2005 Economy Sedan Comparison Test

2005 Economy Sedan Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2005 Mazda 3 Sedan

(2.3L 4-cyl. 5-speed Manual)

  • Comparison Test
  • Second Opinions
  • Consumer Commentary
  • Top 10 Features
  • Stereo Evaluations
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • Editors Evaluations
  • 2005 Mazda Mazda 3 Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Honda Civic Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Kia Spectra Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Ford Focus Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Hyundai Elantra Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Suzuki Forenza Specs and Performance

It's lunchtime at the Busy Bee Market in the port town of San Pedro, California. We snake through the crowd of burly union dockworkers and scrawny white-collar analysts from nearby Kaiser Permanente and order seven of the world's best roast beef sandwiches. They're lean, juicy and delicious, and a steal at $5 apiece.

Outside, on Walker Avenue we've parked seven economy sedans that range in price from $16,000 to $20 large. Like any sandwich, each is a cheap, practical solution to a basic need. But only one is as tasty and value-packed as a Busy Bee roast beef.

Several of the segment's players have changed since our last economy car test in 2003. Fresh faces include the Chevrolet Cobalt (successor to the Cavalier), Kia Spectra, Mazda 3 (successor to the Protegé) and Suzuki Forenza. The 5-year-old Ford Focus isn't exactly fresh, but its new engine and cleaned-up interior warranted a second look. We also invited back our defending champ, the Honda Civic, for one last battle before an all-new Civic takes its place for 2006. We let the Hyundai Elantra tag along, since it finished less than a point behind the Civic in the 2003 comparison.

We ordered each of these front-drive economy cars with an automatic transmission, but other equipment varied. As on the Busy Bee's shelves, where you'll find everything from bulk commercial-grade toilet paper to ginseng-infused juice drinks, these seven four-cylinder sedans showed up with everything from manual window cranks to iPod hookups.

We drove them through every L.A. suburb that appears in San Andreas — a mix of high-speed freeways, stop-and-go city traffic, steep hill climbs, twisty coastal highways, Starbucks, Big Kmart and ambient road rage. We blasted the A/C nonstop. We spilled coffee on the upholstery. For a week we doled out the punishment the way real economy sedan owners would, and then we hit the track for a day of acceleration, braking and handling tests.

Personalities Run the Gamut
These may be the cars no one really wants to drive, but they're not all without personality. In fact, the Mazda 3 is overflowing with it. By far the most refined and best handling car of the group, the Mazda doesn't look, feel or drive like an economy car. Instead, it comes across as a less expensive alternative to the Volkswagen Jetta or Audi A4. Everyone wanted to drive it home at night. Deals were made, offers were rescinded, money was pocketed.

Although the seventh-generation Civic has fallen behind in performance, it's still a likable package for the buyer who wants a little of everything — class-leading fuel economy, confident handling, top-quality interior materials and Honda's legendary reputation for reliability. Plus, it's the only economy sedan with a flat floor in the backseat, allowing you to seat three kids across.

Kia's Spectra had the lowest price tag ($16,330) in the test, yet our test car's cabin was tastefully appointed and loaded with almost all the features we consider essential in an economy sedan. It also had the plushest, roomiest backseat and the best cupholders and storage slots. The Spectra isn't much of an athlete, but ample low-end pull, a smooth ride and good brake feel make it a fine commuter car.

Six years essentially unchanged and the Ford Focus remains an entertaining compact with a forgiving highway ride. It's not as refined as the Mazda 3, but it has a sporty European feel. The cabin disappoints in build and materials quality, but all except the tallest adults will be happy inside, thanks to seats that feel like overstuffed chairs and simple controls.

Hyundai's Elantra shares a platform with the Kia, along with its agreeable on-road demeanor and plentiful storage space. Unfortunately, it's an older design and its interior feels dated, even with the perforated leather upholstery in our GT tester. The Elantra was also more expensive than the Spectra but was missing a couple of the Kia's features.

The epitome of fast and cheap in this group, Chevrolet's Cobalt turned in the fastest 0-to-60-mph time and cost only $100 more than the Spectra. The Cobalt also provides a smooth, quiet ride, but its soft suspension isn't much fun in the turns. Inside, its rough plastics, thin seats and roll-up windows made us feel like we were doing time, rather than killing time in freeway gridlock.

At $17,194, Suzuki's Forenza was also fairly inexpensive, but with the slowest acceleration and sloppiest handling of the seven, it reminded us of this fact too often. An attractive interior with a roomy rear seat and plenty of storage scored it some points, but it lost just as many for its inconsistent materials quality and excessive wind noise.

Which One's for You?
If you want the best roast beef sandwich in San Pedro, go to the Busy Bee. If you want the best car in the economy sedan segment, buy a 2005 Mazda 3. Driving this car never feels like drudgery, it just feels good.

The Civic was far back in second place, but even in the last year of its model cycle, it's a smart buy, especially if fuel economy is high on your list. The roomy Spectra and Focus were close behind in third and fourth, while the aging Elantra came in a distant fifth. Class-leading acceleration wasn't enough to launch the fresh-out-of-the-box Cobalt higher than sixth place, while the outgunned Forenza brought up the rear.

First Place: 2005 Mazda 3

Most economy sedans feel like a compromise. The 2005 Mazda 3 isn't one of them. Its level of refinement is far beyond that of the others. Drive it and you'd swear you were in a car from a different class, a higher class. Drive it and you smile.

But the Mazda isn't just about the drive. Everything about this car, from the sound of its engine to the feel of its seat upholstery, bombards you with positive sensations. It's a car with that immeasurable something special that makes you want one. It's a cool ride, a car that goes beyond its metal, a car anybody would be proud to own.

Costs a Little More but It's Worth It
Our 2005 Mazda 3 s test car stickered at $19,750, which made it the most expensive car in the test by about $1,000. Although we did dock the Mazda a few points for its big price tag, it's worth it. The car's extra features justify the bigger spend. Things like its 160-hp, 2.3-liter inline four, the largest and most powerful engine in the test. If you instead choose the 148-hp, 2.0-liter engine in the base i model, you'll save $3 grand right off the bat.

The Mazda 3 is the only car to offer a manual-shift mode for its automatic transmission. Inside, it has electroluminescent gauges with red-orange backlighting, a thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel with telescoping adjustment and breathable mesh upholstery. And it's the only sedan other than the Kia to offer both side and head curtain airbags.

Smooth Drivetrain, So-So Mileage
Any economy sedan would be proud to have Mazda 3's 2.3-liter engine under its hood. It's a smooth operator with a healthy midrange, and a sharp-shifting four-speed automatic lets it rev across the tach whenever the mood strikes.

Although the scrappy Cobalt beat the 3 in acceleration testing, it was only by a nose — a 9.2-second 0-to-60 and 16.6-second quarter-mile to the Mazda's 9.5 and 16.7. The difference comes down to torque and gearing: The Mazda 3 offers a healthy 150 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm, but the Cobalt's 2.2-liter produces 155 lb-ft at a lower 4,000 rpm and the first two gears of its transmission are shorter than the Mazda's.

Fuel economy is a potential liability for Mazda, at least amongst would-be Civic buyers. The 3 had the second-lowest EPA rating at 24 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, and editors tended to drive it harder than the other sedans, resulting in a mediocre 20.8-mpg average, the lowest of the group. As usual, getting the manual gearbox will improve your numbers at the pump.

Phenomenal Dynamics
No such qualifiers are needed when it comes to the Mazda 3's ride quality, handling and braking. Spot-on chassis tuning results in quick turn-in, hardly any body roll and lots of grip on twisty blacktop. At the same time, the highway ride is smooth enough to please commuters. "I was surprised by the amount of compliance, even compared to the Lexus IS 350 I recently drove," one editor wrote in the car's logbook.

Sixteen-inch wheels and tires are standard on the Mazda 3 s, as they are on the Focus, and our tester's 205/55R16 Toyo Proxes provided better adhesion than the skinnier 15s on the other sedans. The Mazda recorded the best slalom speed of the day, 62.7 mph, which is quick for any car.

The 3 also stops and steers better than its rivals. Its steering delivers perfect weighting and feedback at any speed, and its four-wheel antilock disc brakes are strong and easy to modulate. The Mazda's 127-foot 60-mph-to-0 braking distance was actually second to the Forenza's 126-foot effort, but the 3 is far more stable and confident while stopping hard.

Top-Quality Interior
Mazda designers outfitted the interior in monochromatic black, accenting it with faux aluminum and carbon fiber. Beautifully choreographed textures, nicely damped controls and tight-fitting panels give the cabin a top-quality feel, and editors rewarded the 3 with high scores for its design, materials and build.

Our staff ranges in size from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot-4, and everyone fit well in the front seats. In keeping with the car's sporty mission, the Mazda's seats offered the best lateral support. The rear seat is equally well designed, but 6-footers marked off points for tight legroom. The Mazda does a good job of protecting its occupants: It earned four out of five stars in NHTSA frontal-impact crash tests and was named a "Best Pick" for its performance in the IIHS frontal-offset test. Its side-impact scores are lower, but neither agency has tested a 3 with side airbags.

The 3 doesn't have quite as many cupholders and storage slots as the Hyundai and Kia, but its provisions are ample for the typical latte- and cell phone-toting driver. The 11.4-cubic-foot trunk is the smallest in the group but didn't prove to be an inconvenience when loading groceries. We do wish Mazda would add a button to pop the trunk lid to the keyless remote, however.

Go Buy One
Sporty yet upscale, nimble yet comfortable, the 2005 Mazda 3 is a dream car among economy sedans. It's the new Jetta VW should have built. Need an affordable compact car this year? Buy this one.

Second Place: 2005 Honda Civic

Chances are you're already thinking about the redesigned 2006 Honda Civic — the return of the Si coupe, the debut of a more sophisticated hybrid sedan, the plans for a CRX encore. But the 2005 Honda Civic will be around for another four months, and it's still a major force in the economy sedan segment.

Granted, the seventh-generation Civic no longer has the performance and refinement to keep up with the Mazda 3, but it still offers a pleasant driving experience and outstanding fuel economy. Its interior styling caters to more conservative tastes, but high-quality furnishings and exclusive features like a flat floor in the backseat and our EX Special Edition model's iPod-enabled audio system give the outgoing Civic plenty of appeal.

