Comparison Test: Compact Cars volkswagen toyota subaru reviews nissan mazda hyundai honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
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Originally published May 23, 2012

Review by Jonathan Yarkony, Michael Schlee and Chris Chase
Photos by Jonathan Yarkony, Brigitte “The Moderator” and Chris Chase

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Compact car comparo

Bestsellers.

Every company wants to have one (or several) on their hands, and in Canada, the biggest segment is the compact segment, accounting for over 350,000 vehicle sales in 2011, ranking even ahead of pickups (260K) and compact sport utilities/crossovers (268K). Any manufacturer that wants to be a volume player in Canada has to bring a competitive compact to market.

And our readers want to know which is the best.

Early this spring, when we were discussing which comparisons we wanted to make, we agreed that the compact segment was the most crucial, the most popular, and possibly the most controversial. We still do. Of the top ten bestselling cars in Canada, seven are compacts, and they are the top seven, and four of the top ten bestselling vehicles are compact cars, although none are in the league of the F-150 and its 96,000+ sales in 2011. Not even close.

Comparison Test: Compact Cars volkswagen toyota subaru reviews nissan mazda hyundai honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Click image to enlarge

Initially, we just wanted to get the top three or four bestsellers (Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla), but that meant we would be excluding the Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus, vehicles we have driven and that impressed us. And once we started adding cars, well, we just couldn’t stop, so we ended up with a total of nine vehicles, all those mentioned above, plus the Volkswagen Jetta, Nissan Sentra, and the Subaru Impreza, fresh off its win in the AWD Compact Comparo we conducted recently.

As much as we liked the Mitsubishi Lancer, it still lost, and with an evaluation in this comparo that placed more importance on interior appointments, we felt that the sub-par Lancer interior just wouldn’t cut it and would never have a shot at winning. We saw nothing that changed our mind on that front. Unable to attend was the Kia Forte, but perhaps it can make an appearance when we bring back our favourites to test themselves against the 2013 Dodge Dart this summer or fall.

Comparison Test: Compact Cars volkswagen toyota subaru reviews nissan mazda hyundai honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Comparison Test: Compact Cars volkswagen toyota subaru reviews nissan mazda hyundai honda ford car comparisons chevrolet
Click image to enlarge

Our route took us from a mall on the outskirts of Toronto through a loop of urban streets, highways, and construction zones that provided a good shakedown to see if the cars held up to scrutiny in a typical urban and suburban environment. We managed without incident, except for one flat tire on the Mazda3, which Mazda Canada managed to replace at a moment’s notice, and GM Canada who were quick to get all-season tires on the Cruze when we spotted the dreaded winter-tire curse. And our thanks to all the manufacturers that put up with our convoluted requests and last-minute arrangements.

Going into the comparison, there were a few frontrunners based on previous driving impressions and impressive résumés. AJAC 2012 Canadian Car of the Year Hyundai Elantra, which beat out the Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza in its Small Car Over $21K category (the Honda Civic suspiciously ducked out of that category and into the Under $21K category, the traditional fighting ground of subcompacts) at AJAC’s TestFest, and other CCOTY category winners in the final vote-off. It also took home the North American Car of the Year honours. Of course, the Ford Focus is no slouch, earning a spot on Car and Driver’s 10Best, the Chevrolet Cruze, last year’s Canadian Car of the Year entered as something of a dark horse, and the Mazda3, because it has that balanced fun, value, and practicality that we thought would score well in our points system.

But what we think going in isn’t enough to win. Read on to find out how it all played out.




About Jonathan Yarkony

Jonathan Yarkony is the Senior Editor for Autos.ca, a Brampton-based automotive writer with eight years of experience evaluating cars and an AJAC member.