It's time to start cracking with the more meaty, meaningful part of the Canadian International Auto Show's 2017 event. We're going to be unveiling our picks and honourable mentions for the best cars in several categories along the way. Here's the first category - the best car to be priced for under approximately $25,000 CAD, new.
To start off with, we'll start with the groundwork, or otherwise the fundamental considerations, like features, styling, price, comfort, fuel efficiency, estimated cost-of-ownership, and performance. Reliability is not known for any of the cars in this series of posts, yet, so we're completely ignoring that - we won't attest to the reliability of one car, over another, since there are plenty of publications perfectly capable of doing that.
Each of these categories is going to be judged by the same person with an impartial decision.
The Kia Forte 5 scored well initially, until we saw the price for the as-shown car. At $29,995 (as listed on their website) it doesn't actually even qualify for entry into this segment of our competition. For the purpose of this comparison, then, we spec'd out the Kia Forte 5 SX with manual transmission.
The next car in consideration is the Chevy Cruze hatchback in RS trim level. Or, rather, it would be, but like the Kia Forte 5 SX with auto, the price of this trim level exceeds the $25000 limit we set. So, we again chose to plan a $~25000 equivalent Cruze hatchback (this time in LT trim) to suit the needs. We definitely kept this Burst Orange, though - nice to see a company breaking free from the constraints of silver, white, gray and black. Bonus points were given for this colour. Points were docked for refusing to offer the RS model trim with manual transmission. The manual transmission's inclusion in RS trim would have meant that the RS trim would have fit into the price point of the comparison, and could possibly have swayed more points in the favour of the Cruze.
The third of the five competitors in this Affordable Class of 2017 is the Nissan Sentra SR Turbo. It's probably the car that the gearheads would choose, with the most power, but also it lacks the desired attributes of a sporty car - having the most horsepower in class means very little when it's mated to an exceedingly soft clutch and a sloppy gear shifter. Pictured is the Sentra Nismo - out of budget and replaced with the SR Turbo for the purposes of this comparison again!
Fourth of the five is the Subaru Impreza 2.0i hatchback "Convenience" trim. The absolute base model, this Convenience package is offered with a bunch of things to make the driving experience more pleasurable, like a short-throw shifter, which undoubtedly makes it the best to shift, but it falls short on the styling (with 16" wheels that look bland, as well as the fairly antiquated halogen headlights) and as-equipped safety features, but does make up for it with the standard all-wheel-drive (though with open rear diff) and still somehow also best-in-class fuel efficiency. It likely has the best potential out of all of the cars, when you start to get into higher-cost accessories, trim levels, and aftermarket modifications.
The last car in the class was a preview. The 2017 Elantra GT remains largely unchanged from the 2016 model, while the 2018 appears in the photo above. This photo is entirely not representative of the 2017 Elantra GT, but rather, the teasing of the 2018 Elantra GT. Details of the 2018 Elantra GT have not been released, and comparing two model years is unfair to all cars in the comparison. Elantra GT gets average marks all though the comparison - scoring as the benchmark middle ground.
First: Kia Forte 5
The as-specified Kia Forte 5 SX simply outperforms the other cars in this class for the money. It has average fuel economy within its class, with advertised 9.4 / 6.8 L per 100 km. consumption, city/highway, and 147 horsepower for the manual transmission hatchback. Points were lost for not offering the SX trim with manual transmission, which would have made it the absolute best performing car of the group as well. However, the standard amenities and accessories far outweighed the lack of performance offered with the manual transmission - the car is essentially exactly what a $200,000 Mercedes was seven years ago, minus the power difference and the things that can't be explained, like driver performance satisfaction. Largely, the car falls short on its efforts to please the spirited driver, with its weak engine and underwhelming gearbox. However, this is not a major gripe, but more just something to note in comparison against the other cars of the class.
