While Kei cars may get made fun of in some areas for their small size, there is a thriving market for subcompact vehicles even in the West, 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 reviewed several subcompact models based on quality and owner feedback.
Mazda Demio (Scion iA)
The Mazda Demio, a.k.a. 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 Demio units are standard with a low-speed pre-collision safety system, Bluetooth connectivity, and seven-inch touch-screen infotainment, plus Demio offers many fun options for personalization. The Demio is known as the Mazda2, Scion iA, and Toyota Yaris in other markets.
The Honda Fit, as with the Mazda Demio, 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.
The Fiesta 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. 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. 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 that 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 engine 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. Its fuel consumption averages at a combined 29mpg (12.3 km/l) for city and highway.
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.
Chevrolet Spark (Daihatsu Matiz)
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 is especially fun to drive if you pair the 1.2L with a five-speed manual, and the CVT versions are good, practical cars. 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.
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