There’s not much good in a recession. But with cars, downsizing has meant upping the style, quality and features on compacts. For gay and lesbian car lovers, the result is a bonanza of fun, fast and highly affordable rides.
Surprisingly, two of the newest competitors to this segment — traditionally ruled by high-quality vehicles from Japanese, Korean and European automakers — are from Ford and GM. A lot hinges on these two cars, because compact cars traditionally are bought by the younger set — the next generation of car buyers. Here’s a look at how these two new domestic compacts stack up.
MPG: 24 city/36 highway
Cargo capacity: 15 cubic feet
From Chevettes to Cobalts, Chevy never had much compact mojo. Then there’s the new Cruze, which rolls into showrooms this month. The design is stellar, with an Acura-like hood, BMW-edged side panels and a tapered tush straight from the Infiniti playbook.
A two-tone interior has a chic twin-cockpit design, with bolstered sport seats, power doors/locks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, eight-way adjustable driver seat and 10 airbags—all standard. So is the traction/stability control. And compared with the competition, the trunk is huge. The tight suspension and sharp cornering make the ride and handling superb for this class. Ditto for the braking and any pothole-avoidance maneuvers.
To better compete with trendy Euro compacts, there’s a top-of-the-line Cruze LTZ—at a rather pricey $21,500, which adds large alloy wheels, steering-wheel audio controls, sport-tuned suspension and rear-parking sensors. Still, the Cruze does have a few downsides, such as some cheap interior trim—though that’s not too surprising for cars in this segment. And while there’s a choice of two power plants, the base engine seems stuck in the mud.
Not so for the peppy turbo, which is no Formula 1 racer but does help the Cruze hit zero to 60 mph in a respectable 9.2 seconds. All in all, the Cruze proves that Chevy finally knows how to churn out a first-rate compact.
MPG: 28 city/37 highway
Cargo capacity: 12.8 cubic feet
Of course, the Chevy Cruze also is important in showing that GM — battered by bailouts and layoffs — is once again a serious player in the auto market. The Ford Fiesta, on the other hand, is all about fun. Just look at the marketing: the Fiesta Movement social media campaign had 100 Web-savvy drivers test-drive the car for six months to post their often whimsical impressions all over Twitter, Flickr and the like.
Then there were all those online webisodes, including one playfully comparing—tongue in cheek — the Fiesta with a Lamborghini. Luckily, the Fiesta lives up to the hype. It’s spunky, sporty and sprightly, with a punchy four-cylinder and easy-to-shift manual transmission that makes weaving in and out of even the worst traffic jams a blast.
Steering is precise, perhaps even best-in-class, and the suspension handles bumps as well as a $160,000 Porsche 911 — again, really. Three trim levels, with the entry-level S a truly barebones model: 15-inch steel wheels, four-speaker AM/FM stereo and power mirrors. The SE adds power doors/windows, some metallic cabin accents and CD player.
And the SEL really ratchets things up with LED parking lights, rear spoiler, ambient lighting, auto-dimming rearview mirror, premium sound system and voice-command navigation. There also are numerous options, including a Super Fuel Economy package to max out fuel savings via lighter wheels, special tires and some aerodynamic tweaks. Standard safety gear includes stability/traction control and a driver-knee bag, which is usually available only on high-end cars.
Cargo space is tight, but then the Fiesta is really a subcompact (versus the Cruze, which is almost a mid-sizer). That may explain why the Fiesta’s true competition may not be the Cruze, but a Honda Fit or Nissan Versa. Or, in Ford’s ideal world, even a Mini Cooper — the epitome of small-car chic.