Subcompact hatchbacks comparison:
A week in the 2012 Kia Rio and another in the 2010 Scion xD, along with back-to-back test drives of eight of their five-door competitors, has produced an overall ranking order that ranges from the behind-the-times Toyota Yaris to the all-around solid Hyundai Accent.
But the overall winner of a comparison test isn’t necessarily the best car for your particular wants and needs. Each of the cars in this comparison has specific compromises, and most have at least one particular customer whose needs they would match very well.
See the summaries and ratings of these 10 hatchbacks for particular sets of attributes below, and visit the slideshow on the left for car-by-car “report card” summaries of those rankings.
Comfort and luxury:
10. Honda Fit: C
It’s never uncomfortable, but the Fit isn’t as smooth, quiet or solid-feeling as a growing number of competitors. Inside, some interior trim feels insubstantial and there’s no extra padding for the roomy seats.
9. Mazda2: C+
Drivers sit comfortably on well-bolstered seats and the Mazda2 feels more solid on the highway than the Honda Fit. But the interior feels basic and the engine gets noisy on the highway.
8. Toyota Yaris: B-
The Yaris’ score represents a mixed bag – very comfortable seats and a high-quality, if not upscale, interior are offset by a noisy engine and an over-light feel on the highway.
7. Scion xD: B-
The xD doesn’t stand out for better or for worse for its seat comfort, interior quality, and driving dynamics refinement. It doesn’t approach the more upscale models in this class, but it also stays a clear cut above old-school subcompacts.
6. Ford Fiesta: B
A premium ambiance was supposed to be a chief selling point in the Fiesta, and it largely achieves that with generally impressive interior materials and a solid feel to its driving dynamics. But the seats are hard and flat, some interior assembly is shaky, and harsh engine noise accompanies acceleration.
5. Chevrolet Sonic: B
The Sonic has excellent seats and a smooth ride, but interior materials feel low-rent and the engine can be noisy and unpleasant.
4. Kia Soul: B+
Though dimensions say otherwise, the Soul has the look and feel of a car a class above most subcompact hatchbacks, most notably for its roomy interior. Ride quality and noise levels aren’t outstanding even by subcompact standards, though.
3. Nissan Juke: B+
Like the Kia Soul, the Juke feels like it was designed to meet higher standards than the subcompact norm – it just doesn’t always do so.
2. Hyundai Accent: A-
Though it never seeks the luxury feel of the Rio, the Accent is all-around comfortable and pleasant – a standard not regularly achieved in this class.
1. Kia Rio: A
The Rio has a persistent sense of polish: class-leading interior quality; no noise or vibration at idle; and a smooth-sounding engine. There’s some excess road noise and the ride isn’t exactly cushy, though both are better without the available “sport suspension.”
10. Toyota Yaris: D+
Though it’s smooth-riding and maneuverable, weak acceleration and numb steering sap driving pleasure from the Yaris.
9. Chevrolet Sonic: C+
Pleasant but forgettable, with slow steering response – particularly at lower speeds – robbing the Sonic of its inherent small-car agility. The standard 1.8-liter engine doesn’t add much to the experience.
8. Kia Soul: B-
Although it’s punchier than some competitors, the Soul never feels like it has nearly the promised 163 horsepower. Decent handling but numb steering round out the package.
7. Kia Rio: B-
The Rio has a peppy engine and decent handling, but the steering feels unnatural and, disconcertingly, takes its time to center itself as you come out of a curve. Even with the available “sport suspension,” sporty it is not.
6. Scion xD: B
The xD is peppy at low speeds and handles nimbly, but the four-speed automatic transmission makes the car feel strained under harder acceleration and there isn’t much steering feel.
5. Hyundai Accent: B
The Accent shares the Kia Rio’s relatively strong acceleration but not its steering quirks. It’s never quite sporty, but it hits all “drives well” metrics.
4. Honda Fit: B
Push the Fit hard around a corner and you’ll find unexpected zest to its driving dynamics. Ordinarily, the light steering doesn’t have outstanding response or feel, distracting little attention from a less-than-zippy engine.
3. Ford Fiesta: B
Weak acceleration hurts the overall package, but the Fiesta impresses for offering a stable straight-line ride and decent handling. Like the Honda Fit, though, the Fiesta does tend to come alive only when driven hard.
2. Nissan Juke: A-
Its turbocharged engine doesn’t deliver as much thrust as expected, and handling isn’t sports-car agile. Even so, the Juke delivers a higher level of performance than the subcompact norm.
1. Mazda2: A-
Outstanding steering and handling make the Mazda2 fun to drive, and its tight, responsive feel at low speeds makes it by far the most enjoyable car in crowded urban conditions. A lack of power will be a deal-breaker for some, though – the 100-horsepower engine is geared to be peppy off the line, but its small size can only be disguised for so long.