Small Engine, Smart Transmission
Engines are getting bigger in the economy sedan segment, and the Honda's 1.7-liter inline four was the only one in the field with less than two liters of displacement. But that didn't matter much at the track, where the 127-hp Civic posted the third best acceleration times with a 10.9-second 0-60 and a 17.5 quarter-mile. However, this is an old-school VTEC engine that needs to rev to make its best power. Editors rated it lower than the Focus's 2.0L, which turned in slower times but produced more grunt with less noise.

The Civic's four-speed automatic transmission is smart as a whip, though, and does its part to mask the fact that the car only has 114 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, the lowest figure of the group. Shifts are so crisp and perfectly timed that you're scarcely aware of its presence — quite a contrast to other trannies in this test that behave like annoying houseguests.

Gas mileage is nothing short of stellar, as the Civic earns a 31 mpg city/38 mpg highway rating with this drivetrain. Stop-and-go driving was the norm during our week of testing, and the Honda still managed 25.1 mpg, the highest average of the group.

Well-Mannered on the Road
Much like the midsize Accord, the compact Civic finds the hallowed middle ground between comfortable ride quality and balanced handling. Editors rated it second only to the Mazda in the suspension category. This didn't translate to a good number in the slalom (58.4 mph), but we suspect that had something to do with the modest thresholds of the car's 195/60R15 tires. They're Bridgestone Potenzas, but they have about the least grip of any rubber ever sold under that name.

The steering is light but accurate, while brake feel is firm yet progressive. The Civic's antilock front disc/rear drum setup yielded an initial 60-mph-to-0 stopping distance of 128 feet, although fade set in rather quickly after that.

Excessive road noise was one of the few complaints editors had about the driving experience. We hope Honda's engineers have seen fit to put more insulation in the 2006 Civic.

A Nice Place to Spend Time
We've always liked the interior of the seventh-generation Civic. It's light, airy and generally gives the impression that you spent a little more on your economy sedan. Plastics are consistently low in gloss with classy grain patterns. Instrumentation is always legible and attractive. Editors also noted small touches like a nine-speed A/C fan and a cloth-padded center armrest in our EX Special Edition tester. We were, however, a bit dismayed by the amount of flash left on the plastics from the injection-molding process.

Evidently, Honda fears the Civic's cockpit may not be hip enough for younger buyers, as the company has crammed an upgraded sound system into the EX Special Edition model. The bright silver head unit is a jarring addition to the otherwise serene interior, yet we can't argue with the portable music player jack, simple controls or surprisingly good sound quality. But we do reserve the right to make fun of the babyish equalizer display that washes out in sunlight.

The front seats are on the firm side, but editors found them roomy and well shaped. Some editors really liked the cloth upholstery, comparing it to the fabrics used in the Accord, but others complained that it didn't breathe well in hot weather. In back, the Civic's flat floor makes it easy to get passengers in and out, but there's a bit less hip- and shoulder room than in most of the other sedans.

Strangely, side airbags are not available to buyers who select the Special Edition model; however, the Civic has a four-star rating for side-impact protection even without the bags. When it comes to frontal impacts, occupants get a full five stars' worth of protection. The IIHS named the car a "Best Pick" in frontal offset testing.

Storage space is adequate in the Civic, though there aren't as many slots for phones and wallets as in some of the other cars. The cupholders are located behind the shifter and can only accommodate beverages of short stature. Loading up a large cooler is no problem, as the Civic's 12.9-cubic-foot trunk has a huge opening and a low liftover.

Many Practical Reasons to Buy One
If you think buying an economy sedan should be a smart choice rather than an emotional choice, it's hard to go wrong with the 2005 Honda Civic. Besides being a capable and desirable compact car, the Civic has a well-deserved reputation for reliability and low ownership costs. And you can bet that dealers will be offering discounts as they clear inventory to make room for the 2006 model.

Third Place: 2005 Kia Spectra

Forget about economy sedans that try to be sporty or upscale. Maybe you just want one that does a good job of being an affordable car without making you pay extra for a flashy brand name or 16-inch wheels. The 2005 Kia Spectra doesn't put on airs. It's the lowest-priced sedan in this test at $16,330. Yet it has all the makings of a fine commuter car — decent power, a smooth ride, comfortable seats, simple controls and standard side and head curtain airbags.

The Spectra wasn't a car editors got excited about driving, but after a week, everyone agreed that Kia has put together a solid package. And it's one that will appeal to just about anyone looking for a good value.

Nice Pull Off the Line
Equipped with a 2.0-liter inline four, most Spectras make 138 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque. However, we had the SULEV version sold in California and the northeastern states which drops you to 132 hp and 133 lb-ft. Fuel economy rates 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway with an automatic transmission — third best in this group. Our tester averaged 22.3 mpg in a heavy mix of city driving.

The 2.0L is tuned to deliver a healthy dose of torque right off the line, allowing the Kia to get around town and merge into freeway traffic with ease. Some editors felt the Spectra actually had better low-end pull than the Elantra, which has the same engine.

This sensation was borne out in instrumented testing, where the Kia was significantly quicker from zero to 60 mph with an 11.2-second time versus the Hyundai's 11.7-second effort. Other than subtle variation between the cars themselves, there's no good explanation for this: drivetrain specs on these sedans are identical and the Kia actually weighs a bit more. The performance gap narrowed at the quarter-mile mark, as the Spectra ran a 17.6 to the Elantra's 17.9.

Performance Fades in Midrange
The Kia's affable around-town demeanor faded a little when we hit the more demanding stretches of our test loop. The engine has to work hard to maintain speed on uphill grades and doesn't sound very good doing it.

Opinions were mixed on the transmission's performance. Several editors praised its positive upshift feel and prompt downshifts, but just as many criticized it for being too quick to upshift and slow to kick down.

Comfy Ride, Average Handling
One of the Spectra's strengths is its softly tuned suspension, which dutifully absorbs bumps and grooves. One editor went so far as to say that the Kia's ride quality "feels more luxurious than the car's price would indicate."

The downside of this setup is considerable body roll around corners. The car is easy to predict in these situations, however, and leaves you an impression of competence. The steering offers decent weighting and feedback, while the Spectra's 195/60R15 Goodyear Eagle LS tires are low on grip but provide plenty of warning before they give way. The Kia's 59.7-mph slalom speed was respectable for this group.

Our test car didn't have ABS, but its four-wheel disc setup still provided a solid, progressive feel through the pedal. Its best 60-mph-to-0 stopping distance was 139 feet, second longest in the test. Antilock brakes will cost you $400 extra and we consider that money well spent.

Bland but Inviting Interior
There's nothing revolutionary going on in the cabin when it comes to design, which editors described as "clean, if uninspired," "a bit plain but tasteful," and "basic, functional, very reasonable." Even so, materials quality is above average. Soft-touch vinyls cover the dash and door tops, while the cloth upholstery is plush and soft. Shiny plastic control stalks are the only offenders. Build quality was also good in our tester — everything feels sturdy and gap tolerances are tight (although, on the exterior, both the hood and trunk lid were misaligned).

Some editors found the front seats quite comfortable, others found them merely passable. There's plenty of room for all, though, as our 6-foot-4 editor gave the car a 9 out of 10 in this category.

Our tall-statured editor was similarly enthusiastic about the backseat, writing on his evaluation, "I could ride behind myself and be happy. The legroom is the best in the test, while headroom is just enough." Additionally, the Kia's rear bench offers generous cushioning, and the back cushion comes up high enough to fully support the shoulders of an average-size adult.

With the Kia's standard array of side airbags, you would expect class-leading side-impact protection. However, the Spectra's star ratings are no better than the Civic's (without side airbags), and it actually scored lower for rear occupants, earning just three out of five stars. In IIHS side-impact testing, the Kia received a "Poor" rating, however, head protection is better than it would be with no airbags at all. For frontal impacts, the Spectra earned four stars from the government and an "Acceptable" rating from the IIHS.

Everything Has its Place
Although a couple of editors complained about the fan speed dial's lack of an "off" position, the Spectra has simple controls overall. Every one of its oversized dials, knobs and buttons is easy to grasp and intuitively located. Plus, this is one of the few economy sedans with retained accessory power.

The Kia also scores big for its storage and cupholders. A vast selection of trays, bins, pockets and containers provides a spot for anything you happen to be carrying, while six large cupholders make road-trip dehydration a thing of the past.

Trunk capacity is just 12.2 cubic feet, but thanks to its wide opening, the Spectra's cargo hold was as functional as any of the others during our week of testing.

All About Value
We still think you should look at the Mazda 3 and Civic first, but if you buy the bargain-priced 2005 Kia Spectra, you're not going to do without anything important.

Fourth Place: 2005 Ford Focus

Here's a car that loves life: After six years on the market and a dozen recalls in the first year, most economy sedans would be ready for the grave. But the 2005 Ford Focus is still out there working the crowd — and still good enough for fourth place in this test.

Fourth out of seven is hardly a victory, but to the Ford's credit, most editors preferred it to the third-place Kia Spectra, giving it higher evaluation scores and ranking it higher among their personal and recommended picks. However, the Focus couldn't compete with the Spectra's rock-bottom price or feature content, and it didn't post very impressive acceleration or braking numbers at the track. Unquestionably, the Kia offers the more complete package, but on an intangible level, many of us feel the Focus would be more satisfying to own.

New Engine for 2005
Any car would be getting stale by its sixth year, so along with some cosmetic surgery, Ford updated the '05 Focus with a new pair of engines. Most models, including our SES sedan tester, come with a 2.0-liter inline four rated for 136 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque. A top-line ST sedan gets a 151-hp, 2.3-liter four. Both engines are Mazda-derived but have their own software and plumbing. They also do without the Mazda 3's variable valve timing.

Equipped with an automatic transmission, our Focus test car turned in mediocre acceleration numbers at the test track. It took 11.2 seconds to reach 60 mph and 17.7 for the quarter-mile. Yet, unlike the Kia, Ford's compact sedan never feels slow on public roads, as its 2.0-liter engine offers a juicier torque band that doesn't let up in the midrange. Power delivery is smoother as well, although the Honda and Mazda engines are smoother still.

The transmission manages just fine in normal driving situations, upshifting cleanly and downshifting when appropriate. However, start driving aggressively and confusion sets in. Downshifts come too late. Then, after the tranny finally drops a gear, it holds on a long time, oftentimes too long. If you're an assertive driver, take a hint and get the manual gearbox.

