Sedans are losing sales to SUVs and automakers are fighting back. Buyers of SUVs and crossovers like sitting up higher, having more cargo room, and available all-wheel-drive, and they perceive SUVs being more rugged. Rather than abandon the smaller-sedan segments, automakers are making their compact vehicles roomier and quieter. They’re offering technology that until recently was only on bigger, higher-end models. The best compact sedans offer the holy trinity of driver assists: blind spot detection, lane departure warning or lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are trickling into center stacks.
Here’s a comparison of what the best-selling compact sedans are doing to stay competitive via their technology offerings. We compare the nine compact sedans that sold 100,000 units last year in the US — Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze, Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus, Volkswagen Jetta, Mazda 3, and Subaru Impreza — plus the Kia Forte that is on pace to sell 100,000 this year. Our rundown is sorted by 2015 sales. We also recommend the driver-assist options best suited to the car that, where it’s possible, don’t drag in extras unrelated to safety.
Technology makes smaller cars attractive to big-sedan drivers who’re downsizing and became fond of their driver assists, to high-mileage sales reps who like cars with high-thirties highway fuel economy, and city dwellers looking to fit into small parking spaces. Compacts are typically 15 feet long (180 inches), yet through better packaging, the majority are EPA-classified as midsize: Civic, Corolla, Cruze, Elantra, Forte, and Sentra. Most are as quiet as big sedans of a decade ago.
The herd is being culled already: Fiat-Chrysler announced it will discontinue the compact Dodge Dart (10th in compact sales last year) as it concentrates on crossovers and SUVs. Automotive News reported Buick Verano (13th among compacts) and a close sibling to Cruze, is also due to be discontinued next year; GM called the report “speculation.”
The 2015 best-selling compact car (363,000) is the Toyota Corolla. Corolla is the exception to our hypothesis that small cars sell well when automakers make more tech available to survive against crossovers and SUVs. The 2016 Toyota is free of the driver-assist technology others offer. Instead, Toyota in Corolla’s 50th year continues to offer an affordable compact car with a cap on price-raising bells and whistles, a formula that made Corolla the best selling nameplate ever (40 million as of 2013). Spoiler alert: Look for Toyota to get on board with tech for 2017.
The 2016 Corolla includes a Star safety system, Toyota’s term for electronic stability control, traction control, and anti-lock braking; also eight airbags, LATCH tether anchors for child seats, and front-rear crumple zones, plus side-impact door beams to protect the passenger cell. This is a match for what the rest of the industry does.
The lone driver assist is a backup camera with projected path lines on all but the entry Corolla L. For infotainment, there is one of three versions of Entune Audio (except on Corolla L), which comprises at minimum one USB jack, Bluetooth for phone calls and music streaming, and Siri Eyes Free. Entune Audio Plus provides HD Radio, satellite radio, and navigation via the Scout GPS Link app you can add to your smartphone and display on the 6.1-inch center stack panel. Entune Premium integrates navigation into the car and adds Entune app suite, which use your phone for connection to the cloud and access to iHeartRadio, MovieTickets.com, OpenTable, Pandora, Facebook Places, Yelp, Slacker Radio, Destination Search (replaces Bing) and real-time traffic, weather, and fuel prices data. Entune is not complicated. (Translation: It works.)
Look for the 12th generation Corolla (inset) later this year to ship with Toyota’s small-car version of Toyota Safety Sense that employs camera and laser technology to warn of obstacles and if necessary scrub off 20 mph of speed to avoid or mitigate a collision.
Infotainment: 1 USB jack, phone based navigation (Entune Plus) or embedded navigation and app suite (Entune Premium).
Competitors want you to know: The current Corolla is not competitive on driver assist technology.
Packages to get: Entune Audio Plus (with Scout navigation)
List price with recommended tech, freight: Corolla LE with Entune Audio Plus, $20,245
Bottom line: Reliable and affordable now, competitive on tech in a year
The 2016 Honda Civic is the best of the compact sedans and Editors’ Choice on our sister site PCMag.com NextCar. Most of the tech and safety tech is offered on every trim line, in particular the Honda Sensing package of stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and self-centering lane departure warning / lane keep assist. If you keep your hands lightly touching the wheel, the car tracks straight and true on interstates, even through curves.
