After weeks of researching more than a dozen small hatchbacks, driving the best ones, and talking with several experts in the field, we think the 2017 Honda Fit EX is the best subcompact hatchback for most people. Packed with modern features, the Fit EX easily seats four full-size people and has a big, flexible cargo area that can swallow stuff most competitors would need strapped to their roofs. It’s also one of the safer and more fuel-efficient subcompacts, and it holds its value better than most others in this class, according to Kelley Blue Book. While the EX, with an automatic transmission, retails for a little over $19,500, the average TrueCar transaction price is about $19,000.
The EX trim level is the sweet spot in the Fit line. It gives you standard features—such as a backup camera, a blind-spot display, a smart entry system, automatic climate control, and the smartphone-friendly Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems (we’ll explain them all below)—that either cost extra or aren’t available at all on other subcompacts.
If you are on a tighter budget or don’t need all of the features of the Fit EX, we recommend stepping down one notch and getting the entry-level 2017 Honda Fit LX. With an automatic transmission, the LX costs almost $1,900 less than the EX but still gives you most of the Fit’s baked-in goodness, including a spacious cabin, versatile seating, excellent fuel economy, and good safety ratings. You give up some features that make everyday driving more pleasant, such as automatic climate control and the HondaLink infotainment system (with a 7-inch touchscreen, voice control, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto), but the LX still outshines the other lower-priced subcompacts we looked at.
If you’re willing to spend more to step up to a premium car that’s built well and a thrill to drive, we’d steer you toward the 2017 Mini Cooper Hardtop 4 Door, which costs about $24,000 with an automatic transmission (or about $1,200 less with a manual). While much pricier and smaller than the Fit, it’s more fun to drive, with agile, go-kart handling. The Mini also surrounds you with a well-crafted and artfully designed cabin full of playful touches and high-quality materials. And its overwhelming options list reminds us of a multipage menu from a New York deli: You can order everything from custom striping to a sport suspension to a self-parking system. (Just be ready to write an even bigger check if you add a lot of extras.) What you’ll miss in the Mini is the Honda’s spacious interior—the Mini’s tight cabin doesn’t give you much rear legroom or cargo space. And some taller people, as one of our editors attests, may not find it as comfortable to drive as the Fit.
While we believe, based on our research and testing, that most people will prefer the Honda Fit (and that those with bigger budgets may want the extras of the Mini Hardtop), you can read our takes on other models in this class, including the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Versa Note, Toyota Prius c, and Toyota Yaris, in the Competition section below.
I was the automotive editor for Consumer Reports for 14 years, so I’m used to conducting in-depth, detailed evaluations of cars of all types. Prior to that, I was the senior feature editor for Motor Trend for nine years, where I drove and wrote about everything from small cars to SUVs to ultraluxury and performance cars. I’ve driven virtually every major car model on the road, and I’ve learned that there can be big differences even between models that look virtually the same on paper. I’ve watched subcompact cars as a group evolve from fairly basic “econoboxes” into a class with some pretty inviting and sophisticated offerings. But there can still be a big difference in value and performance.
For this guide, I also interviewed several other experts in the field, including Brent Romans, the senior automotive editor for Edmunds; Gabe Shenhar, a senior auto test engineer for Consumer Reports; and Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant Research who writes for various automotive publications and websites. The recommendations I make here are the same that I’d give to my family and friends in a one-on-one discussion. So, welcome to the family.
Subcompacts are among the smallest and least expensive cars you can buy, with prices for most models ranging from about $15,000 to $20,000. They’re a good choice for people who want a car that’s easy to park and to zip around the city in, as well as for those who have smaller budgets or who live the thrifty lifestyle. While subcompacts have long had a reputation as cheaply built (and even unsafe) transportation, they’re now safer and more pleasant to drive than ever before. Subcompacts are also big enough these days to carry four people in relative comfort, with a spot for a fifth in a pinch, and they’re among the most fuel-efficient cars on the road (except for hybrids and diesels, which generally cost more money). Many models are also impressively well-equipped, with advanced safety features and smartphone-friendly touchscreen infotainment systems available in even lower-priced models. That said, you can also find some pretty bare-bones versions.
While some subcompact models are also available as sedans with a trunk, hatchbacks are more versatile because you can more easily divvy up the passenger and cargo space by folding the rear seat. As Gabe Shenhar, senior auto test engineer for Consumer Reports, put it to us, small hatchbacks are “the Swiss Army Knife of cars.”
Brent Romans, senior automotive editor of Edmunds, pointed out that subcompacts used to be “purely about getting from point A to point B as cheaply as possible.” But today’s subcompacts “have gotten a lot nicer than they used to be,” he said. “If people haven’t shopped in this segment in a long time, they might be surprised.”
The base models with the lowest prices, however, often have a manual transmission and are relatively bare-bones. We found that the sweet spot is usually in the middle-trim versions, which are roughly $18,000 to $20,000. With those, you can get an automatic transmission, a nice set of core features, and typically some handy extras that make them nicer to live with. Compared with the other subcompacts we looked at, our top pick, the Honda Fit EX, is surprisingly well-equipped for its price, giving you a standard backup camera, a touchscreen display, voice control, a sunroof, and a smart keyless entry and ignition system that lets you keep your key in your pocket or bag. Some of those features aren’t available at all in similarly priced models.
