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Low End Sedans (under $16k)



  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    I drove the new Forenza S (base model, no options) today. MSRP $12,999 including destination.

    Pros: Upscale interior, upscale exterior, solid structure, lots of features for the price.
    Cons: Coarse engine, rubbery shifter
    Bottom line: Worthy competitor to Civic, Corolla, and the rest--if it had a better powertrain.

    My first impression of the Forenza was positive. I liked the sleek styling, and the interior was nicely done for such an inexpensive car--rich cloth, fake aluminum accents, cushy center armrest, stereo controls on the wheel, fold-down armrest in the rear seat. The driver's seat has a dual-knob height adjuster that let me adjust the seat just right. The driving position was comfortable with tilt wheel and a large deadpedal. The gauges are simple and clear, and nice looking with silver accents. Even the base model comes with power windows/locks/mirrors and an 8-speaker stereo/CD/cassette which sounded great for such an inexpensive car. The rear seat is roomy, especially leg room (I'm 5'9") and has a fold-down armrest with cupholders. Even the front seat backs are cloth, and overall I thought the interior looked much more upscale than the price would indicate. Switchgear was fine, although the turn-signal stalk was not Honda/Toyota smooth. A/C is standard of course. There's a nicely padded center armrest with storage, and overhead map lights and a sunglasses holder.

    My positive impression began to fade a bit as I got underway. The 126 hp engine (some mags say 119, but the window sticker said 126) is smooth enough at idle, and the clutch is smooth and easy. But the clutch travel seemed long and the shifter was rubbery, not precise at all compared to cars like Elantra, Civic, Corolla, and Mazda3. Reverse is up and to the left, and took some work to engage. Also, engine vibrations are felt through the shifter, which detracts from the upscale feel of the rest of the car and gets tiresome (I know, my '97 Sentra did the same thing). Clutch engagement is smooth and acceleration is more than adequate around town and up to highway speed. EPA ratings for the 5-speed are only 21 city/30 highway--pretty low for this class, especially considering it's only 126 horses. Handling is nothing special, but at least as good as an Elantra or Corolla but not as good as a Civic or Mazda3 (which IMO is best-in-class there). Ride is firm but not harsh. Engine noise is about average for this class--about the same as an Elantra, Civic, or Mazda3. The S doesn't have cruise, but the LX and EX models do. The heater warmed the interior in about five minutes at 23 F. The body structure seemed solid with no squeaks or rattles. I don't know how it will hold up, but it seemed light years ahead of its predecessor, the Nubria.

    I came away from the test drive thinking that the Forenza could have been a home run for Suzuki had they equipped it with a better powertrain. If the automatic is smooth, that would take care of the shifter problem, but I prefer a stick shift with a small car. But the engine is not as smooth as even other Korean competition (Elantra), and has less power and lower mpg than most competitors. However, if buyers can get past that they would have a pleasant, good-looking compact sedan that can seat four adults very comfortably and in some semblance of style, at a bargain price (assuming there will be rebates and discounts available). Then there's the LX model, which for not much more money adds features like moonroof, alloys, and cruise. The EX adds leather. Plus Suzuki offers a strong warranty--7 year, 100k mile transferrable powertrain warranty. A lot of car for a little over 10 grand.
  • logic1logic1 Posts: 2,433
    to do the engineering necessary to get a new engine in the Forenza and get it to market as soon as they did.

    The Forenza is a stop gap effort to bring cash into the operation while new product is engineered.

    As it is, those buying solely on price get a bigger, nicer looking car than the Civics and Corollas in the same price range.
  • are not in that price range at all.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    The DX is pretty close to the price of a Forenza S. The DX doesn't have the equipment level of the Forenza of course, but does have a superior powertrain, fuel economy, and resale value. The Civic also has proven reliability and crash-test results, while those are question marks for the Forenza. I think Suzuki's bigger challenge though is convincing buyers to get a Forenza instead of an Elantra. The all-new '05 Spectra could also be tough competition for the Forenza.
  • MSRP on the Civic DX STARTS at $13,500, and that is even before adding destination, let alone an air conditioner.

    Forget the power toys, just a minimally equipped Civic, which I consider as Air and a CD, will cost at least $14,500, which is considerably more than the sub-13K price of the Forenza.

