe and elsewhere as Chevy models.

Subaru Imprezza suffers from too high price. Even in base trim it's over the $20k ceiling, because of it's standard AWD, Subaru stopped offering FWD many years ago. Great power, decent utility and options that go off the scale, including the 227 hp turbo WRX. A great car, but really not competative with the rest of the pack. It should also be pointed out that the AWD means an economy penalty, that's fairly hefty.

Hyundai Elantra GT is a good car, not as powerful as some on this list and not as much cargo space, but the styling is nice even if a little dated. I know the Elantra is being refreshed now, but not enough to count. The price is low, but so is content at the higer end. It's a car that I want to like, but wouldn't buy. Another that when you option out isn't as thrifty. Fuel economy is about average for this group. But there's no excitement level. It's another blah mobile. Warranty is like it's Kia brother very good.

Honda Element and CRV are really the same vehicle under the skin, sharing platform and all mechanicals. The Element is quirky with it's rear half doors, hose out interior and odd opening rear hatch. The CRV is the more traditional offering. My mother had two of these, one after the other, and I've driven them often. Power is very good even with the automatic and fuel economy is fair. Now the optional part time all wheel drive is a good system, but it's costly. The Element's option list is short but the CRV is available with many of my required options. But price and fuel economy are their down fall.

My top 5 would be the Mazda3, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Ford Focus ZX5, and Chevy HHR. I know I'm biased, but who isn't? Coming in at number 6 would be the Honda twins. But I could not bring myself to buy any of the others despite the value.

What 5 doors do you like? Have I missed any important ones?


Joel A said...

My selection's same as yours except the Focus and HHR. And I'd add the Vibe.

Anonymous said...

I have a Mazda3 Sedan. I love the platform, but am not all that keen on the looks of the 5 door(sorry). I actually do like the looks of the Mazda5, even if it does have mini-van doors. I'd think it'd be a consenter here as well. You can get in a well optioned one for about 20K (or just a hair over).

I kind of wish they'd offer a wagon version of the 3 (they offer a Volvo wagon off the same platform). It'd be cool to have a sporty small wagon.

As for the Foci, I wish they sold the European versions here (again, a C1 platform-mate). While the Focus was great in 2000, it's aging now.

If you ever get a chance, read the Car and Driver edition from this past May. They did a 7 small car comparo. 5 of them were 5 doors... Fitting (:

Big Ford Fan said...

Joel, the Focus is getting kind of stale that's true, but it's still a good value. As for the HHR, it's sort of a bad copy of the PT Cruiser, but has more power and room, and will catch some of the market. I just don't like the Vibe, it's too cheesy.

Anonymous, I usually delete anonymous comments, so please in the future add a nickname or initials at the end. 5 doors aren't for everyone, that's for sure, they actually aren't my favorite, 3 doors are, but they seem to be the more popluar option. I like the Mazda3 4 door as well. Small wagons, well all wagons, seem to have fallen out of fashion again, being replaced by 5 doors and mini utes/mpvs. The Mazda5 is a great vehicle, but the lack of a leather interior option and the sliding doors turn me off. Besides, I never have that many people in my car.
I did read the Car and Driver article you mentioned,as well as the Motor Trend article. Sort of the inspiration for my rant here and a few weeks ago.

Nick S. said...

Thank you for reading and posting my comment. Sorry about posting anonymous, I'll add my name now.

Yes, wagons are a four letter word here in America now. It is sad, though. You can get the space of an SUV with the fuel economy of a mid sized car. Yeah, you lose the ride height.

As you know, I have a Mazda, and love them. What do you think about the Mazda6 5 door? It's more of a hatchback than a wagon. Where do you draw the line between hatchbacks and wagons?

Nick S.

Big Ford Fan said...

Nick, thanks for commenting again. I like the Mazda6 5 door, it's a brave move for the US market where mid size 5 doors are rare, the only others I can think of are the Saab and Chevy Malibu Maxx. It's not too close to a wagon really, outside of the US it's a more common option.

Good question about the line between hatchbacks and wagons, since the lines have blurred. My own Mazda3 is considered a 5 door hatch, but replaced the Protoge'5 wagon. With the crop of CUVs that wagon line is blurred even further. Wagons which are a dying breed are sedan based and have a more pronounced rear cargo area, while hatchbacks usually have the glass hatch area leaning fastback style above the "trunk" cargo area. All the more reason I think my Mazda fits the wagon description more. Look through my archives and you will see that I'm a big fan of wagons.

njkatz said...

Similar search here. My list so far also has the Mazda3 near the top. But I had the Subaru Outback/Saab9-2X on my short list. And the Audi A3 hit my list too.

The attraction to the Audi and possible willingness to spend a bit more on it is the "open sky" feature. Closer to a convertable without all the limitatations of a convertable.

I currently have that 5door Saab 9-3 that you mention. Picked it up used a couple years ago. Meets all the critieria. Trouble is that all of its poor reliability ratings were on target, and I'm spending way too much on repairs. (e.g., engine mount failure led to $1000 to replace the exhaust system) They don't make these any more. Replaced in the SAAB line-up with that chromed-up Subaru.

The huge sun roof of the audi is an attraction ... but there is an aftermarket option. There are these foldable sunroofs: Looking into that as well.