$16,000 Subcompact Shootout: The Stereo Challenge

Cars priced less than $16,000 don't usually bring high expectations of audio creature comforts like USB integration, satellite radio, MP3 jacks or even a decent-sounding stereo. That notion needs to change because more than half of the subcompacts in our $16,000 Subcompact Shootout included a USB input as standard equipment.

To rank these stereos, we looked at USB connectivity, MP3 jack, steering-wheel audio controls, satellite radio, the number of speakers, the usability of where the MP3 device can be stored and how quickly the USB integration lets users scroll through large music libraries. We'd like to emphasize that a high speaker count doesn't always mean a better-sounding stereo, but it was clear the bare minimum is four speakers.

The Kia Rio took the top spot with an unparalleled number of stereo features, missing out on a perfect score only because it doesn't have the speedy scroll feature when you crank the dial from AC/DC to ZZ Top. Also, the Rio was the only subcompact we tested that had steering-wheel audio controls.

The Hyundai Accent took second place because, unlike the Rio, it was not equipped with steering-wheel audio controls. Placing third, the Toyota Yaris lacked satellite radio and a convenient spot for storage; its USB and MP3 inputs are so far back in the glove box that the door has a sticker with arrows pointing where those inputs are hidden. That kind of location is inconvenient when drivers are using their smartphone as their music player. It's out of reach, and none of the cars we tested had Bluetooth for hands-free phone operation or streaming audio.

How the top three scored:

No. 1 Kia Rio

  • USB connection (+3 points): +3
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): 0
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): +1
  • MP3 jack (+2): +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): +1
  • Device storage (+1): +1
  • More than two speakers? (+1): +1

Total: 9 points

No. 2 Hyundai Accent

  • USB connection (+3 points): +3
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): 0
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): 0
  • MP3 jack (+2): +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): +1
  • Device storage (+1): +1
  • More than two speakers? (+1): +1

Total: 8 points

No. 3 Toyota Yaris

  • USB connection (+3 points): +3
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): +1
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): 0
  • MP3 jack (+2): +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): 0
  • Device storage (+1): 0
  • More than two speakers? (+1): +1

Total: 7 points

Honda's Fit includes a USB input standard for 2012, helping it reach fourth place. The Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. While short on features as equipped, the stereos from Ford and Chevrolet sounded more full and powerful to our testers' ears.

Then there's the Nissan Versa, the least-expensive car we tested. An MP3 jack may come standard, but rear speakers are not. The fronts have a hard task to fill the roomiest cabin, and for that task they come up short.

The remaining four:

No. 4 Honda Fit

  • USB connection (+3 points): +3
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): 0
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): 0
  • MP3 jack (+2): +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): 0
  • Device storage (+1): 0
  • More than two speakers? (+1): +1

Total: 6 points

No. 5 Chevrolet Sonic

  • USB connection (+3 points): 0
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): 0
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): 0
  • MP3 jack (+2): +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): +1
  • Device storage (+1): +1
  • More than two speakers? (+1): +1

Total: 5 points

No. 6 Ford Fiesta

  • USB connection (+3 points): 0
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): 0
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): 0
  • MP3 jack (+2): +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): 0
  • Device storage (+1): +1
  • More than two speakers? (+1): +1

Total: 4 points

No. 7 Nissan Versa

  • USB connection (+3 points): 0
  • USB quick scrolling (+1): 0
  • Steering-wheel audio controls (+1): 0
  • MP3 jack (+2):  +2
  • Satellite radio (+1): 0
  • Device storage (+1): +1
  • More than two speakers? (+1): 0

Total: 3 points

© Cars.com 03/16/2012