    Next, the Suzuki will be rebated and the Honda is not, while both cars can be bargained down about the same amount from MSRP, the result is that the Suzuki is a full price-class lower, competing against the Hyuundai Accent, not the Honda Civic.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    New Civic LX 5-speeds can go for under $13k according to reports on the Honda Civic board, so you can get a Civic with just A/C and CD for well under $14,500. A VP automatic's TMV is under that. But you are right, that is considerably more than what a Forenza will go for after the discounts and rebates. Civic buyers are used to paying more than buyers of comparably-sized Korean cars, thinking they will recoup the difference in lower depreciation and fuel costs. Since a well-equipped Accent can be had for $10k, I still think the main competition for the Forenza will be other Korean compacts like the Elantra and Spectra. The Forenza is superior to the current Spectra IMO, but the '05 appears to be greatly improved.
  • is a surprisingly nice car for the price, and easily beats the Forenza in engine refinement. I don't know how the 5-speeds compare, but the Accent has a rather nice automatic that is well-matched to the engine and provides more than adequate performance and much better fuel economy than the Forenza.

    I haven't driven the Forenza so I can't compare them, but I did spend 3 days in a rental 2001 Accent 3-Door automatic (same as the 04 except for no side airbags) and found it to be a very acceptable way to get from A to B. In fact, when I bought a new economy car last month, I was very close to buying an Accent. It was only the VERY aggressive rebates on the Mazda Protege that prevented me buying one (2003 Protege DX auto/AC $11,200).
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    The Accent is a nice little car for the money, but with Hyundai's aggressive discounting of the Elantra and no major advantages that the Accent has over the Elantra when decently equipped (except fitting into tighter parking spaces), I think the Elantra is a much better value. But if a bare-bones car is all you need, you can sometimes get a base 2 door for around $7000, and that would make good wheels for a high school or college student.

    One thing I noticed about the Forenza's pricing--they'd better start the rebates soon. Right now the TMV for a loaded Elantra GT is actually less than the TMV for the Forenza LX, but the GT is equipped like the Forenza EX (with leather interior). They won't sell many Forenzas that way.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    What kind of a new car can you buy for under $8000 these days? I decided to find out and drove a '03 Kia Rio base model with no options--"heat and go", as the salesman said. Not even power steering, a radio, or an adjustable steering column. A Saturn dealership was next door, and since I had not yet driven the Ion, I decided to take a base model '04 Ion 1 for a spin--A/C was the only option. The Rio lists for just under $10k with destination charge. The Ion lists for just under $12k. With rebates and discounts, the Rio could be had for about $8k. Of course, the Ion, costing about 50% more than the Ion, should trounce it, right? Well, maybe...

    The first thing that struck me about the Rio is that it's a nice-looking little car (subjective, I know). Curvy lines, interesting tail light design, and even the wheel covers look pretty decent. The Ion is, well, maybe it would grow on me. I did notice the paint finish and panel gaps on the Rio were excellent. The Ion, with its plastic body panels, has necessarily wide panel gaps (to allow for expansion). Even so, the Rio looked to me like a more expensive car than the Ion. On the door slam test, the Rio also did better than the Ion--probably due to the plastic panels again.

    Inside, both the Rio and the Ion are about as spartan as it gets--lots of dark plastic and not much else. However, the Ion did have an AM/FM radio at least. The Rio had a black plastic plate instead (next stop: Best Buy). The Ion also had a full complement of (center-mounted) gauges, while the Rio had no tach. Both sets of instruments were clear, but I preferred the more traditional layout of the Rio. The switchgear of the Ion, especially the HVAC controls, felt cheap. The Rio's controls, surprisingly, felt smoother than the Ion's, with the turn-signal stalk feeling almost Honda-like.

    The biggest difference in the interior was the driver's seat. The Rio had a multi-adjustable seat with two knobs to adjust the seat cushion height--just like on my Elantra. I was able to adjust the seat of the Rio just right and it was very comfortable--incredibly so for such an inexpensive car. The Ion's seat cushion had no height adjuster and was not nearly as comfortable as the Rio's. I did check out an Ion 2 with the lever-type seat height adjuster, and it helped but still did not provide the range of adjustment and comfort of the Rio's seat. The Ion's trunk is pretty large for a compact, and interestingly the battery is in the same compartment as the spare tire.

    The Ion had more room in the back seat than the Ion but not by much. My toes felt cramped and my legs touched the front seat (5'10", 32" inseam). Worse, the seat cushion was not high enough so my legs stuck up in the air, and the top of my head touched the headliner. While the Rio had a little less knee space, I actually felt more comfortable in its back seat because there was more toe space, my thighs made contact with the seat cushion, and there was more headroom. You would not want to put more than two adults or three small children in back of either car for any length of time. The trunk of the Rio is small but well-finished.

