Fuel-sipping sedans are the in things in today’s economy. No longer are we buying massive military vehicles or run-around-the-town-and-get-5-miles-per-gallon SUVs. With high gas prices, come small vehicles.
While they can be fashionable, they can also be downright nasty. Take for instance the Toyota Corolla. Now, this isn’t a bad sedan, it’s just not great. Nothing stands out or makes you get excited when you drive it. So with that in mind, we took out our three favorite fuel-efficient sedans, starting with the king, the Honda Civic.
The once little Civic has grown up. From a tiny hatchback of the 1970’s to a nearly midsize sedan that simply put, dominates the sales charts. With a gas motor and the option of a hybrid, the Civic is a midsize sedan for everyone.
Don’t want a Honda? Well, the second car in this test is the Mazda 3. The 3 is a fantastic little car that smiles at you when it’s going past. It handles well and has always been a good seller in the midsize segment.
While the Civic and Mazda have been around the block a few times, the 2010 Kia Forte is just a newborn. With brilliant looks, a fantastic interior, and more power than the Civic, the Kia is a great alternative to the mass market Civic and 3.
Sounds like a round of testing is coming up.
We went out and picked up a Kia Forte EX, Honda Civic LX and a Mazda 3 i Touring. Our guts told us that the venerable old Civic would be the winner, yet the Kia’s engine and its great interior design would prove to be tough to beat. After a week in all three of the sedans, a winner was found.
3rd Place: 2010 Honda Civic LX (automatic)
The old Civic has been around for a while now and it’s beginning to show. The exterior design looks fantastic on the coupe, but the sedan’s design has never been promising. Something about the short stubby nose and big rear end never sat well with us.
Under the hood the 1.8-liter four-cylinder developed 140 horsepower and just 128 pound-feet of torque. Sure, the Civic got great mileage - 36 miles per gallon on the highway - but it felt slow and is by far the slowest car here. In real world passing situations, the Civic feels underpowered and it has the ability to put you to sleep with the way it accelerates.
In the corners, the Civic is good, but that’s about it. The steering is numb and you have no feel for what the car is doing. Sure there’s grip to be had, but without any feel what’s the point. You simply have no idea if the back tires are about to let go.
Let’s not forget tire noise. At low speeds the Civic has plenty of it and at high speeds isn’t any better. Highway driving just isn’t fun in this car and it’s as simple as that.
Inside, the Civic is easy to use and roomy enough for a family. The buttons are put in the right spots and you could take a nap in the front seats. Yet, the sound system is lack luster and there is no option for satellite radio on the LX. That’s not even the half of it. Honda has given the Civic an odd two-tiered dash layout, which puts the rev-counter in the normal place, but puts the digital speedometer a mile ahead, right by the windscreen. Some might like this and we can see why, it’s quirky and different. That being said, what was wrong with the normal layout?
The Honda Civic LX is a good car and a great buy for families. Chances are it won’t break down and it will keep going and going well after 10 years of service. The car won’t cost much to own and its great mileage will keep fuel costs down. All that aside, the Civic needs a refresh to stay up with the other two cars.
2nd Place: 2010 Mazda 3 i Touring
The Mazda 3 is a quirky looking thing, but it’s also a shocker. The “Zoom Zoom” car is actually not that good in the power department. The 3 gets just 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque from its 2.0-liter four cylinder motor.
As a result, it delivers an average 9.9-second 0-60 miles per hour time. In the real world, the Mazda seems underpowered, just like the Civic. This is truly disappointing given its 27-mpg fuel-economy rating in combined driving.
The Mazda 3 has a sophisticated chassis and this, along with its precise steering, makes it almost more fun to drive than the Forte. Yet, no matter how good Mazda made the car, the tires let it down. The 16-inch economy tires had no grip and lost traction on the tight corners. There was also a bit too much body roll when pushed to the limit.
Inside, the Mazda 3 really shines. It has an upscale look and the materials are the best in class. The gauges are crisp and attractive and the center stack is easy to use and simply wonderful to look at. Outside of the Volkswagen Golf, this has to be the best interior we have seen in a car this size. The stereo is Bose and it’s really good, by far better than the Forte and the Civic.
In the backseats, the rear legroom was just average and it would be tricky to fit two adults comfortably. The trunk is also small compared to the other two and worst of all, music lovers aren’t allowed to hook up there iPods to the car without paying extra.
Overall, the Mazda 3 is a good car, but there is one that is just a bit better.
1st Place: 2010 Kia Forte EX
How could a Kia beat a Honda and a Mazda? The interior isn’t as good and the badge isn’t either. That being said, my-oh-my does this car drive well.
Aided by the all-season tires, the Forte takes corners like a real sports car. Sure they might call the Mazda the “zoom zoom” car, but those are just words. The Forte is the real zoom car and the only thing that comes close to it’s cornering ability is the Mazda 3’s Grand Touring, which is quite a bit more money.
The Forte offers up so much grip and body control that you want to drive the back roads. The cars 2.0-liter 156 horsepower and 144 pound-feet of torque offer up more power than the other two cars in the competition. The transmission was the only area when the car was let down. Kia has decided that they love the 1990’s so much they want to use a transmission from that era. The Kia’s four speed automatic allows the car to accelerate quickly, but overtaking can be tricky as the gearing is a bit odd.
Inside, the Forte doesn’t come close to the luxury feel of the Mazda. When you step inside you are greeted to a sea of black and grey plastics. We are not saying that the interior is bad, far from it, but compared to the Mazda, the Kia is just average.
Colors aside, the front seats are a nice place to be. Having traveled hundreds of miles in the Forte we never felt uncomfortable in the seats. In the sunlight, the bright light easily washes out the red stereo display, but it does look good at night.
The backseats are far roomier than the Mazda’s and adults should have no problem fitting in. The 14.7-cubic-feet trunk is spacious and offers plenty of room for golf clubs and luggage.
Yet, no matter how roomy the Forte is and how good it is on the road, the real area in which the Forte delivers is in its features. The standard Bluetooth system automatically downloads your phone contacts and satellite radio is standard, as is an easy to use USB interface.
Throw in a brilliant exterior and that great 10-year/100,000 mile warranty and the Kia is the winner. Would we rather have the more expensive Mazda 3, sure, but for the price, the Forte is top of the line.
You get what you pay for, but in the case of the 2010 Kia Forte, you’re getting a whole lot more.