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Fit vs Vibe/Matrix vs Mazda3

I am currently researching hatchbacks to replace my Honda Civic. I need something that gets at least 30mpg on the freeway (preferably 32-33), has excellent safety and reliability, and has a base price of $18,000 at an absolute maximum (preferably $16-17k or cheaper). Coming from a sedan, I'm worried about thick C-pillars blocking visibility, so blind spots are also a concern. I don't need much power, just something that can maintain 65mph up hills without a particularly heavy load. I don't mind buying used, and something 2009 or later is preferable. I don't particularly care about the exterior styling of the car, either, nor do I have any preference on luxury features (Civic didn't even have power windows, power locks, cruise control, anything). I'd like a hatchback to be able to carry my family's bicycles around, have an easier time with our large dogs, and have something we could sleep in on long road trips/rainy camping expeditions.

The Honda Fit is an excellent vehicle, it seems to fit all the critera perfectly, except when I test-drove one, it felt like I was driving a tin can on wheels. I know it gets excellent safety ratings, but would it be able to keep me in one piece in the event of a freeway crash? The Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix seems to have issues with blindspots, are these complaints well-justified? And the 2012 Mazda3 hatchback comes with a brand-new Skyactiv engine, which improves fuel economy substantially over the 22/29 2.5-liter engine of past years, but I'm a bit leery to buy a new engine in its first year of production.

Which vehicle would you say best fits the criteria? Are the downsides worth the upsides, or are they not even real downsides and I'm just imagining things? Any opinions would be greatly appreciated, and thank you for taking the time to read my giant blocks of text.

Comments

  • I bought a 2005 Vibe in March of 2011 that was in great condition. I am a Mazda man and drive an 04 3s MT. The Vibe was for my daughter to commute to college. It has served us well. I have been impressed with its built quality, gas mileage and overall usefulness. Very comfortable ride, lots of headroom for all passengers, and Toyota reliability. Nice used ones are hard to fined. I've driven the 2012 Mazda 3 sedan with auto and manual transmission and am planning on buying one. I share your hesitation of getting a vehicle with new engine and transmission. I've had great success with all 6 Mazdas I've owned, and I think, after reading loads of customer reviews, that the new combo will be fine. Plus there are end of year deals to be had, although the hatchback deals are not as good right now. My gut feeling is as the 2013 modals hit the lots the discounts will increase on both 2012 modals, but that is just a guess. Good luck!
  • bobw3bobw3 Posts: 2,997
    I have an '07 Fit for 6 years now with 80K miles and now problems. I love the amount of space, relaibility and MPG. I never thought it felt like a "tin can on wheels" but if that's what it feels to you then maybe you shouldn't get it. I'd be concerned about the cargo space in the mazda3. The cargo height of the fit is awesome.
  • @ countertop4: Thanks for the advice on end-of-the-year sales. It's good to hear that older Vibe models are that reliable, I found a 2008 in the area, but it had 92,000 miles on it already, and I was a bit leery of that number.

    @ bobw3: I'm mostly afraid of http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr041409.html . In that article, they even go as far as calling the Fit a "minicar" in the same category as the Smart Fortwo, and I admit it's not THAT thin, though it definitely felt smaller compared to other vehicles I test drove the day I was at the dealer. The Fit does have excellent crash ratings into barriers though, so maybe it's not that much of an issue.

    I guess my big question is, no car is perfect, but which one has the more liveable vices: The Fit's small frame, the Vibe/Matrix's blind spots, or the Mazda3's poor gas mileage/new engine's unknown reliability? I've already got points for the Fit, but are the blind spots easy to adapt to in a Vibe, and has anyone had trouble with the Mazda3's Skyactiv engine? I found http://www.mazda3forums.com/showthread.php?t=393637 as a possible flaw, though it is possible to fix.

    Maybe I'm being a bit too pessimistic, though trying to find the "best" vehicle in a market swamped excellent choices is actually fairly difficult, for me anyway.
  • autonomousautonomous Posts: 1,769
    edited September 2012
    Maybe I'm being a bit too pessimistic, though trying to find the "best" vehicle in a market swamped excellent choices is actually fairly difficult, for me anyway.
    You're right. However, the "best" vehicle for you is not what others say but what you say.

    Your criteria (cost, fuel economy, size, trunk capacity) are reasonably achievable by several vehicles.

    The issues you cite are in some cases unproven (e.g. Mazda 3 Skyactiv unrealiability) but concerning.

    When I went through a similar process last year I laid out my criteria along with the pros and cons for a dozen models in a table. Eventually the table identified my top three (Mazda3, Mazda3 Sport, VW Golf). I then emailed dealerships for the best deal and to arrange test drives. I chose a Mazda3 Sport with a 2.0 (non Skyactiv) automatic and have not regretted the decision. BTW at the time Honda was not providing attractive offers, so the Fit was eliminated from the list.

    p.s. Used cars (such as the Vibe) were too much of a headache; getting used cars checked by an independent garage is necessary and a pain.
  • bobw3bobw3 Posts: 2,997
    when I compare reliability of honda vs vw vs mazda honda wins everytime.
  • Something to keep in mind in favor of the Mazda 3. The new 2.0 Skyactive engine is available in the 5 door hatchback model, so your will have great gas mileage, not poor gas mileage. Second, regarding the comment of honda reliability vs mazda reliability, that would radically change if you only compared mazda cars made in Japan excluding rotary engines. Look at the Protege/3 quality/reliability and it is right up there with honda. Keep in mind honda and toyota have slipped a notch or two in the past several years. Already seeing $4000 off MSRP on 2012 3 sedans and expect that October will see the hatchback get a sizable discount as well. Good luck.
  • I agree that the "best" vehicle varies between individual cases. Thank you for the insight, autonomous, a table is a smart way to keep everything present and in order. Indeed, all the vehicles I listed fit my criteria fairly well, so I suppose what the real deciding factor now is which ones are available in my area for which prices. I can't find any Mazda3 hatchbacks, though a dealer a few miles away has new 2012 Fits for a fairly inexpensive pricetag. I'm thinking about test driving a Mazda3 sedan though, if the ride is that much more solid than the Fit, then I can probably make do with folding rear seats versus a full-on hatchback. Anyone know if you can sleep in a Mazda3 trunk? Jk.

    PS: I agree that Mazda's reliability is right up there with Honda's, or at least it should be. Both brands keep reappearing in my searches and both are Japanese-made. I can't really debate which is better, having never owned a Mazda, but they both seem excellent enough by my standards.
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