Fuel economy is a strong point for the Focus, as it earns 26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway rating, second only to the Civic. Our tester's 22.8-mpg average was also second best in the group.

Still a Delight to Drive
If you're looking for the best ride and handling dynamics in the economy sedan segment, you really should treat yourself to the Mazda 3. It rides on a newer platform and everything about it feels more buttoned down and refined. But there's something about the Focus that won't let us walk away from it, like an old relationship that rekindles with the slightest touch.

That touch could be the Ford's plush, forgiving ride quality. It's as if engineers tuned the suspension expressly for cross-country road trips and 60-mile-a-day commutes.

The steering also brings back fond memories. It's quick, responsive, never too heavy and just about perfect for a spontaneous run on a twisty road. The suspension allows moderate body roll in the corners, but if you push through it, the Focus sticks. Some credit goes to the car's 16-inch Pirelli tires, which offer a lot more grip than the 15s on the other cars. The Ford's 61.1-mph slalom speed was second only to the Mazda 3.

Progressive brake feel is also a Focus strength, but our test car's front disc/rear drum setup did not have ABS. Its best 60-0 stopping distance was 141 feet, the longest in the test. Do yourself a favor and pay the extra $400 to get antilock brakes.

Revised Design, Same Old Troubles
Ford's designers did some work on the cockpit for 2005, replacing the car's quirky angular dash with a more refined, symmetrical layout. The new look is less likely to turn off buyers with conservative tastes, but it's the same old Focus, which means easy-to-read instrumentation and simple controls.

Unfortunately, materials quality is still mediocre and there are so many different grain patterns it looks like the place was furnished piecemeal. Build quality hasn't improved, either. Many of our tester's interior panels didn't fit properly, nor did its hood and doors line up. We don't expect perfect fit and finish on an economy sedan, but on a car with a questionable reliability record, continued inattention to detail is not encouraging.

Occupants Sit Tall
Focus seats are chair-height and padded to the point you'd think the seams would burst from all the stuffing. The car earned top marks for seat comfort front and rear, as editors raved about the cushioning and thigh support. Our 6-foot-4 editor was the lone detractor, complaining that he didn't have enough legroom and that the high seating position cut into his visibility.

Telescoping steering wheel adjustment is a nice touch in front, but the complete lack of head restraints in back is an annoying slight. Storage is hard to come by in this cabin; designers added a CD drawer this year, but it opens right into the driver's knee. Additionally, the cupholders are too small to contain venti-size coffees. The 14.8-cubic-foot trunk, on the other hand, is the largest in the class.

Optional side airbags protect the heads and torsos of front occupants, but no protection is available for those seated in back. Neither NHTSA nor the IIHS has tested a Focus with side airbags: Without the bags, the government gives it four stars for front-occupant safety in side impacts and three stars for the rear, while the IIHS rates it "Poor" — typical among small cars without full head protection. The Focus received a four-star frontal-impact rating and a "Good" rating from the IIHS for frontal-offset crashes.

Lovable but Flawed
Comfortable and fun to drive, the 2005 Ford Focus is an easy car to fall for, even in a class with superstars like the Mazda 3 and Civic. But its slipshod build quality and uncertain reliability make us hesitant to recommend it to friends who own Japanese cars.

Fifth Place: 2005 Hyundai Elantra

Life isn't easy in the economy sedan segment. Just when you think you've come up with the perfect compromise of comfort, performance and value, the competition comes up with something more powerful and better equipped. A 2003 Elantra finished a very close second in our last comparison, but in this test, a 2005 Hyundai Elantra GT took some hits and ended up a distant fifth.

Some of the most crushing blows came from the car's own backyard, as its Kia Spectra platform mate trumped it in interior design, rear-seat room, features and even acceleration.

Slower Than the Spectra?
With Hyundai's 100-percent stake in Kia, parts-sharing is inevitable, and indeed the Elantra and Spectra have the same iron-block, 2.0-liter inline four rated for 138 hp and 136 lb-ft of torque. On our SULEV cars, the totals came to 132 hp and 133 lb-ft. Both sedans benefit from variable intake valve timing, and their automatic transmissions have identical gearing. The Elantra does have a weight advantage, coming in almost 70 pounds lighter.

Although you'd think any advantage in acceleration would also go to the Hyundai, it turned out to be the opposite. The Kia beat the Hyundai's 11.7-second 0-to-60-mph time by half a second. The Elantra began to close the distance in the quarter-mile, but its 17.9-second time still put it three-tenths of a second behind the Spectra.

Several drivers pointed out that the Elantra seemed to have less low-end punch than the Spectra on public roads as well. Ultimately, though, the sedans earned similarly mediocre scores in the engine category of our evaluations. Power is adequate for most everyday driving situations, but neither motor offers a vigorous midrange or seems especially smooth.

Editors had varying levels of patience with the Elantra's automatic transmission. Some were content with its downshift response in normal driving, but conceded that it could be pokey when pressed. Others were quicker to annoy: "The gear ratios are not suited to the engine," said one driver flatly.

Oddly, the 2005 Elantra has a lower EPA estimate than the Spectra. It rates 24 mpg city/32 mpg highway to the Kia's 24/34. However, our Elantra tester turned in a slightly better average than the Spectra, 22.6 mpg versus 22.3.

Smooth Ride, Unremarkable Handling
Intended as a slightly sporty take on the standard Elantra GLS sedan, the GT has firmer shock absorbers, thicker anti-roll bars and rear disc brakes instead of drums. Slightly is the important word here, as the Elantra GT still has the soft, unassuming ride quality of the base model, although one editor criticized its "nervous" attitude over freeway joints.

The GT doesn't get any sportier through the turns. There's body roll. There's understeer. The 195/60R15 Michelin Energys lose their stick easily. But it all happens in such a predictable manner you're never caught off-guard. The steering certainly isn't quick, but its weighting and feedback suit the car's personality. The Elantra's 59.5-mph slalom speed was midpack.

The ABS-equipped Hyundai's 130-foot 60-mph-to-0 braking distance was also midpack. Pedal feel is confident enough in everyday driving, but lacked progression during maximum efforts at the track.

Dated Cabin but Still Functional
Now in the fifth year of its model cycle, the Elantra is beginning to show signs of age on the inside. A Casio watch has a larger display than Elantra's stereo head unit, and the GT model's VW-knockoff, purple-and-red instrumentation clashes with the soft green backlighting on the center stack. Aside from those complaints, though, it's a functional design with straightforward controls. We liked the rubberized A/C dials, and the Elantra was the only other car besides the Cobalt with a distance-to-empty display.

Editors disagreed mightily over the Hyundai's materials quality. Some singled out the car's plastics as worst-in-group, while others pointed out the cabin's numerous soft-touch surfaces, perforated leather upholstery and embroidered floor mats.

Fit and finish was average for this group with a few interior panel misalignments and a trunk lid that didn't line up properly. However, the Elantra lost face with several editors for its excessive number of rattles, the worst of which was a creak from the driver door during hard cornering.

Accommodates Tall Adults, Large Cargo
Several editors reported that the driver seat was comfortable, well shaped and easy to tailor to their body requirements, thanks to its two-way seat bottom tilt. Others complained about a lack of lower back support. Your comfort may vary, but we can assure you there's plenty of room in all directions.

Legroom is good but not great in the backseat, while a clamshell-shaped headliner leaves ample headroom for taller passengers, our 6-foot-4 editor noted. Unfortunately, the low bench doesn't offer much thigh support.

Corralling your personal effects is easy thanks to the wide variety of bins, pockets and rubberized wells, while six good-sized cupholders help stave off thirst. The Elantra's 12.9-cubic-foot trunk capacity is average for this group, but the trunk opening is extra large, allowing us to load up our 50-quart cooler without swearing or even grumbling.

Unlike the Spectra, the Elantra doesn't offer head curtain bags to protect rear-seaters; however, its standard side airbags in front provide both head and torso coverage. In government crash tests, the Elantra earned a full five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts and four stars for the front passenger. In side-impact tests, the Elantra received five stars for front-occupant protection and four stars for the rear. The IIHS gave it a "Good" rating for frontal-offset protection, but a "Poor" rating for side impacts although head protection for the driver was good.

The Fallen Value Leader
The 2005 Hyundai Elantra is not an undesirable car, it's just not the complete package it once was. It still offers adequate power, a pleasant ride and a functional interior. A redesigned Elantra will be along in a few months — if it's anything like the '06 Sonata, Hyundai will soon be back among the leaders of the economy sedan class.

Sixth Place: 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt

Our expectations for the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt were high. It's the all-new replacement for the 10-year-old Cavalier, so we thought it would be right up there with the leaders in this test, duking it out for the title. But despite being the fastest car here and delivering a smooth, quiet highway ride, Chevy's new compact fails to offer a complete package.

Shortcomings include too much cheap plastic in the cabin, low scores for seat comfort and storage, and a lack of feature content. At $16,435, our base trim Cobalt was the second-least expensive car in the test, but it was also the only car of the seven without power windows, power mirrors and cruise control. Despite its other flaws, had it offered a few more luxuries, the Cobalt could have landed in fifth place.

Where's the Hospitality?
Aside from an attractive set of gauges and stereo head unit, the Cobalt interior left us cold. In fact, editors gave it the lowest scores for interior design and materials. Rough plastic covers most of the interior and the cloth upholstery is coarse to the touch. Fit and finish wasn't very good, either, though it wasn't any worse than the fourth-place Ford's.

Editors also gave the Cobalt the lowest scores in the group for seat comfort. The driving position is good, but the front and rear seats are flat, while the short seat bottoms of the front seats cut into the thighs of taller adults. And when you're stuck in traffic, there's no center armrest for weary elbows.

Rear legroom is only average, and there's little room under the front chairs for your feet. Plus, the rear bench is mounted so low it forces adults to sit with their knees up. Editors rated the Cobalt's backseat the least comfortable of the group.

The storage situation isn't any better. There's no center console container and the cupholders are inconveniently wedged under the center stack. At 13.9 cubic feet, the Cobalt's trunk capacity is second only to the Focus, but its small opening makes it tricky to get at the space. Our 50-quart cooler did not fit.

On the plus side, the Cobalt offers good crash protection if you ante up for the optional side curtain airbags. It's the only car in this test to earn an "Acceptable" rating from the IIHS for side-impact protection. The IIHS also named it a "Best Pick" for its frontal-offset crash performance, while NHTSA gave it four stars for the driver and five for the passenger in frontal-impact tests.

