Under 20/Over 35 Shootout: MP3 Challenge

The team tested the cars' ability to play music through a portable MP3 player.

Younger car shoppers are more connected than ever. Because so many of them buy compact cars, it's crucial that today's small cars keep up with the fast pace of consumer technology, from Bluetooth connectivity to iPod integration.

Apple owns the portable music player market, so most automakers have focused solely on iPods and iPhones. As part of the Shootout, we tested an Apple iPhone 4, a third-generation 8-gigabyte Nano and a 160-gigabyte iPod Classic (with video) in all the cars. For the anti-Apple crowd, we also loaded an MP3 and an MP4 file on a USB flash drive to test in the cars.

Each car started with 100 points, and deductions were applied based on various shortcomings. Here's how they stacked up:

No. 4 (tie) 2012 Ford Focus; 60 points

On paper, the Focus with Sync looked like a solid contender with numerous features and capabilities. Then we started to use it. About five minutes into our tests we had the owner's manual open and were digging for guidance. Owners will no doubt learn the system's idiosyncrasies and become comfortable pairing devices after an initial struggle, but it doesn't change the fact that it takes multiple menus and searching to perform the same function that other systems do with the push of button.

No. 4 (tie) 2012 Honda Civic; 60 points

The Civic LX made quick work of our iPod Classic, rapidly indexing more than 9,000 songs. Honda's new i-MID system combines a steering-wheel controller and a high-mounted dash screen, and we became familiar with the interface in short order. The Civic also offered the most advanced shuffle features and was the only one of the sedans that played the MP4 file on the flash drive (all of them played the MP3). That said, the Civic's overall score suffered because it lacked Bluetooth connectivity; to get that you have to step up to the EX trim.

No. 3 2011 Chevrolet Cruze; 70 points

The Cruze had the best interface for scrolling through large playlists; after initially cycling through individual songs, the dash screen displayed a letter, which let you quickly scroll through the alphabet to arrive at a specific song. However, of the cars with Bluetooth, the Cruze was the only one that didn't have a streaming audio feature. Initially pairing the iPhone 4 to the system wasn't that intuitive, either, and required digging into the system's menus.

No. 2 2011 Hyundai Elantra; 80 points

Like the majority of the systems we tested in this comparison, what hurt the Elantra was a lack of scrolling ease through a large library of songs or artists. If you want to listen to Weezer, there's no quick-scroll function that skips to "W."

2011 Kia Forte; 90 points

The Forte had one of the most user-friendly iPod and Bluetooth integrations of the bunch. It was easy to connect an iPhone using Bluetooth and stream audio, as well as control an iPod on a wired connection. The Forte's system was similar to the Elantra's setup, but better in that it had a knob instead of buttons for song scrolling, which made the process much easier for a large music library.

Cars.com editors Mike Hanley and Kelsey Mays contributed to this report.

© Cars.com 06/9/2011