Another week, another opportunity to assist a struggling motorist; that’s what Ask AutoGuide is all about. Just like populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan we’re here for the people. Specifically, folks like Zach, who e-mailed us asking for help picking out a compact car.
He needs a new ride and has $23,000 to spend. He wants something that’s fun to drive and averages around 30 miles per gallon. He prefers the versatility of a hatchback but is open to other suggestions. What’s non-negotiable is the sound system; he loves music and a premium stereo is mandatory. Can the auto industry deliver a product that meets Zach’s demands or is he stuck buying a pair of beats headphones and riding the bus? Here are three recommendations that get the job done.
Suggestion #1 – 2013 Honda Civic Si
For decades the Civic has represented small-car excellence. Quality, fuel economy, reliability and just about any other positive adjective can be used to describe Honda’s compact offering. It’s like crack cocaine for the left side of the brain, cold and logical. But what about the other cerebral hemisphere? Is there a Civic with some emotion?
Indeed there is and it’s called the Si. No, it’s not the “yes” model targeting Spanish-speaking buyers; it’s actually the performance version of this prosaic little car. Honda amps-up the fun factor with several enthusiast-focused features including a muscular 2.4-liter VTEC engine that generates 201 horsepower. It’s matched exclusively to a super-slick six-speed manual transmission that’s so smooth through the gears it feels like everything runs on roller bearings. A helical limited-slip differential helps make sure the front wheels can put that power down. Unlike the pedestrian base model this is a fun car to drive.
Satisfying Zach’s need for tunes the Si is equipped with a 360-Watt sound system that oscillates the air with seven individual speakers. Hands-free Bluetooth telephone, text-message functionality and a five-inch customizable LCD display round out the car’s technological highlights.
Power windows and door locks, cruise control, aluminum pedal covers and a tilt/telescoping steering column are other nice touches found inside. Overall the cockpit is functional, grown up and ergonomically correct, but it’s far from exciting.
Other downsides to the Si include interior space and fuel economy. Zach mentioned his interest in hatchbacks, vehicles renowned for their cargo capacity. Unfortunately a two-door Civic – or even the sedan model for that matter – will never match the room of a proper hatch. Honda buried its hatchback Civic in 2005… roughly the same time it stopped making awesome cars.
When it comes to efficiency the Si fares reasonably well. Around town it should be able to stretch a gallon of unleaded 22 miles; on the highway economy jumps to 31. According to Uncle Sam’s EPA the car should average 25 MPG, which isn’t too shabby, but it’s not quite what Zach is after.
Base price for a 2013 Civic Si is $23,305 including $790 in destination charges (add $200 for the sedan). It’s an entertaining little car that’s graced with Honda’s legendary quality.
Suggestion #2 – 2014 Dodge Dart GT
It’s been a loooong time since Chrysler fielded a decent small car. Remember the Caliber? It’s best you don’t. The company’s latest C-Segment offering is the impressive new Dodge Dart. This small sedan offers both style and substance with tons of options.
Something like 12 different colors are available (including really cool ones like Citrus Peel and Header Orange) along with three engines and at least six separate trim levels. If you want choice the Dart delivers. Sifting nuggets of grain from buckets of chaff the model we recommend for Zach is the performance-oriented GT.
This Dart hits the bull’s eye with a 2.4-liter “Tigershark” four-cylinder engine. Equipped with Fiat’s innovative MultiAir valve-control system it puts out 184 horsepower with 171 lb-ft of torque. It can be matched to either a six-speed manual or an automatic transmission with just as many gears. Naturally we suggest Zach go with the manual.
Checking his need for a modern interior the Dart is equipped with some interesting touches; the most unique of which is a light-up trim ring that circles a large portion of the car’s dashboard. Additionally there’s an 8.4-inch touch screen navigation system as well as a backup camera (like the Civic Si). Nappa leather-trimmed seats and a configurable multi-function display in the instrument cluster are also included. An available nine-speaker Alpine sound system is a hard-hitting option that costs just $495. We’ve included that in the price listed below because we know Zach would want it.
The Dart GT is slightly less powerful than Honda’s Civic Si but the tradeoff for less giddy-up is greater economy. Dodge’s small-car stickers at 23 MPG city, 33 highway. Those numbers make for a combined score of 27 miles per gallon, two more than mustered by the sporty Honda.
The Dart is good small car that delivers almost all the features Zach is after. But it’s not a hatchback and it doesn’t quite hit 30 MPG. However it does fit his budget. Optioned appropriately the GT model stickers for $22,485 including $995 in shipping and handling. Sounds like a great deal to us, plus the car looks better than the boxy Civic too.
Suggestion #3 – 2014 Ford Focus Hatchback
Unlike the Honda and Dodge, Ford’s popular Focus small car is offered as a hatchback. Not surprisingly this five-door provides ample storage space, nearly 45 cubic feet in total with the rear seats folded.
Another thing about the Fofo that’s dissimilar to the Civic Si and Dart GT is performance. The Focus we’re advocating is the mass-market model; the Honda and Dodge are hopped-up versions. The car is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Performance-wise it can’t match the other two models in this week’s comparison but it’s more than decent. Horsepower clocks in at 160, torque at 146 lb-ft.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard but a six-speed dual-clutch automatic is offered. You already know which one we’re going to advocate.
Overall, it’s a well-sorted chassis and plenty of fun to drive.
Moving inside, the Focus is equipped with a completely modern interior, something that checks another one of Zach’s boxes. It’s constructed of high-quality soft materials and offers all kinds of cutting-edge technology. A tilt/telescoping steering column is standard, as is cruise control. Leather-trimmed seats and a dual-zone automatic climate system are also offered.
When it’s time to fill the tank Ford makes things easy in two ways. First, the car is equipped with the company’s capless fuel filler. There’s no twist-off top to fuss with when you pull up to a gas pump; just open the door, stick the nozzle in and squeeze the trigger. Second, the car’s fuel economy is impressive so you’re not going to have to fill ‘er up very often. According to the federal gub-mint Fofos sticker at 26 city, 36 highway. Sound good? Well it gets better because the car averages a solid 30 MPG, which is exactly what Zach wanted.
When it comes to technology the Focus can be optioned with MyFord Touch, something we’d like to recommend. It adds substantially to the bottom line but this infotainment system delivers voice-activated controls, navigation and a 10-speaker Sony sound system. The down side is, MyFord Touch is known to freeze up and even crash. And if there’s one word we don’t like associated with our cars, it’s “crash.”
This Blue Oval hatchback may be down on power but it’s still a riot to drive. The chassis is far more engaging than you’d think. In short the Focus is all about balance.
So, what’s the damage? Well, a properly optioned five-door model checks out at $24,045, fees included and discounts excluded. That’s slightly more than Zach is willing to spend, but we think it’s worth the extra outlay.
As always, good luck Zach 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.