Part 1- The Winners
Whether you call them econo-misers, fuel-sippers, or kei cars, the subcompact category gets a bad rap outside of the Asian market. The North American market is particularly hard on the entire class of cars, mainly due to a dedication to large engines and spacious cabins, as well as the copious amount of open rural areas throughout the market. Despite this prejudice, there is a thriving market for subcompact vehicles, especially in large urban areas. As such, buyers need to be aware of the models that are the best to buy and those that under-perform. To that end, we have ranked several subcompact models from best to worst based on quality and owner feedback. The nomenclature is heavily slanted toward the North American and European markets, but Asian badging is mentioned for reference. Additionally, the list is rather long, so we have broken this blog into two separate posts for your reading convenience.
The Scion iA tops out list mainly because it is a very fun car to drive. It features a peppy 1.5L(1496cc) I4 engine that produces a modest 106 bhp. The engine is often paired to a six-speed automatic, but a six-speed manual is available. The iA is rated for 42 mpg(17.8 km/l) on the highway. All Scion iA units are standard with a low-speed pre-collision safety system, Bluetooth connectivity, and seven-inch touch-screen infotainment, plus Scion offers many fun options for personalization. The Scion iA is known as the Mazda2, Mazda Demio, and Toyota Yaris in other markets.
The Honda Fit, as with the Scion iA, features a responsive 1.5L(1496cc) I4. The Fit offers 130 bhp, a tad more than the Scion, and is paired to a six-speed manual transmission, but a CVT is available. The Fit is frequently equipped with an i-VTEC engine that offers direct injection, an intake cam using continuously variable cam phasing and a variable lift dual cam lobe profile. The overall effect is a responsive subcompact car that offers its owner up to 40 mpg(17 km/l) on the highway. The Fit offers many of the options you would expect from a Honda, but adds the potential for 53 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. The only reason the Fit isn’t in first place is the slightly lower fuel rating. The Honda Fit is sold as the Honda Jazz outside of North America and Europe.
Ford has long been known for its fuel misers. When you think back to the Ford Escort, you get chills…not with excitement, but because it was so underpowered. The Fiesta is the exact opposite. The base models are powered by a 1.2L(1198cc) engine that offers an immediate, fun response when you touch the gas pedal. There is a turbocharged 1.0L I3 available as an option that provides 123 bhp. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but a six-speed automatic is available. The Fiesta performs much better when equipped with a manual transmission, from a driver’s perspective anyway. Highway numbers for the Fiesta are great, with the manually equipped versions offering up to 36 mpg(15.3 km/l). The Fiesta nameplate is most commonly used around the world, but some markets may see the Ford Ikon and Ford Classic badging.
When most buyers think of Chevrolet subcompact offerings, they are immediately reminded of the Chevette. To buy a Chevette was to invite ridicule but the last laugh was on the joker. There are Chevettes still being used as daily drivers with more than 300,000 km on the odometer: without the engine having to be rebuilt! The latest economic offering from the bowtie is the Sonic. Offered in hatchback or sedan, the Sonic features strong lines and agile handling. Add to that a wide palette of youthful colors, an up-to-date infotainment and safety systems, as well as two strong engines choices and you have a car that is attractive to multiple demographics. Buyers may be tempted by the larger 1.8L(1796cc) engine, but the 1.4L(1398cc) turbocharged engine is the more responsive, having a better torque curve. The turbo is especially fun when it is paired to either of the manual transmission options. The Chevrolet Sonic is also sold as the Chevrolet Aveo and Holden Barina.
Hyundai has been building the Accent since 1994, when it replaced the Hyundai Excel. Over time, Hyundai has carefully built a reputation for cars that are affordable and practical, eventually becoming stylish and comfortable as well. The Accent is the embodiment of that reputation. Powered by a 1.6L(1591cc) engine that is perky and amazingly responsive, especially when paired to the available six-speed manual transmission, the Accent offers owners up to 38 mpg(16.2 km/l). Then there is the standard 10 year/100,000 mile warranty to consider. On the downside, the Accent is not luxuriously appointed, featuring a number of cheap feeling interior plastics.
The very name makes you think this is a peppy little spark plug of a car. It is not. This is your basic fuel efficient, urban transporter. It is powered by a smallish 1.2L(1199cc) engine that only delivers 84 bhp. The Spark can be somewhat fun to drive if you pair the 1.2L with a five-speed manual, but the CVT versions, while good cars, are bland to drive. The Spark does outshine some of the competition by offering great legroom and 31 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down. Throw in fuel efficiency that tops 39 mpg(16.6 km/l) on the highway and you can see how the Spark made the top half of our list. The Spark has been sold under several names around the globe, but by 2010 badging had returned to the Chevrolet brand and it is currently sold as the Spark worldwide.
This is where our list begins to take a more jaded perspective and is; therefore, a great place to end this first entry. We hope to see you perusing the second entry, if for no other reason than to find subcompact cars to avoid.