A Look At Your Favorite Compacts
|Good Things Come In Small Packages|
Jul 7, 2004 20:30:07|
16 ( -2 -12.5% )|
|Author||Tara Baukus Mello|
Some of the best-selling vehicles in today's market are small cars and for good reason-you can get a lot of features in a small (and not so pricey) package. Although the most entry-level vehicles still take a "bare bones" approach, most of the vehicles priced in the mid-teens offer as standard many of the features you'd normally purchase as options on less-expensive models. We took a look at your favorite compact cars and assessed what their offerings. Here's how things turned out.
Base Price: $13,160
Price As Tested: $16,845
One of General Motors best selling passenger cars, you only need to look as far as the window sticker to see why-there's a lot of value for well under $20,000. The 2000 model saw a slight makeover both inside and out and the addition of some new features. Design changes include fascias painted to match the body, new headlight design that provides greater illumination and a new spoiler for the Z24, the sportier model available as a coupe or convertible. The Cavalier's sister vehicle, the Pontiac Sunfire, also received similar updates. Interior changes include a redesigned instrument panel and center console. Available in coupe, convertible and sedan versions, the Cavalier has a broad appeal to a wide variety of buyers. All versions are nearly identical in dimensions such as headroom and legroom and hold five passengers. Cargo space is a decent 13.6 cubic feet on the sedan and 13.2 cubic feet on the coupe, but drops down to just 10.5 cubic feet for the convertible, to allow for storage of the top. One disadvantage on all, however, is that the trunk opening is rather small, making loading a bit more challenging that on its competitors. The best thing about the 2000 Cavalier is that Chevrolet has taken an already strong seller and offered the buyer even more standard features. Air conditioning, rear window defroster, anti-lock brakes and a more powerful stereo system are all included in the base price of all models. The base model coupe and convertibles come with a 115 horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission, while the Z24 keeps the manual transmission, but upgrades to a 150 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The Cavalier sedan, the LS gets the 2.4-liter engine with a four-speed automatic transmission and traction control as standard equipment.
Base Price: $11,865
Price As Tested: $17,090
The brand-new 2000 Ford Focus, Ford's replacement for the Escort, features a tall design with sharp edges, much like the redesigned Mercury Cougar. Only on the market for a short time, the Focus is already proving popular with consumers. It seemed everywhere I drove people were checking out this little vehicle. Aimed at the Generation X and Y crowd, the Focus received admiring looks from this age group, despite the fact that my test model was a wagon-a body style most 18-24 year olds wouldn't even consider driving. Overall, the car is three inches higher and about 4.5 inches longer than the Escort, which makes it very roomy. Both front and rear seat occupants have plenty of head and legroom-far more so than all the competing models. Cargo space is generous as well in all models and the rear seat lies nearly flat with a flip/fold style. Standard features on all Focus models include intermittent wipers, power steering, dual front airbags, a height-adjustable driver's seat, stereo with cassette, digital clock, and auxiliary power outlet and a remote trunk/deck lid release. Air conditioning, power door locks and mirrors, keyless remote and variable intermittent wipers are all standard on SE models. I grew fond of the Focus SE wagon during my week behind the wheel. My test model came with the optional 130 horsepower, twin cam, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which provided plenty of pep for most everyday driving, including traveling uphill to highway on-ramps. The engine did lag a bit more than I would have liked when starting from a near stop in second gear, such as when taking a turn. My Focus SE wagon also came with optional anti-lock brakes, side airbags, power windows, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel and cruise control. The steering wheel of the Focus is a bit smaller and sportier than competitors like the Toyota Corolla and that, combined with European-like steering, strong gripping tires and controlled body lean, the Focus offered great handling on twisting roads.
Base Price: $10,750
Price As Tested: $17,630
The Honda Civic will be redesigned for the 2001 model year, arriving at dealers this fall, so my 2000 Civic test model received only minimal changes. All versions come with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which ranges from 106 to 160 horsepower, depending on the package. A manual transmission is standard, with the automatic transmission available on all models, except the Si coupe, as an option. The Civic's ride was pleasant, making it generally fun to drive, although there was a bit of roll during cornering that could cause inexperienced or less cautious drivers to lose control. The sedan test model provided adequate space for four adults, although rear seat legroom was limited, particularly if there was 6-foot tall person in the driver's or front passenger's seats. The driver's sits a bit low in the seat, especially compared to the Focus, but it didn't impair view, which was good in all directions. Standard features on all Civics include dual front airbags, power steering (with auto transmissions), a tilt wheel and a split folding rear seat. Features such as air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power door locks and windows, anti-lock brakes and a sunroof are standard only on higher-level models, including the LX and EX. Although on the higher-priced end of the models tested, the Honda Civic is not as luxurious as the most expensive test vehicle, the Volkswagen Jetta. As with all Hondas, the Civic offers a well-presented vehicle that has been proven to be reliable and offer a strong resale value. It's a practical choice that offers plenty of driving enjoyment.
Base Price: $12,418
Price As Tested: $18,437
The Corolla is the classic in the Toyota line-up. It's been around for ages, but is still a fine car for the price. I am continually amazed at the number of older, high-mileage Corollas I see on the road-it's a true testament to Toyota's quality. For 2000, the Corolla gets a boost of five horsepower with Toyota's variable-valve timing, bringing the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine to 125 horsepower. The engine is offered with three transmissions-either a five-speed manual with overdrive, a three-speed automatic or a four-speed automatic with overdrive. It's been several years since the Corolla was significantly redesigned and is a great seller for Toyota. Some competitors with more modern styling, like the Ford Focus or even Toyota's own Echo (a subcompact priced substantially less than the Corolla), may soon be giving it a run for its money. The short height of the Corolla, compared to the taller designs of the Focus and Echo, mean that it does not accommodate adults very comfortably in the back seat. For drivers who need to transport several adults or teenagers, this could be a major disadvantage. The Corolla CE that I tested was fully loaded with options like a six-disc, in-dash CD changer, power sunroof, cruise control, air conditioning and power windows and door locks as well as safety features of anti-lock brakes and side airbags. Standard features on all models include a tilt steering wheel, daytime running lights, automatic headlights and intermittent wipers.
Base Price: $16,700
Price As Tested: $22,320
The most expensive car of the group and also one of the most popular for Autobytel visitors, the Volkswagen Jetta I would test drive needed meet some pretty high expectations. My silver test vehicle, a GLS 1.8T, lived up to my expectations and then some. With the introduction of a fourth engine for this vehicle earlier this year, my 1.8T was, indeed, a "pocket rocket," with plenty of low and mid-range torque providing all the power I wanted. The 150-horsepower, four-cylinder automatic had me scooting around town and on the highways as if I were a Generation Y hot rodder, while the handling capabilities evoked images of a much more expensive sports sedan. Not a bad mix for a vehicle whose base price with this engine is still under $20,000. While the Jetta had great performance characteristics, but it wasn't all muscle and no brains. The attractive exterior design, with its aptly named Silver Arrow metallic paint, was carried through to the interior as well, where black fabric with a tiny geometric pattern was used on the seats. The dashboard is well designed, with all the comfort and convenience controls within arm's reach. The instrument panel is particularly unique at night, when the gauges are backlit in blue with electric red needles. It is a striking combination that is easy on the eyes. Standard on the GLS 1.8T is Volkswagen's Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), anti-lock brakes, daytime running lights, a tilt and telescoping steering column, power windows with one-touch up and down for driver and front passenger, dual front and side airbags for front occupants, cruise control, air conditioning, a locking, split-folding rear seat, an anti-theft alarm system and an audio system with cassette.
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