When you look at the cars that Americans drive, you see an awful lot of compact sedans. There is always talk about large, snappy sedans, but simple, small sedans deliver the real-world utility that real people need. That’s why the list of the top-ten bestselling cars in the United States includes the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla every year, not the Bentley Flying Spur. Sales of compact sedans are especially strong these days because they are more spacious, more luxuriously trimmed, dramatically safer, and far more fuel-efficient than ever before, even while pricing has hardly increased.

Over the past week, we’ve compared eight of the best compact sedans plying U.S. highways today. We’ve driven all of them at the same time on the same roads, we’ve made our notes and organized our facts, and we’ve argued about the results. And now we’ve sorted them out and separated the best from the rest.

These compact sedans are the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta.

You can read about the mission we set for ourselves on Day 1, then a driving report for each on either Day 2 or Day 3, in which we selected our semi-finalists. The tournament got tougher on Day 4 as we argued about the merits of the four cars that made it that far. And now at last, on Day 5, we present the final match between the 2014 Mazda 3 and the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta.

Today the process involves less driving and a more arguing. It’s not just about which compact sedans excel in this category -- because they all do. Instead, it’s about finding the right car with the right combination of features and driving enjoyment -- the car that meets our personal expectations. After all, this is Automobile Magazine.

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