Moving up to the higher trim levels can easily push you over the $20,000 point, which is a lot to spend on a vehicle this small. With those offerings, you can get leather or leatherette upholstery, fog lights, larger alloy wheels, heated front seats, and the option of a navigation system—all things we could live without, especially in a budget vehicle. After all, you can get good turn-by-turn directions from a portable GPS navigator or a smartphone (hopefully secured in a phone holder) for a lot less money than a built-in nav system costs. In fact, once you’re over $20,000, you could also look at larger, roomier compact cars.
Speaking of size, subcompacts are about 2½ feet shorter and almost a half foot narrower than a typical midsize sedan. This size makes them easy to maneuver in tight places, such as when you’re parallel-parking, squeezing into a crowded parking spot, or pulling a quick U-turn.
The flip side of a subcompact’s petite dimensions, however, is that it doesn’t offer a lot of interior room, which makes the way it’s designed so important. Typically, I found the front seats spacious enough to get comfortable, but when I sat in the rear seat of some models, such as the Ford Fiesta and Mini Cooper, I had so little legroom that my knees were brushing up against the back of the front seat. By contrast, when I sat in the back of our top pick, the Honda Fit, I had ample legroom with about 4 inches between my knees and the front seat. That’s the type of space we expect in a much larger car.
The clever designs of some of these small cars also let them carry way more groceries, boxes, or pieces of luggage than you might expect. Here again, the Fit is a top choice; we easily fit 10 grocery bags behind its rear seat. For context, that equals the amount we could fit behind the third-row seat of a Honda Odyssey minivan. The Fit’s second row of seats also folds both forward and backward to create two ways the car can hold larger cargo, depending on the piece’s size and shape.
One more space-related reality check: Most of the subcompacts we looked at can technically hold five people, but the center position of the rear seat is usually a pretty uncomfortable hump. You’d put only your worst enemy—or a very understanding friend—there. And if you are squeezing three into the backseat, it had better be for a short trip. “None of the cars in this segment will comfortably hold more than four,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant Research. “So if you need extra room, a compact or midsize model might be a better choice.”
Finally, subcompacts are pretty frugal with gas, getting fuel economy, in miles per gallon, in the low- to mid-30s range. That said, Gabe Shenhar of Consumer Reports noted that subcompact miles-per-gallon figures are “pretty much on par with the better compact hatchbacks and even some midsized sedans.” For example, according to the EPA’s FuelEconomy.gov website, a 2017 Honda Civic hatchback—a model noticeably larger than the Fit—gets 34 mpg in combined city and highway driving, which is better than most of the subcompacts we looked at, and the same as the Fit EX. Of course, you’ll pay more money for a larger car; a Civic EX hatchback costs about $4,000 more than the Fit EX.
Note that you can go even smaller than the subcompacts we looked at. Tiny minicars—such as the Chevrolet Spark, Fiat 500, and Smart Fortwo—are about 1 to 4 feet shorter than most subcompacts. These pint-size models can work even better for parking and for maneuvering through tight cities, but they’re even more space-constrained, and they don’t really feel at home at highway speeds or while cruising alongside huge semis. Also, their smaller size can make them even more vulnerable in a crash with a larger vehicle, as discussed below.
When considering a subcompact, you should be aware of their vulnerability in some crash situations, such as when they collide with a larger vehicle or, depending on the model, when the front corner hits a solid object. In the latter situation, our pick, the Honda Fit, ranks among the best in its class at protecting its passengers. Unfortunately, no one collects data on the former situation because of the way crash tests are performed, as we describe below. (Note that an inherent benefit of driving a lighter, more nimble car is that avoiding an accident altogether can be easier.)
With some exceptions, all current subcompacts get pretty good ratings in safety tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But as Consumer Reports’s Gabe Shenhar told us, “Even if they do well in crash tests, you are at a disadvantage with a larger, heavier car. That’s just physics.” The frontal crash tests that both organizations conduct measure only how well a particular vehicle performs against one of a similar weight, so a high rating for a subcompact car—four or five stars in NHTSA tests and Acceptable or Good in IIHS tests—essentially means that the car will do a good job of protecting its occupants if it strikes another subcompact. On the other hand, a small car that’s in a frontal collision with a larger, heavier vehicle will likely get the worse of the encounter, regardless of its crash rating.
One crash test in which subcompacts haven’t generally fared well is the IIHS’s small-overlap frontal crash test. Introduced in 2012, this test simulates what happens when the front corner of a car collides with another vehicle or an object, such as a tree or utility pole. According to a 2009 institute study, these sorts of crashes accounted for nearly a quarter of the frontal crashes that resulted in serious or fatal injuries to front-seat occupants, even among vehicles with otherwise good frontal-crash ratings. So far, of the 10 models we looked at, only a few—including the Honda Fit—have earned a Good or Acceptable rating (the two highest) in this test. Several others are rated Marginal.
All of the subcompact hatchbacks we compared include the core features that we expect in any new car today, namely power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; a tilt steering wheel; and a push-button key fob that lets you lock and unlock the car from a distance. The better models also offer other modern convenience features or advanced safety systems we like, as described below, either as standard items or inexpensive options.
