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Compact Cars Big Test #3: The Missing Players

The cars that didn't make it and why

The cars that didn't make it and why

This month’s roundup of the shrinking but still YUGE economy compact sedan class seeks to share all the pertinent objective data and subjective opinion you’ll need to select the ideal new car from among a diverse collection of the best choices in this class. The players are mostly fresh, viable, strong-selling exemplars of the segment, including the Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta. But wait, you’re thinking—that’s not the entire class. Where’s the [car-name here] I just convinced my hairdresser’s godson’s girlfriend to trade her Civic in on? Good question. Scroll on for hopefully good answers.


Dodge Dart

2016 Dodge Dart Limited front three quarter in motion

Where was it? After failing to cover itself in glory on its last two invitations to MT Big Tests (third of five in 2013 and seventh of seven in 2014) and having been forsaken even by its godfather, FCA honcho Sergio Marchionne, we excused it from this year’s contest.

Does it sell? It was selling at a rate that ranked it 12th in class last year, but the announcement that FCA will not engineer a replacement for the Dart may have torpedoed year-to-date sales, which have plunged by more than a third.

2016 year-to-date sales, through April: 21,260

2015 sales: 87,392

When’s its next redo? Ask FCA’s eventual (Chinese?) partner.


Ford Focus

2016 Ford Focus SE front three quarter in motion

Where was it? We eagerly invited this strong-selling, dynamically enticing compact, but an increasingly paranoid and insular Ford PR department refused to participate. Again. Rental options failed to meet our demanding specifications, but be warned, Ford: Next time we’re taking whatever beater Hertz has to offer.

Does it sell? The Focus nameplate now ranks as the fifth-best-selling Ford, and last year it ranked sixth in the economy C-class sedan segment by a slim 31-car margin behind the Nissan Sentra.

2016 year-to-date sales, through April: 66,198

2015 sales: 202,478

When’s its next redo? All new in 2010 and freshened this year; we expect a completely new 2018 model Focus to appear next year.


Kia Forte

2017 kia forte sedan side in motion

Where was it? A plucky though aging Forte finished second in our 2014 Big Test, but its replacement, just introduced at the Detroit show in January, was not available for test. We excused its lame-duck predecessor.

Does it sell? Perhaps incentives launched to clear out the old stock are responsible for a 26.1 percent uptick in year-to-date sales, but it’s a bit player ranking 13th in its class and just squeezing into the top 50 car, truck, and SUV nameplates.

2016 year-to-date sales, through April: 33,662

2015 sales: 78,919

When’s its next redo? The 2017s arrive very soon.


Mitsubishi Lancer

2016-Mitsubishi-Lancer-GT-front-three-quarter-03

Where was it? Mitsu-who? We’re all dying to find out what Nissan makes of messy Mitsubishi now that it’s taken the reins, but this segment back-marker and bottom-seller, last revised in pre-crash 2007, didn’t earn itself an invite.

Does it sell? Not really, and now that its halo EVO model has left the lineup, year-to-date sales are down 18 percent, ranking it a distant 14th place among its compact sedan rivals with sales less than a quarter those of the No. 13 Kia Forte.

2016 year-to-date sales, through April: 6,477

2015 sales: 17,691

When’s its next redo? Probably never.


Subaru Impreza

2017 Subaru Impreza Sport 20i side profile

Where was it? The 2017 model was introduced at the New York show in March, so its lame-duck predecessor was excused from this test.

Does it sell? Overall sales ranked 11th in class last year, but note that over a third of year-to-date Impreza sales are of the pricey, high-performance WRX and STI models.

2016 year-to-date sales, through April: 29,392

2015 sales: 100,519

When’s its next redo? Fall 2016