June 21, 2006

A Short Post About Small Rental Cars


After the JPMA convention in Orlando last month, I was all stoked to write about my rental car, the Ford Focus. But I kept putting it off, then last week, a Business Week story came out about how horribly Ford had screwed up with the US version of the Focus [they didn't redesign it all nice like the EU version, and they still lose something like $5,000 per car sold], and I felt like a clueless chump.

But then in Iceland, we rented a Toyota Yaris, and my experience with the Focus all came back to me. Both cars are small but tall, they're cheap, and they're reasonably well styled. [Actually, I've thought the Focus was one of the best-designed, best-proportioned, best-detailed cars out there since its debut in 2000. The symmetry between the headlights and the rear taillights is especially nice. Of course, they were both changed on the new model.]


The Yaris feels absolutely spacious inside; the back seat isn't bad, even, but the front seat area is positively huge. The car drove and handled and performed really well, and it got great mileage, too. The Focus felt and drove great, too: very responsive, solid, nice pickup, sporty, even. The only problem was the legroom in the backseat: it was almost non-existent. I don't know if the wagon is better than the 5-door, but the only way it won't matter is if your rear passengers ride in a car seat. Then it'd be great, because you could reach them easily from the front. Otherwise, it's pure Sgt. Lieutenant Dan-land back there.

This was supposed to be short, so here's my feeling: there are some small cars out there that are cheap and get great mileage and drive really well and feel spacious and functional. They're not luxurious, but they're mighty fine all the same, and they should do really well for a new family. But without having driven them first, I confess, I never would've considered either car for a second.

True, the Focus is old. But "roomy" backseats??: here's a 2002 review from Edmunds [edmunds.com]
Oh, and the 5-door Yaris isn't available in the US. WHAT?? [toyota.com.au, toyota.com]


I hear the Honda Fit is nice too...

We had a five-door Yaris (yay, Toyota Canada! Seriously, what's with the US and the hatchback hate?) for a day through our car sharing co-op... this was a day after having a Mazda 5, and while yeah, it felt smaller, it still wasn't cramped inside. (I'm 6'4", too... it was really comfortable for me, and the front seats aren't as short as the Echo hatch it replaces.)

The car seat (Graco ComfortSport) was really easy to attach, too, although I had to figure out how to feed the rear tether through to the attachment point on the rear floor.

If we needed a second car (we don't even have or need a first car) it would be at the top of my list.

I'd consider selling my 04 golf for an 07 yaris if there was a 5-door. Why do the car companies hate America?

We recently traded in a 2000 Ford Focus Wagon, and we have a 2001 Focus Hatch. I'm 6'3" and I can actually sit in the back seat even when the front seat is configured for me. I consider that pretty roomy. It is easier in the Wagon than the Hatch, because the Wagon has a higher roofline over the back seat, so it feels roomier. I still wouldn't want to take a 8 hour ride that way, but around town it would be fine.

Why'd we get rid of it? It turns out that I can't sit in front of a rear-facing baby seat. So we bit the bullet and got a 2005 Ford Freestyle (a truely underrated family car, it is basically a Volvo V70 with a higher roofline and a lower price).

"Why'd we get rid of it? It turns out that I can't sit in front of a rear-facing baby seat. "

Ugh, that was a nightmare in my wife's '04 Jetta until our daughter finally went front-facing. There's nothing like having to drive around with your legs jammed up against the glove box.

I've never really liked American cars, but I drive a Focus wagon and it's alright. The hatchback is much cuter, though. The Yaris looks pretty cute, too.

(I'm a girl, okay? That's what matters to me in a car. I didn't buy my Honda del Sol or MINI Cooper because of the fantastic gas mileage, although it was a nice bonus.)

Have a 5-door Focus SVT. Fun to drive, decent gas mileage, and easily fits the car seat + gear.

Not too shabby.

Lieutenant Dan

[d'oh. it was on our icelandair flight, but I didn't put my headphones on. -ed.]

Rearward facing carseats actually fit better in our Focus Sedan than they do our Subaru Forester. I traded in for the Forester, figuring it'd be a nice roomy machine. (This was prior to child arrival.)

I've since discovered that with two car seats in the back seat, a forester becomes a one passenger vehicle with no legroom.

After that installation, I dreaded installing the seats in our Focus- and was amazed to discover that there was probably an inch or two more room in the Focus than the Forester. With the Focus I can (at 5'11") at least get a semi to mostly comfortable driving position, whereas in the scooby I'm forced to splay my legs to either side of the steering column.

So it's not as bad as you'd imagine.

Has anyone tried the Honda FIT? That's the small car I have my eye on.

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