Unexpectedly Quick
If outright speed is your thing, the Cobalt is the muscle car of the bunch. Getting to 60 mph takes just 9.2 seconds, which makes it the quickest car in this test. The Mazda 3 was closing fast by the quarter-mile mark, but the Cobalt still beat it by a tenth of a second with a 16.6-second run.

Although the Mazda 3's 2.3-liter has 15 extra horsepower and a few less pounds to propel, the Cobalt's 145-hp, 2.2-liter four has a tad more peak torque. More importantly, its torque curve opens up lower in the rpm range, allowing the Chevy to move out faster.

In the real world, that flat torque curve assures the Cobalt never gets caught flat-footed when hard acceleration is required. And it holds strong on steep uphill grades. Yet, editors gave the Mazda 3 higher scores in the engine category as drivers favored its smoother power delivery.

The Cobalt's four-speed automatic doesn't have the manual-shift mode of the Mazda 3's transmission or the book smarts of the Civic's, but editors appreciated its crisp, well-timed shifts and scored it a close third behind these two.

When it comes to fuel economy, the Chevrolet places midpack with its 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway EPA estimate. Our tester turned in 22.5 mpg in heavy city driving, also average for the group.

Smooth, Quiet, but Not Much Fun
Although the Cobalt is the only sedan in the test without an independent rear suspension, it delivers a smooth highway ride that endeared it to the long-distance commuters on staff. Also likable was its quiet cruising demeanor and light-effort electric steering.

This isn't a car you'll want to push through the turns, though. The Chevy's 59.5-mph slalom speed was average for this group, but when driven hard, the car has a tendency to transition from understeer to oversteer with little warning. The suspension also allows too much body roll, and the 195/60R15 Continental tires are low on grip. The steering, meanwhile, is slow but not entirely numb.

A better set of rubber would improve the Cobalt's handling, and do wonders for its braking ability. On the track, our ABS-equipped tester stopped from 60 mph in 136 feet, but all the other cars in the test with antilock brakes stopped in a shorter distance. On a positive note, the Chevy's front disc/rear drum setup proved quite fade-resistant and pedal progression was excellent under maximum load.

Budget Commuter Car
If you're looking for an inexpensive commuter car, the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt is an acceptable choice: It's quick, quiet, smooth and safe. But if you want an economy car that feels like more than basic transportation, especially on the inside, one of the higher-finishing cars will suit you better.

Seventh Place: 2005 Suzuki Forenza

There's nowhere to hide in a large comparison test. If you can't keep up with the leaders, you're a midpacker. And if you can't keep up with the midpackers, well, there's always the rental car fleets.

Earlier tests of a Forenza sedan and wagon had left us with the impression that Suzuki's Korean-built compact offers solid value in the economy car segment. In addition to being well equipped for the price, the manual-shift sedan was relatively quick with a 9.6-second 0-to-60-mph time, while the wagon offered ample utility with 62 cubic feet of cargo space.

However, with neither speed nor utility on its side, our automatic-equipped LX sedan was in way over its head in this field of seven. Save for a handful of advantages like an attractive interior, a big backseat and a long standard features list, it wasn't much of a contender.

Struggles to Get By
At first glance, the 2005 Suzuki Forenza's 2.0-liter engine, which produces 126 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque doesn't look so bad. After all, the Civic only makes 127 hp and 114 lb-ft, and displaces 1.7 liters.

But you have to remember that the Civic's engine has variable valve timing and its transmission is expertly geared. The Forenza's tranny, on the other hand, is geared too wide and is slow to downshift. Anything beyond leisurely acceleration requires a drop into second gear and the process takes too long. Another annoyance is the requirement that you push down on the gear selector when moving from "Drive" to "Reverse."

The Forenza's 11.6-second 0-to-60-mph time was actually a tenth of a second faster than the Elantra's, but on public roads, the Suzuki has nothing on the Hyundai. The Elantra's acceleration is adequate, but in the Forenza, every maneuver in traffic takes planning. "Hill climbing is a nightmare," said one editor. "I keep finding myself hunkering over the steering wheel urging the Suzuki to go faster."

Usually, the upside of driving a modestly powered car is good fuel economy. But the Forenza packs a rare double whammy: slow acceleration and the worst EPA rating in the class (22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway). Our tester averaged 20.9 mpg in heavy stop-and-go driving. Only the Mazda 3 (20.8 mpg) turned in a lower number.

Ride and Handling Fall Short
Compared with the other sedans, the Forenza also comes up short in ride quality. The Suzuki strives for comfort with its soft suspension. This works out fine on smooth pavement, but there's too much movement over bumps and ruts.

Handling isn't one of the Forenza's strong points, either. Editors found it a little unnerving to drive it on the twistier portions of our test loop because of its excessive body roll and early understeer. We're sure a different set of tires would improve the Suzuki's road manners because its oddly sized 195/55R15 Hankook Optimas offer little grip.

In the controlled environment of our test track, the Forenza performed respectably, turning in a 58.4-mph slalom speed, which tied it with the Civic.

The Forenza's steering has some heft but offers little feedback. On a positive note, the car's four-wheel antilock disc brakes proved to be plenty powerful. The Suzuki recorded the shortest 60-mph-to-0 braking distance at 126 feet, a good distance for any car let alone an economy sedan. Unfortunately, it also exhibited poor stability during hard braking and a soft pedal feel.

Nicely Appointed but Flawed
One of the Forenza's selling points is its high feature content. Our LX model was the third cheapest car in this test, yet it was packed with an eight-speaker stereo, steering wheel audio controls, cabin air filtration, a sunroof, alloy wheels and heated mirrors.

Get behind the wheel, and the Forenza makes a positive first impression with its sharp two-tone color scheme, attractive gauges, tasteful use of faux aluminum and soft, plush upholstery. A few cheap plastics are mixed in, but our tester's panels were neat and straight inside and out.

However, editors couldn't give the Forenza top marks for quality given its excessive wind noise and myriad of squeaks and rattles. The Suzuki's door panels creaked during hard cornering; wind noise from the sunroof suggested poor sealing; and when one editor sat in the driver seat, he felt something in the seat snap.

Plenty of Room
Interior space is not a problem in the Forenza, especially in the back where legroom is as plentiful as in the Spectra. The seat bottom cushion is a tad short, but the Suzuki was the only car to offer head restraints in all three positions and a fold-down armrest. Up front, some editors liked the driver seat's firm cushioning and two-way seat bottom tilt, but others thought the seat lacked support.

As in the Hyundai and Kia, storage slots are numerous so you always have a spot for cell phones and CD cases and the front cupholders can accommodate a wide range of beverage sizes. Trunk capacity is 12.4 cubic feet, one of the lower figures for this class, but a wide opening makes it easy to take advantage of the available space.

Standard side airbags provide head and torso protection for front occupants only. Even with the airbags, the IIHS rates the Forenza "Poor" overall for side-impact safety. NHTSA has not tested a Forenza with side airbags. In frontal-impact testing, the Suzuki received four stars from the government and an "Acceptable" rating from the IIHS.

Not a Strong Choice
With its roomy interior and a generous standard features list, the 2005 Suzuki Forenza looks like a good value on the surface. Unfortunately, its acceleration, fuel economy and handling fall well short of the leaders in this segment. Bargain hunters would be wise to put their money on a Kia Spectra instead.

Road Test Editor Brian Moody says:
There's nothing wrong with the Honda Civic except for the fact that every college kid and working mom from the Pacific to Paramus has one. It's an attractive car and the interior materials are top-notch. I love the fact that the Special Edition comes with an input jack for my iPod. I also love the multiple-speed fan setting.

They don't appeal to me personally, but I believe both the Kia Spectra and Hyundai Elantra are cars worth considering. The Spectra's six standard airbags cannot be overlooked. The Hyundai Elantra has a stylishness to it that stands out, but I don't care for the sporty-looking interior.

The Suzuki Forenza is my least favorite car of the group. It's nice looking on the outside and seems to offer plenty of interior space. However, I felt the driving dynamics were not up to par. The engine feels somewhat underpowered and it's noisy. Also, the suspension delivers the worst of two worlds: a jostling highway ride without the benefit of sporty handling. But in terms of features for the money, Suzuki offers a lot of car for $16,000.

The Chevy Cobalt and Ford Focus are firmly midpack. Of the two, I'd rather take the Cobalt on a long trip thanks to its quiet and smooth highway manner, plus it has the option of XM radio. It doesn't handle particularly well, but its 2.2-liter engine is refined and powerful and I like the light steering. The Focus delivers a nice balance between sporty handling and everyday ride comfort, and it's smart looking on the outside. I'd like an interior with higher-quality materials, though. Of course the Mazda 3 has everything the Focus has and gives you a nice interior to boot.

The Mazda 3 is easily the car I'd most like to have in my garage. It's sporty without being harsh and deluxe without being expensive. The exterior styling looks like that of a much more expensive car, and the interior is nice as well. I think it's easily the best car of this bunch. In fact, I think it seems like a car that belongs in a much higher price category.

Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed says:
At first glance, I found the differences between these cars to be hard to spot. But after an hour or so behind the wheel, the pedigree began to show and the field separated. While there were some obvious stars, there really wasn't a horrible car in the pack. Every car had something to offer and something that would endear it to some buyer somewhere.

I was fortunate to drive the Mazda 3 after already testing six other cars. Man, what a difference! Not only did I notice the trendy seat fabric and sporty gauges as I slide behind the leather-wrapped wheel, but once under way, there was a measurable rise in the fun factor. It's not just about saving money here (it stickers at $19,750); driving becomes a real pleasure.

But there is fun to be had from some of the other candidates, too. The new kid on the block, the Chevy Cobalt (the second-least expensive at $16,435), felt responsive and proved itself at the track with the fastest acceleration time. One editor thought that with better tires the Chevy would be a real player.

I was expecting the Honda Civic to blow the others out of the water. It was a strong contender, but in truth, the competition has risen up to its level. One of the most expensive cars in the test ($18,660) the Civic seemed slightly dated and a bit lackluster. The Ford Focus ($18,685), on the other hand, was like a bright penny. The Euro styling of the interior and the solid handling had most of the editors smiling and singing its praises. Only concerns about dependability dampened the enthusiasm at all.