Here’s a rundown of some features that we would look for when buying a car. They can make a big difference in living with a car every day—once you get used to them, you don’t want to go back. Most of these are standard on our top pick, the Honda Fit.
As for safety features, all new cars include electronic stability control, antilock brakes, traction control, and at least six airbags—dual front bags, front side-impact bags, and side-curtain bags. The advanced safety features below are still rare in subcompacts, although they are beginning to trickle in.
To create this guide, we first determined which models competed in the subcompact class in terms of size and price. Afterward we scoured automaker websites to compare trim levels, specs, and options, and we checked out fuel-economy and safety ratings. We studied reviews and ratings from other knowledgeable sources, such as Autoblog, Car and Driver, Consumer Reports, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, Motor Trend, and U.S. News & World Report. We also interviewed other experts in the field, and we either borrowed automaker press cars or visited dealerships to test-drive each of the top models. Once we decided on a top pick, we confirmed our selection by spending a week with a Fit EX that we borrowed from Honda’s press fleet.
While some subcompacts are available as a hatchback or sedan, we considered only four-door hatchbacks because their larger rear openings and versatile interiors allow the most efficient use of space, which is important in a small car.
Also, we focused only on models with an automatic transmission, which is what most people buy. If you like to shift for yourself, you can typically save $800 to $1,200 by opting for a manual transmission, although the feature is not available on all models and trim levels. Note that a manual transmission won’t necessarily give you better fuel economy—one of the reasons people frequently give to justify going manual. Of the five models in this guide that offer both kinds of transmission, only one gets better gas mileage with manual than with automatic. In fact, the automatic transmissions in the Honda Fit EX and LX deliver 2 and 4 mpg more, respectively, than their manual counterparts in combined city/highway driving.
For each subcompact model, we then looked at which trim version provided the best value—giving you the features that most people want without making you pay for unnecessary extras. And we decided what options or accessories we would add if we were going to buy that model. (The “build and price” tool on each website makes this process easy. It also offers a good reality check, because you can easily see how adding extras quickly jacks up the vehicle’s price.) Our selection of add-ons varied quite a bit because of pricing and feature availability: While the Honda Fit EX provides a sunroof as a standard item, for example, several models don’t offer one at all while others make you pay between $800 and $2,500 extra to get one. And while we could get the convenient Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems as standard on the Fit EX, most models in this group don’t offer them at all yet.
Once we’d chosen the trim level and configuration for each car, we did a detailed comparison of price, performance, fuel economy, interior space, features, safety ratings, warranties, reliability, and more.
We then narrowed our list to the top five and did what we recommend every buyer do: We spent a couple of days going from dealership to dealership, driving each of the contenders on the short list back-to-back to feel the differences in things like acceleration, handling, comfort, versatility, and overall attention to detail. Something as simple as an uncomfortable seat or difficult-to-use audio controls can often be a dealbreaker. Gabe Shenhar of Consumer Reports summed it up by saying that the best models “are those that provide a really solid driving experience, agile handling, good noise isolation, good interior fit and finish, good seats, nice controls, up-to-date connectivity, and good fuel economy.”
After assessing all of the information for subcompact hatchbacks, we concluded that the best was clearly the 2017 Honda Fit EX.
We chose the 2017 Honda Fit EX as the best subcompact hatchback because it excels in so many areas. It’s one of the nicest small cars to drive, and it has more rear-seat space than any of the other models we looked at, as well as a decent-size rear cargo area. The seats fold in a variety of configurations, which along with the abundant space gives you a ton of flexibility for carrying all sorts of things. The Fit EX also comes with a surprising number of features for its price, some of which aren’t available at all or cost you extra on other subcompacts. And the Fit is frugal with gas: According to EPA estimates, the EX gets 34 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. In this category, that’s lower than only the Toyota Prius c hybrid and the Mitsubishi Mirage (which has a tiny, weak engine), and neither of those cars is nearly as nice to drive as the Fit.
As for safety, the Fit has earned some of the highest marks in its class for crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And the Fit has among the lowest costs of ownership over the first five years, according to Kelley Blue Book, in part because of its low depreciation and relatively high resale value. Yes, choosing the Honda Fit is a no-brainer.
While all of that looks good on paper, how a car feels to drive is just as important. Overall we found the Fit to be one of the more enjoyable subcompacts to drive. In our tests, models such as the Mini Cooper and Ford Fiesta felt sportier but also had a stiffer, less comfortable ride. The Fit is comfortable, easy to live with, and adept at everyday driving, whether you’re on the highway or around town. It does have some minor annoyances, which we cover in the next section, but nothing that would keep us from recommending it.
On the road, the Fit felt light and nimble in our tests. We found it easy to cruise on the highway without having to make a lot of small steering corrections, and the suspension did a good job of damping small bumps and providing a relatively smooth, comfortable ride for such a small car. As is typical with subcompacts, the Fit didn’t handle larger bumps and rougher, uneven pavement as well, which at higher speeds could give the car a somewhat bouncy feel. It felt much more at home while driving on a well-maintained freeway than on an older, liberally patched road. When we took a turn, though, the Fit felt predictable and precise, which made it easy to drive on a curvy road or along city streets. The steering also reacted quickly and accurately when we turned the wheel.
