The Honda Civic and all its competitors (US market)
My friend's lease is expiring and he doesn't know if to get another Civic or a Maserati...and I think he genuinely can't tell the difference
One of the curses of being a car enthusiast is that your friends will ask for your opinion, then ignore it, and then regret their choices and when you say you told them so, they'll ask when, because while you were explaining the long list of differences between a Honda and a Maserati, they tuned out and started thinking about getting tacos *facepalm*. So, I decided to make a list of all the options, complete with very short reviews to both give an overview of the segment (mass market compact sedans [he hates hatchbacks and wagons] that are new models available for lease now, since his lease ends in November). He did express interest in maybe upgrading to the larger Accord, so I'll throw a couple Accord competitors where appropriate. This isn't meant to be super detailed, just a quick way to refine the search by introducing vehicles that he hasn't thought of, and giving enough info to be able to eliminate some options. Also, his dad is paying for the lease and isn't going to buy him anything sporty (so no Civic si, no Veloster, no muscle cars, no fun!) So here we go!
Sonic interior, one of a few color options
So Chevy discontinued production of the Cruze, their direct competitor to the Civic. I can't say I'm mourning its loss. I rented one to drive from Los Angeles to the Mexican border in Tijuana to catch a flight from the TJ airport. The seats were uncomfortable, it was even impossible to get them into the right position! Power and handling were adequate, but it was honestly hard to focus when every driving position was totally uncomfortable. There were plenty of broken plastic pieces, which was unfortunate in a vehicle from the latest model year; yes it was a rental but is that what it would look like with normal use after a few years?
Since the Cavalier isn't arriving in a month to fill the slot, Chevrolet would have you consider the smaller Sonic, which has a very nice interior for the sub-compact class, and also has a few factory installed sporty options with suspension lowering kits and the RS trim package with sport exhaust and some other fun mods (because of the Sonic's low starting price, adding these and all the other bells and whistles keep the car priced competitively against the Civic and don't exactly make the vehicle a lot faster); or the larger Malibu (here's one of those appropriate times to introduce an Accord competitor).
Malibu: Starting at $23,065. 29 city/36 highway mpg, 160 hp (for the starting priced base engine).
Sonic: $16,720. 26/34 mpg, 138hp (which you'll soon see is a lot for the class compared to the same sized Mitsubishi Mirage G4)
Ford axed just about all their cars, except for the mid-size Fusion, which is expected to go soon, and the only reason to get one over an Accord would be for the hybrid or PHEV variants...but at that point I'd introduce the Honda Clarity as a compromise...and then do another one of these lists.
$23,170. 21/31 mpg, 175 hp
So I'm merging all these brands into one category because none of them makes a direct competitor after they axed the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart (both on the Alfa Romeo Giulietta platform):
Dodge: Charger - the muscle car with cheap(er) insurance because it has 4 doors and because Dodge wants you to compare it to full size cars like the Chevy Impala, (now dead) Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and maybe the Toyota Avalon if you get the TRD version.
Chrysler: 300 - based on the same platform as the Charger (an old Mercedes E class, that is), but with less tuning to feel closer to luxury than to sportiness. While I always make the old Mercedes joke when talking about these cars, I should give the disclaimer that Dodge did A LOT of work on the platform and it's fair to say that it's a 90% new platform, also an old E class may be cheaper than a new Charger/300, but mileage and wear on the car is great equalizer...also do you really want to pay for a seat that someone else farted into?). It has a nice interior but you do have to get over the stereotype of it's previous gen being a gangster car.
Fiat: 500X - While its on the same platform as the Jeep Renegade, it's tuning, suspension, and ride height are all as close to a sporty compact sedan as it's Jeep relative will let it get. Having driven one several times, I can say that power and handling are satisfactory, but far from impressive. The ride is stiff to give it a sportier feel and the front seats are very comfortable, the back seats on the other hand...well I hope you like sitting on wood. The first time I drove one was actually right after driving a Mercedes GLA 250 and honestly they felt identical.
Charger: $29,995. 19/30 mpg, 292 hp
300: $30,040. 19/30mpg, 292 hp
500x: $24,590. 24/30, 177 hp
The Sentra was just redesigned to look about as cool as a smaller, cheaper Maxima can look. The base model also got a horsepower boost but there's not longer an optional, more powerful engine. I drove the last gen with all 129 of its ponies and honestly, the car was quick and I thought it had more power than did. While the promise of the new 149 HP engine may be alluring, the real draw is the optional quilted leather interior that gives it a knockoff Mercedes vibe...and I mean that in the best way, it's really nice!
