Subcompact hatchbacks comparison:
A decade ago, someone seeking a subcompact car in the United States would have been largely out of luck.
Hyundai and Kia were the most successful, selling the unapologetically basic Accent and Rio. The Toyota Echo was struggling economical but clumsy-handling and generally rather odd. Daewoo was selling the last Lanos models before its unceremonious exit from the U.S. market.
And that was about it. Ford and General Motors sold subcompacts in the 1990s, but each had dumped them by 2002. Honda, Mazda and Nissan went no smaller than the Civic, Protege and Sentra. The few available tiny cars were largely relegated to buyers who could afford no better.
Today, a subcompact car is expected from a full-line automaker – the absence of one is notable, rather than the presence of one. The 10 five-door hatchbacks collected for this comparison don’t even represent every available choice in the class. (The Nissan Cube and Suzuki SX4 didn’t stand out enough in a previous drives to be invited back as No. 11 and 12.)
The subcompact class has changed by more than the number of models competing in it. Innovations in space efficiency and increased attention to design detail help the market’s smallest cars shed their old stigma of undesirability – and prices increased correspondingly.
Amidst all the turnover in the market, though, Hyundai and Kia remain the most successful in 2012. Today’s Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio – the winner and runner-up in this comparison, respectively – have adapted from the basic transportation they once were (indeed, as they still were in 2011) without completely abandoning the relative affordability that earned their original success. And Kia’s slightly larger Soul (third place) also impresses for its newly improved balance of space, value and fuel efficiency.
At the other end of the spectrum, Toyota is still too close to the 2002 Echo with its newly redesigned 2012 Yaris. All automakers have taken great strides in improving the comfort, refinement and driving dynamics of their subcompacts, but the Yaris’ insubstantial feel isn’t far enough removed from subcompacts of old.
Other 2012 subcompact hatchbacks in this comparison include:
-the Chevrolet Sonic, which recently replaced the Aveo for the 2012 model year.
-the Ford Fiesta, which brought an upscale feel to the class when it debuted as a 2011 model.
-the Honda Fit, which offers better functionality than any other subcompact and even some SUVs.
-the Mazda2, a small and small-engined but sporty car introduced to the U.S. for 2011.
-the Nissan Juke, an SUV-like oddball with a turbo engine and unmistakable styling, introduced for 2011.
-the Scion xD, a competent but unassuming model that dates to 2008.
See more information and the ranking order for all 10 cars in this comparison in today’s slideshow, and visit the ranking summary page for a more details on how the models stack up. Also check back over the coming days for full reviews and photo galleries of each of these 10 models.
Next article: Ranking summary