Second: Subaru Impreza 2.0i
Finally, a Subaru without the typical Subaru problems. Subaru's new FA20 engine (with direct injection and better efficiency in the design) really makes the older problems with owning a Subaru (fuel efficiency, for example) and reestablishes the Subaru as a very good car. While, yes, the Kia Forte 5 wins for its fit, finish and equipment, it seems that the Subaru is more eager to please in the actual driving sensations. Slightly more horsepower, more torque, double wishbone suspension, a fantastic short-throw shifter available from the dealership with warranty, and the standard AWD making winter fun truly makes the Impreza the hoonigan's car of choice. If you love driving for the art of carving corners and exploring the back-roads that maybe don't have winter maintenance, this is undoubtedly the car for you. And, unlike the Subarus of yesteryears, buying it isn't the same as buying an ugly pickup truck - no longer do you spend vast amounts more on the gasoline than you would in a comparable car from another manufacturer in order to be able to go off-roading. Now, then, the car is as average-looking as any other car on the road, although mundane, and equally as fuel efficient as the other cars on the road. With 10.1/7.7 L/100 km., city/highway, it's not exactly the most fuel efficient of the class, by any stretch, but it's a far cry from what the fuel efficiency used to be on the Impreza - notable improvement in the engine efficiency and coefficient of drag were the main catalysts of the improvements in the car, and with further refinement, the Subaru will be exactly equal with the competitors. Points were deducted for the higher ownership costs associated with AWD maintenance and fuel efficiency. However, these costs aren't as high as they used to be, so the Impreza is becoming a more-and-more dominant force.
P.S., to anyone who wants to say anything about head gaskets, we're not in 2004 anymore. Your information is outdated.
Third: Hyundai Elantra GT
Average. Simply put, the car is just average. 9.8/7.2 L/100 km, city/highway, its fuel efficiency is average within the class - like the car itself. It's so average I'm not writing any more about.
Fourth: Chevy Cruze
I wanted to like it, I really did. I love the styling and I love that the Cruze had as much of a racing heritage as you'll ever get from the other cars in this comparison (without getting into crazy WRC cars that have next-to-no relation to the road cars at all). But, sadly, this car is not the winner through no fault of its own. The other cars were simply more appealing. Chevy's decision to start rebadging Daewoo cars cost the brand some of its reputation, and the effects are still lingering. There are some questionable engineering decisions which were made by the inexperienced junior design team tasked with designing this car. Maybe the design choices wouldn't be too bad if we lived in a world without salt, winter, corrosion, gravel, bumpy tarmac and more, but, sadly, we don't live in an ideal world. One example of the sort of inexperienced design team's decision making process is routing an integral wiring loom through the exterior of the car, underneath the unibody of the car. It hasn't even been a year yet, and the car has already had problems with the wiring loom reported at some Chevy dealers - which were kept very quiet, except for a little birdy that told me about it in private. Cheers for the heads up. The largest problem, then, isn't the car itself, but the fit, finish, quality and just generally the atmosphere of the corporate structure of GM.
The car itself? It might be good, with impressive fuel efficiency ratings (advertised 6.2L/100km highway) and average-in-class horsepower ratings (152 hp) from a finely tuned 1.4L turbocharged engine with an exceptionally wide power-band are ideal, but the car just falls short elsewhere. As mentioned above, the Burst Orange colour also looks beautiful. It just needs to stop being a GM product, where GM's economy cars have been slowly but steadily improving from horrid to just slightly sub-par in a class dominated by Korean and Japanese cars.
Fifth: Nissan Sentra SR Turbo
If you try to set off from a red-gone-green traffic signal in third gear, all of the horsepower in the world won't help you. Nissan, please, let's get back on track with the sports shifters like the 370Z Nismo has. We know you're capable of it. Maybe it's time to stop the slop and save the [good] manuals. A 2017 Sentra Nismo gearbox should not remind me of the 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe's sloppy "melted butter gearbox". Make it notchier, make it beefier, and make it so that a house fly can't shift your car. Give the transmission some feeling, please! Oh, then do the same for the steering rack.
Rant aside, class-leading 188 hp and 177 ft.lb. of torque, it's definitely the fastest of the cars. And, with 9.1/7.3 L/100km., city/highway, you don't have to pay for the horsepower with fuel efficiency. It's actually second in terms of fuel efficiency out of all five, even despite the larger power output. Great engine tuning!
But, if the engine can be that finely tuned, why can't everything else? The idea that we should be willing to live with damp-noodle shifters and "is my steering wheel still connected?" steering is laughable. We get it. Some people want to hold their steering wheel with one finger while they text & drive and eat sandwiches and whatever else average people do. But, is that really a good thing, to have a car that's so sloppy that you can drive it with one finger, when you know fully well that all of the safety equipment you make optional doesn't help when the driver doesn't even realize that the car is about to leave the road due to a lack of road communication and feel? Where other companies offered a fairly sloppy gearbox and steering rack with lots of play and little communication, the Nissan Sentra took it to an extreme that I am frankly afraid of - the point of not knowing which gear you're in, nor getting any communication from the steering wheel. I expect change, or you'll continue to rank low, Nissan.