Under 20/Over 35 Shootout: Meet the Family

For Cars.com's Under 20/Over 35 Shootout, we called on a mother and son team to provide the perspectives of a typical commuter and a first-time buyer. Frani Udell, 51, and her son Alec, 19, of Northbrook, Ill., describe themselves as "not car people," but they didn't hold back from expressing their opinions freely and making astute observations about our test cars. Both were stunned by the quality offered for the price, across the board. "I'm amazed," Frani said. "Amazed."

Frani Udell and her son Alec didn't hold back their opinions of the cars they tested.

The Udells aren't strangers to new cars. Frani purchased a Toyota Highlander SUV in 2008,
and Alec drives a 2010 Nissan Maxima, a sporty midsize sedan. Longtime Japanese-car customers, the Udells were less enthused overall with our two American models, but the Chevrolet Cruze surprised them once they got behind the wheel: "This thing's better than I expected; it's very smooth." Frani said. Alec agreed, saying he had no complaints with the driving.

At 5-foot-2, Frani appreciated the driver's seat's two manual height adjustments but found the cushions overly firm, a major consideration for an attorney who puts as many as 70 miles a day on her car as she visits clients.

The team was specific in its critiques of the domestic entries, calling them out for having a single power-lock switch on the dashboard instead of on each front-door armrest. They noted there's no indication on the Ford Focus' doors that they're locked; most cars have some sort of lock knob. The Cruze and Focus also lost points for having relatively small storage areas and subpar ergonomics. "I can't tell where to go to get FM radio," Alec said of the Cruze. In the Focus, Frani said of the dashboard, "There's too much going on."

Though Frani and her 5-foot-9 son both found the Focus seats more comfortable, the seats were overshadowed by poor legroom and the cockpit-style dashboard. "It's closing in on me," she said. "I feel claustrophobic in here."

Alec liked the Focus' steering, but Frani didn't. She thought the car felt "tinny," and both of the Udells harped on the odd-sounding turn-signal sound. "I would go nuts listening to that!" Frani exclaimed. Ultimately she deemed the Focus her least favorite overall.

The Udells check out the rear of a car during the comparison.

Frani's favorite came from an unexpected source: Hyundai. "I love the lines," she said of the Elantra. "I want a compact car to look sporty like this. It's my favorite, hands-down." Alec was right there with her, though he had surprised his mom by preferring the Cruze's design over the bolder Focus. "I'm amazed with his age that he'd pick that," she said.

The love affair continued inside the Elantra, where both cited simplicity and spaciousness in the front and rear seats. "This setup's the best," Alec said. "Everything's more simple." He said the Elantra drove the most like his current car. Frani noted a quality feel and barreled confidently down a curving road. "They've really come up in the market," Frani raved, then added, "My husband would die if he heard me say this."

Was anything wrong with the Elantra? "The passenger seat's too low," Frani said, and Alec said it accelerated more noisily than the domestics.

The 2012 Honda Civic tested the Udells' love for the Elantra: "This is just as cool as the Hyundai exterior," Alec said. "They've come a long way with this for being under $20,000." The team raved about the seat comfort, front and rear, as well as the sightlines and openness. Of the glowing tiered instrument panel, Alec said, "This is cool. I've never seen something like this." Mom agreed. "I thought it would be distracting, but it's good," she said. "The dash is great: open, airy, easy and intuitive."

Frani thought the Civic handled better than the Elantra, and Alec said it felt quicker, but the Hyundai remained their favorite.

Though the Kia Forte had its strengths, it stumbled with the Udells in terms of driving and styling. They appreciated the simplicity of the interior design, the center controls, the shifter and the only moonroof in the test. Both thought the seats weren't as comfortable as the leaders' and seemed "a little cheap." Once on the road, Alec liked the acceleration, but said it was the loudest of the five cars. Frani called it "loud all around" and noted vibration in the steering wheel and the worst ride quality in the test.

The Udells take a turn behind the wheel.

The styling similarly didn't inspire. Alec said the Forte is too boxy from the back and generally "not as appealing." Frani echoed her son. "It's not sporty at all," she said. "It has a long way to go still."

Asked how other students would react if he showed up at high school in his least and most favorite models, Alec said, "I wouldn't be embarrassed, but the Kia is not really a car for me. I think the Hyundai; people would be shocked. They'd think it's a cool car. Any of the other ones ... just a normal car."

© Cars.com 06/9/2011