Since this is a test of economy cars, I couldn't help noticing that the Korean cars were the most frugal. At $17,589 the Hyundai Elantra felt solid and dependable, while the Kia Spectra ($16,730) had pleasing low-end torque for a quick pop off the line. The Suzuki Forenza ($16,649) seemed OK at first glance, with nice-looking gauges and two-tone dash, but of all the cars, it was the weakest in acceleration and midrange power.

When shopping in this segment, make a list of the features you must have, and then do your own comparison by test-driving the cars back to back. You'll have fun and are bound to wind up with the car that suits you best.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt
"Having two small children, I did my research and decided on the Cobalt. I was very surprised at the roominess the backseat had. Most sedans I looked at had little if any room in the back. The 4-cylinder engine surprised me with its quickness. It handles & rides great. Gas mileage is awesome. I went from having to fill the tank 3 times a week with my SUV to only once a week with the Cobalt. The standard options were enough for me. However the car did come with a few extras including antilock brakes. For an inexpensive car, it has an expensive look. While at work I get at least one person a day, if not more, wanting to look at the car and asking questions about it. Chevy did an awesome job. Suggested Improvements: Add an armrest in the front. Having a cup in the cupholders blocks the heat/AC controls so maybe changing the location of either one would make it more user-friendly."
— Ali, June 11, 2005

"This car has features that were previously found in more expensive vehicles, i.e., electronic steering, digital readouts on the dash (fuel economy, outside temperature, etc.) It's a fun car to drive and gets a lot of looks. I drive 90 miles to work and back each day through stop-and-go traffic and still get 28 mpg. I think GM did their homework on this one and I think they have a winner on their hands." — Mike, June 4, 2005

"One of the reasons I bought this car is because of the great rebates, but I don't think it's in the same class as an $18,000 Honda or Toyota. I think this may have been a great marketing plan by GM. There are definite engineering flaws with this vehicle, such as the cupholders being too close to the heating controls. The back glass in the back doors doesn't fit securely, allowing wind noise. The back window has a channel on top that will be a problem with water build up. Rust on the screws that hold the gas filling tube. I have had my car into the dealership 6 times this month for service and the wind noise problem still exists. My last mileage figure was 20.5 mpg, I wonder if the rebate will ever go away. Favorite Features: It does have a great sound system. Suggested Improvements: The trunk access is extremely small. Move the windshield posts back to remove the blind spots. Correct the ear-piercing noise when only one back window is put down. Reduce the engine noise. More storage space in the front of the car. Improve the quality of the edges on the cheap plastic interior."
— Mark, June 8, 2005

2005 Ford Focus
"For the price, an excellent commuter car. I love my Focus, drive it to work 6 days a week, gets great mileage, and is comfortable, even for my 260 pounds. Not good for carpooling or long family trips. Favorite Features: Interior is designed for a driver. Everything is laid out well, easily visible, well designed. Suggested Improvements: Bigger cupholders in the front! Pockets on the seat backs." — Bear, July 20, 2005

"The car handles like a European car, extremely well, sure of itself and very responsive. It lacks power but makes up for that in the handling. Stopping seems OK and the car makes the driver feel in total control. I am still unsure of the mpg which I will carefully scrutinize. Overall I am pleased with the car so far. Favorite Features: Styling, radio controls on the steering wheel, 6 disc CD player, passive alarm system, 100,000 mile tune up (what mechanic wouldn't like that?). See through containers in engine compartment, height adjustable seat. Suggested Improvements: Sideview mirrors are extremely small. Steering wheel is a bit small. Where's the ashtray? (I don't even smoke!). Need a wee bit more power under the hood and 4-wheel disc brakes on the SES, decrease road noise, and make it more affordable!" — Mike, April 2, 2005

"All around a cool car. More knee room would make the backseat more comfortable. The leather seats are very comfortable. The standard radio is good quality, especially the volume control when speeding up or slowing down. Fun to drive. Trunk space is exceptional. One touch button to open the moonroof is convenient. Favorite Features: Sound system. Acceleration. Leather interior. A/C. Moonroof is sensational especially at night. Suggested Improvements: More color choice for leather interior. More room in the back seats. More sound-proofing to reduce highway road noise." — Alex, August 3, 2005

2005 Honda Civic
"My last car was a '99 Honda Civic EX. There have been a lot of very nice changes since that model. I love the spacious feel. I also love that I have a roomy car with great gas mileage. The seat belts are comfortable. Since I am a plus-sized woman, that was very important to me. The interior is a little plainer than I would have expected, but the stereo system and the moonroof easily take your attention. Favorite Features: Gas mileage, moon roof, magnesium color with dark grey interior. And the fact that it is a sporty car that is available with an automatic transmission. Suggested Improvements: A little more pizzazz for the interior. Maybe a contrast in interior color for the seats or something."
— Katie, March 10, 2005

"This is not the first Honda we have owned…. With the slightly underpowered engine, the fair amount of road noise and seats that could go a bit further back as the negatives, still the positives overwhelm. Price, features, MPG, reliability cannot be beat. Favorite Features: Special rims, 6 CD in-dash player with MP3 input, neat interior features all with excellent fit-and-finish. Suggested Improvements: Sound deadening material in trunk to reduce road noise in cabin, more travel on front seat tracks." — David Cole, April 17, 2005

"This is my second Honda Civic. My last one was a 2002 and I upgraded to the 2005. This one seems larger and a bit higher and easier to get in and out of since I am tall. It is fun to drive and has a lot of power during acceleration. I am totally pleased with my purchase. I get around 30 mpg combined driving city and highway. You can't beat that. Favorite Features: I love the look of the Civic EX Special Edition. I was missing the spoiler on my last car. It reminds me of my old Camaro of years past with the spoiler. Brings me back to my youth. The sound system is much improved and everyone loves the look of the stereo faceplate. Suggested Improvements: The dash controls light up in the daytime and sometimes that is a bit distracting. One good thing is that the armrest is larger on the 2005 than the 2002." — Donna, May 22, 2005

2005 Hyundai Elantra
"In a world that is all about names and labels, it is nice to stand out from the crowd. Hyundai isn't the brand it once was. The Elantra is by far a better car than its competition, even without factoring price. The car has a great suspension, smooth, but tight in corners. It's absurdly quiet inside compared to other cars in its class. The quality and fit-and-finish are better than Civic. The design is not boring whatsoever. When you sit in this car and drive it every day, you don't feel like you settled. Favorite Features: Leather interior, quiet and interior ambience, auto-open sunroof, sunglasses holder, dampened glovebox, two-level center console, an armrest in front that two people can use, blue/red gauges, Heater/AC controls are much nicer than ones on Civic and Corolla, heated mirrors means no fogging. Suggested Improvements: The cars need to have higher tire pressure (you can do it yourself), farther apart cupholders, chrome accent door handles inside, rear armrest in center, lights in vanity mirrors, all gauges should be blue/red (not just speedo/tach), lights in doors, better-looking CD player, Tiptronic automatic." — Neal, March 7, 2005

"So far it's a neat car. I think the exterior styling is top notch. It doesn't appear to be trying to look cool. Nice wheels and contrasting body moldings. Favorite Features: For the money, ABS brakes, 4 discs, traction control, and a power sunroof. Good luck finding that anywhere else. For about $1,000 more the 5yr/60k mile bumper-to-bumper warranty goes to 10yr/100k miles, and when you are only $14,500 in with the car the whole package is a steal. Suggested Improvements: Not too crazy about the purple instrument lights. Cloth seats available on the GT would be nice here in Phoenix. Seems to creak like a tall masted sailing ship when I go over the rounded curb into and out of my driveway. Unsettling but that's the only time I hear it." — iankeefe, February 10, 2005

"After driving US, Euro, and Japanese cars for 40 years, I came to understand that you go with the manufacturer who is trying hardest. For now, that seems to be Hyundai. After driving this car for several months, now, I have found only one mistake: When you drop the automatic shift lever down to the stop, it lands in third gear, rather than Drive. This can result in straining the engine, on the highway, unless you notice it. Otherwise, the design features appear to be literally flawless. It's tame, comfortable basic transport, but it wants to frolic. It may surprise you! Favorite Features: Seat comfort. Power range (available torque at low and high end). Handling (slight tendency to understeer and solid suspension make it spritely in the turns)." — Clint, February 17, 2005

2005 Kia Spectra
"Bought the EX version on July 5th. Price $12,200 with alloy wheels and floor mats. Overall, I am pleased with it. Things I don't like are fuel mileage. Not very good for a small car. Average around 25 combined and 27 highway only. Front seats are tiring for a long drive as there is no thigh support. Plus if you are tall or have long feet this is not your car. Interior is pleasant and quiet. Engine is mostly smooth once you are up speed. Tire noise is noticeable. The seats are comfy — thigh support. Keyless entry is a great option and the remote trunk is great. Favorite Features: Keyless entry, style, quietness. Suggested Improvements: Thigh support for driver seat. Fuel economy needs improvement. MP3 player and a lot of customizable accessories like Scion." — jacob, July 25, 2005

"I just bought the 2004.5 model and I really enjoy it. It's a great, fun car. Though a bit noisy when above 60 mph and specially while going up hills, the car definitely out performs the 2004 Honda Civic that my husband bought in March. If we had known about the Spectra before buying the Honda, we would both be driving Spectras. It's supposed to be more fuel-efficient, but I don't find this to be the case. As a former 2000 Toyota Camry driver, I used to get better gas mileage than I do now with the Spectra. The overall price, warranty, car design are perfect. I highly recommend this car and Kia to everyone. Favorite Features: The car's body design, lights, cup holders, price, outside rearview mirrors have built in defrosters! Suggested Improvements: Fuel Efficiency. CD doesn't have a random play selection. Slightly bigger trunk. Backseat could use an arm rest. Power seats." — Gaby, October 25, 2004

"Had a 1996 Kia Sephia. Not impressed. Car shook bad when hit 70 mph. I also had '02 Honda Civic. This 2005 Spectra is as much fun as the Civic and offers the best bang for the buck. Have all the features. EX with A/C, keyless entry, CD, power doors, power windows, etc. Used as commuter 80 miles daily. Fun to drive. Haven't seen the advertised highway mileage of 34. Averaging 31. This might be because I drive 75 mph. Great car for the price. Favorite Features: Love the sound system. All the features. Fog lights. Also like the fact that the lights will turn off when the key is removed, regardless if the switch is on. Suggested Improvements: More sound dampening. Daytime running lights." — DA MAXX, July 29, 2005