    On the road, the cars exhibited different strengths and weaknesses. The Ion had excellent ride quality--smooth and compliant. Its electric power steering was pleasant to use, and the brakes (non-ABS) were smooth and progressive. Handling was OK, not too crisp but not sloppy either. (The Ion 1 has 14" tires, and other models have bigger rubber.) The engine had plenty of power but did not seem as peppy as its 140 horses promised. However, the engine was coarse and thrashy, even at idle. At one point I thought that it reminded me of a lawn mower engine. Cruising at 65-70 mph, the engine noise wasn't too bad, but the combination of wind noise, tire noise, and engine noise did not make for a calm environment. The shifter was vague but got the job done--not nearly in the same class as Honda, Hyundai, Mazda, and Toyota, but about as good as the similarly-priced Suzuki Forenza I drove recently. The body structure seemed solid, but there were a couple of plastic-y squeaks coming from the driver's side and passenger side.

    The Rio was a different driving experience altogether. First, it had non-power steering (shades of my first car, a '66 Coronet). Therefore, steering in parking lots was a chore. Spend a few extra bucks and get the power steering. The ride was firm, but not punishing. The handling was sharp, almost on a par with the Protege. It was actually a lot of fun to drive on the twisties; there was little body lean going around cloverleafs at 40 mph. Put some bigger rubber on it, and it could be quite a road-carver. The big downside with the Rio was engine noise while cruising on the highway. With no tach, I couldn't tell how fast the engine was churning at 65-70 mph, but it sounded like it was working very hard. Acceleration with the 5-speed was fine for around-town driving; you won't win any drag races, but the shifter was more precise than the Ion's (although a little stiff--could have been the cold or newness). I don't think I'd want an automatic in the Rio, however. The brakes were more grabby than the Ion's but after I adjusted for that they were fine. There was a little wind noise but less than in the Ion. The body seemed very solid and there were no squeaks or rattles.

    Overall, I came away from the test drives with more respect for the Rio. It's no more than basic transportation, but it has a comfortable driver's seat, its handling can put a smile on your face, and it can fit into tight parking spaces (get the power steering unless you have Ahnold-sized forearms). It's a solid little car that feels more expensive than it is. The Ion, on the other hand, has smooth ride, braking, and steering but not much else going for it besides those rust-free plastic body panels (not a small thing here in the Rust Belt). Of course, the Rio has the Kia Long-Haul Warranty also.

    So which is the better value? IMO, neither one. With some basic options like power steering, A/C, and CD stereo, a '03 Rio can be had for under $11k after rebate and dealer discounting. The Ion 1 would be over $12k with that same equipment. For the same money, or even less, you can buy a '03 Elantra GLS with power everything, SABs, more rear-seat room, and more refinement than either the Rio or the Ion. And if you're a Hyundai owner, as I am, take $2000 off either a '03 or '04 Elantra. A comparably-equipped Rio or Ion would be thousands more. However, if all you want is basic "heat and go" transportation, the Rio can give you that for around $8000--with the Long-Haul warranty to boot. Then it's really a choice between the 4-door Rio or the 2-door Accent.
  • patpat Posts: 10,421
    Nice write-up, backy.
  • alpha01alpha01 Posts: 4,747
    I agree with Pat, thanks! Not much attention gets paid to the ultra low end cars like the Rio. I felt the same way after test driving an Accent for kicks last year. At $12K on the sticker (not sure about todays expected selling price after rebates and haggling), with head and chest side airbags, all power accessories and auto trans, not bad at all. backy- what are your opinions re: Rio vs. Accent. vs. Aveo?

  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    probably be the new Kia Spectra that debuted at the Detroit North American International Auto Show. The EX models will offer side-curtain airbags and 4-wheel disc brakes. I've seen some pics and it looks pretty nice from what I've seen. No prices out yet. The I4 engine will produce 140hp and will be CVVT(Continuously Variable Valve Timing)which will save on gas consumption and also reduce emission pollutants as well. I'm guessing Kia will MSRP it at around $13,500 give or take a nosehair or two.

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    I think the Aveo looks like the top of this group just based on content and room, but I haven't driven one yet. Its short warranty is going to hurt it against the Rio and Accent, though. I think the Rio is the value champ because you can get stripped ones for $6-7K. The Accent is kind of a tough one, because of how Hyundai heavily discounts the Elantra. I have trouble seeing the value proposition of the Accent. But the Accent is due for a redesign at the end of this year, if Hyundai keeps to its schedule, so that should provide more competition for the Aveo.
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    somebody has already bought an Aveo and posted their experience on the Chevrolet Aveo thread. They liked it much better than the Kia Rio they tested. The Aveo seems more of a solid ride to them. I'm going to be reading as many of the reports on Aveo as I can to see how it holds up reliability-wise. Content-wise for price it looks pretty good and I also think it's got a nice body style to it(I especially like the hatchback model).

