The Small Car 6-Pack

Roy Ritchie

We demand more from our beer, too. Not the Automobile Magazine staff we, but the America we. There haven't been this many breweries operating in the United States since the late 1800s, and while overall beer sales were down in 2010, craft-beer sales climbed eleven percent. This is how we weave a tour of great breweries into a search for great small cars. You shouldn't drive crappy cars, and you shouldn't drink crappy beer. Michigan, with the fifth-largest brewing industry in the country, obliges. Our resident beer expert and senior web editor, Phil Floraday, theorizes that craft brewing thrives in regions with certain geographic characteristics -- something about four seasons and access to water. We'd add that a blue-collar mind-set and a seriously unstable job market probably helps, too.

Financial difficulty seems to have worked surprisingly well for General Motors, too, which emerged from bankruptcy with a compact car that can finally be taken seriously. For starters, the company with notoriously bad interiors now rivals Hyundai for the best among this group. The Chevrolet Cruze's cabin is pleasantly designed, with impressive build quality and fabric inserts that guard against plastic monotony. The center stack is user-friendly and has far fewer buttons than is typical for GM's new products. Only the seats, which have a bottom cushion that lacks thigh support and is too flat and firm for long trips, leave us wanting.

Under the hood, Chevy uses the smallest-displacement four-cylinder here, with a turbocharger bolted on to produce 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque from 1.4 liters. Despite torque peaking at a low 1850 rpm, it takes a lot of revs to accelerate the 3102-pound Cruze both in casual city driving and spirited back-road bombing. The Cruze feels like the slowest car in our group, but on the highway, the engine hums along with a quiet, refined, and effortless lightness.

Any virtue of the engine, though, is quickly erased by a six-speed automatic transmission that, bewilderingly, alternates between painfully slow and painfully harsh shifts. With the gear selector pushed into the manual shift gate, you can count out loud, "one, two, three," before it completes a fifth-to-fourth downshift. Left to choose gears on its own, the transmission often delivers a clumsy clunk with each shift. And occasionally, the gearchanges are both sluggish and abrupt at the same time, with a pause followed by an unusually sharp kick as the next gear engages. In the fuel-economy war, the Cruze is a letdown. EPA-rated at 24/36 mpg city/highway, the one-year-old Chevy's gas mileage is already near the tail end of the pack.

The Elantra should have been ranked ahead of the Civic as it offers more features, a superior warranty and styling, better mileage and is much cheaper than the Civic (ie. a superior value which is the main criteria for buyers in this class). Honda fell short on the redesigned Civic and hopefully Civic sales will drop and force Honda to make major improvements in the Civic rather than just tweak its design.
why isn't the forte used in comparisons. example hyundia elantra touring has 131 torq and 138hp with a 4sp auto. while the kia forte 5dr sx has a 168 torq and 173hp with a 6sp auto. the new elantra has a 6sp auto but only a 131 torq and a 148 hp and once again the kia forte sx 6 sp auto and a 168 torq and a 173 hp. in this class of cars the kia forte sx is up there. i test drove a number of these vehicles and choose the kia forte sx 5dr auto as i needed the storage at times?
I want to thank automobilemag for a great review. The third paragraph says it all. I had picked the Elantra as the winner for me personally and it seems all of you have come to the same conclusion on its pros and cons. I don't need a back seat and it will probably never see a road trip (I have other vehicles for that). It gets the best mileage for my daily commute to work and still provided the creature comforts to make the drive more bearable. Won't see much city driving either so ride quality is only a concern on the highway (we have some of the best roads in the country here in Texas). I assume the lack of weight is the greatest contributor to stability in the wind and after driving most of them(I have not driven an economy car in years), I was impressed with most of the cars in your review on that point. Once again, the best review of this segment I have seen so far. Well done! I think I will go have a Lambic to celebrate.

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