Once you get past the entry LX trim line, every Civic comes with the 7-inch Display Audio infotainment touchscreen system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so there’s no reason to buy Honda’s $1,000 Garmin-based navigation, other than that it works fabulously well. The two middle trim lines, EX and EX-T, offer Honda Sensing as the only option, at $1,000, but not embedded navigation. The EX-L above that offers either Honda Sensing or navigation ($1,000 for either); if you want both you get the top-line Honda Touring, which also includes LED headlamps and premium audio. Honda Sensing is a technology-only option; it doesn’t force on you a moonroof or leather seats.
Instead of blind spot detection, Honda includes standard (except on the entry LX) LaneWatch, a rear-facing camera on the passenger side mirror that displays the view on the center stack LCD, overlaid with distance lines. It works well by day, so-so at night, and on the driver side all you get is a wide-angle side mirror. Interestingly, on the almost-as-new Honda Pilot, the top trim line eschews Lane Watch for a traditional blind spot warning system.
Front safety: stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, car-and-pedestrian collision mitigation braking, (Touring only:) LED headlamps. Side safety: Lane keep assist (self-centering). Rear safety: Honda LaneWatch (passenger side) camera with dynamic guidelines.
Worth knowing: Honda Sensing adaptive cruise/lane keep assist offered on all but cheapest (LX) trim line. The Civic is so roomy in back that Accord-intenders may find the Civic good enough.
Competitors want you to know: Touchscreen infotainment is hard to use, LaneWatch blind spot detection is a passenger side (only) camera, no rear sonar (not even a dealer option in 2016).
Packages to get: Honda Sensing (adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist), $1,000.
List price with recommended tech, freight: $24,035 (EX-T with Honda Sensing)
Bottom line: The current standard bearer, midprice lines use phone navigation (only), held back by the infotainment interface
The Hyundai Elantra (review) is new with the 2017 model, now shipping. It added refinement, noise abatement, and a better ride thanks to 400 feet of robotically applied aerospace adhesives on the body panels, 40X the glue of its predecessor. It is a well-built car that’s sort-of-fun to drive with improved handling but without the sporty handling of the Civic or Subaru Impreza. (A Sport model Elantra is coming.) It continues the “fluidic sculpture” design language of the 2011-2016, dialed back a bit.
To get the useful tech, bypass the somewhat Spartan Elantra SE for the Elantra Limited, a $4,000 upgrade that includes blind spot detection with rear cross traffic alert. Then choose the $2,500 tech package with navigation, Infinity premium audio, Harman’s Clari-Fi (music restorer for low-bit-rate files), a color not mono 4-inch instrument panel LCD and two not-so-tech options, heated rear seats and a sunroof. The Ultimate Package ($1,900 plus the tech package) is the real tech package here, with adaptive cruise control (not stop-and-go), lane departure warning / lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, and automatic high beams. The 8-inch screen on navi-equipped cars is bigger than Honda’s and it works better.
The total, $27,585, actually tops the all-everything Honda Civic Touring by $225, although the Elantra’s actual selling price may be less after incentives. You’ll probably prefer the Elantra’s infotainment and traditonal blind spot detection (including the beeps you can’t mute) to Civic’s Display Audio and LaneWatch, but Civic’s adaptive cruise control is full-range. As these cars improve, there is still no one perfect compact sedan.
If you go for the entry Elantra SE, at the least get it with the Popular Equipment Package that includes some of the tech basics: 7-inch touchscreen, rear camera, Bluetooth (phone and audio streaming), Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Worth knowing: Basic telematics service (crash notification, emergency assistance) is just $99 a year. Nobody does it less expensively.
Competitors want you to know: So-so acceleration. Lacking in embedded infotainment apps. Loaded Elantras not so inexpensive (before discounts).
