There’s good news for those in the market for a small car, according to the editors of Consumer Reports. The better ones are appealing not only because they’re stingy with fuel. Unlike cheap economy cars of yesteryear, modern small cars have amenities and safety features that are usually expected on larger cars.
CR recently tested five subcompact cars, including the Honda Fit, the most practical and enjoyable car in the group. The Fit became a hot-selling vehicle when gasoline prices topped $4 per gallon. A redesigned and slightly larger Fit arrived in the fall, and it improves on the space-efficient formula that made the last one such a hit with buyers. With cargo capacity rivaling that of a small SUV, the Fit has a clever interior with a backseat that can fold different ways to accommodate long cargo or bulky items.
The rest of the cars in the group are updates of previously tested models. Some are notable, though none stands out. The Nissan Versa is based on a design from French carmaker Renault. It’s relatively quiet and comfortable, and it feels more substantial than its size or price would suggest. CR previously tested a hatchback Versa, so they chose a sedan this time. They also tested a Suzuki SX4 sedan, having previously bought an AWD hatchback. The Suzuki is less refined, but reliability has been excellent. Rounding out the group are hatchback versions of the Toyota Yaris (now with standard antilock-brake system) and the freshened Chevrolet Aveo.
Prices ranged from $16,020 for the base Fit to $17,378 for the Suzuki SX4. The Fit and SX4 are the only models CR can recommend. The Yaris and Aveo scored too low in CR’s road tests to be recommended; the Versa sedan’s reliability is much worse than average.
CR’s other findings include:
Honda Fit. The Fit seems roomier on the inside than might be expected, with an interior that is unusually versatile and flexible. It has easy cabin access and a panoramic view out. It also comes well equipped and has comfortable seating. Lightness and agility make it fun to drive, the powertrain is smooth and willing, and fuel economy is enviable. Reliability is likely to be very good.
Chevrolet Aveo. Despite recent updates, the South Korean-built Aveo remains unpleasant, outdated and overpriced for what the buyer gets. Apart from its tight turning circle, there’s not much good to say about it. It’s not even fuel efficient. Acceleration is slow, the engine is rough and noisy, handling is clumsy, and the ride is jumpy. Fuel economy is lousy for the class, and on top of all that, reliability has been below average.
Nissan Versa. Among subcompacts, the Versa seems almost like a luxury car, with a nicely made, well-appointed interior. It rides pleasantly and quietly, and the powertrain feels refined. The rear seat is enormous for a small car. Handling is sound but not really agile, and it’s tricky at the limits. Its 27-mpg fuel economy is not impressive. Reliability has been average for the hatchback but much below average for the sedan.
Suzuki SX4. The Suzuki SX4 was conceived as a subcompact, but in price and fuel economy, it really competes more closely with cars one size bigger. High points include easy cabin access, good visibility through large windows, and a very spacious trunk. The SX4’s ride comfort, handling and noise suppression are nothing to brag about. But reliability has been excellent.
Toyota Yaris. The Yaris is ideal for tight spaces, making it a good city car. It gets very good fuel economy and has some nice interior touches such as a rear seat that adjusts fore and aft and three glove compartments. Handling is responsive but can be tricky at the limits. Although reliability has been first-rate, the Yaris scores too low in CR’s tests to recommend.
Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.