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Brandon Turkus Picks: Ford Fiesta ^^H

While there is no denying that the Mazda2 and Honda Fit represent incredible values in terms of driver involvement, I can put hand on heart and say I'd rather have a Fiesta in my garage. Involvement may be essential to a pure driver's car but it isn't the be all and end all for practical hatchbacks.

What the Fiesta represents in this comparison and in the new car marketplace at large is an excellent combination of involvement and content. This is a car that, while not as adept at the autocross circuit or on a twisty road as our other two cars, still allows

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a driver to go out and have a good time on a nice bit of road. In the context of this comparison, the Fiesta isn't particularly good. But in the wider context of the new car market, it still represents a fairly involving car.

At the same time, it packs a great deal of content into a small package and at a price point that won't break the bank. Case in point, a Fiesta minus our tester's heated leather seats only costs about $185 more than our Fit Sport. It doesn't hurt that the Fiesta is arguably one of the best looking cars, not only in this class, but across the market.

Onua FIT VS. MazuA2 VS. FUHU FIESTA

Steering

• The 2 really shined through in the steering department. While the Fit felt good, the Mazda is really my pick of the litter. The speed of the rack works well for a point-and-shoot car like this, and there is just enough heft behind the wheel so that it doesn't feel spongy like the Fiesta or overly difficult to work. What's more, the steering doesn't just talk to you, it yaps your ear off. I really dug the sensations I got from the 2's steering, like I could genuinely feel the car responding to my inputs. It almost reminded me of an older Mini Cooper in the

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way it went about talking to the driver.—BT

• The 2's rapid steering rack felt like it was easily influenced by whatever road surface you

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happened to be on. Mid-corner bumps and road imperfections had more of an impact on steering performance than I would have liked. While that is hardly a positive, I think it made the

directionally right in his comments about the 2's steering, but misses mentioning the fact that so much of this character is a product of the car's short wheelbase. That super-quick turn-in is down to the steering rack, for sure, but the ability for the 2 to change directions on a dime (positive), and the unintentional bump-steer and slight jitteriness (negative) are seemingly down to the wheelbase.—SM

Mazda more involving to drive, as you really had to pay attention to your inputs and work to get things right.—BT

I think that Brandon i is

Suspension/Ride Quality • The Mazda2's suspension offered the least forgiving ride, but it felt the most planted when cornering. The Ford's cornering aptitude isn't far behind, and the ride is much more comfortable. After performing one maneuver,

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HONDA FIT VS. MAZDA2 VS. FORD FIFSTA

the Mazda was just a beat quicker than the Fiesta in feeling like it was ready for the next move.—JBS

• I really felt like the Mazda won out in terms of body roll and squat and dive. The hard suspension is difficult to live with on a freeway, but comes to life when being pushed. The car feels incredibly neutral, with the firm damping handling squat/dive and what I have to imagine is a pretty hefty sway bar negating body roll.—BT

• Like the steering, the 2's suspension really talks to you. Again, the suspension communication reminded me of a Mini. You could feel everything moving around and working, which goes a long way to creating the kind of visceral experience that you find in proper sports cars.—BT

Sonic

• This may be the cheapest car, but Mazda did a fine job of tuning out things like wind and road noise. I'd say it's at least as good as the Honda, in terms of cabin quiet. The engine may sound a bit like a "generic" small four, but it rarely sounded harsh. There was some peakiness at the higher reaches of the rev range, but that was about it. While it wasn't as good as the Ford or Honda, it's certainly a standout at this price point.—BT

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• The 2's sound was a bit whiny, especially when cruising on the highway where it buzzed along at several-thousand rpm. Of the three cars presented, this is the one that would most likely benefit from adding a sixth gear to the transmission, if only for more comfort for sustained highspeed driving.—JBS

• I've got to go ahead and call out my guys on this one. Calling the 2 "at least as good as the Honda" and "a bit whiny" are just nice ways of mentioning that this car is loud at speed. Gear, tire, and wind noise are constant companions. You can hear a decent roar from the exhaust, too, which is the happy flip side. Let's face it; the Mazda is really

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lightweight because of, among many other choices, a lack of sound-deadening material. You take the loud with the fun, I guess.—SM

• I'm a big man but I feel totally at home inside this Mazda. Brandon made mention, during our test, about a slight lack of rear-seat room, but I think the reality is that there is more usable space here for humans than you'll find in the competitive cars. The Honda has loads more load space, but I couldn't find a driving position in the Fit that didn't leave the side of my knee pressed up against the center stack.—SM

