By on December 4, 2018

Continuing sadness. That’s all this writer feels when he gazes at the small car space these days, what with GM culling the Cruze, Ford’s Focus inventory dwindling like SPAM supplies before a hurricane, and the Dodge Dart….well, maybe it’s not all that sad after all.

Meanwhile, departing domestic compact customers aren’t heading over to their foreign competitors in the amount those automakers would like. Honda Civic sales? Down 13.4 percent this year, through the end of November. Toyota’s Corolla, now bolstered by a better hatchback variant? Down 10 percent this year. Hyundai Elantra sales are up, actually, by 4.8 percent, though its volume falls far below that of its Japanese rivals. Nissan Sentra sales are down 3 percent.

So far, the American consumer shows no signs of falling out of love with light trucks of every size and description.

Which brings us to today’s question: with gas prices now trending downwards after an uptick earlier this year, which compact passenger car nameplate will be the last one standing? Changing consumer preferences and market forces could one day leave the new car shopper with no new compact cars to choose from.

This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but look where we are now. Fiat Chrysler’s out of the game. And how many Dodge Shadows and Neons did it once sell? Ford’s packed up and left, too. Our streets were awash in Focuses in the previous decade. General Motors roared out of bankruptcy with the high-MPG Cruze — the first GM compact that didn’t suck, according to many — but now faces enough shrinking demand to warrant a death sentence for Lordstown Assembly.

Image: General Motors

You have to shed a tear for the working class car buyer who’ll soon face fewer options for a cheap car. Still, it’s not as it that buyer doesn’t still have good options. The Civic can be had in three bodystyles and four power flavors. Toyota’s finally getting its ass in gear, bestowing a new, TNGA-platform sedan on us, including a hybrid variant. A new hatch is already on the market, making up for the mediocrity that was the iM.

In this writer’s mind, one of these two nameplates will be the victor (if you can call being the last to die a victory). Volume and name recognition backs up this assertion. You, on the other hand, might have other ideas. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong — maybe the last compact cars alive will be electric, and they won’t come from traditional automakers. This is a chance for you Tesla Model 3 fans to chime in with predictions of doom and gloom in a #disrupted marketplace.

Sound off in the comments.

[Image: Honda, General Motors]

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90 Comments on “QOTD: The Last Compact Car Left Alive?...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Toyota Corolla

    And the 2nd Gen Cruze does suck (at least from my data point of one sample!)…

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    Worldwide? VW Golf

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      That’s the key point: in the long run, it doesn’t matter if any of these cars stop being sold stateside, because they still sell in huge numbers overseas, and the next time there’s a market opportunity for them in the US, a dozen automakers will be in place to sell them here.

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      Worldwide there are also the Golf-based variants, the sub-Fusion Octavia, the “Spanish Alfa Romeo” Leon, the “premium” A3 – which in sedan form is what the A4 used to be.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    It’s a toss up between the Civic and Corolla

    The previous Civic/Corolla platforms and engines ranged in age from a decade to 15 years old. Same with the Camry (and the Accord engine wise)

    They have to recoup. We may see unusually long model cycles, and definitely no new platforms any time soon. I could see all these platforms going through to 2035-2040.

    Oddly enough neither seem very interested in EVs, which I think is a mistake. That is the avenue through which sedans will be revitalized, as the Model 3 is showing.

  • avatar
    KevinB

    As I walk around my 2017 Cruze, I think about my old VW Bug, a couple of Escorts from the Eighties, and even the Festiva I used to own. Then, I wonder when “compact” cars got so damn big.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    Electronic stability control overcame the one major weakness of taller vehicles. Why would anyone want to be forced into a cramped econobox, when they can get more headroom and legroom in a taller vehicle? With Ford, the Escape is so good, they can get rid of the Focus.
    To pick one winner, the Koreans beat the Japanese (and Americans) for value.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      MATT51

      Agree. When your ankles are 5-9 inches or more below your hips (as in a CUV over a car), you are more comfortable. Your recline angle can be closer to 90. And not reduce back seat leg room.

      More comfort in smaller footprint than a car of similar comfort. Then add in the command view. Bye bye cars.

      • 0 avatar
        jatz

        Completely agree. Practicality is quietly winning out over style, handling, or whatever it is some object to in CUVs.

