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Which compact car is king of the road?

Hyundai, Honda, Kia and Scion step up to do battle for the right to say they build the very best compact car. Who's the winner in this battle royale?

  • Driver

From compacts to full-size, most automakers used to have at least one two-door in a model’s lineup.


However, with the arrival over the past three decades of super-practical minivans and SUVs, two-door coupes have gone the ways of bell-bottom jeans, domestic beer and disco.


Yet if you’re the type of driver who eschews the need to cram an inordinate amount of people and stuff into your car, here is a quartet of “old school” compact two-doors:


FOURTH PLACE:


2012 Hyundai Veloster


The new-for-2012 Veloster is no “performance” car. With only 138 hp and 123 lb.-ft. of torque from its smallish 1.6-litre four-cylinder, the Hyundai needs all of 9.7 seconds to go from rest to 100 km/h — two seconds slower than the Scion.


And that was with the six-speed manual transmission. The Hyundai’s $1,400 optional automatic is even slower.


And although there is the maxim that driving a slow car fast can be fun as well, the Veloster falls to the back of this quartet of coupes when it comes to how it steers, handles and rides.


When pushed, the Hyundai feels slow-witted. There’s virtually no steering feel off-centre. Then a lot of push back in tight corners — confusing. Its handling feels disjointed and its ride is the harshest of this bunch.


At least the Veloster is fuel efficient, essentially matching the Civic’s 7.2L/100 km city and 4.9L highway fuel economy ratings.


And from a practical standpoint, the Veloster’s unique curbside rear door allows better access to its rear seat. But it comes with the smallest trunk space.


What also didn’t help the Hyundai was its price.


With standard kit like media connectivity, heated seats and 17-inch alloys, the Veloster’s $18,999 looks attractive.


But our example also came with a tech package (leather seats, steering wheel and shifter; navigation; rear backup camera; 18-inch alloys; rear wiper; sunroof came) that brought our example to $22,499.


THIRD PLACE:


2012 Honda Civic Coupe EX

After five years, Honda is launching a new-generation Civic for 2012, in both four- and two-door models.


With little hype, Honda is touting the new Civic’s value pricing and excellent fuel economy.


Pricing starts at $17,990. Our mid-range Civic Coupe EX ($21,190 with an optional $1,200 automatic transmission) was the least expensive two-door here.


Trouble is, those are the only “firsts” the Civic two-door scored.


If you’re buying a coupe for state-of-the-art engineering or lively driving characteristics, comparatively, the Honda will leave you wanting.


The essentiality carry-over 1.8-litre 140 h.p. and 128 lb.-ft. of torque four-cylinder engine only betters the weakling Hyundai.


And unlike the others that offer six gears in their respective auto boxes, the Honda makes do with only five — an issue at highway speeds when a taller sixth cog could lower engine noise.


While the new Civic Coupe EX offers a decent balance between ride and handling, it’s the least involving car from the driver’s seat. Honda has given the small two-door a slightly softer ride, making it feel less nimble when cornering than its rivals. And its steering ratio is slower compared to last year as well.


SECOND PLACE:


2011 Kia Forte Koup SX


The rapid introduction of new models from Kia means the two year-old Forte Koup may have fallen off your radar. Launched only a year after the four-door Forte arrived for 2009, the top-line Koup SX offers plenty of room, power, and the most enthusiast-oriented driving characteristics of this group of coupes.


On top of the base $18,995 Koup EX, the SX trim adds a larger 2.4-litre four that delivers 173 hp and 168 lb.-ft. Bigger wheels and tires, a firmer suspension, and a host of sporty exterior and interior features including leather on its seats, steering wheel and shift-knob are also included.


The SX suspension’s thicker torsion and anti-sway bars won’t beat you up on bad pavement, delivering composure over large dips. We also liked the ergonomics of its cockpit. If not as well-made as the Scion, all the Kia’s driver interfaces — steering, handling, braking, shifting gears — feel robust and well-engineered.


Demerits against the Kia two-door include its relative thirst at the pumps (although its 8.9L/100 km in the city, 6.2L on the highway are nearly identical to the Scion), an as-tested price of $23,495 (that includes a $1,200 six-speed automatic transmission), and a lack of overall tightness and refinement that the Scion has in spades.


FIRST PLACE:


2011 Scion tC


Just introduced for 2011, the tC is one of the freshest of Toyota’s new Scion cars that went on sale in selected markets in Canada one year ago.


Based on the same European Toyota compact platform as the Lexus CT 200h and HS 250 h hybrids, the tC finished first with a balanced attack.


For $21,900, the $1,000 six-speed automatic was the only option on our well-equipped tC tester.


Of this trio, the tC scores with the most powerful engine, the roomiest and best-built interior, the most rear-seat-up cargo room, and the intangible practical advantage of a rear hatch opening — something the truncated Kia and Honda coupes don’t offer.


Overall, the tC felt solid and refined. We also found the Scion’s straightforward driver controls the easiest to fathom in this group. And its seats offered the most support when attacking highway on- or off-ramps at elevated speeds.


Yes. The Scion’s 180 hp and 173 lb-ft 2.4-litre felt a bit strained when caned. And its autobox could be quicker in delivering up- and downshifts. But in a straight line, the tC’s 7.5-second 0-100 km/h time betters every other coupe here.


Its 8.9L city and 6.2L highway can’t match the Honda or Hyundai.


But the Scion is more fun to drive than the staid Civic and unrefined Veloster, with controls that are silky smooth to use on a day-to-day basis. And, unlike most small Toyotas, the tC’s ride doesn’t float like a butterfly.


In other words, it’s our winner.


John LeBlanc reviews automobiles for Toronto Star Wheels. Contact him at:


editors@straight-six.com


  • Which compact car is king of the road? CHARGES MAY APPLY Subject: Photos for Wheels: Comparo: Small Coupes - 2012 Honda Civic Coupe On 2011-11-14, at 1:31 PM, John LeBlanc wrote: Photos for Wheels: Comparo: Small Coupes - 2012 Honda Civic Coupe P2150390.JPG P2150389.JPG P2150385.JPG P2150388.JPG P2150384.JPG

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