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Low End Sedans (under $16k)

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Comments

  • what do you have against the attractive new hatchback coupe that Scion is calling tC? This is by far the best Scion model yet and I don't see how retro-Celica looks combined with a solid powertrain and modern interior can be a bad deal for $16,465. That is for the manual tranny, mind you. Most every complaint from those who own them are very petty noise or clikkity-clackety type issues regarding the sunroof or dash, etc. The powerplant is pretty decent for a small bodied(yet kinda heavy)rig like that.

    2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

  • I have nothing against the car itself, it's just that there are so many better choices out there...

     

    For the record, I think the xA and xB are great cars, I like them much better than the tC.
  • I do like the xA RS 1.0 and to be released in summer 2005 2.0(in blue color instead of red). That car retails for $15,200, fits in the confines of this discussion's parameters and looks great with it's sport tire and wheel package.

    2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

  • Absolutely - I am firmly on the xA bandwagon (and xB). The 1.0 looks great, I bet that is a fun car.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    How do two of the best low-end cars compare to the newest low-end car on the block, the Chevy Cobalt? The Mazda3i is generally considered to be one of the best small cars. It's tops on Edmunds.com's list of under-$15k cars and also tops CR's small-car list. It's also highly regarded by C/D. The Hyundai Elantra is highly ranked by Edmunds.com (2nd in their most recent small-car comparo), C/D (also 2nd), and CR ("very good"). Personally I consider the Mazda3i and the Elantra GLS 5-door to be at the top of all the low-end cars. But what about this new Cobalt? I drove all three on the same roads to find out how GM's newest small car would fare against two of the best small cars from Japan and Korea.

     

    Cobalt - I wanted to drive a 5-speed, but none was available. So I drove a base sedan with automatic, sticker just over $17k with a few options such as ABS and side air curtains. First the good news: this is NOT the Cavalier. It's light-years ahead of that car. The car is rock-solid. The ride is supple, easing over bumps without harshness. I think the ride is actually better than that of a $30,000 Honda Accord Hybrid that I also drove today. The electronic steering is accurate. The handling is fine for a low-end car with 15" tires--not top of class, but way ahead of the Cavalier. The dashboard is also leaps and bounds ahead of the Cavalier, with a crisp, modern face that could have been lifted out of, well, a Kia Spectra (but hey, that car has a nice dash!). The engine has a muted growl, not unpleasant, under acceleration. Acceleration is adequate with the automatic. But I didn't push it, since it was a brand-new tester, so it might be capable of much better performance when floored. I would have liked to try it with the Getrag 5-speed. The car was quiet inside, except for the engine growl and a little wind noise around the A pillars or mirrors at 65 mph. It was noticeably quieter than the Mazda3i (because of tire noise on the Mazda). The trunk looked pretty roomy, with gas struts holdling the lid and a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat.

     

    OK, now the not-so-good news. The nice-looking dash begins to look and feel cheap on closer inspection. It's all hard surfaces, no padding as on the Elantra. The Mazda3's dash is hard plastic too, but it's much more interesting hard plastic than on the Cobalt. The dash and interior trim on the upper-level models is a bit spiffier than on the base sedan I drove, with some metallic or wood inserts depending on trim level. But along with the hard side panels and the cheap-feeling HVAC and radio controls, and lack of niceties such as a center console with armrest, I got the overall impression of cost containment even though it was a step up from the Cavalier.

     

    Another issue is the driver's seat. It has a height-adjustable driver's seat, which is good. But it's a single-lever type, similar to that on the Mazda3. So when the seat goes up, the front of the seat goes too low for my taste. I much prefer the dual-knob height adjusters in cars like the Elantra and Forenza.

     

    The back seat was perhaps the biggest disappointment. The Cobalt is an all-new car, so here was the chance for GM to make a car that was fully competitive with the best small cars on the market. And in some ways, especially in ride and NVH, they succeeded. But the rear seat is tight. With the driver's seat adjusted for me (5'9.5"), the back seat was very uncomfortable. My knees were sticking up in the air, legs off the front of the cushion. My toes were wedged under the front seat. The seatback wasn't comfortable. Be sure to check out the back seat if you regularly carry anyone other than small children back there.

