$16,000 Subcompact Shootout: Results
Our experts: Kelsey Mays, Jennifer Newman and Joe Wiesenfelder of Cars.com; James R. Healey of USA Today; and Brian Robinson of "MotorWeek" judged the seven cars over three days. They were joined for one very long day of testing by Erik Rose and his wife, Robyn Gerry-Rose. You can read Robyn's and Erik's comments here.
No. 7 2012 Nissan Versa, 513 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Nissan Versa)
What we liked: "Cheap!" Robinson exclaimed. It's true: Nissan chose a version of the Versa that was hands-down (and then some) the least expensive car in the mix, with a price tag under $13,000, which is $2,000 to $3,000 less than the other Shootout competitors. "With that difference in price," Mays said, "you could pay five months' rent for a cheap studio apartment, which is probably what you're doing if you own a Versa." "The sedan body style lends respectability," Healey said. Newman and Wiesenfelder praised its "backseat roominess."
What we didn't: Even though it's much less expensive, well, it's cheap, the experts say. "The materials are from a bygone age," Wiesenfelder said. "The driving experience is a foggy stew of floaty ride quality, meandering steering, mushy brakes and wind noise galore," Mays said. "It's boring to look at and even more boring to drive," Robinson said.
The verdict: "The Nissan Versa is the cheapest car in this class, and by all accounts it looks and feels like it," Robinson said. "Having said that, there is an incredible amount of room in both the backseat and the trunk. There are still a few people out there looking for that absolute cheapest car they can buy, and for them the Versa offers a lot more than 'bargain basement' cars of two decades ago."
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No. 6 2012 Toyota Yaris, 585 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Toyota Yaris)
What we liked: "While not a sports car by any means," Robinson said, "the Yaris is way more entertaining to drive than it should be." "Just a couple of trim pieces — the two-tone dash and the chrome-ish gear lever surrounds — make it quite fit for human habitation," Healey said. Wiesenfelder enjoyed the "surprising passenger space," and Mays agreed. "The cabin has inviting shapes and some quality highlights, from extending sun visors to padding along the door armrests." Mays, Newman and Healey liked the supportive front seats, which were "easy on the tush," Healey said.
What we didn't: "Important driving conveniences were MIA in our test car," Mays said. "The steering wheel had no telescoping adjustment, the driver's seat had neither a height adjustment nor a center armrest, and the manual mirrors required drivers to crank down the windows to adjust them." "Needs a nicer array of standard features for the price," Healey added. "Four-speed? Seriously?" Robinson said of the automatic transmission. Newman found problems with the backseat. "The backseat isn't split, so the whole thing must be folded down for longer items. To fold down the seat, you have to lift a latch on both sides of the backseat. This involves crawling across the seat, which seems poorly designed." "Madness," Wiesenfelder agreed. He also noted that there's "pretty low cargo volume behind the backseat — for a hatchback."
The verdict: It was a mixed verdict from the reviewers, with opinions about roominess and looks spanning the spectrum, but all agreed with Mays: "Toyota remains stingy on features for the price."
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No. 5 2012 Ford Fiesta, 641 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Ford Fiesta)
What we liked: Wiesenfelder had a lot to like about the ride and handling. "The steering and dynamics are tops, and the good handling doesn't sacrifice ride quality," he said. Healey, Mays and Robinson echoed those sentiments. "The Fiesta rides opposite to the Sonic," Mays said, "firmer overall but with crisp control over bumps." More than one expert raved about its energetic looks: "This is a good-looking sedan," Newman said, "with a front end that stands out thanks to its three-bar grille and large air dam." She liked the large trunk area but noted that the opening is a little small.
What we didn't: Ford's dual-clutch automatic transmission was universally disliked. "The transmission is sure to turn off many shoppers," Wiesenfelder said. "It never seems to get in the gear that I want it to be," Robinson said, "and it changes as soon as it gets there." "Cramped" was Healey's word for the Fiesta, and Mays concurred. "The driver's seat didn't adjust back enough for my 5-foot-11 frame, the thick consoles and the center console limit knee room, and the cramped backseat will leave passengers wishing they had driven separately." Finally, "noisy" was mentioned by three of the reviewers.
The verdict: "The Fiesta looks good both inside and out," Newman said, "but put it on the road and the driver is bound to be disappointed."
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No. 4 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, 654 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic)
What we liked: The Sonic's quality build was a top draw for many reviewers. "It feels solid and is quiet overall," Wiesenfelder said. "From chrome interior accents to the group's richest-feeling key fob, the cabin feels a class above in quality," Mays added. For Robinson, it was "one of the better-handling cars in the class." And Newman liked the value proposition. "It's amazing what you get in the Sonic for just less than $16,000: tilt/telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat, automatic headlights, power locks and 10 airbags."