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    I did see the drive report on the Aveo. But as you may have noticed by the test drive reports I've posted here over the past couple of years, I like to drive a car myself before I cement my opinion on it. For example, I took CR's low opinion of the Spectra with a grain of salt before I drove it myself and found out that I agreed with CR. My local dealer said he won't have an Aveo for another month or so.
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    how the car really drives? I will look forward to your report on Aveo after you test drive one.
       backy-what did'ya say to majorthomecho to chase him outta here? He was such a major contributor to this thread for what seemed like years.

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    He's disappeared from Town Hall as far as I know. Maybe he's found other pursuits other than talking about cars. Me, I am sick or something as it is late night in Vegas and I am sitting here typing on my computer. (Actually too tired to do anything else.) Now is that a car nut or what?

    Looking forward to driving the Aveo, as well as the all-new Spectra when it arrives. I've driven everything else in the low-end class. But I'll have work to do with the new arrivals due soon like the Scions (in my area, this summer), Spectra, and Cobalt (if in fact it starts under $15k). The Accent is due for a redesign this fall but I haven't heard a word about it--has anyone else?
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    Chevy Cobalt starts out at just over this thread's limit, if it's indeed still $15,000. I read something on the Cobalt starting around $16,995. Check me on that, though.
         Yeah, we car nuts are a group defined by an intense yearning to learn more about these silly objects on four wheels that zip us rather quickly all over the place. Sort of a learned art not shared by everybody--that's for sure.

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • lngtonge18lngtonge18 Posts: 2,228
    Has anyone seen the side impact rating for the 4 door 03 Accent? I was quite impressed to learn it received 5 stars for the front seat and 4 for the rear from NHTSA. This is the ONLY subcompact to achieve this high of a rating, and even beats out substantially larger cars. The side airbags are apparently well designed because it upped the rating from 3 to 5 stars after the bags were added. The newer tests also take into account head injury measures.
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    Accent, there. Especially when you take into consideration the small size of Accent.

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • grandtotalgrandtotal Posts: 1,207
    You should not take into account the small size of the Accent when considering impact test results. This is because the testers have already taken the vehicle's size into account. The Accent's results should be viewed against other cars in it's size category only. A passenger in an Accent sized car with a 5* safety rating may sustain more damage than if they were a passenger in a 5* rated large car.
  • lngtonge18lngtonge18 Posts: 2,228
    That isn't true of the side impact test. They use a standard sized ramming platform that approximates a 3015 lb vehicle hitting the side of the car at 38.5 mph. Here is a quote taken directly from NHTSA's website,

    "Side crash test results can be compared across all classes because all vehicles are hit with the same barrier and at the same force."

    In other words, you are theoretically safer in a side impact in an 03 Accent then you are in an 03 Camry, Century, Concorde, Passat, etc. It even did better then Hyundai's much larger Sonata and Xg350. Shocked? I was! Hyundai did a good job designing the safety of the Accent.
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    designing safety into the Accent is one big 'ole understatement then! If what you said just above this post is true(can anyone argue intelligently against it?) about Accent safety then Hyundai engineers deserve a round of applause. Probably some more Accent sales up ahead as well!

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • alpha01alpha01 Posts: 4,747
    I'm sure that many of you who are familiar with my posts from other boards know where I'm going.

    While the Accent does quite well for the driver, and indeed Hyundai should be commended for offering side airbags with Head Protection as standard, keep in mind that the NHTSA does NOT take into account the HIC recorded on the dummy in assigning star ratings for the side impact test.

    What this means:
    The driver dummy of the Accent passes with flying colors (recording a very low HIC of 180, no doubt due to the head-protecting airbag). However, the measure of HIC 749 for the rear passenger indicates the possibility of injury that is not indicated in the 4 star rating.

    Moral: Always look deeper into NHSTA side impact star rating, as HIC is not included in this mesaure. As a rule, where HICs creep toward 1000, the likelihood of severe or fatal injury increases significantly.

    Consider this- back in the early 80s, shortly after NHTSA began its frontal impact program, but before the "star" ratings, 1000 was the threshold for whether a vehicle "passed" or "failed" for head injury.