Packages to get: Limited Ultimate Package and Tech Package
Bottom line: Nearly as good as Civic with better infotainment and lane departure warning
Since 2013, Chevrolet has been renewing its sedan lineup with serious improvements: Impala, Malibu, Volt, and now this spring the compact 2016 Chevrolet Cruze sedan. A Cruze hatchback arrives this fall (inset). The Cruze overall is a major step forward in roominess, economy and performance. Every car gets OnStar telematics, a rear camera, Bluetooth, a USB jack (one), and the MyLink infotainment system with a 7- or 8-inch color display with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. To get all the safety and driver assist features, you’re buying comfort items too and winding up with one of the costlier compact sedans.
If you want the fullest array of driver assist technology, you have to buy upmarket, past Cruze L, LS and LT to Cruze Premier, a $6,500 jump from the base trim line. Cruze LT offers rear sonar, blind spot detection (“side blind zone alert”) and rear cross alert in the $495 driver confidence I package that requires the $1,150 convenience package (keyless access and start, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, remote start). Only Cruze LT Premier offers the $790 driver confidence II package (forward collision alert, lane departure warning / lane keep assist, automatic high beams, plus the driver confidence I rear alerts), which in turn requires the $865 enhanced convenience package (110-volt outlet, wireless Qi charging, heated rear seats, single zone automatic HVAC, express up/down driver window). If you want to use Apple or Google maps for navigation, you can take or leave the $1,995 sun-sound-navigation package (embedded navigation, Bose premium audio, color MID in the instrument cluster, sunroof). But if you want embedded navi, you must also take the cosmetic touches RS package (sport body kit, rear spoiler, RS lettering, fog lamps, 40 not 45 series alloy wheels), putting the car at $28,640 list.
On the road, the tiny engine (1.4 liters) is quite adequate and gets to 60 mph in less than eight seconds. Apple CarPlay worked well, the trim looked upscale, front seats were reasonably room and there was good legroom in back, but passengers over 5-foot-9 will find headroom is tight.
If you don’t want the driver assists and don’t mind streaming phone navigation to the dash, every Cruze offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto navigation. Otherwise, you need Cruze Premier and all its options. In a test drive, the new Cruze was peppy with its turbo 1.4-liter engine and a big step forward for Chevrolet, but not the way Malibu and Impala are. Its 42 mpg highway rating makes this a good choice for long-distance cruisers, except there’s no adaptive cruise control offered. Note to shoppers: 2016 Cruze Limited is the 2015 Cruze held over. Different beast.
Infotainment: 1 USB, OnStar, 7-inch or 8-inch touchscreen with CarPlay / Android Auto navigation or embedded navigation, Qi wireless charging, 110-volt jack, Teen Safety (monitoring)
Worth knowing: All trim lines except Premier can be ordered with manual transmission (saves $1,000-$1,300). All support CarPlay, Android Auto.
Competitors want you to know: No adaptive cruise control. Front/side safety assists limited to most costly Premier trim line. 5-years-free OnStar Basic service excludes crash notification.
Packages to get: Driver confidence I and II packages (depends on trim line), Convenience Package
Bottom line: Best small Chevy ever hurt by complex options packages, no adaptive cruise control.
If you want basic, reliable transportation, look to Nissan Sentra. The seventh generation Sentra dates to model year 2013, although ongoing enhancements make 2015 and now 2016 Sentras more desirable. Of the five trim lines — Sentra S (stripped but has Bluetooth and USB), FE+S (Eco), SV, SR (a sporty SV) and SL (luxury) — the Nissan SR gets you all the driver assists you’ll need (as options) including adaptive cruise control, but it makes you add luxury / comfort options to get the tech package. The SL comes standard with the driver assist features, leather seats and a fuller-featured HVAC system.
Trim lines as low as Sentra SV and SR offer blind spot detection (“blind spot warning” to Nissan), rear cross traffic alert, navigation, and Nissan Connect in a Driver’s Assist Package for $1,020. Sentra SV and up have a backup camera. The Sentra SR and SL have LED low beam headlamps and additionally offer a Technology Package with adaptive cruise control (“intelligent cruise control” to Nissan), forward emergency braking, and NissanConnect for $1,230. But they both make you buy premium packages to get the tech package. The SR plus Driver’s Assist plus Tech Package would sell for $23,495 if you could do that combo. You can’t. Instead it’s $25,065 for an SR Premium Package that combines Driver’s Assist with moonroof, premium audio, and leather; plus the Tech Package. Same thing with Sentra SL, which integrates leather and Driver’s Assist (BSD, RCTA) in the base price, but requires the $1,130 moonroof-and-Bose Premium Package to get the Tech Package with the total price $25,365. Still, that’s about $2,500 below the costliest cars in the segment.
