I know this is gonna sound a bit wacky, but I've been in the market recently for something new. My preferences are pretty clear: Manual, sunroof, reasonably fun to drive, good MPGs.
After doing a bit of research on EVERYTHING and setting up a price budget, I'm basically down to three cars...all three in different size categories.
Chevy Sonic RS
Ford Focus Titanium
Honda Accord Sport
I consider each of these cars to be the best of best in their respective classes. After driving all three (and various trim levels of each model) my results were a bit surprising.
Let's get the pros and cons out of the way first
Chevy Sonic RS: The pocket rocket on a budget
-Styling, its a cute, small, attractive and surprisingly sporty little car, especially with the RS upgrades
-Shifter, it is awesome, I mean awesome and I'm a Honda guy who currently drives an Accord 5MT
-Fun factor, driving it around town was a breeze and quite fun too! The most fun car of the bunch
-Room, its definitely roomier than the Fiesta and gives the Focus a run for its money too
-Pricing, its a few thousand cheaper than the rest of the cars in the group but is well equipped considering the size and feature content
-MyLink System...its not fancy by any means but its much easier to use than MyFordTouch and it offers Pandora
-Interior design and materials are almost up to "compact" car standards, its not fancy but its very nice for the price
-No push button start, its a subcompact so I can't expect too much feature wise, but Fiesta and Rio offer it.
-No rear view camera, could be handy for Chicago's tight parking
-No CD player with MyLink, guess I'll have to rely on the Ipod
-No actual Navigation, just turn by turn
-MPGs, EPA rated it is the worst of the bunch actually, surprisingly
Focus Titanium: The sensible choice
-Styling, to me its the looker of the three, especially with the Titanium Handling pkg and the 18 inch alloy wheels
-Interior materials/design, its got the best materials in the class and has better materials than even the Accords I've driven
-Feature content GALORE, dual-zone a/c, navigation, power seat, nice leather seats, push button start
-Handling, it handles very well, feels very solid and european
-Overall quality feel, solid doors with a nice "thud" to them, germanic style controls
-Rebates...I qualify for nearly $3700 in Ford rebates at the moment...its icing on the cake.
-MyFord Touch is glitchy, does not have Pandora capabilities and the HD stations don't come in that great. Sound otherwise is impressive for a Sony system, I loved it honestly.
-No projector beams, HIDs or LED taillights, considering the Dart has these and so does the Focus ST, I'd like to see Ford add them soon, probably for the refresh I suppose.
-Rear seat is somewhat tight
-Manual shifter, more sensitive and vague feeling that the Sonic's and not as light and easy to use as the Accord's.
Honda Accord Sport: Almost doesn't count
-Room, its huge in there
-Ease of controls, very intuitive and easy to use
-Power, I love the take off, the power, the shifter feel, its very "honda-like" in feel and precision.
-The sport looks awesome...amazing what a set of 18s and lip spoiler can do for the otherwise pedestrian looking Accord
-Impressive list of equipment for an essentially base model car (dual zone auto ac, pandora, backup camera, etc.)
-Resale Value, its a Honda, nuff said
-It sounds AWESOME, like 6MT/V6 coupe awesome
-Lack of higher sport trim levels...lacks sunroof, leather or push button start, navigation or even sat. radio that higher trim levels have. Blame this on Honda's rigid packaging. I had a salesmen offer to add a sunroof and leather with heaters for about $2000...i don't trust aftermarket sunroofs.
-Interior design the least appealing of the bunch
-Color choices...Honda restricts the Sport 6MT to two colors..Modern Steel and Crystal Black...all the good colors aren't available with the MT in the US
-Gauges are a bit blah
Focus has the nod by a hair, if it had a better shifter there would be no question who would lead. In spite of its minor issues (MyFordTouch being the main one) I just felt more at home in the Focus. The Sonic is a super close second and that's surprising considering it costs almost $3000 less than the Focus. The Sonic is an awesome car though but the MPG worries me with Chicago gas prices $3.80-4/gallon. Its interior, while very very nice for the class is not as nice as the Focus. The Accord comes in last mainly because of packaging issues. I'd buy a Sport tomorrow if I could get it equipped like an Accord EX-L but with the Sport's looks and Honda's 6MT. There have been lots of complaints about the Sport trim's lack of options on several sites so maybe Honda will address it?
Simply put the Focus gives me everything I already have in my Accord EX-L with more and it has an interior that to me is nicer than my Accords. The pricing after rebates is reasonable and its relatively fun to drive.
My current car needs shocks and struts, a new clutch, motor mounts and the power window on the driver's side is no longer working. She's been a good car and with 156K miles it time to getting traded for something new...right now it looks like it is probably going to be a Focus...gonna see how much longer it can hold out before I pull the trigger.
Have a great weekend guys!