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A Closer Look-Five Compact Family Sedans

A Closer Look-Five Compact Family Sedans

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012

Consumers looking for economical transportation-withthe addedconvenience of 4 doors-frequently turn their eyes towards the popularcompact sedan segment. These models, and their nearly identical 2-doorcoupe twins, offer fuel-efficient 4-cylinder power with a cabin that accommodates four adults in reasonable comfort. Whether for thefirst-time new-vehicle buyer, for use as a commuter car, or for basicfamily transportation, these front-wheel-drive sedans feature veryreasonable base prices without scrimping on standard features.

The segment is comprised of nearly two dozen models, including theMazda 3, Volkswagen Jetta, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Kia Forte,Subaru Impreza, Mini Cooper, Dodge Caliber, Volkswagen NewBeetle,Honda Insight, Toyota Matrix, Volkswagen Golf andRabbit, Suzuki SX4,Kia Spectra, Pontiac Vibe and G5, and the Saturn Astra (2009 was thefinal year for the Pontiac and Saturn models).

It also includes five models that each sold in excess of 12,000 unitsin April 2010: the ToyotaCorolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, ChevroletCobalt and ToyotaPrius. These models generated total retail salesvolume of 91,163 units in April 2010, more than half of the 153,999units sold for the entire segment during that month.

Dimensions and interior room
These compact family sedans vary in length by no more than 5 inches.The longest is the Chevrolet Cobalt (180.3 inches), followed by theToyota Corolla (178.7) and the Honda Civic (177.3). The Toyota Prius(175.6 inches) and Ford Focus (175.0) are the shortest.

Wheelbase is defined as the distance between the front and rear wheels.It's often associated with improved ride quality (which is one reasonwhy limousines have very long wheelbases). The Toyota Prius and HondaCivic share the same wheelbase (106.3 inches), followed by theChevrolet Cobalt (103.3). The Ford Focus (102.9 inches) and ToyotaCorolla (102.4) have the shortest wheelbase among this group.

When it comes to passenger space, the Toyota Prius (93.7 cubic feet) isjust slightly larger than the Ford Focus (93.4). These two are followedby the Toyota Corolla (92.0 cubic feet) and Honda Civic (90.9). TheChevrolet Cobalt, with 87.1 cubic feet, has the least amount ofpassenger space. The leader in trunk space is the hatchback ToyotaPrius (21.6 cubic feet with the seats folded), followed by the FordFocus and Chevrolet Cobalt (both at 14 cubic feet). The Honda Civic andToyota Corolla each offer the same amount of cargo space (12 cubicfeet).

The tightest turning circle goes to the Chevrolet Cobalt (33.5 feet).It is followed by the Ford Focus and Toyota Prius (each at 34.2 feet),the Honda Civic (35.4), and the Toyota Corolla (35.6).

Features and options
All five models are also similarly equipped with standard features. TheToyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cobalt and ToyotaPrius are all fitted with power steering and air conditioning asstandard equipment. Second-row folding seats, a rear-window defogger,and a compact disc player are also standard fitment.

The Chevrolet may be optioned with GM'ssuite of OnStar services(navigation, vehicle diagnostics, remote door unlock, etc.), while theFord can be optioned with the automaker'sSync infotainment equipment.Navigation and upgraded audio systems are also available on the Toyotaand Honda models.

Mechanically speaking, each of the compact sedans is fitted withindependent front suspension and independent (or semi-independent) rearsuspension as well as front disc brakes and rear drum brakes.

Powerplant and fuel economy
These compact family-oriented sedans all feature standardfuel-efficient 4-cylinder engines with one exception-the Toyota Priusis a gasoline-electrichybrid.

The most powerful of the five sedans is the Chevrolet Cobalt, with astandard 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 155 horsepower and 150lb.-ft. of torque. It is followed by the Ford Focus, with a standard2.0-liter 4-cylinder rated at 140 horsepower and 136 lb.-ft. of torque,and the Honda Civic with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder rated at 140 horsepowerand 128 lb.-ft. of torque. The hybrid-electric Toyota Prius has a1.8-liter 4-cylinder assisted by an electric motor for a total systempower of 134 horsepower and 153 lb.-ft. of torque, while the ToyotaCorolla has a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder rated at 132 horsepower and 128lb.-ft. of torque.

