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Posted Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Ford Focus and Kia Forte score Very Good in tests of small sedans and hatchbacks
Yonkers, NY — The highly anticipated redesigned Honda Civic LX, whose predecessors have often been Consumer Reports’ highest rated small sedans as well as Top Picks in five of the last 10 years, now scores too low to be Recommended by the leading automotive testing organization.
The redesigned Civic LX’s score dropped a whopping 17 points to a mediocre 61 from the previous generation’s very good 78. It scored second-to-last in CR’s ratings of 12 small sedans, followed only by the recently redesigned Volkwagen Jetta. Consumer Reports’ testers found the 2012 Civic to be less agile and with lower interior quality than its predecessor. It also suffers from a choppy ride, long stopping distances, and pronounced road noise. On the positive side, the Civic provides decent rear-seat room, and it achieved 30 mpg overall, which gives it the second-best fuel economy in its class—behind only the Toyota Corolla’s 32 mpg.
"While other models like the Hyundai Elantra have gotten better after being redesigned, the Civic has dropped so much that now it ranks near the bottom of its category,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center in East Haddam, CT.
The test group also included sedan and hatchback versions of the redesigned-for-2012 Ford Focus and the hatchback version of the Kia Forte, which both scored Very Good. The Focus was fun to drive and more polished than its predecessor, with the type of agile handling, supple ride, and solid feel expected from a compact sports sedan. But a snug rear seat, complicated controls, and annoying behavior by the automatic transmission took a toll on its score. The 5-Door hatchback is Kia’s latest addition to the Forte line, and is well-equipped, relatively roomy, and offers a lot for the money. But its noise isolation, ride, and interior quality are middling.
The issue also features tests of two versions of the Ford F-150 pickup, perennially the best-selling model in the U.S. Freshened for 2011, it’s quieter and more refined than earlier versions, with an improved ride, and better acceleration.
Competition in the small sedan segment is intense with many new or redesigned entries this year. The redesigned-for-2011 Hyundai Elantra tops CR’s ratings with its impressive fuel economy, roomy interior, and strong value. The new-for-2011 Chevrolet Cruze is much more refined than previous General Motors small cars but fuel economy suffers from its heavy weight. Redesigned for 2011, the Volkswagen Jetta, like the Civic, dramatically dropped in overall score in CR’s Ratings. Some older-design small sedans, like the highly-efficient Toyota Corolla, the roomy and quiet Nissan Sentra, and the sporty Mazda3 remain competitive.
The full report on small sedans and hatchbacks is available in the September issue of the magazine, on newsstands August 2 and to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. Updated daily, it’s the go-to Website for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information. Check out CR’s ongoing Twitter feed at @CRCars.
None of the models tested in this month’s issue are Recommended except the V8 version of the Ford F-150. The Focus, Forte hatchback, and EcoBoost V6 version of F-150 are too new for Consumer Reports to have adequate reliability data to Recommend. The Civic didn’t score highly enough to be Recommended. Consumer Reports only Recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Auto Survey of its more than seven million print and Web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.
Prices for the tested vehicles ranged from $19,340 for Kia Forte hatchback to $40,410 for the Ford F-l50 with EcoBoost V6.
The Civic has slid backward with its redesign. It feels insubstantial against recently-redesigned competition. Vague steering weakens its agility and robs it of its fun-to-drive feel. Stopping distances are long, the ride is choppy, and road noise is pronounced. The Honda Civic LX ($19,405 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that provides adequate acceleration and gets an impressive 30 mpg overall in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The interior feels cheap, a letdown from previous Civics. CR is currently testing a Civic hybrid and will report on it next month. Cargo space is Good.
With sporty handling, a supple ride, relatively low noise, and a solid feeling interior, the new Focus drives more like an upscale compact sports sedan. But several flaws keep it from being one of CR’s top cars. The new PowerShift automated manual transmission stumbles at low speeds, the radio controls are confusing, and the rear seat is tight. The Ford Focus SE ($20,280 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 160-hp, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that provides adequate acceleration and gets 28 mpg overall. The higher-trim Focus SEL hatchback ($22,185 MSRP as tested), adds a somewhat nicer interior and increased cargo flexibility from a hatchback. Braking is Very Good. The interior is well-finished. Cargo space is Good.
Like the Kia Forte sedan and two-door Koup, the hatchback Forte is well equipped for its price and is a good value. Handling is responsive and secure, but the ride is stiff and jittery, and the cabin can get rather noisy. The ride is an unmistakable weak spot, as it is stiff, and characterized by frequent short pitches. The Kia Forte EX 5-Door ($19,240 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 156-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers average performance and gets 26 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. Braking is Very Good. The interior is well-assembled but plain. . Rear seat room and cargo area are generous for this class.
With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union, the world’s largest independent, not-for-profit, product-testing organization. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Website and owns and operates a 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut. The organization’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645 or visit www.ConsumerReports.org.
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