Compared: 2010 Kia Forte Vs. Honda Civic Vs. Ford Focus

August 3, 2009

Fuel-sipping sedans are in vogue--and no, we don't mean that glossy magazine with 73 pages of ads for every real article with real words.

Fashionable, sure. And when it comes to compact sedans with a light touch at the gas pumps, a few labels stand out above all the rest. The all-time champion of cheap? The Honda Civic, which has grown from the teensy CVCC-engined hatchback of the 1970s to the adult-sized four-door that dominates other compact sedans on the sales charts. With hybrid and natural-gas-powered versions and a coupe to boot, the Civic is an everyday performer that can even be optioned up to 197-hp Si status.

At the other end of the best-selling spectrum, there's the Ford Focus. Replacing the Escort in 2000, the Focus wowed critics at first, then stumbled as Ford turned its attention to luxury brands and big trucks. The Focus handled well and looked even better, but didn't get a serious rethink until 2008. That reskin of the doddering 8-year-old car turned the swoopy hatchback into a more dowdy sedan and coupe, but still, the Focus has been a solid seller--particularly with the cash-for-clunkers crowd.

Civic, Focus--what about the 2010 Kia Forte, then? It's brand-new, and until now, Kia hasn't exactly carved out a place for itself at the high-rollers table. That's all changed with the new compact four-door and its five-door cousin, the 2010 Kia Soul. With a deft new styling touch, rave-worthy interiors and reasonably inspired handling, the latest Kias are a clear shot at the bow of the likes of the Focus and Civic.

Sound like a Consumer Reports-inspired street fight to you? It sounds like a chance to compare cars to us.

By now you know rates vehicles for styling, performance, safety, comfort and utility, and features. From there, we arrive at an overall score, based on each vehicle's individual merits and on its competitiveness in its class of cars, vans, trucks or SUVs. We also let you compare cars of your choice, side by side, to see how they stack up in our editors' ratings.

We also do our own comparisons based on our experts' hands-on road tests. TCC's editors have driven each of these vehicles in various forms, in locations around the country, to be able to explain the ratings and to help you make your own decision.

Which of these three is best for you? To compare the trio, we've rated the relative vehicle lineups: each of these compact sedans comes with a manual or automatic transmission, offers sedan and coupe body styles, and has a green bent. The Civic comes in Hybrid and natural-gas versions, while both the Forte and Focus top 34 mpg in highway ratings. Ford's set to offer a new Focus with electric power, and we wouldn't be surprised to see a Kia Forte Hybrid in the near future, either.

Compact four-doors inspire diehard loyalty, but among these three contenders, one sedan tops's ratings charts, by a surprisingly slim margin. Of the best-selling compacts and the new arrival, which is the most highly rated by First, the basics:

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