The Fit’s 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine delivers 130 horsepower, on a par with the stronger engines in this group. (The Chevrolet Sonic, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Mini Cooper versions we compared have engines that deliver between 134 and 138 hp; the Mitsubishi Mirage is the wimpiest, with just 78 hp.) The Fit’s engine operates smoothly with no annoying vibrations; in our tests it responded instantly when we pressed on the accelerator, providing a spirited, peppy feel and making it easy to accelerate away from a traffic light and to merge into traffic on highways. On the other hand, while the engine did fine powering up hills and small mountains, we could tell it was working hard, but that’s typical of most small engines in subcompacts.
The Fit uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that feels smooth and does its job without calling a lot of attention to itself. Some CVTs can be annoying, because they make the engine rev fast and then hold it there, creating excessive noise. That said, in the Fit noise remains an annoyance, as we’ll talk about later.
One of the Fit’s high points is its interior design. Sam Abuelsamid, an auto analyst for Navigant Research, told us, “The single most important feature of a subcompact, especially for American drivers, is smart packaging. This is where the Honda Fit excels above everything else available in the segment.”
Let’s start in the rear. While rear-seat passengers are uncomfortably scrunched in most subcompacts, the Fit’s rear-seat area is amazingly spacious for a car of this size, and it gives you the most rear legroom of any car in this group. Sitting in the rear seats, I had an ample 4 inches between my knees and the back of the front seat, which is what I would expect in a much larger vehicle. By contrast, in some other subcompacts—such as the Ford Fiesta and the Mini Cooper—my knees were nearly touching the front seat. There’s also plenty of headroom and shoulder room, so you don’t feel closed in. Overall, the Fit’s rear seats are quite accommodating, except, of course, the center seat position, which is an uncomfortable hump.
Like all the subcompacts we considered, the Fit has rear seatbacks that fold flat in a 60/40 split. Folding both down expands the cargo space to a huge 52.7 cubic feet, the most of any subcompact we looked at, and enough acreage to fit 25 grocery bags. With its tall roof and wide rear opening, the Fit offers plenty of room to pack gear for a two- or three-person getaway, to load boxes for a trek back to college, or to pile in the goods from an ambitious trip to a home-improvement store. The front passenger seat even reclines enough that you can load skis, two-by-fours, or other particularly long items.
One of the Fit’s niftiest tricks, though, is what Honda calls its Magic Seat. The rear-seat cushions easily fold upward and lock in place, opening an ample floor-to-ceiling space that lets you haul taller items upright. Brent Romans of Edmunds told us, “You can fit an amazing amount of stuff in this car. If you want to hold something really tall, like a potted plant or your dog, you can pull the seats up to give you that kind of tall, vertical space.” In terms of cargo-carrying versatility, nothing in this class comes close to the Fit.
Up front, we found the driver’s seat to be comfortable and supportive, and the gauges to be clear and easy to read. The steering wheel tilted and telescoped outward (the latter is a convenience that’s unavailable on several other subcompacts), helping us find a comfortable driving position.
The Fit comes in three trim levels: LX, EX, and EX-L. We believe the midlevel-trim EX is the best overall value because it gives you an array of safety and convenience features that you’ll appreciate over the long run (and that are difficult to find even as options in other subcompacts).
One of those features is the easy-to-use, smartphone-friendly HondaLink audio system, which includes a 7-inch color touchscreen, USB ports in the dash and center console for connecting a mobile device, and Bluetooth capability for hands-free calling and streaming audio. It even has an HDMI port for connecting a video source to the screen.
We easily connected a phone via Bluetooth, and it quickly reconnected every time we got into the car. With a compatible smartphone linked, you can stream Pandora and Aha Internet radio by simply pressing a button on the car’s in-dash screen; this arrangement eliminates the need to fiddle with the phone while driving. We could also easily bookmark a song on Pandora by simply touching the screen, which is handy. (Spotify isn’t included, but you can always stream it to the car via Bluetooth or a cord.) The only dashboard hardware controls for the audio system are a power button, a brightness control, and the CD-eject button.
The steering wheel has several buttons that let you easily control audio and cruise-control functions without having to take a hand off the wheel. Other buttons allow you to place a call or activate the voice-control system. While some voice systems can be finicky, making you repeat your commands, this one worked well for us, allowing us to place phone calls and control audio functions without lifting a finger off the wheel.
The Fit’s standard backup camera is a real convenience—and safety aid—when you’re backing up. When we shifted the Fit into reverse, the camera turned on, showing a large image on the in-dash screen of the area directly in back of the car. This feature is great when you’re parking, as you can see how close the rear bumper is to objects. More important, though, it helps prevent back-over accidents, which, according to a KidsAndCars.org citation of a Department of Transportation figure (PDF), account for 232 fatalities and 13,000 injuries every year on average. That’s why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is requiring that all cars built after May 1, 2018, have a standard backup camera. Of the subcompacts in this group, most now offer a backup camera, although only four provide it as a standard feature.
Thirsty? The Fit has no shortage of cup and bottle holders. While most subcompacts provide a couple of cup holders in the center console, the Fit also provides a bottle holder in each door pocket and a single cup holder uniquely located in the dash to the left of the steering wheel. I found that last one particularly handy, as it kept my drink within easy reach and I could quickly take a sip and put it back without taking my eyes off the road.