2005 Mazda 3
"The Mazda 3 is an amazing car. I have to make a long commute to work everyday, and I love making that long drive because I love driving my Mazda 3. Even though it is a sedan, I feel like I am driving a sports car. It has amazing acceleration and braking capabilities, smooth shifting, and a wonderfully smooth ride. Even though the s model is more expensive than the i, with the s, you get more for your money and I think it is a better value. Favorite Features: I am fairly short, but it has a seat height adjuster, lumbar support and other standard features for the driver's comfort. The backseat folds down 60/40 and the trunk is large. When sitting in the back, there is plenty of legroom, and all seats are comfortable. Suggested Improvements: I am not a fan of the red dash lights. I would love to see the forest green color in the s model as well as the i."
— Mia, July 10, 2005

"Great handling and good power. Comfortable and attractive seats, roomy backseat. Cockpit is a little narrow. Quality materials and finish. Cheaper plastic on the lower console is prone to scratching, but it's black. Stereo does sound a little muddy, controls on the steering wheel are a nice touch though. Great trunk space. Tons of fun to drive. This is a driver's car. Favorite Features: Good combination of handling and power, interior/ exterior styling, sunroof, side airbags. Suggested Improvements: Ability to change between CD, AM/FM, etc with steering wheel controls, auto down on all windows, auto up on at least driver's window, trunk is awkward to open and close, better mileage." — johndiggity, June 22, 2005

"I've had my Mazda 3 for 6 months now. I couldn't ask for anything better out of a vehicle. It meets all the needs that I asked for and more. The look of the car is very nice, but the interior is my favorite feature. It's not considered a sports car but drives like one. I feel very safe and it gets really good gas mileage. It's the fourth car that I've owned and I like it the best by far." — laci, June 7, 2005

2005 Suzuki Forenza
"Severely lacking in power. Lousy gas mileage for a car of this size. My 2001 Lincoln Town Car gets as good or better gas mileage in town & on the hwy. This car is somewhat unstable on the road. It gets blown around by trucks. Seems to veer a little for no apparent reason. Pulls to right on initial acceleration. Favorite Features: Car has lots of features for the money. Solidly built. Suggested Improvements: Get a new engine with much more power. Improve gas mileage to a least 27 in town and 35 on the road."
— Bill Pearson, April 11, 2005

"This car has so many features I doubt I could list all of them. With the automatic transmission, it a takes off really fast with a sufficient amount of pedal pressure, but then it seems to shift to low in order to keep the same acceleration. Other than that it's a great car. It has a lot of cabin room, great looking interior, and a sleek looking exterior! Seats are manual and uncomfortable. I like the 15" wheels with P195\55R15 Kumho touring tires. Also has very stylish high intensity headlights. 2 cooling fans on radiator. Has 4 wheel disc brakes. It's a great car for the money. Suggested Improvements: Seats could sit a little lower and be more comfortable. Has 8-speaker system, yet still doesn't sound all that wonderful. I have $100 pioneer stereo system in my Corsica that sounds better!" — Jean, May 21, 2005

"My 2004 Suzuki Forenza is a great car. Make sure you buy it from a reputable Suzuki dealer though because the dealer I purchased my Suzuki at later decided to stop selling them and now I have to drive half an hour away to the next closest Suzuki dealer for maintenance. So far after 6 months and nearly 8,000 miles this car is running great. I have had a few problems, but overall the car handles great and is fun to drive. The car guzzles gas, but that's because I drive it almost a hundred miles a day. I highly recommend this car. It can be a little noisy but overall it is a great machine. Favorite Features: I love the comfortable interior and handling. Suggested Improvements: Better gas mileage, a better stereo system, and a less noisy engine." — Rick2004, January 12, 2005

Today's economy sedans aren't the prison cells of their forebears. In fact, many of them are appointed as well as cars costing thousands more. Some amenities are more worthwhile than others, however, and these are the ones we think you should zero in on when equipping your next compact car.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt Base 2005 Ford Focus ZX4 SES 2005 Honda Civic EX Special Edition 2005 Hyundai Elantra GT 2005 Kia Spectra EX 2005 Mazda 3 s 2005 Suzuki Forenza LX
Antilock brakes O O S O O O O
CD changer in dash N/A S S N/A N/A O N/A
Cruise control O S S S O S S
Front center armrest N/A S S S S S S
Power mirrors N/A S S S S S S
Power windows N/A S S S S S S
Retained accessory power S N/A N/A S S N/A N/A
Side curtain airbags (full-length) O N/A N/A N/A S O N/A
Side-impact airbags (front) N/A O N/A S S O S
Trunk-release button on key fob O S N/A N/A S N/A S

S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

Antilock brakes: Pretty self-explanatory. Antilock brakes keep the wheels from locking up under maximum braking load so that you can maintain steering control, and your sanity, in emergency situations. And more often than not, ABS-equipped cars stop shorter than those without it. Don't skip this option.

CD changer in dash: Let's see, you're on a road trip and that Gorillaz CD that sounded so great 30 minutes ago has grown tiresome. But there's no need to take your eyes off the road to rifle through your music collection, because you loaded up five other CDs before you even left your garage. The Civic, Focus and Mazda 3 each came with an in-dash changer, although the Honda multiplies your entertainment options by also including an iPod jack right in the dash.

Cruise control: Even the best-conditioned bodies will develop a few kinks on a long road trip, but you can give your right foot some relief by setting the cruise on the flat stretches. That is, unless you forgot to check off this option when ordering your Cobalt or Spectra.

Front center armrest: Hardly worth mentioning until you have to do without it. Chevy's Cobalt is the only car that leaves the driver's right elbow dangling in midair, and our commutes seemed a lot longer because of it.

Power mirrors: Guess what? We hate having to reach across the front passenger to adjust the outside mirror, especially if said passenger is in a foul mood. Only the Cobalt puts us in this awkward position.

Power windows: Guess what else? We hate scraping our knuckles on rough plastic just to crank the windows up or down. Same goes for giving ourselves a hernia at stoplights leaning over to roll down the passenger-side window. Again, only the Cobalt subjects its driver to these minor discomforts.

Retained accessory power: Oops. You forgot to power up the windows before shutting off the engine and removing the key. But since you're driving an Elantra or Spectra, you still have the power to do it without reinserting the key. The Cobalt also offers this feature, but without power windows, the only benefit is the ability to turn the stereo back on while you're waiting in the car.

Side curtain airbags (full-length): There's always the potential for head injuries when a compact car gets T-boned by an SUV. Automakers have begun to improve protection for economy sedan drivers by mounting full-length air curtains in the headliners of these vehicles. Even if you have to pay extra for them, these airbags are worth every penny.

Side-impact airbags (front): Mounted in either the seats or door panels, these airbags provide torso protection, and sometimes head protection, in the event that your economy sedan gets hit from the side. The Mazda 3 and Kia Spectra offer both seat-mounted side airbags and headliner-mounted curtain bags; other manufacturers offer one or the other.

Trunk-release button on key fob: So what if you're not an SUV owner — you still have your arms loaded down with groceries and need to get them into the car as soon as possible. If there's a trunk-release button right on your keyless remote, you can unburden yourself that much more quickly.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt
2005 Ford Focus
2005 Honda Civic
2005 Hyundai Elantra
2005 Kia Spectra
2005 Mazda 3
2005 Suzuki Forenza

2005 Honda Civic

System Score: 9.0

Components: The Civic EX Special Edition comes with an upgraded stereo that looks out of place but offers excellent features. It's an in-dash six-CD changer with MP3 capability and an input for directly connecting a portable MP3 device or satellite radio unit. It uses six speakers compared to the regular Civic EX's four-speaker setup.

Performance: The head unit looks like an aftermarket unit that doesn't really "fit" with the rest of the interior. It's likely that "aftermarket" was the exact look Honda was going for. Looks aside, the standard stereo in the Civic Special Edition sounds and works wonderfully.

Compared to the other cars in our test, the Civic's stereo sounded the best. The sound was warm and the six speakers made for excellent sound separation. The highs are clear without sounding shrill and the midrange and bass are good as well. The Focus stereo perhaps has punchier bass, but the Civics' system sounds the best overall.

In addition to excellent sound quality, the Civic's stereo also offers more features than the other economy cars we tested. It plays MP3 CDs and has a fun and customizable display. But the real treat is an input jack that allows the direct hookup of a portable MP3 player. This is a feature normally found on more expensive cars and the fact that Honda offers it on an outgoing model (the Civic is all-new for '06) that costs under $19,000 is amazing.

If you have an iPod or other portable listening device, you just need to spend about $10 on a male-to-male mini-RCA jack cable, then you can use your device through the Civic's stereo. The setup will not recharge your player nor can you navigate your portable device through the car's controls, but we still think it's one of the best features on any low-priced in-car audio system.

One downside to this otherwise terrific stereo is that the display tends to wash out on sunny days. Late in the day, the information on the display is almost impossible to read.

Best Feature: Great sound quality and impressive features.

Worst Feature: Display can be hard to read.

Conclusion: An excellent stereo all around. It delivers great sound quality and offers plenty of customizable features. A real bargain considering the car's price. — Brian Moody

2005 Mazda 3

System Score: 8.5

Components: The Mazda 3 comes standard with an impressive audio system that includes six speakers, speed-sensitive volume and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. As part of the optional "moonroof and 6-CD" package, an in-dash changer is added. The Mazda 3 is also compatible with Sirius satellite radio, the only car in our test with this factory-installed option.

Performance: The Mazda 3's stereo delivers clean, clear sound at almost any volume. It sounds almost as good as the stereo that is standard in the Special Edition Civic but lacks the Honda system's flexibility.

Like the Focus and Civic stereos, the 3's sound system delivers nice bass but lacks the punch of a more expensive unit; the addition of a subwoofer would really help here. The sound quality overall is very good but not great; it lacks the warm quality of the Civic and instead opts for a more "real" sound that can sometimes be tiring at higher volumes. Midrange tends to sound hollow and can distract from the otherwise good sound coming from the six speakers.

The stereo found in the Mazda 3 looks and sounds a lot like the system in the larger Mazda 6. We like the way the controls are arranged in the Mazda 3, and although gimmicky, we like the added pizzazz of the blinking LED lights that accompany volume changes.

Best Feature: Satellite radio option is nice considering the 3's price.

Worst Feature: Midrange tends to sound lifeless.

