Frugal Compacts Add Up with Basic Options

Mitsubishilancerbuild

The compact car segment is no new place to find low base prices and a good deal on a new car. After having three major players in our hands over the past few weeks, including the 2009 Toyota Corolla, 2008 Honda Civic and 2008 Ford Focus sedans, we were scraping together specs and options to evaluate the competition. When we started to compare the cars, something surprised us. Mostly optional features that we think are necessary for a comfortable and safe daily driver — automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, cruise control, keyless entry, power locks, antilock brakes, side airbags and a CD player — have a funny way of changing each car’s relative value.

Besides the Corolla, Civic and Focus, we compared the Mitsubishi Lancer, Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cobalt, Nissan Sentra and Mazda3, all in sedan form. To our surprise, cars once thought to be clear value leaders didn’t necessarily hold up when all the cars were equally equipped with the aforementioned features.

OK, so it’s not a startling revelation, but when optioned with our requirements some of the compacts retailed far past their tantalizing entry-level price. Fortunately, as a testament to automakers’ growing commitment to safety, just about every one of these compacts (except the Mazda3) comes with standard side-impact airbags or side curtain airbags, and the majority with both.

W/O Equipment, base MSRP — Prices do not include destination charges

  • Hyundai Elantra: $13,625 (GLS)
  • Mazda3: $13,895 (i Sport)
  • Mitsubishi Lancer: $13,990 (DE)   
  • Chevrolet Cobalt: $14,225 (LS)
  • Ford Focus: $14,775 (S)
  • Honda Civic: $15,010 (DX)
  • Toyota Corolla (’09): $15,250 (Base)
  • Nissan Sentra: $16,040 (2.0)

W/ Equipment Prices do not include destination charges

  • Mitsubishi Lancer: $16,090 (2.0 ES)
  • Hyundai Elantra: $16,375 (2.0 GLS w/Popular Equipment Package)
  • Chevrolet Cobalt: $16,535 (2.2 1LT w/cruise control, ABS)
  • Toyota Corolla (’09): $16,895 (1.8 LE w/keyless entry)
  • Ford Focus: $17,000 (2.0 SE w/cruise control, ABS)
  • Nissan Sentra: $17,070 (2.0 S)
  • Mazda3: $17,495 (2.0 i Touring Value)
  • Honda Civic: $17,760 (1.8 LX)

Sitting on top as the value leader for our comparison is the Mitsubishi Lancer in ES trim. Surprised? So were we — it’s a recently redesigned model, also a favorable car. To top it off, there’s also a $1,000 cash back incentive available in our area on the Lancer. The best incentive comes with the Focus with $2,000 cash back on 2008 models. Most incentives vary by region so make sure to head over to the Cars.com incentives page for what’s available in your area.

What we want to know from you is this: Would you forgo these features for a less-expensive entry-level price, or are these options truly a necessity for a comfortable daily driver?

Comments 

woogie

How do power windows, cruise control, keyless entry, power locks, and a CD player create a safer and more comfortable vehicle?

sczech

You don't think most people want power windows, cruise control, etc. to be comfortable? The safe side is in the airbags and anti-lock brakes. The point of the article is that when you add the things people want most, the price goes up quite a bit. The low sticker price can be deceiving. What is your point?

I am very glad for this article because I noticed some motion on this website in different comments that Mazda3 is better value then Corolla or some other cars. But it is not really. Loaded to the equivalent it is more expensive.
Also, sinse most cars these days sold for the invoice price anyway, and in case of Kia and Hyunday under invoice, it would be interesting to see the comparisson of real prices of cars sold.

Woogie,
I don't know about safer, but power windows and cruise control do make cars more comfortable.

Rick

They still MAKE cars without power windows? I don't think I've cranked down a window in over ten years!

Base price is what all manufacturers advertise on. It's to draw the unknowing into the showroom. First you will very seldom see a car priced at the base price and second they combine a lot of packages so that you end up getting some features that you really didn't want. When we bought our Elantra we could only get the CD player in a package with the sunroof. I like the way Honda does it. You get a few trim levels and each level offers just a few more features. You may see a few options added on some models but it's not like some manufacturers that have multiple packages that offer many things you don't want. GM and Toyota are notorius for that.

ziggy,
I think all automakers are notorious for that. besides Acura which just includes everything in the price besides nav.

Honda has the best packaging system. You tell them, "I want that model", and this is what you going to get. Something different - would be different model.

J

Factor in mpg, insurance, license fee and how well the cars hold their value. We now have a better and clearer picture.

sparky

Too many today have meshed into the new paradigm of what a new car should contain. I am old school and when I first bought vehicles very few cars/trucks were more than basic (50's/60's). And cheap. Is it possible to buy a real Pkup truck anymore? People today can't imagine cranking down a window, but the mechanisms that control power windows are expensive. Personally, one needs two vehicles, one for around town (cheap and basic) and perhaps one for those longer trips that has amenities like a CD player, AC in swelter lands, and whatever else people need for luxury. Taking trips may become an antique as gas prices go up. I like my Prius but wish it was more stripped down.

Jim

@woogie: your email address really answers the question you pose, my son. BTW, for one thing, cruise improves MPG oddly enough and allows one to concentrate on the road instead of staring at the dashboard to avoid contributions to the local donut patrol. And wouldn't you like to walk up to your car and get in rather than stand there in the pouring rain juggling your bag whilst fumbling with the key in the lock? Thought so.

@sparky: come on, you aren't that old ... you spelled and used "paradigm" correctly in a sentence. Who is this really? Bob Nardelli? It's okay, Bob. Just buy an Accord and drive it for a while. You'll see what engineering needs to be working on. What the heck. While you're at it, get one for Bridgeman and Klegon also. It's all in design. Get the engineering right and the rest takes care of itself. Capiche? :)

Chevy, like it's other Detroit cousins, loves to low-ball the car and then gouge the unwitting with the so-called option list (which is usually just all the features you wanted anyhow).

That's why my first new car was an '87 Accord LX. The comparative Chevy started out lower but with the same equipment was THOUSANDS more!

And we've all come to rely on the dealers to gouge us equally. I mean, $100 for floor mats when I can buy better ones at Sam's Club for $30. At least we don't have to put up with $400 undercoating anymore, eh! :)

The American Honda Motor Company does indeed have the right idea. Two or three trim levels. You pick the "option list" by selecting the trim level. This saves everyone money because everything is a known quantity so economies of scale kick in.

As for your list above, I suspect if we actually listed feature-by-feature and accounted for all those little differences that have kept me in Accords ever since 1986, we would likely find that the Civic compares much more favorably than your list shows.

No, I don't work for Honda in any way (though I wish there were a local dealer - pick me, pick me, I'll run it!). I'm just a real happy Accord owner for the past 20 years. :)

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