What we didn't: "It's got an unsettling mix of features," Healey said, "such as a remote key fob but with hand-crank windows, as if it were equipped at random, rather than by design." While Mays liked the interior touches, Robinson was less kind: "I'll pass on the supposed 'motorcycle-inspired' quirky interior. In terms of driving dynamics, Wiesenfelder said the Sonic "feels heavy," while Mays wrote that "the steering writes checks that the handling can't cash. Its laser-sharp precision has you wanting to drive the Sonic harder, but the pitchy dynamics and clumsy brakes can't keep up."
The verdict: "The Sonic looks great and feels powerful, in typical American car fashion," Robinson said. "The handling is just OK, and the interior is a little too quirky, like they overreached in appealing to that elusive 'youth market.' It might turn off some older buyers."
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No. 3 2012 Hyundai Accent, 697 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Hyundai Accent)
What we liked: The experts couldn't help themselves from comparing the Accent to the Kia Rio, since they are corporate siblings with shared mechanical parts. The good news for the Accent: Both were received very well. "This car is chock-full of the niceties that everyone wants in a car — power windows, locks and mirrors, USB jack and height-adjustable driver's seat," Newman noted. "It doesn't look cheap." In addition, "it's surprisingly peppy," Robinson noted. Stopping was no issue, either: "The Accent has rear disc brakes instead of the cheaper drums prevalent elsewhere, and it shows. The Accent has strong, linear response from the start."
What we didn't: Steering was clearly an issue. Wiesenfelder and Mays commented harshly on it. "Hyundai needs to go back to the drawing board," was Mays' take. And given that the Accent in the Shootout was a hatchback, visibility posed a problem for a few of the experts. "Visibility is a serious concern for those who like to know what's behind them," Robinson said. Newman added: "The rear window is so narrow that when looking in the rearview mirror, the view looks like an image from a widescreen movie." And more than one expert complained about the level of road, engine and tire noise seeping into the cabin. Healey offered a warning about the Accent's adventuresome styling: "That adventuresome styling gets old fast."
The verdict: "Inside and out," Mays said, "the Accent boasts the most grown-up styling in this group, but the checkered driving experience begs to be fixed."
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No. 2 2012 Kia Rio, 718 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Kia Rio)
What we liked: "Lots of little extras, " Wiesenfelder offered, "like sliding visors with mirrors, steering-wheel buttons and power lock switches on both front doors. " Getting extra features has long been a sales pitch for Kia (and corporate sibling Hyundai). Another strong selling point? Kia's recent design choices. "I love the exterior look and love the interior design even more," Robinson raved. In addition, Mays pointed out, "The drivetrain picks up speed better than most, with decent punchiness and a well-sorted six-speed automatic transmission." "This suspension would be perfect for Goldilocks," Newman said. "Not too firm and not too soft."
What we didn't: A lot of the complaints bounced off from the Hyundai Accent because both share some mechanical and other parts. "A fairly noisy environment," Robinson said, "but it didn't seem as bad as the Accent, for whatever reason." "The Rio lacks refinement on the highway, with a constant low rumble from the tires," Mays said. He and Wiesenfelder felt that the rear seats sat too low to the floor, making them uncomfortable.
The verdict: "If you don't need the Fit's remarkable people and cargo space," Healey said, "then the Rio's the pick of the litter."
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And the Winner Is ...
No. 1 2012 Honda Fit, 761 points
(See the scorecard, the Monroney sticker or research the 2012 Honda Fit)
What we liked: "Unbelievably roomy for the overall size," said Healey, and he was hardly alone. In the voting, most judges gave the Fit top scores for cargo, from the flat load floor to the second-row seats that actually fold up to allow you to put cargo there. "It's impossible to beat the practicality of the rear seats," Robinson said. But the Fit is more than just a roomy cargo carrier. "It's still fun to drive," Robinson said, and Newman concurred. "The Fit handled the steep hills and curvy roads of our test drive with no problems. The transmission easily found the right gear to get us up the hill," she said. The Fit also had among the best visibility of the class. "Nearby traffic can hide no more," Mays commented.
What we didn't: The Fit is the model farthest from its last redesign (or introduction), and it shows. "The materials quality is falling behind," Wiesenfelder noted, "including upholstery that's a throwback to the velour days." "A little behind in the technology department," Robinson added. "Ugly outside, ugly inside," Healey sniffed. And there were some issues with the mechanicals as well. "Though better than the choppy Fit Sport version, the base Fit still rides a bit busy," Mays said, and highway wind noise requires cranking the stereo to overcome it."
The verdict: "The Fit is a triumph of cargo volume, versatility and execution," Wiesenfelder said, "and its powertrain is a winner. From the first moment, the Fit begged to be driven hard." Enough said.
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