Conclusion: The second-best stereo of the bunch could easily be the best of the bunch if you really want satellite radio and can't afford a car costing more than $20,000. The Mazda is a stellar little car and the stereo almost equals that in terms of sound quality. — Brian Moody

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt

System Score: 7.5

Components: As its sub-$17,000 price suggests, our Cobalt came with few options. While a seven-speaker Pioneer stereo is offered on higher trim levels, our base sedan came equipped with an upgraded $185 stereo that included a radio and single CD player as well as RDS (radio data system). The system uses only four speakers and the Delco head unit includes a digital clock.

Performance: The Delco head unit is well placed and easy to reach and all functions are easy to access. The controls are attractive and easy to use, and the display screen is easy to read but the green lights look a little dated.

Considering the Cobalt's stereo has only four speakers, the sound is quite pleasant. In fact, it sounds better than some other car stereos in our test that use six speakers.

The sound is clear and offers adequate separation at normal volumes. However, turn the sound up too much and the speakers simply get overwhelmed. Depending on the type of music that's playing, the sound can seem somewhat hollow. This is especially true of more layered or complex rock and classical arrangements. Again, there are only four speakers, so there's only so much the system can do.

Bass response is OK but certainly not stellar. R&B and even heavier rock tends to turn the bass into a booming mess.

We like the RDS feature on such a low-priced car. RDS is the feature that displays the radio station call letters on the stereo's head unit and often includes information like song title and artist name.

Best Feature: Nice looking head unit that works well.

Worst Feature: Only four speakers.

Conclusion: The Cobalt's base stereo is perfectly adequate for a low-priced car. If your budget is a little flexible, opt for the Pioneer system. — Brian Moody

2005 Ford Focus

System Score: 7.5

Components: The Focus SES is one step up from the SE and offers an upgraded stereo as part of that package. Notable improvements are an in-dash six-disc CD changer and steering column-mounted audio controls. That's not a mistake; the redundant audio controls are mounted on the steering column, not on the steering wheel. Even so, they function basically the same but just don't provide the small convenience of rotating with the steering wheel. Even with the added audio system features, the SES's stereo upgrade doesn't include additional speakers, as the Focus makes do with just four.

Performance: Despite its four speakers (two fewer than most other cars in this test), the Focus delivers very good sound quality.

The highs are clear without being shrill and the bass response is very good as well. As you might suspect with a four-speaker sound system, separation is not very good, but surprisingly it doesn't distract too much from the overall sound. Oddly, the stereo doesn't sound so great without adjusting the bass and treble. In order for this Ford system to deliver its best, both of those adjustments need to be turned almost all the way up. We've noticed the same thing on other Ford stereos.

This Ford stereo not only offers a six-CD changer but the ability to play MP3 CDs as well. The single CD player on the Focus SE also has this feature. Unfortunately there is no satellite radio option available.

The steering column-mounted audio controls work well and fall to hand nicely. It's definitely better to have these controls mounted on the steering wheel itself but the inconvenience was minor at worst. Plus you get more controls compared to other economy sedans. The sedans that have audio controls on the steering wheel offer only a limited number of functions. The Focus column-mounted unit offers control of almost every stereo function.

Best Feature: In-dash CD changer.

Worst Feature: No satellite radio option.

Conclusion: Even with just four speakers, the Focus SES's stereo sounds pretty good. It's not the best of the bunch but still provides better-than-average sound quality. — Brian Moody

2005 Kia Spectra

System Score: 7.5

Components: The Kia Spectra comes with just one stereo choice — an AM/FM, single CD player. It's a fairly basic system but it does have its high points. There are six speakers including door-mounted speakers. In addition to the typical bass and treble controls, the Spectra's head unit includes midrange controls as well. The Spectra does not come with the option of satellite radio.

Performance: The Kia Spectra's stereo is just what you'd expect in an economy car. Nothing fancy, just a good unit. We like the large buttons and large display that make it easy to see what radio station or CD track you're on with just a glance.

The Kia's sound quality is above average thanks to those six speakers. While cars like the Chevy Cobalt and Ford Focus make do with only four speakers, Kia's value-mindedness kicks in and gives the consumer more for the money. Thanks to the unexpected midrange adjustment, the sound can be cleaned up nicely by just taking those mids down a notch or three. By eliminating some of the clutter of the midrange, you can actually fool yourself into believing the system delivers good separation.

The Spectra's stereo doesn't sound particularly rich, but it does deliver acceptable sound for a car that rings in well under $17,000 nicely equipped. The highs are clear and the bass is just OK. If a neighborhood-waking thump is on the top of your car stereo "must-have" list, then you should look elsewhere. But if you're not an avid audiophile and just want a nice CD player with fairly good sound quality, then this system will not disappoint.

Best Feature: Large, easy-to-read display.

Worst Feature: No satellite radio.

Conclusion: Other cars in this test clearly have better sound systems, but the Kia Spectra's stereo delivers exactly what you'd expect: good value. — Brian Moody

2005 Suzuki Forenza

System Score: 7.0

Components: Our Suzuki Forenza LX came standard with an AM/FM, CD and cassette stereo. The system has eight speakers and built-in equalizer presets with category designations like "Country," "Pop," "Rock" and "Voice" for talk radio programs.

Performance: The head unit for the Forenza's stock stereo is easy to use and has a large, easy-to-read display. The Forenza's stereo is notable in that it's the only unit in our test that has a cassette player as a standard feature but doesn't force you to do without a CD player as a result. It's true many potential Forenza customers may not own any cassettes, but having a player is useful beyond hauling out old high-school mix tapes. Portable music players like Apple's iPod offer a cassette adapter so you can enjoy your all-digital music in the car, and portable satellite radio receivers often come with a cassette adapter as well.

The stereo itself sounds good but it doesn't sound as rich as we'd expect with eight speakers. But Suzuki should still get credit, as eight speakers are twice as many as in the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cobalt. Unfortunately, there is little separation and the midrange tones detract from rather than enhance the sound quality.

The bass response tends to be muddy and imprecise, while highs are duplicated very well. The system includes various EQ settings. Those settings don't necessarily translate into better sound quality. We found most rock, R&B and pop sounded best on the "Classic" setting. Do they mean "Classical?" A feature that works well is the "+Bass" button that increases or reduces bass by just pressing that button. This feature was especially nice when listening to a CD-R that contains an eclectic mix of music, some with big bass, and some without.

Best Feature: "+Bass" Button is a thoughtful feature that works well.

Worst Feature: Overall sound quality isn't what it could be given eight speakers.

Conclusion: The Forenza's stereo sounds no better than "just OK." It has useful and thoughtful features like a standard CD, cassette player and eight speakers. However the overall sound quality doesn't reflect the system's attention to detail. — Brian Moody

2005 Hyundai Elantra

System Score: 6.5

Components: There isn't much to the Elantra's stereo, although our test car was an Elantra GT which adds an extra two speakers to the 100-watt, single CD player setup.

Performance: The Elantra's stereo didn't sound as full or rich as some of the other stereos in our test. Although the bass was prominent and deep, the highs were too sharp and midrange was almost nonexistent.

To make matters worse, the Elantra GT's stereo has precious few features. The Kia Spectra's stereo didn't sound fantastic or anything, but it did have a nice big display and separate controls for bass, treble and midrange. The Elantra's unit offers only one pull-out knob that controls both bass and treble. Your only choice is to bias the sound one way or the other. We also found the head unit to be rather small. As a result the display screen is also very small, as are the buttons and knobs that control various functions.

Best Feature: Bass response.

Worst Feature: Lack of customizable features.

Conclusion: Considering the Hyundai Elantra GT's overall stylishness and fun demeanor, we expected the stereo to sound a little better and offer MP3 capability. — Brian Moody

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Mazda 3 Honda Civic Kia Spectra Ford Focus Hyundai Elantra Chevrolet Cobalt Suzuki Forenza
Personal Rating (10% of score) 100 79.6 46.9 67.3 40.8 49.0 16.3
Recommended Rating (10% of score) 95.9 83.7 49.0 67.3 40.8 46.9 16.3
Evaluation Score (20% of score) 85.7 80.4 73.5 77.3 70.7 69.3 65.4
Feature Content (20% of score) 66.7 60.0 80.0 66.7 66.7 30.0 66.7
Performance (15% of score) 96.8 66.1 63.5 63.0 65.7 87.3 61.5
Fuel Economy (5% of score) 76.9 100 83.3 83.9 80.7 80.7 74.6
Price (20% of score) 79.1 85.7 100 85.6 92.3 99.4 95.0
Total Score 84.3 76.5 74.0 73.0 68.0 66.5 61.6
Final Ranking 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Scoring Explanation

Personal Rating (10%): Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating (10%): After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the cars in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in the economy sedan segment.

Editors' 23-Point Evaluation (20%): Each participating editor scored every sedan based on a comprehensive 23-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. A score from 1 to 10 was possible in each category, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Feature Content (20%): For this category, the editors picked the top 10 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping for an economy sedan. For each car, the score was based on the amount of actual features it had versus the total possible (10). Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Performance Testing (15%): Each economy sedan was subjected to a set of performance tests that measure acceleration, braking, speed through a 600-foot slalom course, and lateral Gs on a 200-foot skid pad. Scores were calculated by giving the best performing sedan in each category 100 percent. Subsequent vehicles were awarded points based on how close they came to the top sedan's score.

Fuel Economy (5%): Here we applied a simple percentage calculation based on the vehicle with the best EPA fuel economy estimates using the agency's combined mpg formula (55% city + 45% highway). The most fuel-efficient sedan received a score of 100, with the remaining cars receiving lesser scores based on how close their combined mpg came to the top-rated car's.

Price (20%): Another simple percentage calculation, this one based on the least expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as-tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicles receiving lesser scores proportionate to the price difference.