10. Ford Fiesta: D+
Cargo capacity is tight even for a small car, the rear seat doesn’t fold flat or flush with the cargo floor, and the car has room for only two adults to sit comfortably. All five-door hatchbacks have inherent versatility, but the others do better than the Fiesta.
9. Mazda2: C-
The Mazda2 gives up a bit of cargo capacity to the Ford Fiesta, but it has a more adult-friendly rear seat that folds more easily. Most of the Ford’s faults apply here too, however.
8. Nissan Juke: C-
A high cargo floor makes room for the optional all-wheel-drive and a low roof makes room for distinctive looks, cramping cargo volume and rear seat headroom. But the rear seat folds flat easily, the cargo hold has plenty of floor space, and the rear seat can fit three adults better than most in this class – albeit without much headroom.
7. Toyota Yaris: C
The Yaris has similar interior volume to the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2, but its rear seat can fold flush with the cargo floor. The rigid cargo cover removes more easily than in competing models.
6. Kia Rio: C
Although printed specifications impress, the Rio’s cargo volume doesn’t stand out in this class, and its rear seat doesn’t fold flush with the cargo floor. Passenger space is good but not outstanding.
5. Hyundai Accent: C+
Many of the same concerns apply to the Accent as to the Rio, though the Hyundai has slightly room than the Kia. The cargo cover is finicky to remove.
4. Scion xD: C+
Its cargo space stacks up quite poorly on paper, but the xD has a usable cargo hold and good passenger space. The rear seat folds approximately flat and can adjust fore-aft.
3. Chevrolet Sonic: B-
The Sonic has a usefully boxy and decently roomy cargo hold and a usable rear seat. The rear seat folds flat, and the rigid cargo cover can pivot out of the way when it’s not needed.
2. Kia Soul: B+
A high cargo floor makes loading a little more difficult than one might hope, but there’s little else to fault in the Soul’s practicality. The spacious interior has plenty of passenger and cargo space, and the rear seat drops easily flat – as much, one might think, as could be reasonably expected in this class.
1. Honda Fit: A
The Fit throws off reasonable expectations, cramming a seemingly impossible amount of room into a tiny package and making it easy to configure that volume in various ways. With cargo space that rivals some SUVs and a rear seat that can either flip up or fold flat, it makes the perfectly good competition look terrible in comparison. A bit more floor space behind the rear seat would bump the Fit to a perfect score here.
4. Mazda2: C+
The Mazda2 hasn’t yet been tested by NHTSA, but it was judged only Acceptable by the IIHS for side-impact protection and for preventing whiplash in a rear-end collision – the top score of Good is the norm today even among subcompacts.
3. Hyundai Accent: B
Although the Accent earned four out of five stars in NHTSA crash testing, its score of Acceptable in the IIHS side-impact crash test is disappointing.
2. Ford Fiesta: A-
The Fiesta is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, meaning it scored Good in each of four tests, and it earned four out of five stars overall from NHTSA.
1. Chevrolet Sonic: A+
The Sonic earned perfect scores from the IIHS and NHTSA.
*Few subcompacts have yet been fully crash-tested. The Honda Fit, Kia Soul, Nissan Juke, Scion xD and Toyota Yaris are IIHS Top Safety Picks but haven’t been tested by NHTSA as of this writing; neither organization has tested the Kia Rio.
10. Nissan Juke: D+
Although fuel economy estimates are class-competitive at an estimated 29 miles per gallon in mixed driving, the Juke’s fuel costs increase when you factor in its need for premium fuel.
9. Chevrolet Sonic: C-
At 28 miles per gallon in mixed driving, the Sonic’s EPA fuel economy estimates are the class’s lowest. A higher-mileage engine is also available, but only with a manual transmission.
8. Kia Soul: C
After improvements for the 2012 model year, the Soul is rated for 26 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 miles per gallon in mixed driving. Base models feature a smaller, thriftier engine.
7. Scion xD: C
The xD is rated for 29 miles per gallon in mixed driving, beating the Kia Soul in the city but earning a lower highway rating.
6. Honda Fit: C+
Despite identical city and highway ratings to the Scion xD when rounded, the Fit is rated for 30 miles per gallon in mixed driving instead of the Scion’s 29.
5. Mazda2: B-
The Mazda2 earned EPA ratings of 28 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway, and 30 mpg overall.
4. Toyota Yaris: A-
The Yaris is rated for 30 miles per gallon in the city, 35 miles per gallon on the highway, and 32 miles per gallon in mixed driving.
3. Ford Fiesta: A
Because lower-mileage city driving consumes more fuel, the Fiesta’s 39 mile per gallon highway rating is pulled down by its rating of 29 miles per gallon in the city to only beat the Toyota Yaris by 1 mpg in mixed driving. A higher-mileage “SFE” version boosts highway mileage to 40 mpg but it would be hard to recoup the extra cost.
