The week is drawing to a close and while that can mean several things, most importantly (of course), it’s time for another installment of Ask AutoGuide, the information superhighway’s most exciting semi-regular feature. Beating the competition to market with mildly informative and generally accurate content is the name of the game. Our skilled geniuses are ready to spread their expertise like frosting on a sheet cake; just scoop it out of the tub and smear it all around.
If you’ve read any of the preceding nine installments of Ask AutoGuide you’re probably keenly aware of our on-staff Oracles; they’re the engine that drives this weekly column. You should also be aware of their violent mood swings and predilection for Velcro, be it shoes, wallets or even as a solution to keep their colostomy bags from breaking free. Hey, they can be messy but it beats getting up to use the restroom every six minutes.
In an effort to avoid overextending themselves the Oracles only work Mondays, Wednesdays and Tuesdays. They like to pre-ward themselves with extra time off. Think of their extended weekends as an anticipatory reward handed out before doing something good. Despite their part-time status our in-house experts are always able to lend a helping hand and this week Karen is in need of some advice.
She’s looking to replace her 1997 Jeep Cherokee, a vehicle that’s undoubtedly on the downward slope of a mediocre career. She wants a compact car that will hold its value; she’s also after something with a quiet interior and comfortable ride, things her Jeep couldn’t deliver even when showroom fresh.
Karen is willing to spend up to $24,000 on a new ride. She’s open to different suggestions but her only major caveat is that she doesn’t like vehicles with massive hoods. Unfortunately that rules out a Jaguar E-Type or the 1963 Lincoln Continental the Oracles were pushing for. She also said bells and whistles are important, presumably so are buzzers and claxons. She wants as many features as her budget allows.
Like cows, sheep and other multi-stomached animals AutoGuide’s Oracles have been ruminating on Karen’s vehicular dilemma and here is a condensed vision of their full report, the latter of which is longer than the Patriot Act and twice as boring to read. You’re welcome for sifting the gold nuggets out a dump-truck load of soil.
Suggestion #1: 2013 Toyota Corolla S Special Edition – $24,403
The Corolla is Toyota’s C-Segment sedan and it’s a nameplate that’s been around for generations. Believe it or not the car was introduced in the mid 1960s so it actually has some heritage. Unfortunately it’s a bit too retro for 2013, but more on that in a moment.
With every single option-box checked the car cashes out at a few hundred bucks more than the $24,000 limit. Fortunately Karen can forgo some frivolities like paint-protection film and a cup-holder ashtray to get the price down a bit. The $49 cargo tote is an absolute necessity, though. Where else are you going to find a storage bin, tub or crate to keep in the trunk? An old cardboard box that grapefruit came in would never hold any junk so don’t even try it (hint, hint).
The range-topping S Special Edition is the most gilded Corolla available. It comes with things like a navigation system that features a 6.1-inch screen, HD radio and Bluetooth, though no brush or paste; oral hygiene is between you and your dental professional.
Outside 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and a rear spoiler are standard, the latter of which adds a touch of excitement to an otherwise heinously boring design. If you want excitement in any way, shape or form this is not the car for you.
The Oracles might not have even considered the Corolla for Karen, but it was she who suggested it.
If you’re starting to get the feeling that Toyota’s Corolla is a little past its prime you ought to start reading palms and playing with tarot cards; clearly you’re gifted. The car is outdated, very outdated, in fact it’s a lot like driving the year 1998, which would still technically be an improvement over Karen’s Cherokee.
Nowhere is the Corolla’s deficiency more apparent than under its nondescript hood. Perched above the front subframe is an automotive relic. The car is hauled around by a powertrain so antiquated you half expect to see an Egyptian cartouche cast into the engine block.
Imhotep’s chariots were probably more advanced than the Corolla’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder. It delivers a modest 132 horsepower with just 128 lb-ft of torque. Output may be lacking but where the car really falls on its face is in the transmission department. It’s saddled with a four-speed automatic! In 2013 that’s totally inexcusable and reason enough to side step the Corolla like a cow patty.