Evaluation - Drive
Evaluation - Ride
Evaluation - Design
Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Evaluation - Drive

Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.9 1
Chevrolet Cobalt 8.4 2
Ford Focus 8.0 3
Honda Civic 7.2 4
Kia Spectra 6.9 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.7 6
Suzuki Forenza 4.9 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.9 1
Honda Civic 8.5 2
Chevrolet Cobalt 8.0 3
Ford Focus 7.9 4
Kia Spectra 7.3 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.6 6
Suzuki Forenza 5.6 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.6 1
Honda Civic 7.8 2
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.7 3
Ford Focus 7.4 4
Hyundai Elantra 7.0 5(t)
Kia Spectra 7.0 5(t)
Suzuki Forenza 6.1 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 9.1 1
Honda Civic 8.2 2
Ford Focus 7.9 3
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.6 4
Kia Spectra 7.1 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.7 6
Suzuki Forenza 5.4 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.4 1
Ford Focus 8.1 2
Honda Civic 7.3 3
Hyundai Elantra 6.9 4(t)
Kia Spectra 6.9 4(t)
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.3 6
Suzuki Forenza 5.2 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.7 1
Ford Focus 8.3 2
Honda Civic 7.8 3
Hyundai Elantra 7.1 4
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.7 5
Kia Spectra 6.6 6
Suzuki Forenza 6.3 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Civic 8.0 1
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.9 2(t)
Ford Focus 7.9 2(t)
Hyundai Elantra 7.9 2(t)
Suzuki Forenza 7.9 2(t)
Mazda 3 7.7 6
Kia Spectra 7.6 7
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 9.4 1
Ford Focus 8.4 2
Honda Civic 7.8 3
Kia Spectra 6.6 4
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.4 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.3 6
Suzuki Forenza 4.7 7

Evaluation - Ride

Seat Comfort Front
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.7 1
Ford Focus 7.9 2
Honda Civic 7.8 3
Kia Spectra 7.4 4
Hyundai Elantra 7.0 5
Suzuki Forenza 6.6 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.3 7
Seat Comfort Rear
Vehicle Score Rank
Ford Focus 7.9 1
Honda Civic 7.5 2
Mazda 3 7.4 3(t)
Suzuki Forenza 7.4 3(t)
Kia Spectra 7.3 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.9 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.0 7
Wind & Road Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.3 1
Chevrolet Cobalt 8.0 2
Honda Civic 7.7 3
Kia Spectra 7.6 4
Ford Focus 7.3 5(t)
Hyundai Elantra 7.3 5(t)
Suzuki Forenza 6.1 7
Rattles & Squeaks
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Civic 9.2 1
Mazda 3 8.9 2
Ford Focus 8.6 3
Kia Spectra 8.1 4
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.4 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.9 6
Suzuki Forenza 6.0 7

Evaluation - Design

Interior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 9.4 1
Honda Civic 8.8 2
Ford Focus 7.6 3
Suzuki Forenza 7.3 4
Kia Spectra 7.1 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.6 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 5.9 7
Interior Material
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 9.0 1
Honda Civic 8.7 2
Kia Spectra 7.4 3
Ford Focus 7.0 4
Suzuki Forenza 6.9 5
Hyundai Elantra 6.7 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 5.6 7
Climate Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Civic 8.8 1
Ford Focus 8.3 2
Kia Spectra 8.0 3(t)
Mazda 3 8.0 3(t)
Hyundai Elantra 7.9 5
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.6 6
Suzuki Forenza 7.1 7
Audio System Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.6 1
Honda Civic 8.5 2
Ford Focus 7.4 3(t)
Kia Spectra 7.4 3(t)
Suzuki Forenza 7.4 3(t)
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.1 6
Hyundai Elantra 6.1 7
Secondary Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.9 1
Honda Civic 8.2 2
Kia Spectra 7.4 3
Ford Focus 7.3 4
Hyundai Elantra 7.1 5(t)
Suzuki Forenza 7.1 5(t)
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.7 7
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 9.1 1
Ford Focus 8.3 2
Honda Civic 8.0 3
Suzuki Forenza 7.3 4
Hyundai Elantra 7.0 5
Kia Spectra 6.9 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.6 7
Headlight Illumination
Vehicle Score Rank
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.0 1
Ford Focus 5.0 2(t)
Honda Civic 5.0 2(t)
Hyundai Elantra 5.0 2(t)
Kia Spectra 5.0 2(t)
Mazda 3 5.0 2(t)
Suzuki Forenza 5.0 2(t)
Overall Build Quality
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.9 1
Honda Civic 8.5 2
Kia Spectra 7.7 3
Hyundai Elantra 7.4 4
Ford Focus 6.9 5
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.7 6
Suzuki Forenza 6.1 7

Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Vehicle Score Rank
Honda Civic 8.3 1
Mazda 3 7.7 2
Ford Focus 7.6 3(t)
Hyundai Elantra 7.6 3(t)
Kia Spectra 7.6 3(t)
Chevrolet Cobalt 7.3 6
Suzuki Forenza 7.1 7
Expanding/Loading Cargo
Vehicle Score Rank
Ford Focus 8.0 1(t)
Honda Civic 8.0 1(t)
Hyundai Elantra 8.0 1(t)
Mazda 3 7.9 4
Suzuki Forenza 7.3 5
Kia Spectra 7.1 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.9 7
Storage Space
Vehicle Score Rank
Mazda 3 8.4 1
Hyundai Elantra 7.9 2(t)
Kia Spectra 7.9 2(t)
Suzuki Forenza 7.6 4
Honda Civic 7.5 5
Ford Focus 6.6 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 5.9 7
Vehicle Score Rank
Kia Spectra 8.3 1
Mazda 3 8.1 2
Ford Focus 7.3 3(t)
Hyundai Elantra 7.3 3(t)
Suzuki Forenza 6.9 5
Honda Civic 6.7 6
Chevrolet Cobalt 6.6 7
Model year2005
ModelMazda 3
Engine typeDOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2.3
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)160 @ 5,500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)150 @ 4,500
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)9.5
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.7 @ 81.9
60-0 mph (ft.)127
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)62.7
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)24/29
Edmunds observed (mpg)20.8
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2,696
Length (in.)178.3
Width (in.)67.9
Height (in.)57.7
Wheelbase (in.)103.9
Turning circle (ft.)34.1
Legroom, front (in.)41.9
Legroom, rear (in.)36.3
Headroom, front (in.)39.1
Headroom, rear (in.)37.4
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.9
Shoulder room, rear (in.)54
Cargo volume (cu-ft)11.4
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/ 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/ 50,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/ Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/ 50,000 miles
Model year2005
Engine typeSOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1.7
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)127 @ 6,300
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)114 @ 4,800
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)10.9
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.5 @ 78.5
60-0 mph (ft.)128
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)58.4
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)31/38
Edmunds observed (mpg)25.1
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,499
Length (in.)175.4
Width (in.)67.5
Height (in.)56.7
Wheelbase (in.)103.1
Turning circle (ft.)34.1
Legroom, front (in.)42.2
Legroom, rear (in.)36
Headroom, front (in.)39.8
Headroom, rear (in.)37.2
Shoulder room, front (in.)52.6
Shoulder room, rear (in.)52
Cargo volume (cu-ft)12.9
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/ 36,000 miles
Powertrain3 years/ 36,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/ Unlimited miles
Roadside assistanceN/A
Model year2005
Engine typeDOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)132 @ 6,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)133 @ 4,500
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)11.2
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.6 @ 78.1
60-0 mph (ft.)139
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)59.7
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)24/34
Edmunds observed (mpg)22.3
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,701
Length (in.)176.4
Width (in.)68.3
Height (in.)57.9
Wheelbase (in.)102.8
Turning circle (ft.)33.2
Legroom, front (in.)42.8
Legroom, rear (in.)35.4
Headroom, front (in.)40
Headroom, rear (in.)38.2
Shoulder room, front (in.)55.1
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.9
Cargo volume (cu-ft)12.2
Bumper-to-bumper5 years/ 60,000 miles
Powertrain10 years/ 100,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/ 100,000 miles
Roadside assistance5 years/ Unlimited miles
Model year2005
Engine typeDOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)136 @ 6,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)133 @ 4,500
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)11.2
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.7 @76.6
60-0 mph (ft.)141
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)61.1
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)26/32
Edmunds observed (mpg)22.8
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,677
Length (in.)175.2
Width (in.)66.7
Height (in.)56.8
Wheelbase (in.)103
Turning circle (ft.)34.1
Legroom, front (in.)40.7
Legroom, rear (in.)37.6
Headroom, front (in.)39.1
Headroom, rear (in.)38.4
Shoulder room, front (in.)53.5
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.6
Cargo volume (cu-ft)14.8
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/ 36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/ 100,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/ Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance3 years/ 36,000 miles
Model year2005
Engine typeDOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)132 @ 6,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)133 @ 4,500
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)11.7
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.9 @ 80.7
60-0 mph (ft.)130
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)59.5
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)24/32
Edmunds observed (mpg)22.6
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,635
Length (in.)178.1
Width (in.)67.9
Height (in.)56.1
Wheelbase (in.)102.7
Turning circle (ft.)32.5
Legroom, front (in.)43.2
Legroom, rear (in.)35
Headroom, front (in.)39.6
Headroom, rear (in.)38
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.7
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.5
Cargo volume (cu-ft)12.9
Bumper-to-bumper5 years/ 60,000 miles
Powertrain10 years/ 100,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/ 100,000 miles
Roadside assistance5 years/ Unlimited miles
Model year2005
Engine typeDOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2.2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)145 @ 5,600
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)155 @ 4,000
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)9.2
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.6 @ 82.7
60-0 mph (ft.)136
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)59.5
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)24/32
Edmunds observed (mpg)22.5
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,868
Length (in.)180.3
Width (in.)67.9
Height (in.)57.1
Wheelbase (in.)103
Turning circle (ft.)37.4
Legroom, front (in.)41.8
Legroom, rear (in.)33.7
Headroom, front (in.)38.5
Headroom, rear (in.)37.7
Shoulder room, front (in.)53
Shoulder room, rear (in.)51.4
Cargo volume (cu-ft)13.9
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/ 36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/ 60,000 miles
Corrosion6 years/ 100,000 miles
Roadside assistance3 years/ 36,000 miles
Model year2005
Engine typeDOHC Inline 4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)126 @ 5,400
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)131 @ 4,000
Transmission type4-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)11.6
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.9 @ 76.5
60-0 mph (ft.)126
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)58.4
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)22/30
Edmunds observed (mpg)20.9
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,701
Length (in.)177.2
Width (in.)67.9
Height (in.)56.9
Wheelbase (in.)102.4
Turning circle (ft.)N/A
Legroom, front (in.)42
Legroom, rear (in.)36.7
Headroom, front (in.)39.1
Headroom, rear (in.)37.8
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.7
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.7
Cargo volume (cu-ft)12.4
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/ 36,000 miles
Powertrain7 years/ 100,000 miles
Corrosion3 years/ 36,000 miles
Roadside assistance3 years/ 36,000 miles
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