Originally published December 22, 2014
Review by Lesley Wimbush, Jacob Black, Jeff Wilson and Jonathan Yarkony
Photos by Jeff Wilson and Jonathan Yarkony
Introduction, Lesley Wimbush
Once upon a time, the subcompact car was cheap, but it certainly wasn’t cheerful. These were the cars that you settled for when your budget constraints had no further stretching room. Little more than tin boxes on wheels, they provided little more than rudimentary transport – with not much effort made as far as styling or craftsmanship went.
They may be small, but the roles they fill are huge. For the buyer in this demographic, the car is a major purchase, and one that must be considered carefully.
Fortunately with the increasing pressures upon automakers to produce better, more efficient and better-designed vehicles at an economical price, there has never been a better time to buy a subcompact hatch.
Smaller cars are becoming more in vogue as the emphasis on fuel efficiency, emissions reduction and gridlock prevention grows – and as a result, this has become one of the most fiercely competitive segments in the industry. No longer is the consumer forced to endure dreadful plastics, dreary design and little effort towards comfort and quality.
The cars we’ve assembled for our comparison test are all terrific examples of their segment, as each one offers good fuel economy, decent build quality and practicality – with the sort of styling we never would have seen just a generation or two ago.
The value of having a team evaluation was brought home to us several times over the course of our two-day test. Though we’re all seasoned testers, our experiences and tastes somewhat differ – and it was a reminder that the opinions and needs of the buying public are vast and varied too.
Yet it was surprising to see how these personal preferences played out.
Jeff Wilson and I thought the Ford Fiesta, the only entry with a manual gearbox, was simply brilliant in the snow, with its composed handling and ability to gear down to a stop. Yet Jonathan Yarkony disliked the steering feel, frustrated by the lack of traction control defeat button and was rather ambivalent to it overall. With his lanky frame and long legs, Jon was stuffed into the Yaris like the proverbial clown car – finding the seating position just too confined for comfort. The rest of us either didn’t mind, or rather like the Yaris, although we all agreed that the lack of telescoping steering wheel was a major demerit point. Jacob wasn’t exactly enamoured of the Honda Fit – granted it was the only one of the group not fitted with proper winter tires, so a thorough evaluation was almost impossible – but he hates that touchscreen HMI. Yet the Fit scored big points with the rest of the group for its incredible, TARDIS-like ability to accommodate just about any sort of cargo thrown at it, with an attractive new interior layout to boot.
The Versa Note took us all by surprise. Most of us remembered its predecessor, and the Note is a much more accommodating and well-crafted vehicle. Jacob was particularly smitten after the Note handled a vigorous drive loop in near-blizzard conditions with admirable aplomb.
When it came to the Korean entries, we all seemed to converge in a agreement: they featured pleasing powertrains and scored high in easy-to-drive factor, although the Rio has just that little extra pizzazz – and a slightly smaller price tag, too.
It really boiled down to the fine points when evaluating this group. They’re all likeable, reliable vehicles – but in this segment, the holy trinity of fuel consumption, price, and cargo ability are the deciding factors.