$19,310. 29/39 mpg, 149 hp
Insight hybrid. better than a Prius
The Civic hasn't changed since he got his, but Honda has a Civic competitor, the Insight. It's a hybrid that offers spirited driving, compared to the larger Clarity PHEV, and has more of a baby Accord look, making it more mature and composed than the Civic. Another option, though insanely unlikely, would be going to Mexico and getting a Honda City, which I know nothing about but it looks like an Insight with those new BMW tail lights
Civic: $21,449 (for the automatic, $20,000 for the manual but I don't think he can drive manual). 30/38 mpg, 158 hp
Insight: $22,930. 55/49 mpg, 152 hp
Accord: $24,270. 30/38 mpg, 192 hp
Clarity: $33,400. 117/102 mpg, 212 hp
The Corolla has a newly redesigned, aggressive front end, still cheap looking taillights compared to the hatch version, and a nice interior. I drove the top of the line XSE trim which delivers a sportier feel and faster performance than other trims, but I still wouldn't call it "fast," as it seems more like a work in progress on the way to making a sports car. I am a sucker for anything blue in an interior and the XSE trim is the only one with blue stitching on the seats. A hybrid option is also available with the Prius' MPG without the Prius' looks. That said, not gonna bother talking about the Prius, though I should mention the existence of the Prius Prime PHEV and the Mirai Fuel Cell
$19,600. 30/38 mpg, 139 hp
One look at the Mazda3 and it's really hard for anyone to compete. The last gen drove great and it honestly felt like it was made for me. The new one adds AWD as an option. Classy interior too! Unlike in other markets though, only the Skyactiv-G is available here.
$21,500. 26/35, 186 hp
The Impreza is insanely responsive, probably thanks to that symmetrical AWD. The interior is pretty nice too. The exterior looks rather bland but not terrible.
$19,995. 28/36, 152 hp
I really wish I could put a real competitor here, not too long ago I would've put both the Eclipse and Lancer down, but the closest thing is the Mitsubishi Mirage G4 sub-compact sedan (Dodge Accent in Mexico). Aside from an interior that's so sparse and minimalistic that it's <i>almost</i> cool, the tiniest bump to the car will crack the body in a couple places. Also I hear that driving it is not fun. But it does come in purple!
$14,995, 36/43 mpg, 78 hp (remember it's a smaller car)
a more aggressive front end for this year
...ok other than looking at the car and wondering why one of the richest car companies in the world is too cheap to hire a designer, the latest Jetta was redesigned with cost cutting in mind. Gone are the multi-link suspensions and say hello to 2005 with an old torsion rod.* ** My friend wouldn't get it anyway, as he had the last gen before his Civic and absolutely hated it.
*I don't know if 2005 is actually a year that had a torsion rod, just throwing it out there
**Mazda also went back to torsion rods BUT they re-engineered them because the way they handle actually feels more natural so Mazda made them better
$18,895, 30/40, 147 hp
Forte. Other than baby Stinger looks, this car suffers from insane amounts of turbo lag so I'm gonna stop right here....Actually I should mention I was driving the turbo charged 2 liter, inline 4 making 201 hp. I'll also add that it's basically a stretched at Rio. While the Rio has been a class leader for almost a decade (a review I recently read said "doesn't the Rio get tired of overachieving?"), the Forte has never had that kind of success and despite the new looks, I drove one right after driving an Impreza and it would take an insanely steep discount for me to pick this over that.
Starting at $17,890 MPG 31-41, 147 hp
Ioniq (this is the euro spec but exterior looks the same)
The Elantra looks nice, but the next gen one is breathtaking. I'd say it's worth waiting for, although there are several different trim levels and options if you can't wait. Another option is the Ioniq, which comes in hybrid, PHEV, and EV variants. The last and less likely choice because it's a sports car and also a hatchback, would be the Veloster
Ioniq hybrid: $23,200 starting, 57/59 MPG, 139 hp
Elantra: $19,300, wildly varying MPG based on trims but average 31/41, 147 hp
Volvo was formerly a competitor, but now they're luxury. Buick and Acura are entry level luxury and might be had at the upper end of the price range with the midsize Buick Regal and the dressed up Civic, the Acura ILX. I drove the ILX last year and the year before, the improvements were dramatic but the trim level also went up from the base to the top of the line A Spec. For a more detailed look, I recommend the buyer's guides on Motortrend.com and the Kelly Blue Book YouTube channel.
Hope you enjoyed this! What would you get?