Mileage Challenge 3.3: Driving Impressions


This week, we reported the results of our latest mileage challenge, a 300-mile highway trip in four high-mileage commuter cars. Our convoy averaged a respectable 33.8 mpg. The Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic achieved the highest numbers, with the Pontiac G5 and Ford Focus coming in a few ticks worse. Three editors and an editor in chief logged considerable time in each, and we cobbled together some impressions and off-the-cuff rankings for the group.

Read on for our thoughts.

“Take the money you save on gas with the Civic and put it toward a speeding ticket fund. This car has the throttle progression of a Nintendo racer: Touch the gas pedal, and off you go. It’s relatively quiet at highway speeds, too, and for responsive passing on the highway, the five-speed auto beats the snot out of the Corolla’s four-speed. Add it all up, and you’ll be loping along at 80 thinking you’re doing 65.

“Not that the Corolla is a dog; it’s reasonably powered and the quietest of the group. Big points for the cloth seats in our XLE tester. In my book, they beat out the others, including the leather ones in the Focus and the Civic, for long-haul comfort. Toyota’s optional JBL stereo had the richest sound quality, too. The G5’s upgraded Pioneer system blats out Toto — er, Nirvana — as loud as any, but it has to contend with significant wind noise, and its auxiliary-input MP3 jack is prone to static. Pontiac’s contender feels the least refined overall, though I found its seats improbably comfortable. It also performs ably: The stick rows with surefooted aptitude, and the torquey four-cylinder summons highway speeds quickly, if loudly. The Focus, in turn, feels the most underpowered, and its stick shift is a tall, mushy affair.”
— Kelsey Mays, editor

“I drove this same Focus a few months back and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I can’t say the same this time. Driving it back-to-back with the Civic exposed lots of little ways in which the Ford just falls short, from the driving experience to the user experience operating the stereo and climate systems. I’d still recommend the Focus, probably even over the Corolla, but the quiet, quick, comfortable Civic is head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd here.

“And yes, there’s a reason there’s no mention of the G5 in that paragraph. Its Spartan interior and clumsy, awkward-to-use gearshift really bugged. Whatever Kelsey says about the seats, I felt like I was sitting on a stack of bricks, and whoever designed the cabin of that coupe clearly has a deep hatred of both ergonomics and good sense.”
— Beth Palmer, copy editor


“First off, I’m all about a sporty package with a nimble and responsive driving experience. The Honda Civic walks away from the competition based on those merits, but in my opinion it isn’t necessarily a flawless highway cruiser, displaying noticeable wind and road noise at speed. I was most comfortable in the Toyota Corolla during our highway excursion. Despite its lack of performance prowess, styling creativity or any sign of a personality (unlike the Civic), the Corolla had extremely supportive cloth seats (my favorite of the bunch), a quiet and smooth ride, and the best-sounding stereo, an optional JBL system.

Prior to the mileage drive, I rocked the Ford Focus for the weekend and actually enjoyed driving around town with the manual transmission, although I don’t think I’d be as entertained by the automatic Focus. The Focus was pleasant during long distances, helped by Ford’s voice-activated Sync system, but the engine seemed over-revved, as the tachometer was pegged at 3,000 rpm at 70 mph, which potentially hurt fuel economy. Looking back, the Pontiac G5 didn’t offer any stand-out driving experience or fuel economy compared to the others, and I’ll leave it at that.”
— Joe Bruzek, assistant editor

“There’s little left to say that the others haven’t said. For me, the Corolla was more peppy than earlier versions I’ve driven, and that was a nice surprise. In addition, it was quiet and comfortable, and as someone who commuted 90 miles a day for 11 years, the Corolla was definitely a car I’d consider up to the task. I too enjoyed the stick-shift Focus, as well as the solid feel of the car. The Civic was a stealth speeder, although it was pretty loud in the cockpit. Finally, the G5 felt flimsy, was totally at the mercy of the prevailing winds (meaning that it got pushed all over the interstate when a stiff breeze blew up) and the shifter was an exercise in annoyance.”
— Patrick Olsen, editor in chief

Finally, each editor’s best-to-worst rankings:

Passing Power
Kelsey: Civic, G5, Corolla, Focus
Beth: Civic, G5, Focus, Corolla
Joe: Civic, Focus, G5, Corolla
Patrick: Civic, Focus, G5, Corolla

Ride Comfort
Kelsey: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5
Beth: Civic, Corolla, Focus, G5
Joe: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5
Patrick: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5

Seating Comfort
Kelsey: Corolla, G5, Civic, Focus
Beth: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5
Joe: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5
Patrick: Corolla, Focus, Civic, G5

Brakes & Steering

Kelsey: Civic, Focus, G5, Corolla
Beth: Civic, Focus, Corolla, G5
Joe: Civic, Focus, G5, Corolla
Patrick: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5

Features aside, feels least like a proverbial ”econobox”
Kelsey: Civic, Corolla, Focus, G5
Beth: Civic, Focus, Corolla, G5
Joe: Civic, Corolla, Focus, G5
Patrick: Corolla, Civic, Focus, G5

Tomorrow we'll tackle the cost per mpg of each of our contenders.



Hopefully, GM will improve its attempt at an econobox feeling less like one with its next generation (Cruze comes to mind). The G5 is a futile attempt to fool customers into thinking its not a Cobalt.


Bowrider, the Cruze is going to be more like a Jetta competitor in that it will be more expensive and more premium than the Cobalt, Corolla, Civic, and Focus. So it will be in a slightly higher class and will be for those that want a fuel efficient premium car in a smaller package (like the Jetta) than say a Passat or S60.

I think the Cruze is going to be priced at Civic and Corolla levels, which would be higher than Cobalt but it won't be too huge. Jetta is an odd size and has proven not the move. The Cruze strikes me as being the Ford Contour all over again if it's priced near $20.

Is that a positive or negative connotation to the Contour?


I used to own a Contour - and the best thing I can say is that it converted me to a loyal Honda driver! After 18 months of Contour ownership (it owned me!) I had over 50 pages of service tickets! When it worked properly, it drove great - sadly, that was a small part of the time.



Please let me know if Kelsey is on the road.

If the big bold digital number display speedo will not inform the driver the speed that he/she is going, I think the driver has issues.

Okay, you can like a confy ride but can't stand the quietness. What kind of logic is that?

A car that problematic to have 50 pages of service tickets should have been dealt with under your state's lemon law so I have difficulty believing that those 50 pages were all problems and failures. A simple oil change and inspection can result in multiple pages by itself. And if it truly was that problematic then you got a lemon and should have been dealt with accordingly.

Negative. Great idea for Europe but America wasn't buying. And like DOn B says, it did have a lot of mechanical issues. It's amazing when you think of a car from 15 years ago and today and how much better a Ford Fusion lets say, is now compared to back then.


J, don't ask questions regarding logic, it really doesn't suit you. Trying making your question clear first. And then ask about the relative information given. Who said they can't stand quietness?

If you can't see the humor or the feeling that is being relayed by his statements about the speed you really need to get more culture.


Sorry Dave I thought that GM said that they were going to keep the Cobalt and position the Cruze between the Cobalt and Malibu? That's why I thought that they were targeting the Jetta which is about $17K.

I read that somewhere too.


A rod with a ball on the end of it is the standard mechanism for shifting a manual transmission. How is it "clumsy" and "awkward-to-use"?


To the poster w/no name: My little Contour had many, many problems, but the Lemon Law (at least in Illinois) states that you have to have the same problem 3 times. That never happened - the car (very creatively) had a multitude of problems, but not the same ones over and over again. Believe me, I went to Ford, and they couldn't have been less interested in helping. The dealer did what they could, but the car was just a piece of junk!



I do not expect auto experts post humorous comments when they are testing.


Uh oh J, then I guess it is going to be hard for you. I think you just found that even auto experts like to add some style to their writing. In fact I think everyone of the reviewers on this site add style to this post, how are you just now having an issue with it?


just because the contour gave u problems dosnt mean ford dosnt make good cars, I had a honda was in shop alot, I had to have money put up for any time something else was going wrong was afraid to go anywhere. had 50,000mile on it so since that mistake i went to ford parts are alot cheeper than any foreign car or pickup

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