The Elantra is an impressive effort and boasts a long list of superlatives. It gets the best gas mileage, has the largest interior and trunk, and the best electronics interface. Less surprising but no less important is the fact that it has the most equipment at the lowest price. The Elantra is a good $2000 cheaper than the Civic, and would offer similar savings over a comparably equipped Focus. For many people, that wraps it up right there. To choose the Civic over the Elantra, one would have to place a greater weight on more subjective qualities. The Honda cabin feels more airy and comfortable and is easier to see out of. We found that the Civic also rides better. Its power deficit isn't really an issue because it's the lightest car here, and its fuel economy is close enough to the Hyundai's that it would hardly make a difference in real life. The Civic has the composure of a bigger car, but the ease of use of a small one. The Focus was a bit of an outlier in this test because of the way it was equipped. We had lined up a more directly compatible version (a sedan with an automatic transmission) but it was damaged at the last minute and this sporty SE hatchback stepped in. Despite its lower spec, the Focus was our favorite car to drive, with its nicely weighted steering, natural clutch action, and responsive handling. True, the Focus was the least economical, but we enjoyed rowing its manual gearbox. The hatchback body style is a versatile configuration that neither competitor offers. The Focus cabin wasn't as stylish as the Elantra's but neither was it quite as pedestrian as the Honda's, although it is more intimate than both. In any event, the Focus was the best driver's car, and while they may not be the most important factor for most small-car shoppers, it's where our prejudice lies, so the Focus is our pick.
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