2. Hyundai Accent: A+
The Accent and the mechanically identical Kia Rio tie for most-fuel-efficient subcompact, with ratings of 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.
1. Kia Rio: A+
The Rio has identical EPA ratings to the Hyundai Accent, but gets the tiniest of edges in these rankings for its available system (not included on the tested model) that shuts off the engine at idle.
10. Nissan Juke: D+
A base-model no-options Juke is still pricey for a subcompact at an estimated $19,364 out the door, but it’s already comparably equipped to nearly loaded competitors in this comparison with just its standard equipment.
9. Scion xD: C+
Expensive options and no-haggle pricing count against the xD, which comes out at $18,383 comparably-equipped to the competition. But the more options you’re willing to pass on – such as factory-equipped alloy wheels, Bluetooth and floor mats – the more you can shave off that amount.
8. Honda Fit: B-
High demand means you can’t expect to haggle too much off the Fit’s reasonable sticker price; you’d likely pay just under $18,000 for a well-equipped model.
7. Kia Soul: B-
The Soul runs an estimated $17,554 out-the-door nicely equipped but missing the options package that includes Kia’s new “UVO” infotainment system.
6. Toyota Yaris: B-
The estimated transaction price for the Yaris undercuts the comparably equipped Soul’s by an entire dollar.
5. Kia Rio: B
Although the tested Rio is slightly more money than the Soul, at an estimated $17,606 out the door, it does include UVO and a rearview camera at that price; they come bundled as part of a larger package.
4. Chevrolet Sonic: B
A nicely equipped Sonic 2LT has an estimated transaction price of $17,019.
3. Hyundai Accent: B+
A top-of-the-line Accent SE model, comparably equipped to others in this comparison, costs an estimated $16,906 out the door.
2. Ford Fiesta: B+
The Fiesta’s estimated out-the-door price is $16,897, with dealers apparently more willing to haggle on this model than on competing subcompacts.
1. Mazda2: B+
A fully-loaded Mazda2 costs $16,689 out the door, less than the comparably equipped competition. But most cars in this comparison are roughly the same price.
*The prices reflect a vehicle equipped as with power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; alloy wheels; and an automatic transmission – or the closest available match. Listed figures are estimated out-the-door transaction prices.
10. Toyota Yaris: C
It’s pleasant inside and fuel efficient, but the Yaris’s powertrain and driving dynamics are too old-school economy car for its to command modern economy car prices.
9. Nissan Juke: B-
The Juke sacrifices fuel savings to its punchy turbocharged engine, gives up cargo room for unique styling, and is costly for its size. But the Juke blends sporty driving dynamics, just enough usability, and a hearty dose of uniqueness to be a successful niche car – though it’s decidedly unsuccessful as a mainstream subcompact hatchback.
8. Scion xD: B
Despite its age, the xD remains solidly middle-of-the-road competitive – if never outstanding – in pretty much every way. It avoids key weaknesses that could make someone hate various competitors, but never strives to be particularly appealing either.
7. Mazda2: B
The Mazda2 offers as much driving enjoyment as you can get from a bargain-priced new car. But the sportiness is marred by a weak powertrain, and someone who doesn’t prioritize handling can get a better-rounded product.
6. Chevrolet Sonic: B
An engine that lags for both power and fuel economy drags down the Sonic, which earned top safety scores but otherwise lacks a unique strong point to offset its weak ones. Broader availability of its optional peppy but fuel efficient turbo engine would make a huge difference.
5. Ford Fiesta: B
Sophisticated ride and handling, excellent fuel economy, high-quality interior materials, and plenty of available tech features put in a strong showing, but the Fiesta is hurt by tight interior dimensions and a slow, noisy engine.
4. Honda Fit: B
Other models have moved beyond the Fit’s standards for refinement and fuel economy, but its impossibly roomy and flexible interior sets it apart from the competition.
3. Kia Soul: B+
Like the Honda Fit, the Soul successfully trades maximum fuel economy for a roomier interior. You lose some of the Honda’s design cleverness, but the Kia feels like a more substantial car.
2. Kia Rio: A-
A thoroughly high-quality feel and widely available premium features set the Rio apart from other cars in its class, and fuel economy ratings excel, but some will want more room and more fun.
1. Hyundai Accent: A-
The Accent isn’t as upscale as the Kia Rio, and, like that car, it’s neither the roomiest nor the most fun car in this class. But with a bit more space, better steering, and lower prices, it’s a better-rounded product than the Kia – and than the rest of the competition.
Check back over the coming days for full reviews and photo galleries of each of these 10 sedans, and visit today’s slideshow for “report card” summaries that collect each car’s ratings from this page.
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