This gearbox is the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight. No, scratch that. It’s like fighting World War III armed only with pom-poms. Despite their mildly celebratory nature there’s nothing to cheer about with the Toyota Corolla.
Making things even worse, the car is not very efficient. According to the U.S. EPA Corollas with the automatic transmission (a five-speed manual is offered on lower-trim models) deliver 26 miles per gallon in city driving and 34 on the highway, netting it a combined score of 29 MPG. Again, ’98 is calling right along with the Lewinsky Scandal and new episodes of F*R*I*E*N*D*S.
Like college economics professors or used-carpet salesmen paleontologists believe the Corolla is a direct descendant of Mundaneasaurus, a semi-omnivorous dinosaur that killed its prey by boring it to death. You’ve been warned.
There’s plenty to grumble about regarding this compact Toyota but there are a few positives worth noting. The car is renowned for its bulletproof reliability, a reputation earned after decades of fighting the good fight against defects. According to Toyota’s consumer website more than 80 percent of Corollas sold over the last 20 years are still on the road today. That’s a major plus.
Like Pandora’s box at least there’s hope; a redesigned model is on the way.
Suggestion #2: 2013 Honda Civic EX-L with Navigation – $27,378
Like Ford and Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda are bitter rivals, battling each other for sales and mindshare in an increasingly crowded market. Facing off against the antiquated Corolla in the C-Segment is Honda’s popular Civic sedan.
Right off the bat you can tell there’s a lot more going on with this car. When loaded with options the price is three grand more expensive. That’s because the Civic is much more advanced.
Like Southern and Eastern-European immigrants coming to America in the early 20th century Honda’s top-of-the-line Civic EX-L sedan has features by the boatload. For a little more than $27,000 the car comes with modern necessities like sat-nav and voice recognition, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather-wrapped tiller, not to mention heated front seats.
In the safety department the car is armed with a list of Ralph Nader-approved items including side-curtain airbags, brake assist, stability control and a high-tech ACE II body structure. That acronym is Honda-speak for Advanced Compatibility Engineering; all you really need to know is that it’s safe in a crash should you ever decide to rear-end a cement truck, plow through a weekend farmer’s market or roll the car 18 times in an attempt to recreate Smokey and the Bandit.
Additionally it’s a “Top Safety Pick +” from the Naderites at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That’s the highest score they give out for crashworthiness, although it’s a bit confusing how you can do better than “Top.”
Like the Corolla this high-end Civic is armed with darkness-defeating fog lights, it’s also got heated side-view mirrors and a power moonroof. A sporty-looking spoiler adds $399 to the car’s price tag and nothing to its performance; 17-inch wheels are nearly $1,200. Skipping other questionable options like door-edge trim, a car cover and splash guards will drop the Civic’s price by thousands.
Under the hood this car is powered by a 1.8-liter inline-four. Sound familiar? It matches the Corolla liter for liter. Regrettable its output is barely any better. The Civic’s single-overhead-cam i-VTEC engine delivers 140 horsepower; torque is IDENTICAL to the Toyota. It’s like they cheated off of each other and both failed the test.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Honda Civic vs. 2013 Nissan Sentra
It may not deliver a boot in trousers but the Civic’s engine at least gets to work with a slightly more modern gearbox, and we do mean slightly. The car features an all-around competent five-speed automatic transmission. It’s smooth and effective but a couple gears short in today’s world. Where the Corolla’s four-gear unit is from the Stone Age this one is at least from the Middle Ages.
The Civic’s performance is decent in most driving situations, it’s no V10-powered SRT Viper but it’s perfectly fine for normal motorists. It may be an almost-even match for the Corolla when it comes to output but the Civic trounces its Toyota counterpart in fuel efficiency. The car stickers at 28 miles per gallon ‘round town and 39 on interstate jaunts. Its combined rating is an impressive 32 MPG, 3 better than the Corolla.
Karen mentioned she’s in the market for a comfortable car that’s loaded with features. Well, the Civic offers just about every option available in a compact sedan and a few others, but that’s not all. The car is very quiet, refined and smooth going down the road – all qualities Karen demanded. But in typical Honda fashion it’s also engaging to drive. It feels more planted and appreciably sportier than the Corolla, best of all it should be every bit as reliable as the Toyota.