        I’ve been looking at the Ecosport because it has the tallest roof and greatest ground clearance of the segment. Effortless in/out and decent snow immunity (with proper tires) in a garage-friendly package is very tempting.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          You were making sense until you said “I’ve been looking at the Ecosport.”

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            Easiest ingress/egress I’ve yet experienced in the segment, plenty of shoulder and arm room with a winter coat.

            Not a fan of the spare tire delete unless one hangs it on the rear door and I’m trying to determine if the stop/start is defeatable.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            Yup. Ecosport? Gad.

          • 0 avatar
            jatz

            “Yup. Ecosport? Gad.”

            I get that a lot when I mention Ecosport. I would imagine it’s a reaction to the car’s appearance?

            The Ecosport IS the polar opposite of longer-lower-wider, granted. That’s precisely what attracts me and, I guess, hundreds of thousands of other baby-CUV buyers.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @jatz:

            I wasn’t referring as much to the Ecosport’s looks as I was to the way it drives.

            Better stuff’s out there for the same money. Check out a Kona.

            My two cents, of course…YMMV.

    • 0 avatar
      MrKiwi

      “Why would anyone want…”

      * SUVs cost more;
      * To each their own, but I find them less comfortable;
      * I would prefer my next car to have a manual transmission and I don’t like Jeeps.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt51

        Mr Kiwi,
        I bought a new Jeep Renegade in 2017 for $15.7K plus tax and title. It has a manual transmission, air and cruise, and 4 wheel independent suspension. I cross shopped the Ford Escape. It came with automatic, air and cruise, and was running around ~20k plus tax and title. CUV’s for some (but not all) manufacturer’s don’t cost much more, and in some cases no more, than the compact sedans they are replacing. Look at Nissan and the Hyundai/Kia latest offerings. Manual transmissions are about dead, I have resigned myself to their loss.

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          The Escape is a class higher than the Renegade, so that explains your difference. The Compass or Cherokee would be a better comparison.

          • 0 avatar
            Matt51

            I wasn’t complaining about the Escort’s price. I was giving two examples of outstanding bargains in CUV’s. If we look at the Escort, comparably equipped, you won’t save that much buying a Focus.

            The Compass clocks in at about the same price as the Renegade, depending on incentives at the time. The Renegade has more useable interior space, the Compass is about the same size but with different styling, with a more slanting windshield. I liked the Escape, but preferred the Renegade, especially with manual transmission. I would be more than happy with either vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Stability control just prevents the driver from allowing the higher cg to do its thing…it doesn’t give the car a lower cg or roll center.

      Taller vehicles will never handle as well as lower ones.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        Amen, that’s my biggest gripe with the highriders- every turn, it feels like the whole car is about to keel over like Fred Flintstone’s when the carhop sets the plate of ribs on the drive-in tray.
        And if you got that reference you are old.

        • 0 avatar
          jatz

          “keel over like Fred Flintstone’s”

          Marvelous referernce! But the obvious solution to the physics of a higher CG is to drive more sedately.

          Obviously that’s not always possible but when it isn’t the road probably isn’t curving too sharply, anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        “Taller vehicles will never handle as well as lower ones.”

        True, but they don’t have to. They just have to handle well enough, and for most applications, they do. I once had to take evasive maneuvers in a Honda Element traveling downhill at 70 mph. The thing responded better than it had any right to, without the electronic nannies I probably would have been wheels up.

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          nobody drives a car to the limits around corners as the writers and so-called enthusiast say they do.
          having a subaru forester with a turbo never had it driven to its max around corners.
          and the new fords coming to replace the cars…are really the same cars looking like cuvs and suvs.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      Agreed. CUVs are compacts cars with a few more inches of clearance. They get people over their fear of hatchbacks, too.

      And with our infrastructure in increasingly bad shape, a little extra wheel travel is a good idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddie

      I always turn off ESC. If the basic vehicle is a clown car that will tip over when I take a corner at more than walking speed, I don’t want it.

  • avatar
    cicero1

    Its not just SUV and truck preferences. The realty is compact cars sold primarily because they were the cheapest, reliable option. Now cars (of all types) are much better quality and last much longer. Also, the cruze and civic are the size of midsize 80s/early 90s cars.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “A new hatch is already on the market, making up for the mediocrity that was the iM.”