NissanConnect, for Apple and Android phones, links your smartphone to the car, controls Pandora and IHeart Radio, and allows some texting and Facebook / Twitter messaging, but it’s not embedded telematics like OnStar or Hyundai BlueLink. (Nissan offers a 4G WiFi hotspot with apps ($450 plus data) that includes track-your-teen features.) If your car has navigation, that’s considered part of NissanConnect, too. Nissan describes NissanConnect as being almost like Apple CarPlay until CarPlay arrives on some Nissans this year. Sentra will not be among the first models tapped. Android Auto support is even less clear.
No 2016 Sentra is offered with lane departure warning, let alone self-centering lane keep assist, nor does Sentra offer Nissan’s pioneering Around View (surround view) camera system that gives you a virtual overhead view of the car when you’re backing into and out of tight spaces. Curiously, Nissans as small as Versa Note have Around View. (Versa is the hands-down best-seller among subcompacts with 145,000 2015 sales, a shrinking category in the US that is only one-fifth as large as the compact segment.)
The Nissan Sentra cockpit is nicely finished, but other cars build in a bit more excitement. Acceleration from the 130-hp 1.8-liter engine and CVT transmission is not class-leading. Against that, the back seat is quite roomy (this is one of the midsize-classified compacts) and all seats are comfy.
Worth knowing: Backup camera standard SV and up. Standard EasyFill tire fill chirps the horn when you add enough air to reach the proper inflation.
Competitors want you to know: no lane departure warning, no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on the horizon, smallish 5.0 or 5.8-inch center stack LCD.
Packages to get: Driver Assist Package (SV) or Premium Package and Technology Package (SR, SL)
Bottom line: Solid, roomy transportation with adaptive cruise, but not lane departure warning or surround view.
The third-generation Ford Focus dates to 2011 with a 2015 refresh. It’s among the oldest of the top compact sedans and is currently the world’s best selling model. No new Focus is on the horizon, at least not after 2017 models. Still, Focus has kept up with most driver tech other than adaptive cruise control and it’s one of the first Ford models to get the new Sync 3. With Focus, you can get lane departure warning (but not lane keep assist or lane centering), blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, and parallel parking assistance.
Focus comes with a three- or four-cylinder engine or an electric motor; sedan or hatchback; plus performance Focus ST and RS hatchbacks. The base Focus S four-cylinder gas-engine sedan has a rear camera, Ford Sync (not Sync 3), and MyKey, which tracks and limits teen driving behavior. The mid-grade Focus SE offers navigation and premium audio ($1,495). The upmarket Focus Titanium makes standard Sync 3, 10-speaker Sony audio, and two USB jacks. Options include Titanium Technology Package ($795) with blind spot detection (“blind spot information system” to Ford), rear cross traffic alert, and lane keep assist that steers the car back if it approaches the lane markings. There’s also Active Park Assist ($395).
Sync uses its own AppLink software to control third-party apps running on smartphones. AppLink will continue and Ford says Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be offered via software update later this year on Escapes with Sync 3. 2017 Sync 3 Escapes will get CarPlay and Android Auto installed and will offer an OnStar-like 4G LTE embedded telematics modem called Sync Connect. Current cars can use a connected smartphone for emergency crash notification (911 assist).
Focus handles well and the car is quick, although the three-cylinder 1.0-liter turbo engine that is fine on the subcompact Fiesta is overmatched by Focus’ size. Sync 3 works reasonably well (finally). At 178 inches, four inches shorter than much of the competition, the back seat is snug compared with Civic, Corolla, Elantra, and Sentra. If you want all the tech Ford offers, you’ll need the Focus Titanium.
Worth knowing: 911 Assist does Mayday calling via your cellphone. Ford AppLink works like Apple CarPlay only with more apps available.
