$23,000 Compact Sedan Challenge
Despite what you may have heard from us and others, people are still buying sedans. In fact, compact sedans have gotten so good recently, that we think they’re a big part of the reason why fewer people are buying mid-size 4-doors. So, we assembled 8 of the best sellers in the compact segment to find out exactly what they have to offer, and which one delivers the most for the money.
Compact sedans do indeed have plenty to offer these days. So, here we are once again with our friends at cars.com, shuffling through the segment to find out which of these smaller 4-doors has the best hand when it comes to the practicality game.
Our caravan of compacts is camped out near Austin, Texas; where we could both release our inner hipsters, as well as put these cars through some Hill country Honky Tonk.
Let’s introduce our stable of 4-door steeds…
…the Chevrolet Cruze, our lone American contender…
…the always popular Honda Civic…
…the stylish Hyundai Elantra…
…the fun but frugal Kia Forte…
…the very sporty Mazda3…
…the capable Subaru Impreza…
…and of course we have the best-selling car of all time, the Toyota Corolla…
…and finally from Germany, by way of Mexico, the Volkswagen Jetta…
It takes a 4-cylinder to play in this game, and some showed up with turbos and some without; strictly automatic transmissions as well, some with actual gears, some with virtual ones. And with the exception of the AWD Subaru Impreza, all are front-wheel-drive.
$23,000 was our price cap, with each brand outfitting the car however they saw fit. The presence or lack of crash-avoidance technologies was also factored in.
We were also joined by some local Texans, who are looking for a frugal 4-door to add to their carport.
As time here is short, we’ll just rundown our final 4. For full scoring head over to cars.com.
In that 4th spot is the Volkswagen Jetta. You may not be able to get a TDI right now, but the 150–horsepower 1.4-liter gas turbo is as thrifty as it is lively; and the Jetta is one of the few compacts that delivers a big car feel, though pricing was near our cutoff, at $22,815.
BRIAN ROBINSON: “The Jetta may not be the most exciting to look at vehicle here, but spend some time with it and you realize it’s quite comfortable, very room, and actually pretty fun to drive.”
MIKE HANLEY: “The Jetta’s suspension tuning stands out because it manages to handle bumps well and deliver a smooth ride.”
JOHN DAVIS: Coming in 3rd is the Subaru Impreza. Sure, there’s all-wheel-drive, but as we found out, the Impreza has a lot more to offer; good comfort, excellent space, and a mid-pack price of $22,519.
BRIAN ROBINSON: “Obviously the biggest advantage with the Impreza is the all-wheel-drive, but it’s also a very roomy car, reasonably comfortable, and fun to drive as well.
J.D. & MARY MOORE: “…we were really impressed that Subaru could actually make an economy car that’s in the same class as these, yet not make it feel like an economy car at all… …it was like the same price, but it just felt like a more expensive car all around…”
JOHN DAVIS: Runner up is the Kia Forte. Even though it wasn’t a standout in driving dynamics, it scored great overall; because it delivers lots for the money, including sporty style, a 147–horsepower 2.0-liter, easy to use tech., and even a Lane Keep Assist system. All for the 2nd lowest price, $21,540.
KELSEY MAYS: “The Kia Forte is like a better version of the Hyundai Elantra… …decent looking car overall, actually pretty good packaging in terms of just roominess inside, some pretty advanced active safety features on our car; again, not terribly memorable to drive, but a lot of other good qualities.”
BRIAN ROBINSON: “I was not quite as impressed with the Forte as I was expecting to be; it’s roomy enough, comfortable; but this Forte S’ sport suspension has a noticeably firmer ride, yet it doesn’t seem to handle that much better than all the other cars here.”
JOHN DAVIS: It shouldn’t come as real surprise that the Honda Civic was our runaway winner. It was a 2017 MotorWeek Drivers’ Choice Award winner too, and continues to be a leader in the segment for mostly doing what it has always done; giving people trouble-free transportation packed full of well thought out features. Thankfully, you do get what you pay for, as even though the Civic comes iN with the highest price tag here, at $22,975, you get the most horsepower and best combined fuel economy of our top-4.
BRIAN ROBINSON: “The Civic offers all of the comfort, reliability and features that it always has, only now it’s doing it with a lot more style.”
FRED MEIER: “Among these compact cars, the Civic is one that does pretty much everything well; it’s fun to drive handles well, it’s quiet, the ride is nice, the interior is comfortable and quiet and there’s impressive attention to detail…”
JOHN DAVIS: Whether it’s a first car for a college student or starting family, or just your daily commuter, all eight of these little 4-doors can get the job done efficiently and comfortably. It just so happens that here in this contest the Honda Civic, as it has done for many years, did it best.
2017 Chevrolet Cruze
2017 Honda Civic
2017 Hyundai Elantra
2017 Kia Forte
2017 Subaru Impreza
2017 Toyota Corolla
2017 Volkswagen Jetta