Compact Sedan Challenge
Whether it’s your first car, or one for your son or daughter that’s headed off to college, chances are good that that car will be a compact sedan. And while Corolla and Civic have ruled compacts for a long time, like many other segments, it’s not just that simple anymore, as there’s lots of quality challengers out there for those entry-level dollars. Sounds like a compact sedan challenge is in order. So we gathered together 7 of the latest to see how they stack up.
JOHN DAVIS: Once again MotorWeek has teamed up with cars.com and USATODAY, in search of which compact four-doors deliver the most bang for those entry level bucks.
This time, we’re taking care of business right here in our home state of Maryland. And, as usual, our editorial staffs are joined by a local prospective buyer to get her take on each candidate.
The price cap was set at $20,000, and all vehicles needed to deliver great fuel economy with a Combined government rating of 28 MPG or better.
Vying for top compact sedan honors are this 2014 Ford Focus, which has been around in its current form since 2012.
The 2013 Honda Civic, fresh off a speedy re-fresh after being all-new the year before.
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra, which was last updated in 2011…
…while the 2014 Kia Forte is all-new for this year.
The 7th-generation Nissan Sentra was all new for 2013.
While our 2013 Subaru Impreza is only one year removed from its last redesign.
And, lastly, the all-new for 2014 Toyota Corolla.
All of these cars have automatic transmissions, and all are front-wheel-drive except for the Subaru Impreza which comes standard with all-wheel-drive. Full scoring rundowns can be found on the cars.com website, but for now we’ll run down our top-4 finishers.
Coming in 4th place is the stylish Nissan Sentra. A bit of a surprise as most evaluators had little good to say about its noisy 1.8-liter 4-cylinder and CVT transmission. But a Combined fuel economy rating of 34, a very spacious cabin, and a large trunk were all counted in its favor. It was the most expensive member of our modestly priced group, coming in right at $20,000.
Jim Healey: Sentra. Very nice package, very premium, lots of stuff for the money, very nicely executed dashboard, which is what you spend your time looking at.
Brian Robinson: Like a lot of recent Nissans, the Sentra is very comfortable; it gets great fuel economy, and is very roomy. But it also has a very good price.
JOHN DAVIS: It’s in third place that you find the perennial favorite Honda Civic. Following a Honda trait, it didn’t score best in any one category, yet it managed all things very well. The 140–horsepower I4 and 5-speed auto provided good power with 32-Combined miles-per-gallon, while the interior delivered very good comfort. Price is mid-pack at $19,755.
Jennifer Geiger: I think the Honda Civic is one of the more well-rounded vehicles in our bunch. It does a lot of things really well. It’s efficient; it’s affordable; it’s comfortable…
Carol Gluckman: The Honda Civic is a really nice car…I currently have an Acura, so it’s, of course made by Honda …it felt very well put together; very sturdy car; it handles very well…
JOHN DAVIS: Our runner up comes from Hyundai, as the lovely Elantra impressed our testers with its high style and high feature content. Powered by a 148–horsepower I4 that rates 32–Combined, the Elantra had a great mix of sport, comfort, and economy, all wrapped in very classy looking bodywork. At $19,870, the Elantra had the second highest price tag of our group.
Aaron Bragman: The Hyundai Elantra is actually one of the really nice cars in this test. The interior quality and materials and colors and the build quality itself. It all really comes together to give you a package that feels more expensive than it actually is.
Carol Gluckman:…easy handling, very sporty looking; sporty feel; very comfortable inside. I like the inside; I like the outside, and the way it handles is great.
JOHN DAVIS: But, the top spot goes to sister Korean brand Kia and their all-new Forte. Though mechanically similar to the Hyundai Elantra, including its 148-horsepower I4, the Kia Forte packs sportier ride and handling. Most reviewers also preferred its business like interior. While at 29 MPG its Combined rating was lowest of the group, fuel economy was mid-pack on the test loop. The Kia also had the second lowest price of the group at $19,100.
Bill Jackson: The Kia Forte has the best mix of features in the group, and it’s also got a good ride and a nice quiet interior space when you’re at speed.
Jennifer Geiger: The Forte, I think, is my favorite in terms of ride and handling blend; it’s really comfortable, yet still fun to drive.
JOHN DAVIS: In truth you won’t go wrong with any of these seven compacts, as all pack comfort, safety, and technology features unheard of in this segment just a decade ago. So it’s a great time to be in the small car market. But, for this group, our group crowns the Kia Forte as the best overall choice in compact sedans today.
2014 Ford Focus
2013 Honda Civic
2013 Hyundai Elantra
2014 Kia Forte
2013 Nissan Sentra
2013 Subaru Impreza
2014 Toyota Corolla