Competitors want you to know: Tight rear seats. Consumer Reports rates Focus reliability worse than average.
Bottom line: Aging well (but aging), Sync finally fixed, no adaptive cruise control
The Jetta, not the Golf, is VW’s best-selling car in the US. The sixth-generation Jetta has been built since 2011 and a replacement isn’t likely before mid-2017, but VW soldiers on, this year with an improved infotainment system and a new gasoline engine. The Jetta diesel remains on stop-sale since last fall, which may be why Jetta sales are off by 10% so far this year versus early 2015. It also may be the 2016 Jetta is late in its life.
VW has many Jetta variants, engines, and trim lines, but the tech options are pretty simple: a well-regarded new MIB II infotainment system with VW Car-Net-App-Connect is offered across the board with a smallish 6.3-inch touchscreen (5-inches on TSI). The Driver Assistance Package was expanded this year to include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, emergency braking, blind spot detection, and rear cross traffic alert. To get all the goods, you need one of the higher trim lines (model variants).
The heart of the Jetta line is the Jetta 1.4T and Jetta 1.8T with trim lines called S, S with Technology, SE, SE with Connectivity, SEL, and SEL Premium. There’s also a Jetta Hybrid; Jetta GLI (like Golf GTI) 2.0T with SE and SEL trim lines; and were it not for this dieselgate thing, some Jetta TDIs. To get the Driver Assistance features, you’re steered to the Jetta 1.8T SEL or SEL Premium. Add Driver Assistance ($950), shipping, and you’re at $26,415 (with freight) for a car (SEL) with bi-Xenon headlamps, sunroof, rear camera, and navigation, as well as vinyl seats (“V-Tex”) and a manually adjusting driver’s seat. Below that, the Jetta 1.4T SE with Connectivity ($23,145 with freight) gives you the newest head unit with access to your phone via CarPlay, Android Auto, or MirrorLink, the phone-to-dashboard display mirroring technology that is still seeking traction. But there are none of the driver assists.
VW’s engine lineup is solid now that VW dropped the 2.0-liter non-turbo four in favor of a stronger 1.4-liter turbo. The car is roomy, but as this generation winds down, the interior appointments aren’t that upscale. And ride and handling no longer make you think you’re getting a bargain-priced Audi — not even with the GLI models that are supposed to be siblings to the hot-rod Golf GTI.
Worth knowing: Jetta is one of the roomiest compacts
Competitors want you to know: Current Jetta design dates to 2011. No lane departure warning (other VW models have it).
Packages to get: Driver Assistance on SEL or SEL Premium
Bottom line: Roomy but feels its age. One German car that doesn’t feel so sporty.
The 2016 Mazda3 sedan is an easy car to summarize: sporty, lots of technology (even a head-up display), not the most spacious back seat or trunk. There are three trim lines, Sport, Touring, Grand Touring; two engines, 155-hp 2.0-liter (designated Mazda3 i) and 184-hp 2.5-liter (Mazda3 s) four-cylinder engines; and six-speed manual or six-speed-automatic offered on most lines (3 s Touring is automatic-only). The Mazda3 is sold as a hatchback-almost-a-wagon version, too; Mazda calls it the Mazda3 5-Door.
Even the entry Mazda3 i Sport comes standard with Bluetooth, two USB jacks, rear camera, 7-inch touchscreen, Commander rotary controller, and nine-speaker Bose audio. Blind spot detection and rear cross traffic alert is in a Preferred Equipment package, total price with freight $19,665 (six-speed manual; add $1,050 for six-speed automatic). Rear parking sonar is a standalone $495 option on any Mazda3.
The Touring makes standard some of the Sport options and adds an Active Drive Display, a head-up display (inset) in the form of a panel atop the instrument cluster. The Mazda3 S Grand Touring further adds bi-xenon steerable headlamps and navigation, and provides access to the $2,600 Technology Package: adaptive cruise control (“Mazda Radar Cruise Control”), forward collision warning (“forward obstruction warning”), lane departure warning, automatic high beams, smart city brake support (automatic braking at 2.5-19 mph or 4-30 kph), active grille shutters, and i-ELOOP regenerative charging. This makes the car a very-mild hybrid: Regenerative braking charges a large capacitor, which helps power the car’s accessories, but not the drivetrain, and adds 1 mpg to EPA ratings. This tech package also pushes the Mazda3 close to $30,000.