Another nifty standard item is what Honda calls the Smart Entry system. With this, the car detects when your key is nearby, so you can lock and unlock the doors and start the engine without having to take the key out of your pocket or bag. This feature can quickly spoil you, but it’s not offered at all on most of the subcompacts in this group. The Fit EX is filled with features like this that we aren’t used to finding in subcompacts, especially as standard items.
Safety is always a concern with small cars, and while the Fit lacks the latest active safety equipment, so do most other subcompacts. In actual crash tests, the Fit has delivered among the better performances in the class, surpassed only by the much more expensive Mini Cooper and the newer, but smaller and less practical, Chevrolet Sonic.
Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot display, meanwhile, is a mixed blessing. When you activate the right-turn signal, the in-dash display shows a large image of the area to the right rear of the car, so you can easily see if any cars are in your blind spot before you change lanes. This feature works well on the highway, especially with in-screen guidelines that let you know when it’s safe to move over. But LaneWatch can become distracting at other times, when the screen shows only a line of trees, a fence alongside the road, parked cars, or whatever. You can turn the LaneWatch display off temporarily by pressing a button on the end of the turn-signal stalk. You can also keep the system from automatically activating with the turn signal by adjusting the settings in the on-screen menus; you’ll still be able to turn it on with the stalk button if you want to.
One more benefit the Fit provides is low ownership costs. At the time we looked at the five-year cost-to-own estimates from Kelley Blue Book, the Fit EX was tied with the Nissan Versa Note SV for the lowest estimate—46¢ per mile—in this group, despite being among the more expensive models to purchase. By contrast, the Chevy Sonic, Kia Rio, and Mini Cooper came in at about 54¢ per mile, or about $5,000 to $6,000 more in total. KBB’s cost-to-own figures estimate how much a model will cost you over the first five years by factoring in the cost of gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, financing, state fees, and depreciation, which is the difference between a car’s original price and its value in five years.
All of this means that even though the Fit EX is one of the higher-priced cars we compared, it will be a better value over time, considering its fun-to-drive personality, amazing versatility, many standard features, high resale value, and low ownership costs.
While the Honda Fit EX is the best subcompact overall, it does have some traits that can test your patience. As is typical among subcompacts, the cabin can get noisy, especially at higher speeds and on rougher roads. In addition, the audio system’s touch-sensitive volume control is difficult to use while you’re driving.
Putting up with a noisy ride is pretty common with these cars. That’s because good sound insulation is hard to find in this budget-conscious category; soundproofing costs money and adds weight, which in turn increases the car’s price and lowers its fuel economy. When we drove the Fit on the highway, we heard constant wind noise and a “revvy” engine sound that wasn’t excessive for this type of car but could get tiresome. On rougher surfaces, a fair amount of road rumble also got added to the mix.
Another gripe concerns the touch-sensitive audio volume control system, which might have seemed like a good idea on the drawing board but is cumbersome to use. Next to the touchscreen is a vertical-scale-like marking with + and – symbols at the top and bottom. You can press those markings, or slide your finger up or down the scale, to change volume. But we found the control so unresponsive that it was difficult to set the level we wanted; we had to look over to see what was happening, which took our eyes and attention off the road. If you just touch the scale, however, a second volume scale pops up on the touchscreen itself—and that one is more responsive to touch. Although you can easily slide your finger up or down the screen’s scale to change the volume, overall it’s a two-step process that still takes your eyes off the road for too long. Moreover, neither method is easy to perform smoothly on a rough road, when your hand may be moving around. Fortunately, you can avoid the touch controls altogether by simply using the physical volume buttons on the left side of the steering wheel.
Finally, while Honda has an overall excellent reputation for reliability, the Fit currently scores just average in Consumer Reports reliability ratings. Still, that’s enough to earn the magazine’s recommendation.
Like anyone researching a car purchase, we scanned tons of reviews and ratings from a number of recognized auto experts to see their assessments of the different subcompact hatchbacks. Across the board, they echoed our overall positive assessment of the Honda Fit.
The U.S. News & World Report Best Cars website consolidates reviews from a number of other sources, and the Fit—with an overall rating of 8.8 out of 10—is currently ranked number one among all subcompact cars and number three among all hatchbacks and small cars, an impressive feat. The site’s review says, “The 2017 Honda Fit surpasses subcompact car rivals in many categories. It offers versatile cargo space, great fuel economy, and a spacious and comfortable interior.” The site also applauds the Fit for its cargo area’s spaciousness, its impressive interior materials, and its high safety scores, although the site also notes the Fit’s “significant amount of road noise” and “cumbersome touch-screen infotainment system.”
The editors of Edmunds gave the Fit an A rating, and the site currently shows an average owner rating of 4.5 out of five. The reviewers praise the roomy cabin, quick acceleration, and excellent visibility. Comparing it with other subcompacts, the site’s editors say that “none offer the kind of interior flexibility that makes the Fit one of the most versatile hatchbacks available.” They also add, “The Fit is a great choice for those with large dogs or outdoor gear; two bikes can stand side by side (with front wheels removed) in the rear seat well, for example.” On the other hand, Edmunds’s testers also say that the Fit’s touchscreen can be frustrating to use and has a cumbersome menu design.
