Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How to compete and how not to, in the sport compact market.

Right now, this is the sport compact that Ford will be selling in Europe with over 200 hp. The Focus ST, which is Europes equivalent of our Ford Focus SVT (currently not in production, and don't hold your breath.)
And this is the most powerful version of the Focus available from Ford in the US. At 150 hp the Focus ZX4 ST is not a slouch, but not really a superstar. At lest it's available with a manual transmission. And let's not forget that wing, ooh wow. Not exactly warming up my blood. Not just that it's a 4 door sedan, I could get over that. But 150 hp??? Come on. This "sport compact" version can be had for around $19k and blends in well at any mall or high school.
This is the media's new star, the 2006 Honda Civic Si, with 197 hp and priced around $20k. Now I'm going to be kind, 197 hp is adequate, but what about torque? Can you say limp? The Civic Si only makes 148 lb ft of Torque. And you better love to rev up near the limit to make that 197 hp. Cause down low, it's not there. I have to admit I like the exterior styling, but the new interior leaves me wondering why? Why have a huge tach and then in a binacle out of Star Trek, have a digital speedo? We have a new 2005 Civic EX in our driveway, and it's dash is one of it's greater assets. Nice clear gauges, that are backlit in blue, controls laid out well. So why do this to a decent car?
Even Chevy is in the game, with their 205 hp Cobalt SS Supercharged model, selling around $22k. I've driven this and it's a powerful little package, and a good value. If I was in the market for a sport compact coupe, this would be my first and possibly last stop. Even for a guy that doesn't like GM, this is a well done car. I've driven both the SS and the LS in auto and stick shift and the handling is good, brakes are actually great, transmission feel is very good. Why can't Ford do something like this??
The outgoing American champ in the sport compact segment, the Neon SRT4 had 230 hp from a Turbocharged motor and a 6spd manual. These sold, when you could find them for around $24k, and from what I've heard, they're rough but drivable little beasts. But it's too late to get one of these, the Neon is dead to be replaced by the Caliber. The closest you can get to this is a slightly detuned version in the PT Cruiser GT with I believe 205 hp. There will be an R/T version of the Caliber and possibly an SRT4 version. The Caliber's top engine will be a naturally aspirated 178 hp I4. Even the base engine will be a 148 hp 1.8 and next a 158 hp 2.0.
With 300 hp and all wheel drive, the Subaru WRX STI is one of the kings of the segment, but don't expect to buy one for less than $30k. But even the lesser Subaru WRX with 227 hp will cost you close to $28k. Not bargains prices, but still class leading performance.
Matching the Subaru's boy racer looks and with almost 300 hp and all wheel drive, is Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution VIII. Again not cheap at around $30k, this is a tie for class leader with the subaru. Get em while you can, as Mitsu's future looks shaky.
Now, the Mini Cooper in base trim is a bargain at around $18k ( actually closer to $22k on dealer lots, only because they are ordered loaded), but with only 160 hp going to the front wheels it's not the fastest of the group. But for a few grand (about $4k) more you can get the JCW package, including a supercharger and various handling pieces. This like the Mustang and Beetle is another Retro wagon, but unlike the Beetle this one's interesting and not just a rebodied Golf.
The Scion Tc at $18k and with 160 hp is a bargain when you consider that for that price you need to order no options. Standard are the wheels (17's) Moonroof, stereo, A/C and power windows and such. Now when you go into the dealer it's easy to get suckered into another $4k in accessories, but the basic car is available for $18k. There is even a TRD supercharger available, so like the Mini Cooper JCW it can achieve better power.
And what about the loyal Blue Oval fan? Well, he's screwed. Here is the Roush Focus, with it's body kit, big brakes and 18" wheels, but what do you get in the way of power? The same 150 hp available in the Factory ZX4 ST. That's right, it's a pimped out ZX3 with a price tag of $26k.
But wait, there's always the Saleen N2O Focus right?? It's advertised on Saleen's website as being a factory 250 hp!! Wrong!!!!!!! It's the same 150 hp ZX3 with an almost completely installed 100 hp nitrous system. I say almost installed, because they do everything, install and wire the system, including arming switch. Mount the empty cylinder in your hatch. Everything, almost everything. And for an amazingly low price of $26k. Wow what could be cooler? I want to sing up now, where can I get one?

Hold on there buckaroo, don't jump too fast. You see, if you fill the tank of nitrous and install that last little hose to make the system functional, you void your warranty !!! And Steve Saleen and his boys won't lift a finger to help you. Now I don't just mean your warranty from Saleen, I mean your warranty from Ford! And not just on the engine, but transmission and everything else!