     

    Yet another issue is paint. The car on the showfloor was silver. It had perhaps the dullest looking paint finish I have seen in recent years. And this was the showfloor car--so you'd think they'd have it as shined up as it could be. The cars in the lot were messed up from recent snow, so it was hard to tell if the one on the showfloor was an abberation.

     

    BTW, there was a Suzuki Reno S sitting next to the Cobalt on the showfloor. The Reno had a far nicer interior than the Cobalt (base model), many more features (e.g. power locks/windows/mirrors, 8-speaker MP3 stereo, and SABs), a proper seat height adjuster, glossy paint, and a far more comfortable back seat. It also cost about $1000 less. Interesting product placement by the dealership...

     

    OK, so how does the Cobalt compare to the Mazda3i and the Elantra GLS 5-door? On ride, they are all very close but give the Cobalt a slight edge because it's a bit more compliant than the other two cars. The Cobalt is the quietest of the group, with only a little wind rush intruding on highway driving. The Elantra is second, and also has a bit of wind noise on the highway. The Mazda3i is relatively quiet except for significant road noise from its 16" tires on the highway; it also has a little wind noise. On handling, the Mazda3i is tops, followed by the Elantra, but all three are quite good there. For performance, it wasn't a fair fight because the Mazda3i and Elantra had 5-speeds and the Cobalt an automatic, but the Mazda3i felt peppier than the other two cars (and it does have the most power). On braking, they all did fine; the Mazda3i and Elantra have 4-wheel disks standard, but the 3's brakes had a rough feel--could be some surface rust from sitting on the lot. For shifting, the Mazda3i has a great short-throw shifter, while the throws on the Elantra are longer (but the clutch has a nice light feel on both cars). The automatic on the Cobalt was smooth.

     

    For interior quality, the Mazda3i edges the Elantra because its plastic bits are spiffier than those on the Elantra. Fabric quality and feel is about the same (the GLS 5-door has a sport cloth interior unique to that model, and it's quite close to that in the Mazda). The Cobalt falls down in this area, with boring cloth and plasticky switchgear. For driver's comfort, the Elantra edges out the Mazda3, which wins points because of its telescoping steering wheel. The Cobalt is third there, although note that nicer fabrics and even leather are available in pricier trim lines. For back seat room, the Elantra has the roomiest and most comfortable rear area, with the Mazda just edging the Cobalt because of more toe space under the Mazda's front seats. The Elantra also has the convenience of a hatchback, and the Mazda is also available in that configuration albeit in a pricier trim line.

     

    How about value? Equipped as similarly as possible, with ABS, SABs and/or SACs (the Cobalt does not have SABs available), CD stereo, cruise, A/C, power windows/locks/mirrors, and 5-speed manual transmission, here's how they stack up...
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    Cobalt LS: MSRP $16,880, TMV $16,880 (?!?)

    Mazda3i: MSRP $17,275, TMV $16,827 (incl. alloys)

    Elantra GLS 5-door: MSRP $15,284, TMV $12,750

     

    Summary: The Cobalt is a quantum leap over the old Cavalier, and in many aspects, especially ride quality and NVH, ranks right up there with the best small cars. It also has some unique options in its class, such as OnStar. The Mazda3i costs about the same (until Chevy starts putting incentives on the Cobalt) but offers better handling, a nicer interior, and better styling (subjective). The Elantra GLS 5-door is a solid all-around performer with the best driver's and passenger comfort of the group and competitive ride, handling, and power. It has the longest warranty also. And one more little thing... it costs about $4000 less than the Cobalt or Mazda3i, comparably equipped. You could buy a lot of, uh, cobalt with that kind of money.
  • Dang, backy, I don't know what you do for a living, but you should have been a professional tester. Edmunds ought to hire you as their local Twin Cities correspondent.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
  • fushigifushigi Posts: 1,235
    TMV = MSRP is probably because it's too new & not enough data exists to aggregate real world purchases.

