2012 Honda Civic
Base price: $14,990
The skinny: Honda restyled and reengineered the Civic for 2012, though more than a few are arguing the company didn’t necessarily make the car better. Fuel economy is better versus 2011, but that’s primarily due to changes made other than the powertrain. Horsepower (140) in the standard car is the same as 2011.
The deal: $1,000 in consumer incentive money is in play and Honda and its dealers may be willing to sweeten the deal beyond that.
The safety story: A Top Safety Pick of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the four-door Civic is robust in crash test, comes standard with a long list of safety equipment and is sturdy in roof-rollover tests.
The bottom line: The Civic is a perfectly good car, but Honda’s “stand-pat” approach to the 2012 update is not a winning strategy for the long term – not with so many good competitors out there.
2012 Hyundai Elantra
Base price: $15,849
The skinny: The sheet metal is very sharp and the engine performance is excellent (148 hp). Hyundai’s designers have created a pretty car and the engineers did their job pretty well on the driving dynamics side of things.
The deal: Hyundai Canada is not offering big money to juice Elantra sales, though small discounts and dealer discounts are possible.
The safety story: The Elantra is a IIHS Top Safety Pick, which means it has done well in crash tests, comes standard with a long list of safety equipment and is sturdy in roof-rollover tests.
The bottom line: The Elantra puts Hyundai in a league with the world’s best auto makers, and that’s quite a shocker. Hyundai was a disaster a decade ago. No longer. The Elantra is rolling proof.
Base price: $15,595
The skinny: The base price is down by $700 but the story here is all about Mazda’s long-awaited SkyActiv powertrain technology that improves performance (155 hp) yet delivers excellent fuel economy (4.9 litres/100 highway/7.1 city). The least expensive SkyActiv car starts at $18,995.
The deal: Mazda has been throwing thousands of dollars in incentives at the 2011 Mazda3 and if you don’t want the updates, the 2011 car – if you can find one – is a deal.
The safety story: Both the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback rate as IIHS Top Safety Picks.
The bottom line: The SkyActiv piece is fantastic; this is one of the most entertaining cars in its class, perhaps the most entertaining to drive over all. Not a bad looker, either, especially with the front-end changes for 2012.
2011 Toyota Corolla:
Base price: $15,450.
The skinny: Toyota has let the Corolla age in a segment filled with handsome and enjoyable compact cars. The car has a solid reputation for quality, but dynamically (132 hp) and stylistically, it’s not in the same league with the majority of cars in this group.
The deal: Discounts as rich as $2,500 are out there to juice sales.
The safety story: The Corolla is a IIHS Top Safety Pick and comes standard with what Toyota calls its Star Safety package of equipment, including stability control and several other features. The Corolla has done well in crash tests and beyond the safety gear, is sturdy in roof-rollover tests.
The bottom line: The Corolla is a safe choice, but not an interesting one.
2012 Chevrolet Cruze:
Base price: $14,995
The skinny: Fuel-efficient and practical, the Cruze (132 to 138 horsepower, depending on model) has found a solid place among compact cars. The ride is comfortable, the performance is strong and the car itself is pleasant enough to drive.
The deal: Buyers will find $1,500 or more in incentive money is in play on the Cruze.
The safety story: Right out the box, the Cruze earned a IIHS Top Safety Pick.
The bottom line: GM hasn’t ever had a small car this good in North America.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta:
Base price: $15,875
The skinny: VW has a hit on its hands here. The Jetta was made bigger and less expensive for 2011 and that has resonated with buyers. This is not the most fun to drive car in the segment, though, and critics have not been thrilled with the car’s materials, either.
The deal: You might find $1,500 in dealer cash on the last of the 2011 cars.
The safety story: The Jetta is not a IIHS Top Safety Pick.
The bottom line: A sales success, the Jetta is not a darling of the critics.
2012 Ford Focus:
Base price: $15,999
The skinny: The sedan version has the sub-$16,000 price tag, while the hatch starts at just less than $20,000. A very nice driver’s car, the Focus has a lovely interior and very aggressive exterior styling. The manual transmission is not the best in this class, but good enough. As a package, the Focus is among the best here.
The deal: Discounts range from $500 to $1,500 or more. Note: Ford of Canada has revived its Cash for Clunkers program, too.
The safety story: The Focus four-door is a IIHS Top Safety Pick, though remember that the Focus is also sold as a five-door hatchback. The four-door has done well in crash tests, comes standard with a long list of safety equipment and is sturdy in roof-rollover tests.
The bottom line: This is the best compact car Ford has sold in North America and the sales numbers reflect it.