    You really have no idea what you’re talking about.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      A recurring theme with the current staff.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I drove an iM, 28. It was mediocre.

      (And, yes, I’m sure you could drive it for 12,112 years…)

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I drove one today. Power everything except seat, dual zone climate control, made in Japan, timing chain, multiport FI, standard alloys, takes horrible roads with aplomb, quiet, comfortable, and the rear headrests are even removable from my field of vision – details matter (my only beef is no CD player). I take this over everything else domestic/Asian in the small car segment save Lexus and maybe the ILX (assuming all of the Civic was actually upgraded out of it, I haven’t driven one since an MY14). For your small car dollars ya’ll don’t know what you’re missing.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          You’re right about all that, 28…it’s just mediocre to drive. Drive any Corolla back to back with something like a Golf or Civic, and the Toyota’s going to feel like it’s straight outta 1991 (OK, maybe 2000). Mainly I hate the CVT.

          Still, it’d be a good choice for basic transportation, as long as you aren’t into driving.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I didn’t visit Honda but I did try an auto Golf. Def has a more Teutonic “tight” feel but I didn’t notice much overall performance difference (in fairness the dealer doesn’t let you “open up” the demos). The Auris corners well and has decent acceleration, probably not as quick as the Golf but m’eh. I’ve always said, there’s only so much you can do with transverse FWD. Its all kind of the same from a physics standpoint. The big difference from the engagement standpoint would be a stick, which both cars are available with but I bought an auto.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            You get it as a Scion or Toyota? And which color?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The MY18s are badged as Toyotas, white. These things are in short supply on the ground, I had a guy at the auction looking but there are less than 10 MY18s at any given time in the whole country. I had to buy this thing new and it sat for who knows how long.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            The one thing I did notice about the iM, 28, is that it feels better built than the Corolla. Definitely not a bad car, but not the car for me.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I think you did well in the A3. Audi was too rich for my blood.

          • 0 avatar
            deanst

            CVT? You mean they got rid of the beloved 4 speed?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Oh I still have my other cars.

          • 0 avatar
            Fordson

            “there’s only so much you can do with transverse FWD.”

            Yeah, but Toyota hasn’t done it.

          • 0 avatar
            Shoes4Industry

            That was PRECISELY my experience. I rented a 2018 Toyota Corolla to go pick up my new (used) 2017 Golf. I was thinking at the time that the Corolla drove and felt like something at least 20 years old–crappy interior, felt every bump, no pickup whatsoever. The Golf, by comparison, drives like it’s on rails.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      ya, and isn’t the new 3 a stunning car and a sign the compacts are here for just a tad time more?

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    The Cruze will still be made in Mexico.

    Will GM continue to offer it in the US and scoop up some sales?

    OR, will they forego the bad PR such a move would bring on?

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Clearly the Corolla; Toyota is big enough to subsidize it and Honda doesn’t do fleet.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    There will continue to be room in the American market for the Corolla, Civic, Elantra, and probably the Jetta too.

    The last all-American small cars were the Saturn S-series and the Dodge Neon. Both had flaws, but neither one sucked. And if you’re too young to have driven one, don’t bother replying.

  • avatar
    woj1s

    Roads are horrible. Why do I want a small vehicle that kids thrown around while commuting to work. Ive had to replace three low profile tires this year alone from potholes. I need those big beefy SUV tires to handle whats out there.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It’s your five grand…

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I wouldn’t necessarily correlate CUVs, or heck even BOF and Pickups with fatter more durable tires, as anything mid-upper trim and higher has absurd low-pro tires as stock. Conversely sticking to the lower end of the price, it’s still entire possible to find sedans with very decent 65 series sidewalls. But for truly treacherous roads I agree there is a certain comfort in driving a BOF truck/SUV with an overbuilt suspension and nice fat 70 series tires. My wife has to commute through some not-so-nice parts of town (with corresponding horrible infrastructure) at odd hours for work, she’s a prime candidate to be one of those petite ladies bunkered up in a serious SUV for commuting duty. Thankfully her Camry has only suffered one blowout from a pothole in the last 2 years, and I was there within 20 minutes to get her back on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      …or buy new <= 16in wheels. Last I checked truck tires are kinda pricey, not to mention trucks are equally pricey. What's a set of wheels and tires cost in comparison?