The Oracles’ only real complaint about the Civic centers on styling. They won’t mince words; the car is kind of weird looking. The Chevy Cruze, Dodge Dart and even the Nissan Sentra are all handsome small sedans, but this little Honda is just strange, even after its not-insignificant refresh for 2013.
Suggestion #2: 2013 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited – $29,946
Wowzers! Going with every available option and accessory pushes the Subaru Impreza’s price to 30 large. That may not be too much in today’s overpriced, overregulated automotive world but it’s a symbolic threshold, and crossing it puts you square in the big league.
Now, like the other two cars listed here that price can be massively reduced simply by skipping the litany of bullshit things Subaru offers. There’s an available battery warmer for instance. It costs $39.99. Buyers can opt for a cigarette lighter, which is also 40 bucks. A car cover is available for $129.99 but the bag to put it in costs extra. Subaru has the audacity to charge $14.95 for the luxury of a fabric satchel. You’d think after paying 130 bucks for a glorified fitted sheet they could at least give you a baggie to put it in. Not a chance.
Skipping other useless features like the optional 10-inch subwoofer, upgraded tweeters, bumper corner moldings and sport grill the Impreza costs a much more reasonable $24,965. That we can work with.
The Limited model comes standard with a lockable glovebox, automatic climate control, half a dozen speakers and leather upholstery. Navigation is part of a $2,200 package that includes a moonroof. These items should tick all of Karen’s luxury checkboxes.
The littlest Subaru is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine that puts out an adequate 148 horsepower. Torque weighs in at 145 lb-ft, more than either the Toyota or Honda.
Eschewing a traditional transmission the Impreza is fitted with a continuously variable unit or CVT for short. Subaru has branded it Lineartronic but the AutoGuide Oracles call it the Lame-O-matic Gearless-Special because it oozes like a bedsore. The driving experience provided by CVTs – not just this one – is not that pleasant. They’re great for efficiency but they always feel like they’re slipping.
SEE ALSO: 2012 Subaru Impreza Hatchback Review
One major advantage in Subaru’s corner is all-wheel drive – a relevant factor considering Karen commented an ideal quality would be a car that can “handle adverse weather/road conditions “. AWD is standard on every vehicle the company offers except the sporty BRZ coupe. It’s a major advantage in slippery conditions
Nearly matching the Civic in safety Subaru’s Impreza is merely a “Top Safety Pick.” It may be minus the “+” but you‘ll still be extremely well protected in a crash.
As for fuel economy, the ‘Rezza falls between the Corolla and Civic. According to the number crunchers at the EPA the car earns a combined rating of 30 MPG, stickering at 27 in the city and 36 on the highway.
COUNTING THE VOTES
So, what’s the right small car for Karen? Well, each one has its strengths (strength singular in the case of the Corolla) as well as a few weaknesses (and by few we mean many for the Toyota). Here’s the breakdown of this all-Japanese CelebrASIA festival.
Right off the bat you can tell the Corolla isn’t going to win this comparison. The car is something of an automotive relic. Toyota has left it on the market far too long without the substantial update it desperately needs to remain competitive. It sells on price and its reputation for quality, and sell it does.
The Impreza is a solid choice and a quality piece of engineering. It doesn’t standout out in any particular area, with one exception: it’s the only car here with all-wheel drive, and that’s a big advantage. If she can get past the annoying CVT it could be a good option for Karen, but perhaps not the best choice.
Honda’s Civic is a stalwart in the segment. It’s respected, it’s safe, it’s thrifty and it still knows how to have a little fun. It’s an excellent small car for Karen, as it meets all of her needs. Sure, the Civic may act like a lady but unfortunately she looks like a dude; her Adam’s apple is bigger than a ripened red delicious. Hopefully Karen’s ok with the styling. Also, she mentioned winter traction was a concern and the Impreza is a shoe in for grip, but with a good set of snow tires the Civic should be able to drive through just about anything. And that’s enough to seal the deal this week.
As always, good luck Karen in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.