Tooling around in four subcompacts all day to rack up miles for our latest Mileage Challenge left us with many comparisons between the 2011 Ford Fiesta SES, 2010 Honda Fit Sport, 2010 Nissan Cube Krom and 2010 Scion xD. Some impressed us and some did not. Below, we share which cars stood out and our picks if we have to spend another day behind the wheel of one of these subcompacts.
Joe Bruzek, editorThis Mileage Challenge marked the first time I got behind the wheel of the new Fiesta. My expectation was that it was just another small hatchback. I was wrong. The Fiesta drove with the confidence of a car twice its size on the mostly high-speed interstate we traveled. It showed off arrow-straight tracking at speed and a solid steering feel that was missing in the others. It’s not perfect, though, as the automatic transmission seemed quirky at times. However, Ford says our test car had an early version of the transmission's calibration. It's doubtful any final fixes would radically alter its overall performance however.
The Fit, Cube and xD seemed to be more at home on city streets than the open road. The Fit was the most spritely and athletic of the bunch, though not fast by any means. The rev-happy engine enjoyed being wound-out and made the Fit a zippy little car.
The xD and Cube are less traditional hatchbacks with unique styling. Normally I wouldn’t give too much attention to styling, but I had to look at the Cube Krom’s ugly cow-catcher front grille in my rearview mirror all day during the challenge. I was excited to get into the Cube just so I didn’t have to look at it any longer.
Mike Hanley, editorLike Joe, I was impressed with the Fiesta's highway poise, and it didn't have trouble maintaining a fast, 75-mph pace despite being powered by a small four-cylinder engine. The Fiesta's dual-clutch transmission could be a bit clunky and hesitant at parking lot speeds, but it was a quick-shifting champ most of the time.
Though relatively roomy inside, the Fit's suspension was too sensitive on rougher pavement to be enjoyable on longer drives, and it struggled to maintain the same highway cruising pace that the Fiesta managed easily. The Fit also reminded me how much you really miss some things -- in this case adjustable intermittent windshield wipers -- when they're not there. The xD had a better highway ride than the Fit, but its driver-side footwell was notably tighter than the others', which diminished overall comfort.
I drove the Cube on the city leg of this Mileage Challenge, and it performed pretty well. The comfy ride is a plus, and even though its four-cylinder engine delivers modest power, I easily kept up with city traffic. The Cube looks a little wonky in general, but the non-Krom models look better to me.
Eric Rossi, senior multimedia editor
I'm really quite impressed by the Fiesta. The car looks like a compact hatch on the outside, but once inside it feels and drives like a much larger car. The automatic transmission was a little lost when really pushing it at lower speeds, but on the highway it tracked great and held its course against strong winds. The seats were supportive and the most comfortable of the group by far.
The Fit looks small, but the inside is spacious and comfortable with its large greenhouse that makes for great visibility. The car’s handling and comfort were similar to its big brother, the Civic.
The Cube definitely has a love-it-or-hate-it styling. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category. Looks aside, this was my first time piloting the Cube, and I was really uncomfortable with its upright riding position. It was the opposite of the slung-back "cockpit" feeling of the Fit. The riding position mixed with the large squared out windshield gave me the feeling I was driving a box, and that’s exactly how it handled on my drive. This was really apparent and somewhat uncomfortable when driving around town and at slower speeds. At highway speeds the ride cleaned up and was pretty smooth, but with speed came lots of road noise/howling. Top heavy and squared out, the car was easily pushed around by the wind.
The xD was a solid all-round performer. The styling is a little funky, but the interior is functional and clean. It didn’t really excel at any one particular thing, but it was an easy, comfortable ride.
Final question: If you had to get behind the wheel for another day, which one would you take?
JB: There’s no question that I would plop my rear in the Fiesta. Not only did it drive well and get great gas mileage, but there was minimal wind and road noise while cruising at 70 mph. Plus, the oddball transmission doesn’t have a chance to act up when cruising at a steady speed.
MH: For another solo drive I'd take the Fiesta. Everything about it, from its interior details to the driving experience, give the Ford a premium feel that the others can't match. However, if I had a few passengers along for the ride, the roomier xD is a better choice.
ER: I’m taking the Fiesta. I'm not sold on the Sync system, but the car’s fuel economy, interior quality and handling makes it a winner in my book.
Mileage Challenge 6.1: Subcompacts
Mileage Challenge 6.2: The Results