Writing for KBB.com, Richard Homan calls the Fit fun to drive, with a powerful engine, precise steering, and predictable road manners. He writes that the Fit “is affordable, easy to drive and can haul as much as a compact SUV.” He does note some engine drone at cruising speeds, however.
Gabe Shenhar, senior auto test engineer for Consumer Reports, told us that the Fit stands out among subcompacts, saying, “It gives you a lot of room for [its size], it gives you good fuel economy, it handles well, and it has good access and good visibility.” On the downside, the Consumer Reports review (subscription required) points out that the Fit is slow and noisy, and that it has a frustrating audio system.
If you want to get a new car for a lower price than our top pick and don’t mind going without some features, choose the entry-level 2017 Honda Fit LX. At its price of a little over $17,500, you save about $1,900 compared with the EX while still getting the Fit’s great interior design, outstanding space and versatility, and excellent fuel economy. Because of the way its transmission works, the LX even gets 2 mpg better gas mileage in combined city/highway driving and 3 mpg more on the highway than the EX. What you give up are features such as Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot display, the smart keyless entry system, the HondaLink audio system with 7-inch touchscreen (the LX has a 5-inch color LCD screen), voice control, the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps, a sunroof, fog lights, and alloy wheels. You still get the handy backup camera, though.
If you like to shift for yourself, you can save another $800 by getting the manual transmission. However, the Fit LX gets 4 mpg less with the manual than with the CVT, a shortcoming that could mean you’d pay about $150 more for gas per year (based on driving 15,000 miles per year and gas costing $3 per gallon). Over a typical ownership period of five years, that would add up to about $750, or close to the cost of the CVT.
You can find alternatives still cheaper than the base-model Fit, such as the entry-level Kia Rio LX or Nissan Versa Note S Plus, but both are even stingier with features, don’t have the Fit’s amazing versatility, and aren’t as fun to drive.
If you don’t mind spending more (and giving up some interior space and practicality), get the 2017 Mini Cooper Hardtop 4 Door, which is by far the most nicely trimmed and fun-to-drive subcompact you can buy. The Mini’s agile handling, responsive steering, and super-solid build quality give it a grin-inducing, go-kart feel while weaving through turns. Its strong engine accelerates briskly yet still delivers good gas mileage. Inside, you’re treated to a well-crafted interior with nice materials and playful design touches. The Mini’s relatively high base price of more than $24,000, with destination charge, and its small interior (it is called “mini,” after all) were the main reasons we didn’t seriously consider it for our top pick.
This familiar hatchback has won enthusiastic praise from reviewers. In his review of the Mini Hardtop 4 Door for KBB.com, Keith Buglewicz writes, “If you’re willing to spend extra money, a new Mini Cooper makes a compelling high-fashion option against more common subcompact cars like the Honda Fit.”
The Mini’s nimble, fun-to-drive character is due in part to its compact dimensions, as it’s one of the shortest and lowest cars in this category. The turbo, three-cylinder engine delivers 134 horsepower, which makes it one of the most powerful of the group and adds to the car’s spirited nature.
The Mini comes with a nice assortment of standard features, such as leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, push-button start, and eight airbags (including front knee bags). Plus, you can choose from a sky’s-the-limit assortment of options and custom add-ons. One trade-off for its petite dimensions, though, is its small interior, which scrimps on cargo space and rear-passenger room: The Mini’s 13.1-cubic-foot cargo area is one of the smallest of this group, and of the cars we looked at, this model is among the most limited in rear-seat legroom and shoulder room.
With a manual transmission, the Mini Cooper’s base price is about $22,000. To that we added an automatic transmission and a smart keyless entry system (called Comfort Access System). The final price was a little over $24,000. One disappointment: A rear-view camera is available only as part of an option package costing $1,000 or more. Also, keep in mind that any color other than white or orange adds another $500 or more.
So, why does the Mini Cooper cost $5,000 to $7,000 more than the other subcompacts? Mini models are built by BMW, which owns the brand. Think of them as cute, pint-size BMWs that are built to a higher standard than other subcompacts, using better (albeit more expensive) materials and methods.
If you really want to pamper yourself, the Mini also lets you go hog wild with options and custom touches. You can upgrade the audio and connectivity features, opt for a sport suspension for more cornering prowess, do an extreme makeover on the cabin, or dress the exterior in oodles of personalized touches. By going at the options list like a kid in a candy store, we were able to build the ultimate subcompact hatchback for a final tally of about $36,000. And we went light on the cosmetic add-ons.
2017 Chevrolet Sonic LT
The restyled 2017 Chevrolet Sonic LT is one of the better subcompact hatchbacks we looked at, but it doesn’t measure up overall to the Honda Fit. Unlike some competitors, it has a fairly roomy rear seat, and its relatively quiet interior makes it pleasant to drive, even at higher speeds, whereas many subcompacts bombard you with a din of noise. The suspension does a good job of soaking up bumps for a fairly comfortable ride. And its 138 hp, 1.8-liter engine—one of the strongest of the group—provides quick acceleration that makes passing or merging into highway traffic easy. It does make a fair amount of revving noise when you hit the accelerator, but that’s not unusual in these cars. The Sonic has also earned the best overall crash-test scores of this group. What the Sonic doesn’t give you, however, is the Fit’s versatile interior, excellent fuel economy, and lower ownership costs (according to Kelley Blue Book). In fact, its 28 mpg in combined city/highway driving is one of the lowest of the group.