     

    Or people are crazy enough to pay sticker. :)

     

    Great comparison as usuaal!
  • Just heard on the news that GM will begin offering incentives on the Cobalt (as well as the Pontiac G6 and Buick La Crosse). Sad when you have to do that on brand new models.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    Sad maybe, but expected. I noticed the MSRP of a well-equipped Cobalt LT sedan, with leather and sunroof, is over $20k. Since someone can buy an Elantra GT or a Focus with about the same equipment for thousands less, it's no wonder GM has to slap incentives on the Cobalt. It's a nice car, but not that much nicer than the Elantra and Focus (and not as nice in some respects). Also $20k gets you into mid-sized territory.
  • I think it's become a game played between most manufacturers and their customers. Buyers expect incentives these days, so the makers inflate the MSRP and then give rebates to bring the price down to what it should have been in the first place.
  • m1miatam1miata Posts: 4,556
    Our local dealer had a Madza6 2004 for $15,999, and they have Mazda3 2005 for $14,999 and up, so considering the handling is great with Mazda, why not have fun, and pay less doing it? For safety ratings, I think it is 4 star for the Mazda3 and 5 stars for the Mazda6. And those needing only 2drs, and a sunroof, what's wrong with a $17,000 tC? Well maybe those dang too tall door sills, but those are hung on every car these days - yukkk! As for Cobalt, I'd say $14,ooo seems about right, if it is as much fun to drive as the Mazda3. Life is too short to drive boring cars! Well, at the least, own one fun one. Miatas don't take up too much room around the house - sneeks in anywhere. And you can wash them in your bathtub. Makes a great pet and second car ;-)

     

    Loren
  • Complaints Lead To Ford Focus Recall

    Rear Passenger Doors May Not Latch Properly

     

    Complete article

     

    POSTED: 10:54 am EST February 7, 2005

     

    DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is recalling 358,857 Focus cars because their rear passenger doors may not latch properly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Ford spokeswoman said Monday.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    The funny thing is, it looks like the car in the accompanying photo is the Focus ZX3. No rear door latch problems there!
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 9,663
    the recall is for 2000 thru 2002 models only. otoh, maybe the '03 and up models aren't old enough to have the problem, yet. if i get a recall for it on my '04, i'll let you know!
  • alpha01alpha01 Posts: 4,747
    -Great review!!

     

    ~alpha
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    I noticed Edmunds.com has published their latest list of top 10 picks under $15k. Interestingly, their top pick is NOT their Most Wanted pick for best under $15k--the Mazda3. It's the PT Cruiser--which in a recent Edmunds comparo was topped by... well, read on. Next was the Focus. Focus was 4th in Edumunds' latest comparo of small wagons, behind the PT Cruiser but also... well, read on. Then the Civic--that's understandable, in their last small-car comparo they ranked the Civic EX first, then the Elantra (the Elantra was 2nd in that same comparo). Fifth was the Spectra (makes sense, it's the cousin of the Elantra), then in SIXTH place, the Mazda3. (How fleeting is fame--and the Edmunds' editors ratings!) Then the two Scion x-cars, the Forenza wagon (a spiffy little number if you've not yet seen it), and in 10th place, the Matrix. Now, the Matrix was the top pick in Edmunds' last comparo of small wagons, beating among others the PT Cruiser and Focus! Notably absent are the Corolla and Cobalt. The Sentra, fourth in Edmunds' last small-car comparo, also didn't make the new list. It's a tough market.

     

    I suspect what they did here is look only at cars you can actually buy for under $15k MSRP, which is a different criteria than their Most Wanted list and for their comparos. Still, I see a little inconsistency. New editors, maybe?
  • It looks to me like those cars are listed in alphabetical order...

