Over the last two months we’ve had a series of rental cars while we waited for the insurance check, and now that my work schedule has freed up, we used the time to do some test-driving Saturday afternoon. I’ll compare and contrast the rentals with the two candidates here, as it’s been helpful to put them all in context with each other, even though some of them are not apples-to-apples. From the top:

Chevy Trailblazer RS
This was the first rental we were given after the Accord was slain; the guy up in Syracuse offered me a Mustang convertible first, but we were hauling too much stuff home and I’d never have been able to fit it all inside. The Trailblazer  was the sport model and was pretty well loaded, so it set a high bar for the cars that followed. It’s classified as a compact SUV in the same family as the CR-V and RAV4, but it felt cramped inside, and the visibility behind the B pillars was abysmal. We found it pleasant to drive, with lots of pickup, and it got excellent gas mileage. The infotainment connectivity was also top-notch—Chevy’s implementation of CarPlay was very intuitive and easy to learn. I’m not in the market for a domestic, but Chevy made a good effort here.

Chevy Malibu
This was a quickie rental, mainly just to get me to and from a work project outside of Dulles, so I wasn’t as picky about exactly what the car was. It did all of the things a sedan normally does, and was pleasant to drive, if unremarkable. It was the mid-level trim level, so it had a lot of the same features as the Trailblazer, but the way they integrated CarPlay into the gauge cluster wasn’t as refined, and the interior ergonomics weren’t as well-considered as the Trailblazer even though there’s more space to work with.

Ford Edge
This is classed as a mid-size SUV, so it’s a bit larger than CR-Vs and RAV4s, and I did feel the size difference behind the wheel. It had plenty of pickup but I heard the engine a little more than in the Trailblazer, which was sort of shocking. The gas mileage was better than I was expecting but not on the same level as a compact. The interior was more roomy but I also found a lot of wasted space that could have been utilized better. CarPlay integration was good, and the iPad-sized dash display spoiled me completely for any car display afterwards. But Jen didn’t have many good words for this car when we sent it back, and I would have to agree.

Nissan Rogue
I asked for a CR-V when I was at Budget, but a language barrier with the staff meant I drove this off the lot. I haven’t been interested in a Nissan in decades, and I have to say this car proves my bias out. It’s perfectly adequate for transportation, but nothing I would seek out to own. The engine is peppy and quick (the car is equipped with Sport mode) but I find the wheels break loose whenever I give it the beans. The interior is a mixture of interesting choices and wasted space. The wheel feels good in my hands, and the controls are all easily reachable, but CarPlay integration is absolute garbage and the interface on the touchscreen is terrible. And the shift knob thing is an annoying mixture of push-it-forward push-it-back-click-the-button-is-it-in-gear and then realizing the infotainment system thinks you’re trying to use the phone and locks you out of gear. Fuck this car.

Honda CR-V EX
The reigning champion in this household, and the one to beat. The 2024 is a mixture of good choices and some questionable ones. We liked the seat position and visibility from all angles, and the wheel is comfortable in my hands. The car feels good on the road and I was able to figure out where the corners were immediately. The seats are comfortable and this model adds electric adjustment for the driver. Actually, this car is optioned almost exactly like our ’06, with some additions: heated seats, dual climate control, and a turbocharged engine. The display is surprisingly small but I’ve read good things about their CarPlay integration, so I’m not worried there. Jen liked how it drove and how it felt. I wasn’t as impressed with some of the usage of interior space, which our ’06 excels at, which is my only complaint. Oh, and I hate the stock wheels this comes with.

Toyota RAV4
We asked for the midlevel model but the salesman put us in the luxury hybrid model, which was annoying. It felt fine, and the visibility was good from all angles, but the example we drove had warps in the windshield that made Jen feel sick. (Interesting, as this hasn’t happened in four successive rental cars). The car drove fine, but we don’t know how the gas engine would feel in real-time driving, and our experience with the salesman doesn’t have us interested in going back. It was fine, I guess. One thing that’s interesting is that the midlevel RAV4 isn’t optioned as well as the CR-V: no heated seats, no moonroof, and a couple of other things we would have to pay extra for, and the MSRP is higher. So, no thanks, Toyota.

Honda Ridgeline
We’re not considering this but figured we’d try one while we were there. The truck is clearly bigger than everything else we’ve driven, but was designed very well inside. It felt good in my hands and I knew where the corners were at all times, but it’s an adjustment to go to a full-full-sized truck. The interior was very well thought out and I liked the driving position as well as the seat; my only beef there was that the view out the back window was like looking through a keyhole. The rear seats fold up onto the back wall to make space on the rear deck. Out back the deck is bigger than I thought it would be, but the real feature is a lockable well under the deck larger than a cooler (but set up like one with a drain plug) and a dual-axis tailgate. If we were in the market for a pickup I would definitely consider this.

So we’re going back for a CR-V sometime this week. I have to get the financing sorted out on Monday, but we’ve got a healthy down-payment ready so I think we can get the monthly payments to a reasonable place. Then I’ll hit up Honda Parts for a roof rack, and keep an eye on the local pick-and-pull for a better-looking set of wheels.

Date posted: January 28, 2024 | Filed under cars | Leave a Comment »

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