I test drove the 3 cars last night that could possible replace my beloved Rachel Train. I'm looking at the Toyota Corolla CE, the Honda Civic LX, and the Mazda3 i-touring. It's not going to be an easy decision.
I started at Toyota and the Corolla drove very similarly to my little Geo. I liked the way it felt, and it was a nice ride. However, Toyota consists of packages and add-ons. The car comes with virtually nothing, and you must buy an entire package to add things. I haven't ever had power windows, and to get that, you had to buy the "UP" (upgrade) package, and to get ABS you had to add on the "safety package". It was all rather confusing, and you get a few more things in the packages than you really need or want.
Honda was our next stop. I thought this whole car shopping thing would be much easier. You find a car that you really feel comfortable in, and you'd just know which one to get. Wrong! The Civic handled so similar to the Corolla that it was going to be a tough decision. The Civic was a little more dramatic in the handling, not quite as supple as the Corolla, but very similar. I did not like the inside of the Civic. Perhaps if I were an 18 year old guy I would prefer the electronic double dash with all the flashing lights and graphics. Alas, I am not. They were distracting, even when I dimmed the dash. This car was bumped behind the Corolla on my favorite list.
We journey on to Mazda. We grow weary (after all it is 8:30 on a week night!), and since both of the other dealers compared these 3 cars as well, I expected the same feel as the other 2. My mistake! The Mazda3i has a bigger engine, it has much more space inside, and it handles much better than the other 2. The brakes were amazing too. My favorite to drive by far. The downside? There's huge rear blind spots that make it difficult for us little folks to see past. Otherwise, it was a very smooth ride. The dash was a little obnoxious with all red lights giving you the evil eye, but you can dim those pretty low, and at least it's not the flashing blue/white/red/green/yellow like the Civic.
Now it all comes down to my pocketbook. They're all in the same range, but it depends how much each will come down. The Mazda dealership that I went to, doesn't barter at all. They gave me a reasonable price, and said there's no haggling in this store at all. So, unless the Corolla can give me everything I want, (with the 8 million packages you have to buy to get power windows), it looks like the Mazda wins out. (The Civic is out of the running.) However, I think Toyota will come down significantly.
Only time, and some hard-balling will tell. I hate haggling. I'm not good at car haggling... because I've never done it, and it's a pain.