     

    I won't comment on the ones I agree with, but:

    PT Cruiser - Truly a dog in base form. Not under $15,000 in any guise that I would be interested in. Cobalt goes here.

    Kia Spectra - Not with those crash scores, replace with the Chevy Aveo or Hyundai Accent.

    Suzuki Forenza Wagon - Interesting pick, I haven't driven one.

    Toyota Matrix - Blah. I like the Suzuki Aerio much better.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    Aveo or Accent instead of the Spectra? Not for me. The IIHS crash-test score on the Spectra is disconcerting, but its NHTSA scores are fine and it is so much a superior car to the Aveo and Accent it's no contest IMO.

     

    Personally, I'd take the Matrix over the Aerio, although I haven't seen the '05 Aerio which I understand has significant improvements.

     

    By "Cobalt goes here" do you mean you'd rate it #1 in this group?
  • brihambriham Posts: 33
    Here are my favorites assuming "low-end" means less than $20,000

     

    1. Mazda3 - it is built on the Volvo S40 platform and if you look closely it is almost the same car. Here is a link to a review:

    http://www.automedia.com/buyers_guide_04/content/usb40mac17.asp?a- ffid=

     

    2. Scion tC - great looks and 160 horsepower.

    http://www.automedia.com/autoReviews/scion/tc/2005/rts20041001st.- asp?affid=

     

    3. Honda Civic - boring but reliable and good on gas. http://www.automedia.com/autoReviews/rts20040401hc/rts20040401hc.- asp?affid=
  • alpha01alpha01 Posts: 4,747
    Have you driven a Matrix? Way underpowered. Completely out of contention, IMO. With the newly upgraded interior, I'd take the Aerio SX w/AWD. I drove an Aerio way back when they first came out in '02- when they had the funky dash and 140 horses... and thought it was a good car- different, a bit rough around the edges, and oddly executed. But now... its more mainstream, has a better engine, and the same kick-[non-permissible content removed] warranty that the Koreans offer.

     

    ~alpha
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    Yes, I've driven the Matrix and the Aerio. I prefer the Matrix. (Power isn't everything--and it has a high-powered version if you really need it.) I like the ride and seating position of the Matrix in particular, and I think (need to confirm) the rear storage is bigger in the Matrix. The Matrix also has higher fuel economy and of course the great Toyota reputation for quality, reliability, and high resale value.

     

    P.S. It's NOT the same warranty as the Koreans offer.
  • csandstecsandste Posts: 1,866
    May just be the dash improvements, but the feel of the car is completely different for '05. Plethora of Chevy dealers, getting a Maxx for 16K, and the rather weak Hyundai/Suzuki local dealer cinched it.

     

    Did not like the 03 Aerio SX I drove-- digital dash was a huge turnoff and the entire feel of the car was different, although the 05 also had a 5-speed.

     

    Matrix OK but NOISY. xB great around town but turning 3500 rpm @ 70 mph and NOISY as well.
  • m1miatam1miata Posts: 4,556
    " PT Cruiser - Truly a dog in base form. Not under $15,000 in any guise that I would be interested in. "

    -end quote-

     

    I am curious as why you think it is a dog? With a stick the 150HP and 165# torque seems like enough to me. Rev it up between shifts! It looks pretty cool to me too. That said, the Mazda3 is a winner, I think. As for Suzuki, I would worry about the resale and number of dealerships. If you are talking simply under $20k, you can add a base Accord, Mazda6, Altima and a whole bunch of those which are good choices. Most add on stuff is just more junk to go bad, and costing money in the process.
  • backy-

    The Spectra is a nicer car than the Aveo or Accent, but it's also much more expensive. Considering Accents and Aveos are avilable for under $9000, I consider either one a much better value than the Spectra - I can see no reason to buy the unremarkable Spectra, when there are so many other excellent cars of the same size and price - considering its poor crash performance. It doesn't stand out.