So while GM and Chrysler take this segment seriously, Ford just pretends it doesn't exist and allows aftermarket tuners to pedal this crap at selected Ford dealers. I recently was at a local dealer test driving a Fusion and they had several Roush product on hand including a Mustang GT for $47,000!!! And what did you get for that kind of premium? A body kit, big wheels and brakes, some handling goodies and oh yeah the stock 300 hp GT engine.

What fool would piss away the money on this? The salesman told me, they sell well. I can't figure why. I mean next year you can get a Mustang SVT GT500 for about $45K, right? Oh no, that's right the dealers will charge premiums for them and generally fuck around.

So here's a question for you, if you had $25,000 and wanted to buy a sporty compact car, which one of these would you buy? Would you spend the entire budget at the dealer or keep some of it for aftermarket speed goodies? Could a tuner plaque on the car make you spend the extra $8,000 ?

If it was my money, the Chevy would be in the driveway, with the factory leather, moonroof and 6 CD stereo and with what's left over I'd go to the TireRack and buy an extra set of tires for autocrossing.

Jack Roush and Steve Saleen should hang their heads in shame for putting their names on this crap. Saleen in particular should have to apologize to each person who bought the N2O and lost their warranty.


Dotty Gale said...

What about the 240hp 3.9 liter naturally aspirated V6 Pontiac G6 GTP? With all the options, it comes in around the 25k mark.

Dorri732 said...

Scion tC. Equipped the way I like, it's less than $20,000. Add the supercharger and still be under budget.

Although it's not one of your choices, I would probably go with a Miata. With a six speed manual and 17" wheels, it's still under budget.

Or perhaps the mythical Solstice, if it actually exists.

Alas, no fords (unless you count the Miata by association).

Ben K said...

Of those cars, at that budget -- none. :)

Given more money -- the Mitsubishi Evo but I'd need something softer too. So that's a no-no.

You don't get Renaults over there but we do here and the absolute gun "sport compact" in my opinion is the Renault Clio Sport 182 with Cup suspension.

182HP from 2L. It's smaller than a Focus.

Anonymous said...

If I had 25,000 to spend , I would search the local Mitsubishi dealers for any 2005 evo's and make a deal, with a sticker of 28 and real world of 30 on lot price , it could be done. 25 for a 2005 evo.

If that fails go for the wrx , best bang for the buck and AWD.


mike said...

Thanks for the overview, I love some of these cars. Just a comment on the mini: S models (with the 160hp or so) are closer to $30k. I was just at a dealer that was quoting me over $40k for a loaded JCW car. Some of the options are dealer-installed, which means extra installation charges, plus they mark 'em up (plus a 12 month wait). It's a great car to drive, but jeez.

And somehow you forgot the coming new GTI!

NLPRacing said...

If I were in the market for a compact car, I would probably get a Mazda3 5 door or wait for the MazdaSpeed3 that's coming out. Or, a used Focus ZX5 SVT. I would definitely not get the latest Focus until it either moves to the C1 architecture or at least gets a major styling overhaul. Which I hear it may get in 2008, but who really knows. But really, compact cars are too expensive for what they are. For what you would pay for a loaded Focus, you get a real nice Fusion with the 2.3 I-4 and 5 speed manual. I've driven one, and it is very nice. And with a set of springs and a FocusSport turbo kit, it would be pretty fast & fun to drive too. Really, I can't wait until Ford's supposed "B" cars come out, or at least the Mazda2. If you're getting something small, it might as well be real small and get 40 mpg (or 65 mpg if it's diesel).

Big Ford Fan said...

Dotty Gale, isn't the G6 considered a mid size car?

Dorri, the Miata is a great car, but I was condidering Sport Compact to be the "Hot Hatch or Coupe" And the Solstice too is within budget.

Ben, the Clio besides not being sold in the US only has 182 hp, so while it's no dog, could it really hold it's own against some of these? Sure it could cream the Focus we get, but what about the Focus ST? Will that be imported to Australia?

BobZoom, new cars only please and compare on sticker price not guestimate of what you can beat out of the desperate dealer. Besides, wouldn't you pick a Mazda??

Mike, good point the Mini does sell for full sticker and the JCW package does put this way over budget when you include the dealer instalation cost. And yes I forgot the GTI/GLI, I don't know why, but they just don't inspire me in any way.

NLP, good point about the upcoming Mazdaspeed3, but we'll have to see about pricing on that. Should be competative. But again like the Pontiac G6, the Fusion is a mid size car. That's why I didn't mention the Mazdaspeed6.

Great comments so far though.

Mike said...

