As a follow-up to 2012 Family Vehicles: 20 Under $20,000, today the Family Car Guide is comparing what buyers get for the money in the base model of five main compact sedan competitors: Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze.
By way of comparison, it’s first instructive to look at what all of these five-passenger compact sedans have as standard equipment in common. All come with cloth seats, although two, the Hyundai Elantra and the Chevrolet Cruze have premium cloth seating. All are equipped with a manual transmission: the Honda Civic and Ford Focus have five-speed manual transmissions, while the Kia Forte, the Elantra and the Cruze have six-speed manuals.
Also standard across the board are electronic stability control, four-wheel disc ABS, tire pressure monitoring system, power windows, intermittent windshield wipers, rear window defroster, and cargo area light and all except the Focus have traction control. All but the Civic have power door locks and only the Elantra, Focus and Cruze have power mirrors (Elantra’s are also heated). Air conditioning is standard only on the Forte and Cruze. The Forte and Elantra have tilt steering, while the other three have tilt and telescopic steering. All five have steel wheels standard, with 15-inch steel wheels on all but the Cruze, which has 16-inch steel rims.
Note that all five are Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Chevy Cruze leads the pack with 10 standard airbags. The other four have six standard airbags.
How do these compact sedans differ? Here we look at the base engine and transmission, EPA-rated fuel economy, additional standard features, and interior roominess and cargo capacity. In terms of price, we begin with the least expensive model.
2012 Kia Forte LX
The base model 2012 Kia Forte LX, priced at $15,950 including destination charge, comes equipped with a 156-horsepower 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed manual transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway. Pay $1,000 more and get a six-speed automatic transmission that yields an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway fuel economy.
Beyond what’s already been mentioned, the Forte LX features a standard six-way power adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split folding rear seat, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM audio system, USB and auxiliary input jacks, Bluetooth wireless technology with steering wheel-mounted controls, EcoMinder fuel efficiency monitor, and dual 12-volt power outlets.
Since roominess is an important factor in the purchase of a compact family sedan, the KiaForte’s stats are impressive. Headroom front/rear is 40.0/37.6 inches, while front/rear legroom is 43.3/35.0 inches. The trunk has 14.7 cubic feet of cargo space.
The Car Connection rates the 2012 Kia Forte at 7.8 out of 10.
2012 Honda Civic DX
Redesigned for 2012, the 2012 Honda Civic DX sedan, priced at $16,575 with destination, is equipped with a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 28 mpg city/36 mpg highway with this combination. Opt for the five-speed automatic tranny for an additional $800, and the fuel economy is rated at 28/39 city/highway mpg.
Additional standard equipment on the Civic DX includes driver’s seat with manual height adjustment, reclining front seatbacks, fold-down rear seat, 12-volt front power outlet, headlights-on reminder, remote fuel filler door release, and remote trunk release with lock.
Interior headroom front/rear is 39.0/37.1 inches, while front and rear legroom is 42.0/36.2 inches. Trunk cargo volume is 12.5 cubic feet.
The Car Connection rates the 2012 Honda Civic at 6.8 out of 10, largely for its duller interior and lack of overall improvement in a tough class.
2012 Hyundai Elantra GLS
With an EPA rating of 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway, the 2012 Hyundai Elantra GLS (and Elantra Limited) don’t require a special package to deliver high fuel economy, unlike its competitors. The Elantra is powered by a 148-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine paired with six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is an additional $1,000).
Notable standard equipment for the base Elantra includes a six-way driver seat, driver seat height adjustment, 60/40 split fold-down rear seats, six-speaker 172-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, XM Satellite Radio, and iPod/USB auxiliary input jacks. Standard safety features include an anti-theft system integrated with remote keyless entry, panic alert and trunk open.
Interior headroom front/rear is 40.0/37.1 inches, while legroom front/rear is 43.6/33.1 inches. The Elantra boasts a trunk cargo volume of 14.8 cubic feet.
The Car Connection rates the 2012 Hyundai Elantra at 8.2 out of 10.
2012 Ford Focus S
The base model 2012 Ford Focus S sedan, priced at $17,295 with destination charge, is powered by an all-new 160-horsepower 2.0-liter Ti-VCT direct-injection in-line four-cylinder engine paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is EPA rated at 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway.
Standard equipment includes four-way manual driver’s seat, two-way manual passenger’s seat and two-way adjustable head restraints, folding rear bench seat, manual climate control, air filtration system, four-speaker AM/FM/single-disc CD/MP3 audio system, and power mirrors with integrated blind spot. A small number of optional packages are available as well as six-speed Power Shift automatic (for an extra $1,095).
Front and rear headroom is 38.3/38.0 inches, while front/rear legroom is 41.9/33.2 inches. Trunk volume is 13.2 cubic feet.
Note that to get 40-mpg highway fuel economy, you’d need to go up one trim to the SE with SFE package (super fuel economy). That gives you automatic transmission, 16-inch steel wheels, MyKey owner controls and more for $19,885 (including destination).
The Car Connection just named the 2012 Ford Focus Best Car to Buy.
2012 Chevrolet Cruze LS
For $17,470, consumers can get the base model 2012 Chevrolet Cruze LS sedan, powered by a 138-horsepower 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder engine matched with a six-speed manual transmission that’s EPA-rated to deliver 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway fuel economy. The six-speed automatic is an additional $995.
Note that the top-of-the-line Chevy Cruze Eco trim, with 42 mpg highway fuel economy from 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission is $19,995 (including destination).
Standard Cruze LS features include 60/40 folding rear seat, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with seven-inch diagonal color display and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (three months free). Standard safety features include OnStar Directions and Connections for six months, including Turn-by-Turn Navigation.
Interior headroom front/rear is 39.3/37.9 inches, while front/rear legroom is 42.3/35.4 inches. The Chevy Cruze leads the class with 15.4 cubic feet of trunk cargo volume.
The Car Connection rates the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze at 8.2 out of 10.
This story originally appeared in The Family Car Guide.