     

    [keep in mind, the Aveo and Accent don't really compete with $15k cars, but I am factoring price into the equation]

     

    alpha01-

    We definitely agree on the Matrix and Aerio. I think the Aerio is one of the most underrated cars out there right now. And the Aerio has a 100,000 mile warranty, even if it's only 7 years. Matrix is as boring as a Corolla, but heavier, and less fuel efficient. Don't get me wrong, the Corolla is a great car, it's just more

     

    m1miata-

    You know, I always liked the PT Cruiser - very cool looking, but i never drove one until about 4 months ago. And I took a fairly spirited test drive (to be fair, it was an automatic), and I was really disappointed [gf only drives an auto]. It was extremely slow (felt slower than the Aveo, even though it probably isn't), and soft handling.

     

    I wouldn't buy any car without nearby dealerships, but there are plenty of Suzuki dealers in LA.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    The Spectra costs more than the Aveo or Accent, but you get a lot more even in the base Spectra than on the $9000 versions of the Aveo and Accent--e.g. 4-wheel disc brakes, SACs, more passenger space, much nicer interior, quieter ride, more power and better performance. Since Spectras can be had for under $11k with rebates and discounts, I don't think that is too high a price premium for what you get. But I do agree there are better alternatives to the Spectra, particularly the Elantra, which has the same engine and platform and much better IIHS frontal crash ratings, and more features (except SABs vs. SABs+SACs) for about the same money as the Spectra.
  • I see Accents and Aveos for under $7k all the time, which is a big difference from $11k for a Spectra. The light weight of the Accent is going to help make up for not having 4-wheel discs, and the Aveo stops almost as well as an Acura TL. (ie not particularly well).

     

    The Aveos and Accents I'm talking about have standard AC (Assuming that is what SAC stands for) I don't think the Accent is available without anymore.

     

    I also don't think the Spectra has more interior passenger space than the Aveo, it's very space efficient. It does have more power, and more performance, but it's not a quick car, and is probably only marginally faster than either.

     

    The way I view this list is, 10 different cars to buy. The Spectra isn't any better of an economy sedan than most cars on the list, and it's not cheaper to own or drive than the Aveo or Accent. It's an also ran. If somebody really wanted the Spectra on the list, it would have to be behind the following high quality econo-sedans that can b had for under $15k.

     

    Civic, Corolla, Sentra, Elantra, Aerio, Cobalt, Focus, and Mazda 3. And I don't consider it any more desireable than an Echo, Matrix, Reno/Forenza, xA, xB, Accent, or Aveo. (to round out the list of sub-$15k cars I'd rather have)

     

    I consider it more in a league with:

    Cavalier, PT Cruiser, Neon, Rio, Lancer, Sunfire, or ION.
  • backybacky Twin CitiesPosts: 18,710
    The last time I saw an ad on an Aveo or Accent under $7000 was the closeout '04 base stripped models (e.g. the $9995 Aveo with no A/C or any other amenities). The '05s are going for over $8000 in my area, closer to $9000 for the Aveo. Those are all w/o A/C. If you can get a new '05 Aveo or Accent with A/C for under $7000, that is the Deal of the Decade, since A/C is not standard on Aveo or Accent--nor on the base Spectra for that matter. So you'd be saving at least $4000 on the Aveo or Accent. Can't beat that for price on a new car. But I've driven all three cars and still think the Spectra is the car I'd rather live with for many years.

     

    I'd put the Spectra ahead of the Sentra, Aerio, Echo, Reno/Forenza, xA, xB (on styling alone!) in addition to the Accent and Aveo. I think the Lancer doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of the Cavalier, Neon, Rio, Sunfire, and ION. Although the ION is improving bit by bit--still outclassed by its cousin the Cobalt though. The Lancer is a solid, roomy, modern compact with good quality and a great warranty. Still a notch below the leaders though. The Aerio is getting there but I still wouldn't put it in the top 10.

     

    BTW, SAC = side air curtains.
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