Well, it blew my ideas out of the water when you added "new cars only..." I was actualy going to suggest a used Focus ZX3 [or even an Escort ZX2] with the 2.0 Zetec and a load of FocusSport goodies.

For some reason I realy like the styling of the Tc. Good lines, good proportions, and I like the look of the stock alloys. That might be my choice.

Does the S40 qualify? Come on give me one US C1 option!

Chuck Smith said...

Every one got their own taste when it comes to cars. Since we all do have an individual differences, different perceptions, and different likes too. You cannot merely tell any one what to have in their lives unless they really want to have them... and it seems every one here is really having a nice choice of cars... and oh, great cars huh! Ford Parts Information

Anonymous said...

You forget , I did pick a Mazda. And can't wait for spring and some dry weather. So far this car rules. In the wet it is on Rails. but the first snow flake and the Bridgestones slide, even with DSC on.

I was going to say wait for the Mazdaspeed3 , but wan't to stick to the list and not be a cheerleader for Mazda on your Blog.


Dotty Gale said...

"Dotty Gale, isn't the G6 considered a mid size car?"
I dunno, it's the smallest thing Pontiac sells. I thought the Cobolt and the G6 were in the same class. I remember looking at the G6 at the dealership and thinking that it looked bigger in the pictures. After looking the stuff up, it weighs in at 3420. That's certainly no sport compact but the Cobalt is only 250 pounds less. Considering the $25k limit though, the G6 squeaks in. If you want to go by how carsdirect.com categorizes stuff then the Cobalt is a compact and a G6 is a mid-sized car.

In the compact cars list I saw the ToyotaPontiac MatixVibe. 164 horses and 2800 pounds. "New Car Test Drive" says that the engine is Buzzy.

JWardell said...

I'm an ex-Foucs enthusiast and a current JCW MINI enthusiast, and i have to agree with most statements.

Ford is slipping. The focus was a great car for its time, but they are really hurting themselves by not bringing the euro focus. It's now way behind others, especially the mazda3.

Of course there are other great supercharged and turbocharged aftermarket options for the focus that do give it that extra power, but the US platform is still dated.

Also: The JCW package for the MINI can now be factory installed.

Big Ford Fan said...

Mike, sorry about blowing out your ideas, but I was focusing on NEW cars. And I'm sorry but Volvo has priced the S40 over the $25k limit. I know the Evo and WRX STI are both over that too, but their performance level is also much higher than the S40R.

BobZoom, sing the praises of Mazda all you want, they are at least under the blue oval roof of brands. Besides, in the context of this post, it's more than appropriate.

Dotty Gale, the G6 is classified as mid size, but for the sake of conversation, it could be considered here. The base model's 200 hp V6 and price of $21K do make it competative, but the GTP it seems can't be found on local dealer lots for less than $26k. As for the Matrix/Vibe twins, well they aren't really coupes, more crossover wagons. I know I mentioned the PT Cruieser and Caliber, but just as alternate homes for the Neon's engine.

Although, that does give me an idea for a future post. HHR/PT/Caliber/Matrix/Vibe/Xa/Xb/Element/CRV/Rav4/Tuscon comparison, and where does Ford fit in? Maybe, we'll see.

Josh, checked your site, nicely done, nice Mini, and sorry about you selling the Focus. But as we both seem to agree, Ford has lost the Sport Compact market.

Bang for the buck still seems to be the Chevy though.

Ben K said...


Regarding the Clio, how do you mean "hold its own?". It might "only" have 182hp but it also only weighs around 2200lbs, giving it far superior power-to-weight than the hp would suggest.

In Australia, the Clio is around AUD$30-35k on-road and the others (that we get) are closer to $40k+.

Big Ford Fan said...

Ben, I hadn't realized that the Clio was so comparatively light. I keep thinking it's closer in size to the Megane and Focus, but I guess it's smaller, maybe closer to a Fiesta. The problem with not seeing these cars here in the US is that you can't tell much about them in pictures. At 2200 lbs with 182 hp, that would mean that the Clio could indeed "hold it's own" in this crowd. And a bargain to boot.

HeftyJo said...

I dunno about the Cobalt. For a small car making 200 H.P. I haven't seen very impressive 1/4 miles times. Probably attributed to the reviews that the shifter is clunky and the clutch is stiff. While it seems to run well and handles good the overall fit and finish of the interior leaves one with much to be desired. For $25,000 I'd probably trade in 25 hp to get into a car that has a good feel to the interior and leaves me with a better feeling of reliability/dependability. Or, just hold off on a car purchase till you save up the extra 5 grand it takes to step into a WRX STI. At least then you get the superior craftsmanship and thumping exhaust note of that engine vs. cheapy interior and the buzzy sounding engine of a Cobalt.