$16,000 Subcompact Shootout: Meet the Couple

Robyn Gerry-Rose and Erik Rose aren't exactly car people.

These days, the married couple are focusing on re-establishing their careers, having recently moved to Southern California from Chicago. They have no plans to start a family, catering instead to a pair of cats.

They actually are pretty well-matched to the kinds of people who buy small, inexpensive entry-level cars, like those showcased in the Cars.com/USA Today $16,000 Subcompact Shootout.

Robyn, 27, an audio technician, and Erik, 40, an illustrator, took turns behind the wheel of each of the seven small cars put before them. And they came away with strong opinions even though they aren't actively car shopping. They are delighted with the durable 1995 Toyota Avalon sedan they currently share.

Robyn Gerry-Rose and Erik Rose took turns behind the wheel of all seven cars in the Cars.com $16,000 Subcompact Shootout.

In the end, they settled on the Honda Fit hatchback as their clear favorite because of its power, comfort and lots of glass for great visibility. They ended up choosing it despite being initially turned off by the styling of its snout, which Erik described as "insect-looking."

The twin dogs of the day were the Kia Rio and Nissan Versa, for which Erik couldn't have minted a more perfect put-down: "If someone gave me one of those two cars, I would trade it in for a motorcycle."

As for the others, the two models from Detroit automakers fared relatively well. They generally liked a lot about the Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet's new Sonic — two cars in a segment that makers largely ignored in the past.

Erik liked the motorcycle-like features of the Sonic, including its interesting dashboard display. Robyn appreciated the ease with which she could plug in an MP3 player. As for the Fiesta, she said, "they want you to forget that it's a Ford."

Robyn liked the acceleration and handling more in the Chevy. "In the Fiesta," she said, "I don't feel like the car is hugging the road like the last one."

The Toyota Yaris didn't evoke much response, either. Although it's one of the newer models of the bunch, they knocked it as feeling dated.

Robyn Gerry-Rose and Erik Rose came away with strong opinions after the day of tests.

The two South Korean entries, Hyundai's Accent and the Kia, didn't elicit much more enthusiasm. The Accent is "a nice car but not spectacular." The Kia, far worse, was deemed noisy, rough and sluggish.

Still, it wasn't as bad as the Versa, which Robyn and Erik seemed to dislike in just about every respect. They said it just seemed cheap and even a worse value even though the Versa's price tag was $3,000 below its competitors. They thought the steering, ride and brake response were nonexistent.

"You get what you pay for. It doesn't feel like you're getting a new car," Erik said.

By contrast, they thought the Honda Fit could do little wrong during their drive. "As soon as you sit in it and drive it, you feel at home," Erik said. And Robyn said it surprised her: "It is not normally a car that I would consider."

In the end, she gave a strong rating for overall value and paid it a backhanded compliment: "It's still ugly, but it's a great car."

© Cars.com 03/16/2012