  • avatar
    scott25

    I’m more curious to see how many manufacturers will discontinue models in US but continue to offer compact cars in Canada, since they’ve always been more important parts of their lineup up here. The Focus won’t be missed since it was a minor player, but if the Cruze is discontinued it’ll have major repercussions.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      I bet they will continue to offer the Cruze in Canada.

      Fuel there costs considerably more. The GST (sales taxes, Federal + Province) are 15% in Ontario, so cars cost more.

      Canadians have higher taxes withheld, so their take home is less, and wages tend to be a little lower.

      So small cars are much more important there.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Add in the Quebec factor. Where their tastes are very much European, preferring small hatchbacks with no A/C, and manual transmissions.

        Then the fact that so many Canadians, despite the geographic size of the country live either in the strip of land from Kingston Ontario to Niagara Falls Ontario, or in the Greater Vancouver Area and you have a high degree of urban driving/drivers, who need only a ‘city car’.

        The rest of the population prefer and/or need pick-ups, and I believe that the percentage of F-150’s sold in these parts of Canada is even higher than in the USA.

      • 0 avatar
        deanst

        It’s actually 13%.

    • 0 avatar
      BunkerMan

      Here in NB, the Cruze isn’t that popular. Civics, Corollas, and Elantras rule the small car world.

      Now that gas has dipped below $1/L in my area and there is snow on the ground, the SUV and truck purchasing will likely increase again, for a while anyway.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Is the Sonic (nee Aveo) still considered a compact car? (It’s far too close in size to a Cruze, IMO.)

    If it is, I would say it’s one of the last men standing; a zippy hatchback and a tall sedan. I haven’t looked at one lately, but they used to have the same engine choices as the Cruze (again, far too close) and the RS (hatch) variant that is/was a pretty decent runner.

    Still made in the states, Lake Orion, MI, along with the Bolt. Last summer I helped a young man negotiate the car buying process, one of the standout new cars was the Sonic, in terms of value. Unfortunately, his credit and his patience to fix said credit was too short, so he ended up in a used car anyway.

  • avatar
    TheDutchGun

    I expect Civic, corolla, golf, Elantra will continue to sell well enough.

    The smaller models like Yaris, fit, accent may not have a reason to exist.

    For me it kinda depends on what happens with oil/fuel. Right now the gas price here in the capital of Canada is under $1/litre. How long will it last though?

  • avatar
    bobmaxed

    I’m driving a sub-compact now and its as big of a car as I need. It is a hatchback. I’m resigned to the fact that there’s nothing currently available to replace my Fiesta ST (if it would die tomorrow). So I’ll move up to a Compact. The styling of the Civic hatch is just too bizarre. So #1 on my current list is a Corolla XSE hatch. Disclaimer: I am a long time Toyota Fan. Have never owned a Honda

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      You owe it to yourself to at least drive the Civic.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The new Corolla Hatch is pretty nice, I didn’t care for the Ipad grafted onto the dash though (also didn’t care for the body kit being integrated with the muffler).

    • 0 avatar
      boozysmurf

      The Civic has grown on me in terms of looks – I think SportyAccordy has it right, at least drive it.

      If a sporty hatchback is your choice (and that’s a fine choice) Hyundai/Kia do make the ElantraGTSport/Forte5 in lil’ turbo modes – basically hatchbacks of the (reputedly) excellent Elantra Sport, and the Veloster if you want a bit smaller (but only marginally after the most recent redesign, it appears). At the very least, worth a drive, even if you end up not liking ’em. Golf GTI isn’t an untenable solution for fun hatchback’s, either, and I don’t think any of the above are going away in the near future.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Despite the protestations of the B&B the small hatch is not the most utilitarian/useful vehicle.

    Most are too small/cramped in the back seat. Require a contortionist to fit and remove child seats and kids in those seats. Are too low for the more mature driver to get into and out of. And now lack headroom.

