If you can’t build a good car for $200,000, probably you should just quit trying. It’s actually much harder to build a great $20,000 car, one with a spacious cabin, everyday comfort and convenience, plus thrifty performance, all without forcing people to turn their wallets inside out to find the last dollar. Really, it’s much easier to build a Bentley than a simple compact sedan.
These days, the average compact sedan must be as roomy as a Honda Accord from the last decade, deliver an array of features that any high-style Bentley would be happy to offer, and let you sail past the gas pumps. You can get a stripped-down compact sedan with a washable interior and funky steel wheels if you want, but you can also slide into a compact sedan equipped with voice-activated features, an array of active safety measures, and a chassis agile enough to make the drive to the store feel like a trip to France.
In fact, compact sedans are getting so uniformly good that it’s harder than ever to pick out the best. Nevertheless, Automobile Magazine’s comparison review of the best compact sedans in America will lead you to the final answer. Although some blood was spilled in the process, we have begun our compact sedan comparison by selecting eight cars that are making news in the marketplace right now: Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.
Over the next five days, we’ll compare and contrast these cars in our own, unique bracket-style format and then present the winner.
Compact sedans, Automobile Magazine-style
Our comparison begins with a broad selection of compact sedans, which we define as five-passenger, four-door vehicles priced within hailing distance of $20,000. Such cars are meant to be driven to work, pick up kids from school, run errands, and occasionally make cross-country trips on the open road. They are multipurpose vehicles in a convenient size and are affordably priced. For some households, it is a second vehicle, but for many it is the only car at the curb.
These eight finalists represent the best aspects of the category, whether that means packaging efficiency, simple drivability, or electronic connectivity. By choosing one winner, we hope not only to define the current state of the compact sedan in America but also the character that people who read Automobile Magazine want in a practical, everyday compact car.
Just as you’d expect, we’ve picked models with thrifty engines, a useful array of convenience and safety features, and a spark of personality.
Compact sedans, bracket-style
We can’t pretend to be the average buyer, because, well, that would be impossible. Just like you, we are who we are. If you want complete objectivity unconfused by education, enthusiasm, experience, and just plain good taste, well, good luck to you.
We’ve again based our comparisons on bracket-style, head-to-head matchups, just as we did with our comparison of mid-size sedans. We’re not going to dumb down the process into some kind of SAT test, where like geeks we carefully add up the points scored in a thousand little categories of performance. When you do that, you reward broad-based mediocrity, not excellence. And at Automobile Magazine, we’re all about excellence.
We think the question of choice is personal and powerful, and a one-to-one confrontation between vehicles reveals character in a way that giant test groups do not.
Driving around pointlessly
Every car usually has a place to go, but when it comes to compact sedans, the destinations vary from the big old superstore to the nearest freeway on-ramp. So we didn’t overthink our route selection and simply headed to Kalamazoo, Michigan, from our editorial office in Ann Arbor. We took the back way there, running through fallow cornfields on the two-lane roads of America and then hammered home on the concrete slabs of Interstate 94.
As we’ve done in the past, we made our lunch stop at one of the local brew pubs for which Kalamazoo is known these days, and once again we picked Bell’s Brewery Eccentric Café. Naturally, no actual brew for us (rats!), but we did enjoy a selection of the usual organic stuff that you find in a college town, much of which involved bread, cheese, and potatoes. Ah, well, Kalamazoo is not exactly the Paris of western Michigan.
The map of the road ahead
Just like any road trip, it will take a while before this comparison test reaches its destination.
For Day 2 and Day 3 of Automobile Magazine’s compact sedan comparison, there will be head-to-head matchups, with four vehicles involved each day. On Day 4, we’ll sum up some of what we’ve learned in our testing with excerpts from our big book of notes. On Day 5, we’ll stage the final head-to-head comparison and determine the winner.
If you want to compare our winner to a $205,825 Bentley Flying Spur, well, that’s up to you.