$16,000 Subcompact Shootout: Mileage Results

Despite stubbornly high gas prices, shoppers in 2011 rekindled their love affair with SUVs and pickup trucks. For the first time since 2007, truck sales outpaced car sales. That's unlikely to continue this year, as gas prices run the risk of exceeding 2008's all-time high — a national average of $4.11 per gallon of regular gas — making conditions ripe for shoppers to embrace the latest crop of compacts and subcompacts. Many of them are EPA-rated at 40 mpg on the highway.

But highway EPA figures alone aren't the best measure for real-world gas mileage, and that was no more apparent than in our $16,000 Subcompact Shootout. The 2012 Nissan Versa, not rated at 40 mpg, beat two 40-mpg contenders — the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio — by 3.6 mpg and 5.8 mpg, respectively. Over a 200-mile loop around the Los Angeles area, in both open-road and stop-and-go traffic, our seven subcompacts averaged 32.4 mpg. Here's how they fared:

Car EPA mileage
(city/highway)
Observed mileage

1. 2012 Nissan Versa 1.6 S
1.6-liter, CVT

30/38 mpg 35.9 mpg
2. 2012 Honda Fit base
1.5-liter, five-speed auto
28/35 mpg 33.4 mpg
3. 2012 Ford Fiesta SE
1.6-liter, six-speed auto
29/39 mpg 32.7 mpg
4. (tie) 2012 Hyundai Accent GS
1.6-liter, six-speed auto
30/40 mpg 32.3 mpg*
4. (tie) 2012 Toyota Yaris L
1.5-liter, four-speed auto
30/35 mpg 32.3 mpg
6. 2012 Kia Rio LX
1.6-liter, six-speed auto
30/40 mpg 30.1 mpg*
7. 2012 Chevrolet Sonic 2LS    
1.8-liter, six-speed auto
25/35 mpg 30.0 mpg
*Figures from fuel fill-up. All other figures come from trip computers.

Not only did the Versa win, it beat its EPA combined city/highway gas mileage (33 mpg) by 8.8 percent. The Fit and Sonic posted similar gains, beating their EPA combined mileage by 7.7 and 7.1 percent, respectively. The loser? The Kia Rio, EPA-rated at 33 mpg in combined mileage. Returning just 30.1 mpg, our test car fell short by 8.8 percent.

Our route included about six-and-a-half hours of driving time, beginning and ending at the same gas pump in Arcadia, Calif. Per our usual mileage-drive procedures, we filled each car's tires to the recommended pressure, kept windows shut and air conditioning on, and drove without cruise control.

© Cars.com 03/16/2012