    The ‘raised’ or ‘high’ hatch could be a good compromise. But the Elantra Touring, Scion Xb, Kia Rondo and Mazda 5 all died on the sales floor. The Mazda even advertised its ‘driving dynamics’ and available MT. Only the Matrix/Vibe succeeded longterm and primarily due to its ‘Toyotaness’.

    That leaves only one hatch standing. As James May said, the only vehicle that the world needs, the VW Golf. Available in many hatch guises, from stripped to ‘very hot hatch’. Also available as a wagon. And as a wagon with AWD. And with a MT. And in previous generations even taking the form of a small pick-up and having a trunk attached to replace the hatch.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      Isn’t the Golf a small hatchback?

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        1) In the world of hatches not ‘small’.
        2) A higher roofline than many other hatches.

        And more to the point, how many of the B&B drive/own/endorse the Golf?
        What are its North American sales figures like?

        • 0 avatar
          tomLU86

          Who are the “B & B”?

          I will say, the Golf is an excellent car–probably the best all-around car (though you can’t tow or seat six or throw mulch in it)

          I wish more other people bought them, so other car makers would emulate it.

          I have one, but it’s from a different era (1986)

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Agreed, though to be fair the small hatches of today are much bigger than the Accords, Civics and Golfs that put imports on the map in the US.

      The thing is, once people were granted the option to drive cars that were easy to get in and out of and see out of, they took it. The B&B’s litany of ad hominems…. “people only buy crossovers for style…. people only buy crossovers to look rugged” have gone from comical to downright absurd. When someone buys a sports car or an equally unnecessary V90 wagon they’re celebrated, regardless of “need”. But when the excesses aren’t B&B approved, the pitchforks get sharpened and the tiki torches get lit.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Who remembers the Accord hatchback? At least in Canada originally more popular than the sedan.

        @tomLU86: was that a rhetorical question or are you new to TTAC?

  • avatar
    DearS

    Current Corolla, Civic and Mazda 3 are so nice, reliable and affordable its sad to see sales going down. At least new CUVs have the same drive train.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    @Jatz,

    The Ecosport isn’t good value IMO. It’s practically the size of a shopping cart (with a roof), if it was close to $10k it may be worth considering, but not for the money that Ford wants for it..

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    I drove an Escape last week, honestly the thing freaking hustles and has some poke. No idea why anyone would want anything smaller or lower, it’s damn near the perfect small vehicle for day to day life.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    Gas prices may have dropped over the past couple of months, but inevitably they will climb again. I am enjoying the 30c/L drop in my area since September, but that hasn’t stopped me from shopping around for a more efficient vehicle to replace my ageing V6 sedan.

    I’m considering an Elantra GT or a Corolla hatchback to replace my car, and a midsize truck (likely a Ranger) to replace my F150.

    As for the last cars standing, from what I see locally, Civic, Corolla, and Elantra in that order.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Mazda just releases its brand new 2019 ‘3’ this week, and already it’s been forgotten and you all are arguing over Civics, Corollas, and Elantras.

    The 3 is the better car all around. I drove ’em all, and bought a 2018.

    Just had a rental Corolla for a recent trip…and was reminded of just how glad I am I didn’t go that route.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    When this generation of Civic arrived, it was astonishing how many were sold so quickly. Overnight the streets became filled with them. Now seeing more Elantras and Fortes, but barely ever see a new Golf. Mind you Alberta is a weird market – Trucks, trucks, trucks, German lease-bait, CUVs and Civics are pretty much the whole market.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      > When this generation of Civic arrived, it was astonishing how many were sold so quickly.

      A few factors for that:

      – The large number of Honda drivers, dealer and independent mechanics, built in market momentum
      – At the time, the 170 bhp turbo motor was exciting for a mass market compact and caught on in a way that the Mazda 2.5L never did.
      – Pricing was competitive for what you were getting
      – The relative scarcity of the Fit makes the low end Civic a better option for a lot of people
      – The divergence of the Accord from its historic mission as a family hauler makes the top-trim civics essentially the new Accords of today.

      So basically the Civic and Corolla will be the last of mainstream mass market compacts, mostly because they can cannibalize other segments within their own respective families. In Canada the Mazda3 does well, but up until now it wasn’t space efficient to really be an alternative to a downsizing Mazda6 customer.

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