This is Day 3 of Automobile Magazine’s 2014 Compact Sedan Comparison Review, a comparison test that is meant to help you find an affordable, compact, multipurpose sedan that you’d be happy to drive to work, to the pick-up zone at school, or to the big-box store for a weekend errand.

As we noted in our Day 1 introduction, we put together eight of the best compact sedans and drove them at the same time on the same roads. We made our notes and organized our facts. Then we argued about the results.

The way we see it, these are the best compact sedans in America right now. We’ve tried to ensure that our test vehicles represent a useful level of features – nicely equipped, as they say — yet don’t cost too much. Given the practical realities of acquiring so many test vehicles at the same time, they aren’t all priced exactly the same, but we did our best.

The cars we’re testing are the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and Volkswagen Jetta. To make our comparisons as direct as possible, we organized a scheme wherein we matched the vehicles in brackets, just as you would see in an athletic tournament (think March Madness). The losers will be knocked out one by one until the winner presents itself.

As we did yesterday on Day 2 of this comparison, we will present an accounting of four vehicles, and two contenders will be eliminated. Tomorrow, on Day 4, we’ll present excerpts from our test notebook on the final four and will select our two finalists. On Friday, for Day 5, the two finalists will go head to head, and we will declare a winner.

Today’s match-ups:


  • 2014 Chevrolet Cruze vs. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta
  • 2013 Honda Civic vs. 2014 Toyota Corolla

2014 Chevrolet Cruze vs. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta

2014 Chevrolet Cruze 1LT

PRICE AS TESTED: $23,940
When the Chevrolet Cruze first appeared as a 2009 model, it knocked us out. Compared with the small, coarse sedans that Chevrolet had produced dating back to the Cavalier (and even the Vega of the 1970s before that), this car seemed like a miracle of international breeding, combining the best of a European chassis, a Korean drivetrain, and American styling, not to mention American development and manufacture. But, tough luck, the Ford Focus stole the spotlight.

Nevertheless, the Cruze has turned things around for Chevrolet in the compact sedan segment, and the appearance of the 2014 Cruze diesel shows how serious General Motors is about this small car. We have liked the Cruze in general because it handles so well (really), delivers such good fuel economy (really), and makes so many features available for so little money (really).

Compared with the other sedans in our comparison, the 2014 Cruze 1LT aspires to be a large car, not a small one. It wants to be refined and sophisticated, a Chevy that has been to charm school.

More than you expect

When you put the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze next to the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta, there’s more to it than you might expect. There’s more to the styling, that’s for sure, although we’d argue that Chevy’s corporate twin-grille look makes it seem as if there are about three grilles too many. More surprising is the sheer size of the Cruze. It measures 181.0 inches in overall length on a wheelbase of 105.7 inches and has a total passenger volume is 95 cubic feet. Front-seat passengers get most of the benefit, with 42.3 inches of legroom; rear-seat passengers get 35.4. (Probably this is the right proportion, since kids will be the ones to occupy the back seat most often.)

The interior presentation is pretty stylish in terms of architecture, but the execution depends on the model that you pick. This particular test car didn’t make us feel particularly charmed, and we picked it apart as a result. The short bottom cushions of the front seats made us feel as if we were in a small car, not a large one. The array of electronic features and connectivity options was pretty good, but most of us couldn’t get along with the Chevrolet MyLink interface, as the lack of haptic feedback made the system feel unresponsive and clumsy, no matter how quickly the electrons raced around.

Less than the big car we were promised

As compact sedans go, the Cruze actually feels sporty rather than big, and its lively responses and balance in the corners set it apart from most of the competition. If you set the Focus as a standard, the Cruze’s suspension calibration helps it feel better isolated from cracked pavement even as it delivers a reassuring balance of grip from the front and rear tires in the corners.

For all this, however, we didn’t get the big car benefits that we hoped for from this $23,540 Cruze 1LT. We could hear the road too well even through the flaccid tires, and the ride never delivered the gracefulness that we to find in any car, large or small. The 138-hp, turbocharged 1.4-liter engine felt coarse at anything other than cruising speed, perhaps because the slow-shifting, six-speed automatic transmission seemed to conspire against performance. The powertrain seems meant for freeway cruising, where the engine’s 148 lb-ft of torque proves adequate. This powertrain is EPA rated at 26 mpg city/38 mpg highway.

The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze didn’t make any enemies during our drive to Kalamazoo and home again, but neither did it make any friends. 

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