The Sonic LT comes with a number of handy standard features, such as automatic headlights, satellite radio, the OnStar driver-assistance system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. You can also order advanced safety features on the Sonic LT that you can’t get on many other subcompacts—forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems—although to do so you’ll have to ante up for about $1,100 in option packages.
You can also get a somewhat more powerful and fuel-efficient turbocharged 1.4-liter engine for an extra $750. It gives you an additional 2 mpg with the automatic transmission, but you would have to wait about eight years for the engine’s extra fuel efficiency to pay off its price premium. As it is, the Sonic is already one of the most expensive subcompacts we considered. The LT starts at almost $20,000 with an automatic transmission and the destination charge. To that we added the $495 Driver Confidence package to get the forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, as well as rear parking sensors. But that also requires adding the $650 Convenience Package, with keyless entry and ignition and some other niceties we’d probably otherwise skip. That brought our configured price to almost $21,000 (although TrueCar says the average transaction price is closer to $20,500).
2017 Toyota Yaris 5-Door LE
The big news for the 2017 Toyota Yaris is that all trim versions now come with the advanced Toyota Safety Sense C package, which includes forward-collision warning (with auto braking), lane-departure warning, and headlights with automatic high-beam control. That makes the Yaris and the Toyota Prius c the only cars in this group to provide these features as standard. All trims also come standard with Toyota’s Encore infotainment system, which includes a 6.1-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, and voice control. Offsetting those positives, however, is the Yaris’s weak engine, which delivers poor acceleration and middling fuel economy, not to mention the car’s lack of a backup camera and a telescoping steering wheel.
We found the 5-Door LE, priced at a little over $18,000, to be the sweet spot in the Yaris lineup. The entry-level L trim, which costs about $900 less, omits such basic features as power mirrors, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. The sportier SE, which is about $700 more than the LE, adds a sport-tuned suspension, quicker steering, larger wheels, fog lights, four-wheel disc brakes, and fancier trim. But we think the LE is a better overall value.
2017 Ford Fiesta SE
The Ford Fiesta is a good all-around subcompact applauded by many reviewers. Brent Romans of Edmunds told us, “It is fun to drive. It handles well around turns. It feels nimble. And the interior is pretty nice for the money that you’re paying.” But several drawbacks kept it from ranking among our top choices, including its very tight rear seat, smallish cargo area, and lackluster ratings in the IIHS small-overlap frontal crash test and child-seat anchors evaluation.
If we were going to buy a Fiesta, we would go for the midlevel SE, which retails for about $17,000 with an automatic transmission and the destination charge. We’d also add the optional $995 201A package, which includes Ford’s new Sync 3 touchscreen entertainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 911 Assist, satellite radio, fog lights, and larger alloy wheels. That would bring the total to about $18,000.
Ford also offers a unique turbocharged three-cylinder engine in the Fiesta SE (all other subcompacts, except the Mini, use four-cylinder engines), but you can get it only in the SE trim level and only with a manual transmission. It’s lightweight and surprisingly powerful, while raising the Fiesta’s combined fuel economy from 31 to 36 mpg, 2 mpg more than the Fit EX. The engine costs an extra $995, but you’ll also save a thousand bucks by not getting the automatic transmission.
2017 Kia Rio EX
Like the Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic, the Kia Rio EX is one of the better equipped cars in this group. It also has the best warranty you can get in any car. It’s only so-so to drive, though, and it has mediocre crash-test ratings. In a review, Edmunds’s editors write, “Our primary complaint is that the Rio lacks the suspension refinement found in some rivals, and its ride and handling characteristics suffer as a result.” The Rio fell short of our top spot because the Honda Fit offers an even nicer array of standard features, gets better fuel economy, has a more versatile interior, and is safer, more fun to drive, and cheaper to own over the first five years according to Kelley Blue Book.
A major selling point for the Rio is its long warranty: five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, and 10-year powertrain. Most subcompacts come with a basic warranty of three years/36,000 miles and five years for the powertrain. Only the Hyundai Accent and the Mitsubishi Mirage match the Rio’s coverage.
Of the three Rio trim levels—LX, EX, and SX—we found the midlevel-trim EX, which retails for a little under $19,500, to be the best overall value. That price includes the destination charge and the optional Eco package, which comes with Kia’s UVO entertainment/telematics system, a backup camera, automatic headlights, and Bluetooth audio-streaming capability (though it also swaps alloy wheels for steel wheels and drops the standard fog lights and a few other niceties).
Keep in mind, however, that if you get a flat tire in a Kia Rio, you won’t find a spare tire in the back unless you bought it as an accessory. Instead, the car comes with a tire-inflator kit that should provide a temporary fix for a typical puncture through the tire’s tread but likely won’t help if the sidewall that faces outward is punctured. A rep from a Kia dealer told us that we could buy a spare-tire kit for the Rio for $250, which includes a temporary spare tire, a jack, and a lug wrench, as well as a storage box that fits into the car’s rear cargo area.