HONDA FIT VS. MAZDA2 VS. FORD FIESTA

• In terms of performance, the 2 features the nicest driver setup. A perfectly sized steering wheel and nicely bolstered seats go a long way towards making aggressive driving enjoyable. The location of the shifter also really encourages some racy driving. I really wish that Mazda would have offered telescopic steering, or at least a height adjustment for the driver's seat, though. Everyone has a unique driving position, and the 2 simply didn't offer a large enough range of adjustment to get into a confidence-inspiring seating position.—BT

• I hate to admit it, because it was probably the best handling of the three cars, but the Mazda2 loses the practicality fight. It has the same space as the Fiesta—which is less than the Fit—but it offers the least in terms of creature comforts and refinement. At least it has volume control on the steering wheel, something the Ford doesn't.—JBS

• The price-to-equipment ratio on the 2 is about average, but I wouldn't mind seeing a more extensive list of options. Satellite radio and a USB jack would be nice, especially considering the younger buyers in this class.—BT

Honda Fit Sport

Engine/Transmission • Driving all three cars, the Fit felt like it was the quickest, which I think comes down to the aggressively geared transmission. There is plenty of power just

MAZDA2 VS. FORD FIESTA

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about everywhere in the rev range. The trade-off for the Fit's speed comes at the pumps. The aggressive gearing doesn't do any favors in terms of fuel economy, as the Fit has the lowest economy numbers of our three cars.—BT

• Aggressive throttle tip-in and a fast-spinning motor makes the Fit feel fast even though it's objectively slow (like all three of our combatants, for that matter). This also works to explain why the Honda felt distinctly faster than the more-

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powerful Ford Fiesta.—SM

• We've made mention that the Fit could stand to benefit from a sixth gear, but of the three cars featured here, it needed the extra cog the least. The good response from the motor means more power available throughout the rev range, which means less hunting for the right gear.—JBS

• Honda pulled off yet another awesome gearbox here. I definitely think the Fit's trans is the most user friendly of the three cars. Going between gates is a bit longer than I'd prefer, and it doesn't have the snickity-snack, short-throw, street-racer feel of the 2, but the action of the shifter is so smooth I don't

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HOnOA FIT VS. MAZOA2 VS. FORO FIESTA

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really care.—BT

Steering

• The Fit is neck-and-neck with the 2 when it comes to volume of feedback from the steering wheel, while the Mazda still wins in terms of quickness and

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precision. (As you'll read, there's a bit of disagreement here with my fellow testers, probably a reflection of just how close these two really are.) The Honda wins the steering medal for me because it's chunky, thick-rimmed steering wheel gives me the best

HONDA FIT VS. MAZDA2 VS. FORD FIESTA

purchase mid-corner. Gotta pick somehow.—SM

• Steering in the Honda is excellent, but it isn't as lively as what we found in the Mazda. It is a more precise rack though, which makes it a bit easier to place the larger Fit where it needs to be. Communication from the Fit's is there, and I think it's probably better than any Honda product short of the Civic Si. This rack really gives a good idea of what's going on with the front tires. Unlike the 2, the Fit's steering isn't as disturbed by road imperfections either. It can hit a pothole or mid-corner bump and still track straight and true. For going properly quick down a rough road, this is the steering setup to have.—BT

• As Brandon points out, the Honda's steering offers a good balance of feedback and response—a nice compromise between the 2 and the Fiesta. Where the Ford was quick to

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turn in but needing constant adjustment, and the Mazda felt a bit light in the tiller, the Fit offered no room for complaint.—JBS

John Beltz Snyder Picks: Honda Fit

Suspension/Ride Quality • Wow. Our handling route really showed me things about this Honda that I hadn't seen, and wouldn't have guessed at before. The car felt really grippy considering its small tires, and proved able to carry tons of speed through hot corners for it. Still, I felt a lot of movement through the suspension when I turned the wick up, bounding up and down as I transitioned from corner to corner. Driven at fast-but-not-too-fast speeds, the Fit had always felt totally pinned down to me, but on these roads,

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After being long reluctant to like the car, two things led me to finally rightfully appreciate the Honda Fit. First, I learned, in general, to appreciate small cars with small, low-powered engines. Second, I drove a Fit equipped with a manual transmission. After that it, all made sense to me.

The little Honda engine is happy to rev. In addition, inputs to the right pedal are met with immediate and totally predictable response. Same with the brakes. When stopping and going, the car seems

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