The Mazda Connect infotainment system does not yet support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; Mazda apparently wants to make sure the connections work well before turning them loose on paying customers. Meanwhile, Mazda 3 vehicles can control Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher internet radio integration apps on smartphones. It will play text messages aloud and let you create voice-to-text responses. It is a good system once you get past the initial learning curve.
On the road, the Mazda3, like any Mazda, is a blast to drive either with either engine, either gearbox. The larger engine (plus added features) ups the price of the s Touring by $3,700 over the 2.0-liter engine, and the s Grand Touring by $2,200 (the Mazda3 Sport only has the smaller engine). The larger engine does help performance and only affects fuel economy by 1-2 mpg. The manual gearbox actually gets 1-3 mpg less in city driving than the automatic.
Concerns? The back seat is not spacious. Nor is the trunk, but you can solve that for $1,000 by specifying the hatchback Mazda3. There’s also a bit more road and wind noise than the Civic or Elantra. But if you want the most tech in a compact car, the Mazda3 is worth a test drive.
Competitors want you to know: Less luggage and back seat room than other compacts, only s Grand Touring gets tech package
Bottom line: The best driver’s car of the bunch, serious tech (even a HUD), better for two occupants than four
The 2016 Subaru Impreza is the only all-wheel-drive compact sedan in the group and it’s standard on all Imprezas. It’s also a roomy family sedan with great crash test scores. Subaru uses a unique stereoscopic camera system, called EyeSight, for the front-and side-safety tasks: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and pre-collision braking (collision mitigation). The 2016 Impreza represents the last of a five-year model run. The successor is due later this year and may address Impreza’s most pressing issues: The 148-hp engine is somewhat noisy and underpowered compared with the competition; fuel economy is only fair (28/37/31 for the CVT, 3 mpg less for the five-speed manual).
The 2016 Impreza comes in five trim lines: 2.0i, 2.0i Premium, and 2.0i Limited, with all three offered as a sedan (“4-door”) or hatchback / wagon (“5-door”); plus the hatchback-only 2.0 Sport Premium and 2.0 Sport Limited. EyeSight is offered on one sedan, the Limited, as well as on the Sport Premium and Sport Limited hatches. (The Impreza is also the basis for the high-performance Subaru WRX as well as the crossover Subaru Crosstrek.)
EveEyeSight comes only as part of a $2,895 package called, simply, Moonroof + Keyless Access & Push-Button Start + Navigation System + Eyesight. Since the moonroof and keyless access are a $1,500 option available separately, we estimate EyeSight’s portion of the price is $600-$900, the rest taken up by the nav system. The twin cameras at the top of the windshield take the place of both radar and the single camera used on other vehicles for adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. If you want an Impreza sedan with tech, you need the 2.0i Limited and the Moonroof … EyeSight package, $23,390 with freight.
Every Impreza gets a rear camera and at least a 6.2-inch center stack touchscreen. On Limited and above, the screen is 7 inches and there are dual USB jacks. The Impreza integrates control of smartphone apps Aha, Pandora, and IHeartRadio, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not supported for 2016. Every Impreza also gets StarLink telematics. Basic service with crash notification is $99 a year; enhanced service is an industry-leading $149 and includes stolen vehicle and car alarm alerts, remote lock/unlock, and a vehicle locator.
The 2017 Subaru Impreza (photo inset) arriving later this year will be longer and wider with slightly more engine power and an upgraded cockpit. EyeSight will continue. CarPlay and Android Auto will be integrated.
Infotainment: 1-2 USB, Bluetooth, 6.2 or 7-inch touchscreen, navigation, car control of smartphone apps Aha, Pandora, and IHeartRadio. StarLink telematics.
Worth knowing: Only compact sedan with all-wheel-drive. High crash-test scores. Roomy back seat. Reliable. Hatchback version if you don’t want to go to Forester or Outback crossovers.
