2012 Compact Sedans: Five Under $20,000

December 16, 2011

As a follow-up to 2012 Family Vehicles: 20 Under $20,000, today we’re 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 Kia Forte’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 sedan

2012 Honda Civic sedan

Enlarge Photo

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.

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