    (If you want an example of a vehicle with a good side impact score, but alarming HIC, check out the non-side curtained Accord 2 door, which scores 5 stars for rear passenger, but has an HIC in the 920s. Conversely, if you look at the 2003 non-curtained Camry 4 door, which received 3 stars for driver and 5 for rear passenger... both had HICs in the low 400s).

  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    I just needed to see some more info.on the testing process overall. Sort of like watching 20/20 on car crash testing. Those shows can devote an hour to the testing processes and not have NEAR enough time to cover all of the angles on crash testing. This is indeed an area that one can learn more about IF it's important to them enough. I think that sometimes the thought on it is, "Well, I don't have time to think about car crash test results, after all, if it's my time to go then it's just my time to go." I'm totally serious when I say that! Those aren't my thoughts on that subject but haven't you all heard people say comments like that? Death and dying and crashing and rehabilitating are not areas that people really feel comfortable thinking about and discussing. The sad fact about it is that every day there are 17,000 car crashes in the U.S. and every year there are 6,205,000 car crashes in the U.S. Keep posting NHSTA crash test information even if it hurts...whoops, sorry about that!

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • lngtonge18lngtonge18 Posts: 2,228
    Are you absolutely certain they don't take HIC injuries into account for the side impact test? If you look, there was 2 tests for the 03 Accent, one for those before the side airbag was released and one after. The early 03 Accent was rated 2 stars for the rear seat, and even mentioned a high likelihood of head injury. The rear seat is now rated 4 stars (with no mention of head injury risks) and the main difference between the two tests was a reduction in the HIC measure from 1260 to 749. There was also a reduction in the TTI from 93 to 70. I'd be surprised if the HIC didn't make a difference in the star rating, especially if the Accord 2 door doesn't mention high likelihood of head injury like they did on the Accent even though the Accord had a higher HIC. Hmm.....Anyway, the fact remains the little Accent appears to be tough and protects its occupants in a side impact better then many larger cars.
  • alpha01alpha01 Posts: 4,747
    Yes, I am absolutely certain. I am also aware that of the first Accent crash test. The NHTSA will append an asterisk (*) to models whose HIC exceeds 1000 in the side impact test, which is precisely what happened with the first Accent test. (As I stated earlier, this is a common threshold for severe head trauma.) It merited the low 2 star rating based on its high TTI.

    With the Accord 2 Door's HIC in the 900s, it is still below 1000, so there is no asterisk appended.

    Just to drive my point home, there are a few SUVs that have 4 star ratings but the asterisk indicating that theres a high likelihood of head injury. Clearly, then, the star rating does not reflect the HIC.

    One example (and I swear I'm not picking on Honda, its just the first one that I saw on the NHTSA webpage..) is the Honda Element.

    I think it is VERY deceptive of NHTSA to misinform consumers in this way. How can a vehicle merit a high 4 or 5 star rating for side impact protection if it inflicts near fatal levels of injury to the head? HIC should be reflected in the star rating, not just in a note. Even so, as it stands, HIC is only reflected in a note when it surpasses 1000. What about cars that test with 999 HIC? They just get the star rating, without any notation, and consumers (who dont look a little further) are none the wiser, despite the fact that HIC is awfully high.


    PS- I certainly agree, Hyundai has set a good precedent by adding side iflatable protection standard on every model, including the 11K Accent.
  • iluvmysephia1iluvmysephia1 Dodge City, KSPosts: 6,478
    offer side curtain airbags as standard equipment as well as 4-wheel disc brakes. I wonder how much Hyundai influenced their desision on those?

    2011 Kia Soul Sport 5-speed

  • Nice to see you guys (at least one) missed me. Don't have a lot of time as I am at work and want to get on home. Still have the Major (in fact Major has a sibling, Silver). Silver is a silver 2003 Echo with an automatic, but otherwise equipped like the Major.

    As to where I have been, my computer at home is still the same old dinosaur and I just got tired of fighting trying to get on line. I finally decided to try to get to Edmunds through the work computer and the stupid site would not recognize me at first.

    Our local auto show is a week and a few days away and I am going again. The Aveo is definitely on my list of cars to take a look at. I definitely have some opinions on the car and I won't be afraid to share them later.

    I am thinking about trading the Major in, but the leading candidate is a car that would not fit in this category. That being the Dodge SRT-4.

    Well, got to scoot. See you later. Sorry for the rambling post.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,879
    Hello, Major, good to hear from you again. When you go to the auto show, be sure to check out some of the other new low-end cars and give us your take on them, e.g. Mazda3s (might be an alternative to the Neon), '05 Spectra, Forenza etc. My town's auto show isn't until March 13--a long wait for Car Heaven.
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