2017 Hyundai Accent Sport
The Hyundai Accent offers a comfortable ride, a relatively quiet cabin, responsive handling, roomy front seats, and impressive interior quality. It also comes with the same excellent warranty as its corporate cousin, the Kia Rio. But it doesn’t come as well-equipped as our top pick, and its fuel economy is mediocre for this class. Moreover, while the hatchback version hasn’t undergone IIHS testing, the Accent sedan is the only model in this group with a Poor rating—the lowest—in the institute’s small-overlap frontal crash test.
The entry-level price for the base Accent SE hatchback is an invitingly low $17,000, but that’s without such core standard features as cruise control, Bluetooth, or a telescoping steering wheel (it only tilts). For about $1,300 more, we like the Sport model, which provides those features as well as standard automatic headlights, alloy wheels, fog lights, and other upgrades. Like the Kia Rio, however, the Accent comes standard with only a tire-inflator kit rather than a spare tire; a rep from a Hyundai dealership told us that we could buy a spare-tire kit for $325.
2017 Nissan Versa Note SV
While we gave the Nissan Versa Note high marks for its very good fuel economy and generous interior space, it didn’t jell into an attractive-enough overall package to be our top pick. Among reviewers, it has gotten a lukewarm reception for its lackluster performance and handling, as well as its low-quality interior materials. Plus, no versions come with a telescoping steering wheel, which is an item we expect in most models.
We think the sweet spot in the Versa Note line is the SV trim, which has a relatively low price of a little over $17,000. It comes with a backup camera and a basic entertainment package, including a 5-inch color screen, Bluetooth, a USB port, an auxiliary jack, and satellite radio. To get the better NissanConnect infotainment system, with a larger touchscreen, voice control, mobile apps, and navigation, you have to move up to the SR and get a $500 option package; this kicks up the price by about $2,000 and makes the car about the same price as the Honda Fit EX. No contest.
2017 Toyota Prius c Two
You might be tempted to go for the Toyota Prius c if maximum fuel economy is your top priority, as it’s the only hybrid in this group. It’s also well-equipped, with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system and advanced Safety Sense C package—with forward-collision and lane-departure warnings, auto braking, and auto high beams—standard on every trim. But we don’t recommend it, because the Prius c is very small, expensive, and no joy to drive.
At 46 mpg combined, the Prius c is easily the most fuel efficient of this group and one of the most miserly cars of any kind that you can buy in the US. We think the midlevel Two version is the best value, but at close to $22,000 with the destination charge, it’s one of the highest-priced subcompacts we looked at. And even for that price, you don’t get a backup camera, which is available only on the top-of-the-line, $26,000 Four version.
2017 Mitsubishi Mirage SE
The Mitsubishi Mirage is a mixed bag. It looks surprisingly good on paper, with lots of available features and an impressively low price, but it’s one of the worst-reviewed subcompacts we looked at. It did receive a freshening for 2017 that includes exterior and interior styling tweaks, a new suspension tuning, and slightly more horsepower.
For a little less than $17,000, including an automatic transmission and the destination charge, the Mitsubishi Mirage SE comes standard with automatic climate control, smart keyless entry, push-button start, a backup camera, and an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But it has a tilt-only steering wheel and doesn’t offer such niceties as voice control, automatic headlights, or satellite radio. Its small, 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine delivers an excellent 39 mpg combined fuel economy, which is better than all but the Toyota Prius c hybrid in this group, yet its meager 78 horsepower also makes it the weakest here. It does match the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio with a lengthy five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, and five years of roadside assistance. And its crash test results are okay, but not among the best.
As Edmunds says, “Competing subcompacts are simply more refined and enjoyable to drive.” If you’re shopping in this particularly low price range, we suggest you look for a low-mileage, used Honda Fit.
Hyundai recently introduced a redesigned 2018 Accent sedan that’s expected to go on sale in the early fall, with a hatchback version coming a little later. The new Accent features revised exterior and interior styling, and its reworked dimensions should make the cabin a little roomier. It will offer a standard backup camera as well as a new infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Hyundai has said that fuel economy will increase and that the new Accent’s safety systems will employ auto braking, which few rivals currently offer.
Over the next year, Ford is expected to release a redesigned 2018 Fiesta, which has already been introduced in Europe. Slightly larger, this version features fresh interior styling and is claimed to have a roomier rear seat (which the Fiesta badly needs) and a quieter cabin. The new Fiesta also offers a number of advanced safety features, such as forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems, pedestrian detection, and blind-spot warning, all of which are still relatively rare in subcompacts. Ford hasn’t yet said when the new model will be sold here, but it might not appear until late 2017.
The redesigned 2017 Honda Fit EX is the best subcompact hatchback you can buy for under $20,000, which is a reasonable limit for what we think you should spend on a car of this class. Its interior packaging is amazingly versatile, with a very roomy rear seat and different seating configurations that make it more practical than any of its competitors. Its 34 mpg combined fuel economy makes it one of the most efficient conventional cars you can buy. The Fit comes well-equipped for the money, with standard features that are hard to find in other subcompacts and some nifty infotainment features that make the most of your smartphone. It’s fun to drive, too. Yes, it has some minor annoyances, but that goes with the territory in this budget-conscious class. Overall, we think most people will be quite happy with the Fit for everyday driving.
Originally published: March 1, 2017