The compact-car segment is heating up now that American and Korean automakers are fielding strong competition against the already venerable Japanese carmakers.
Late last year we compiled an affordability index that looked at the 2012 Ford Focus, 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and 2011 Volkswagen Jetta. The index showed that despite an increase in entry-level pricing, once you outfitted the new Focus, Cruze and Jetta with the features most car buyers have come to expect, the cars ended up priced similarly. The large outlier in that story was the 2011 Honda Civic, whose outdated feature packaging hindered its affordability, making the vehicle 21.6% more expensive than the average compact car.
For the 2012 model year, the Honda Civic is all-new. However, it looks, feels and handles a lot like the previous generation, according to Cars.com senior editor Joe Wiesenfelder, who recently reviewed the model. Its price has also remained relatively unchanged while the level of features is now much more competitive. We figured the new Civic, one of the most popular cars in the country, warranted a second look against the field.
Since our last report, the redesigned 2011 Hyundai Elantra has gone on sale to rave reviews. While the model is $685 more expensive than its predecessor, the nameplate still has one of the most affordable entry prices and offers a plethora of features, including heated seats, which are often found on larger or more luxurious vehicles.
So, how do these two vehicles compare in terms of affordability against their peers?
For the sake of our comparison, each compact needs to come equipped with the following creature comforts: an automatic transmission; air conditioning; power locks, windows and side mirrors; keyless entry; cruise control; Bluetooth connectivity; a USB port; and electronic stability control.
In late April, Hyundai raised the price of the 2011 Elantra by $115 to $14,945. It’s part of the automaker’s mid-annual price increase, which happened across its lineup.
The $14,945 2011 Elantra base GLS offers most of the equipment — power everything, USB port, electronic stability control and even heated side mirrors. A six-speed automatic transmission brings the cost up to $17,195, and Bluetooth is a part of a $550 Preferred Package, which includes 16-inch alloy wheels, steering-wheel controls, a center armrest and vanity mirrors. Total cost for an Elantra is $17,745, before a $720 destination charge.
The 2012 Civic starts out cheap — at $15,805, it’s the same entry price as last year’s model — making the model less expensive than an entry-level Focus or Cruze.
Unlike the Elantra, however, the base Civic doesn’t have many features; it doesn’t have a radio, air conditioning or cruise control. Jumping to the LX trim with an automatic transmission ($18,655) gets you standard features such as air conditioning, cruise control, USB, color information screen and keyless entry. Unfortunately, you have to jump to the EX trim at $20,505 (not including a $750 destination fee) to get Bluetooth. Admittedly, the trim also gives you 16-alloy wheels, 60/40-split rear seats and moonroof.
At $20,505, the new Civic remains the second most-expensive mainstream compact car, according to our graphic (above). The addition of electronic stability control, which is federally required on 2012 models, to all Honda Civic trims means you’ll no longer have to buy a leather-trimmed EX-L just to get the basic safety feature. That also means the Civic is $3,450 cheaper than last year’s model with the same features, not including the new bonus features such as i-MID, intelligent Multi Information Display. The new Jetta is now the most-expensive compact car when competitively equipped. Its trim levels have also been discontented to better compete on price.
While the 2011 Elantra is about $2,000 less than most of its competition, the model is no longer the cheapest model with the selected content. That distinction now goes to its Korean sibling, the 2011 Kia Forte.