The Honda Fit (available to subscribers) became a hot-selling vehicle when gasoline prices topped $4 per gallon. A redesigned and slightly larger Fit arrived in the fall, and it improves on the space-efficient formula that made the last one such a hit with buyers.
With cargo capacity rivaling that of a small SUV, the Fit has a clever interior with a backseat that can fold different ways to accommodate long cargo or bulky items. Performance and driving position have improved, but the Fit's fuel economy has dropped slightly.
We found the new Fit the most practical and enjoyable car in this month's group. We bought an automatic-transmission base model and a manual upscale Sport model for this test.
The rest of the cars in the group are updates of previously tested models. Some are notable, though none stands out. The Nissan Versa is based on a design from French carmaker Renault. It's relatively quiet and comfortable, and it feels more substantial than its size or price would suggest. We previously tested a hatchback Versa, so we chose a sedan this time. We also tested a Suzuki SX4 sedan, having previously bought an AWD hatchback. The Suzuki is less refined, but reliability has been excellent. Rounding out the group are hatchback versions of the Toyota Yaris (now with standard antilock brake system) and the freshened Chevrolet Aveo (all models available to subscribers).
Prices ranged from $16,020 for the base Fit to $17,378 for the Suzuki SX4. The Fit and SX4 are the only models we can recommend. The Yaris and Aveo scored too low in our road tests to be recommended; the Versa sedan's reliability is much worse than average.
There's good news for those in the market for a small car: The better ones are appealing not only because they're stingy with fuel. Unlike cheap economy cars of yesteryear, modern small cars have amenities and safety features you'd expect on larger cars. The exception is electronic stability control, an important safety feature that is more difficult to come by than we'd like to see. It's also typically an expensive option when it's available.
The Kia Soul and Nissan Cube are due this spring. Both are boxy designs reminiscent of the Scion xB and are likely to appeal to young car buyers. The European Ford Fiesta will arrive soon and has received good reviews overseas. A redesigned Mazda3 goes on sale shortly, and a new Volkswagen Rabbit is due by the end of the year. General Motors has plans to replace the Cobalt with the Chevy Cruze in 2010.
You can save money or get more for your money by buying used. These small cars did well in our testing and were recommended when new.
|'07 Mazda3 i sedan||$12,625|
|'06 Toyota Prius hybrid||16,475|
|'06 Honda Civic hybrid||17,000|
|'06 Mini Cooper base||17,725|