The Cobalt, Civic, Corolla and Focus are all offered with a 5-speedmanual transmission or with optional 4- or 5-speed automatictransmissions. The Prius is only available with an automatictransmission (which in most cases are more fuel efficient than manualtransmissions).

All of these five competitors earn more than 24 mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway. Comparing fuel economy, the Toyota Prius, with itsstandard continuouslyvariable automatic transmission (CVT), earns anEPA fuel-economy rating of 51 mpg city and 50 mpg highway (hybridvehicles typically earn better fuel economy in the city cycle thanks toregenerative engine braking). The Toyota Corolla, with a 4-speedautomatic transmission, is rated at 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.Less efficient in the city cycle, but more economical on the highway,the Honda Civic with a 5-speed automatic is rated at 25 mpg city and 36mpg highway. The Ford Focus, with a 4-speed automatic, is rated at 24mpg city and 34 mpg highway while the Chevrolet Cobalt, also with a4-speed automatic, is rated at 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.

Safety and crash testing
Safety is an important consideration, even at the entry-level pricingof these sedans. As required by government regulations, each of thesesedans is fitted with dual front air bags and atire-pressure-monitoring system. In addition, they are all fitted withstandard side curtain air bags. Anti-lock brakes are standard on theHonda Civic and both Toyotas, but are optional on the Chevrolet andFord. Stability control is standard on the Toyota Prius, but optionalon the others (at higher trim levels). In consideration for youngerpassengers, all feature child safety door locks and 3-point center seatbelts in the rear seats.

IIHS Assessments
In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety(IIHS), the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic (sedan) were both rated"Good" in frontal offset, side-impact, and roof strength tests to earnthe agency's "Top Safety Pick" label. The Toyota Prius was rated "Good"in frontal offset and side-impact tests, but was not tested for roofstrength. The Ford Focus (sedan) and Chevrolet Cobalt (sedan) were bothrated "Good" in frontal offset tests, but "Acceptable" in side-impacttests (and not tested for roof strength).

NHTSA Assessments
The National HighwayTraffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave theToyota Prius and Toyota Corolla 4-star ratings in Front Driver/FrontPassenger crash protection, and 5-star ratings in Side Driver impacttesting. The Prius earned 4-star ratings in Side Rear Passenger andRollover testing. The Honda Civic (sedan) earned 5-star ratings inFront Driver/Front Passenger and 4-star ratings in Side Driver impacttesting.

The Civic earned 5-star ratings in Side Rear Passenger and 4-stars inRollover testing. The Ford Focus (sedan) earned 4-star ratings in FrontDriver/Front Passenger and 5-star ratings in Side Driver impacttesting. The Focus earned 4-star ratings in Side Rear Passenger andRollover testing. Lastly, the Chevrolet Cobalt (sedan) earned 4-starratings in Front Driver, 5-stars in Front Passenger, and 3-star ratingsin Side Driver impact testing. The Focus earned 5-star ratings in SideRear Passenger and 4-stars in Rollover testing.

Quality and dependability
Statistics and numbers aside, consumers seeking a compact family sedanare also interested in initial quality and long-term dependability. Inthe J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Initial Quality Study (IQS),SMastudy of new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership, theToyota Prius and Honda Civic finished among the top three models in the"Compact Car" segment. In the J.D. Power and Associates 2010VehicleDependability Study (VDS),SM which measures long-termquality in3-year-old vehicles, the Toyota Prius ranked among the top three modelsin the "Compact Car" segment, while the Toyota Corolla ranked second.

These five compact family sedans are all very similar in size-bothpassenger room and cargo capacity-engine displacement, and horsepower.However, there are distinct differences. Most obvious is the hybridgasoline-electric Toyota Prius. It is the most expensive model in thelineup, but it also offers the highest level of standard equipment, itshatchback increases utility, and it achieves 50 mpg fuel economy. TheHonda Civic and Toyota Corolla are very closely matched-their strengthis fuel economy and safety. The Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cobalt are themost powerful, trading fuel economy for horsepower.

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