Competitors want you to know: less refinement than competition (until 2017), no blind spot detection.
Packages to get: Moonroof + Keyless Access and Push-Button Start + Navigation System + Eyesight, $2,895
Bottom line: Best compact sedan for winter driving. All-new 2017 Impreza will be more competitive.
The Kia Forte was redesigned in 2014 and is looking at a midlife refresh for the 2017 model year. For now, it’s a roomy, well-appointed car from a company you probably didn’t know existed 10 years ago. Even without much technology beyond the UVO infotainment system, Forte sales jumped 14% last year and another 26% in the first four months, putting a 100,000-unit year within range. Kia is a sister company to Hyundai and shares its basic design with the Hyundai Elantra, which already has its 2017 version on the market.
Kia offers two sedans: the Forte LX with manual or automatic transmission and a 1.8-liter engine starting at $16,840, or the Forte EX with a 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission at $20,840. There are also hatchback (Forte 5) and coupe (Koup) variants. On the LX automatic sedan, a $1,000 Popular Package provides a rear camera with a vestigial 4.3-inch display. On the Forte EX there’s a $3,000 Premium Package of UVO eServices Telematics (data connections are through your phone), navigation, and heated leather seats. Atop that, buyers can add the Premium Plus Package ($5,000 total for the two) with LED taillamps, a 4.2-inch LCD in the instrument panel, 10-way power adjustable ventilated driver’s seat (but not the passenger’s seat), heated rear seats, and heated steering wheel seats. That’s it for model year 2016 tech.
The updated 2017 Forte sedan (inset), due shortly, adds an S trim between LX and EX. Both EX and S get UVO telematics, a 7-inch touchscreen, and eventually support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Multiple driver assists will be offered: blind spot detection and rear-cross traffic alert; lane departure warning and lane keep assist; forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking; but not adaptive cruise control. The 2017 Forte will ship with a new 2.0-liter engine. Pricing hasn’t been set yet.
Competitors want you to know: No driver assists on 2016 Forte, so-so fuel economy
Packages to get: Premium Package, Premium Plus Package
Every compact car is, at minimum, pretty good in 2016. Most offer lane departure warning and blind spot detection and, increasingly, adaptive cruise control that also helps with lower-speed city braking. Here’s how we’d suggest sorting them out as you think about your next car.
Best car: Honda Civic. Honda (above) is on top of its game. The Civic is great for driver and passengers. The middle trim lines you’re likeliest to buy offer Honda Sensing (full-range adaptive cruise, lane departure warning / lane keep assist) but don’t offer navigation and let you connect your iPhone or Android phone and run its navi through the center stack display. Just make sure you can live with the Display Audio interface. Also see how you like Lane Watch, Honda’s unusual take on blind spot detection.
Best car, runner up: Hyundai Elantra. An excellent car with a more mainstream touchscreen interface and blind spot detection. Unlike Civic, Elantra’s adaptive cruise control isn’t stop-and-go, though.
Best driver’s car: Mazda3. Mazda3 is a blast to drive, most trim lines offer manual gearboxes, and it’s the only one with a head-up display. Need more room, don’t want the CX-3 crossover? Try the Mazda3 5-door (hatchback).
Best all-weather car: Subaru Impreza. The only one with all-wheel drive. Rugged. Reliable. Affordable. About to be replaced.
Roomy for four adults: Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta. Regardless of their other attributes, four adults can ride in comfort in cars that are barely 15 feet bumper to bumper thanks to interiors that make them, technically, midsize cars.
Waiting for 2017 or 2018 (need more tech): Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte. Fine cars both but with hardly any driver assists or tech beyond USB and Bluetooth in the current editions. New models are coming.
Waiting for 2017 or 2018 (need more modernity): Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, VW Jetta. The driver assists are pretty good. But the cars are at the ends of their 5-6 year model lives and feel it.
All the tech you need if you don’t need ACC: Chevrolet Cruze. The newest Chevy sedan is well executed. Unlike its true-midsize sibling, Chevrolet Malibu, there’s forward collision warning but no adaptive cruise control.