1. I don't read CR. I find that its predictions rarely reflect my experiences. YMMV.
2. I wasn't comparing by class.
3. It doesn't make sense to buy a vehicle I'm going to trade in a few years (I plan to buy the new Camaro when it comes out -- and the GDI V6 ought to get EPA ratings the same as the Rabbit or better), and besides, the lease is the ONLY new car I can afford at the moment. I've always been against leasing, close-minded with the same reasoning you cited. In this case, I've found myself in a very specific set of odd circumstances where it works out just right for me. Leasing does have one saving point that most people probably don't know: You don't pay sales tax on the car's purchase price, you only pay sales tax on the lease price. It amounts to approximately one free monthly payment.
I'm not awfully worried about reliability, I won't have it when it's out of warranty.
Now, those points having been addressed, here's how I came to the decision:
1. Comfort - I spend 1.5 to 2 hours per day in it, and I am very picky about my position and the way I fit/interact with the vehicle. A seating position that I like is of the utmost importance; if I'm uncomfortable I'm bound to hate it as long as I have it and be very cranky when I think about the money I put into it. When I sat in the Rabbit, my position immediately felt just like sitting in my truck, the only vehicle I've ever been 100% comfortable in.
2. Value - Compared to the other vehicles I was considering, it offered way more equipment, way more speed/power, and the all-important comfort.
3. Acquirability - I had to stop the bleeding with my truck. It was costing me so much to gas and repair my truck that I would never be able to build up a downpayment. I need to keep the truck no matter what I drive to work daily, for other reasons. The VW was available with a $0 downpayment lease.
Other vehicles I considered as being something I could tolerate driving, EPA rated for decent mileage, and in my price range: Ford Focus, Jeep Patriot, Saturn Ion, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Dodge Caliber, Pontiac G5, Nissan Sentra, Chevy Cobalt, Hyundai Elantra, Saturn Astra, and VW Jetta.
I was able to eliminate the Honda, Toyota, and Nissan due to the following reasons: High percentage of bad reviews by actual owners, price/equipment, and the "I don't want one" factor.
The Ford Focus was uncomfortable and had little to offer, though it's less ugly than the Rabbit.
The Jeep Patriot almost beat the Rabbit. It's EPA rated for better mileage, way more practical, looks slightly less ugly, is significantly cheaper, and has cheaper insurance. However, I was not comfortable in it (the window sill was too high and the armrest was too low, IIRC), it's kinda slow, and it's severely lacking in equipment. If I was buying instead of leasing, I would have bought it, with that lifetime powertrain warranty and the dealer less than 5 miles from my house along my commute.
Saturn, Dodge, Pontiac, Chevy, Hyundai: Various reasons.
VW Jetta: More expensive and slightly slower. More practical, but I don't need much practicality for a commute car.
All in all, I highly recommend the Jeep Patriot to anyone looking for economical, cheap, practical basic transportation. If it would have fit me better, I almost certainly would have chosen it.
I just bought a new VW myself(Jetta 5 sp manual). I couldn't be happier. Sure the FE isn't as good as some, but ya gotta love the German engineering. These things are solid. I also considered a Mazda 3, but a few of things swayed me to VW:
1. VW is more comfortable - I feel like I'm in a more expensive car.
2. safety - VW scored very high marks compared to mid size cars, whereas Mazda 3 scored only better than average compared to compact cars.
3. VW dealership is closest to my house. If I do have a dealer-required issue, it will be easier.
4. probably the most important, but least logical, I've just always been partial to VW. Farfegnugen FTW!!
But like you said, if you don't like the car you're in, you're going to be miserable while you're in it.