At the latest Detroit auto show Honda shot a canon across the bows of its subcompact hatch competitors that they had better look out as it appears their new 2015 incarnation may prove to be a class leader. But that is simple conjecture right now as all we can say is it looks nice. But what if you need a subcompact hatch right now for your commute, getting to school or for you teenager who just totaled your very expensive Benz.
We think that the subcompact market is one of the most interesting in the business because it has to offer so much for so little cost to new car buyers who are ever more discerning. Gone are the days when people thought a Ford Pinto or the inside of a Pontiac T-1000 was acceptable what with the rattles, buzzing and cheap vinyl covering every inch of the interiors.
But now, subcompact hatchbacks can be fun as well as useful, stylish as well as fuel efficient. We think it’s about time that every automaker put their best foot forward in this segment, much as Honda did when it unleashed the world’s first truly amazing subcompact hatch onto the world—the 1976 Honda Civic CVCC. And now that the Civic has grown up, the Fit has filled its old shoes so let’s see how it does against its toughest foes.
But First—What About That New Small Overlap IIHS Crash Test?
This test is the most difficult for any new car to pass as it recreates a car impacting with something like a pole or a tree at a rate of speed that most often times allows said solid object to pass through most crumple zone designs. Sadly, only the 2014 Chevy Spark passed with a rating of “Acceptable” meaning it was named a 2014 “Top Safety Pick.” The Versa Note has yet to undergo this test but the Yaris and Mazda2 only got ratings of marginal and the Fit a “poor” rating in that test. Other models which got “poor” small overlap crash ratings were the Fiat 500, Mitsubishi Mirage, Prius C and the Hyundai Accent. Mainly, try your best not to drive your compact hatch into any solid objects. Wise advice at any time.
2014 Toyota Yaris 5-door Hatch SE: (Last Place)
The latest Toyota Yaris hatchback is the visual antithesis of its predecessor which essentially looked like an overgrown automotive Pokemon cartoon character. Now, however, the still diminutive Yaris has an exterior design replete with far more macho muscular bulges, angrily styled headlamps all riding on aggressive looking 16-inch alloy wheels with our SE test unit. While in no way off putting, the looks of the new Yaris try a bit too hard in places and on more than one occasion made us think of a midget bodybuilder competing in a roller derby. Still, no matter how odd, having character counts as a plus.
You can buy a Versa in three door form as well as the five door variant we tested but we think that would seriously hinder the vehicle’s functionality although a basic version in that body style starts at $14,370. But we think our top of the line SE variant with its sportier looks, front and rear disc brakes (others get rear drums), sportier suspension tuning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, Bluetooth, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and 6-speaker AM/FM/CD player with 6-speakers and USB/iPod integration to be the wisest trim level choice at $17,280 with the optional automatic transmission.
Sadly, even though this is a much newer model than the Honda Fit, it is let down a lack of any real clever interior space efficiency and by a very narrow 15.6 cubic foot cargo capacity that struggled to hold a week’s worth of groceries. The seats do fold down 60/40 for more space but then you had better make sure you don’t bring your kids with you to the grocery store. Rear seat leg and headroom also felt cramped compared to competitor’s most especially the Fit.
Lastly, while we were impressed with the tight steering feel and go-kart cornering abilities of the Yaris SE, we found it hard to really have a good time driving this car thanks to its anemic 1.5 liter 106 horsepower/103 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder which in our tester was mated to a 4-speed automatic that struggled to get the most out of this engine. The SE is also available with a five-speed manual, however, and we are quite sure that this car would be much more enjoyable to drive and own when equipped with that transmission.
EPA estimates for fuel economy in our Yaris automatic were 30 city/35 highway and we averaged 31.2 in mostly around town driving. Now, the 2014 Toyota Yaris is a perfectly fine, economical first car but it is still unfortunately beset by the feeling that it is not really a “grown up” car. And since you can buy our higher scoring models for less often times we wonder why anyone would bother with the Yaris?
2014 Nissan Versa Note: (Third Place)
This is where you start to notice that buying any one of the following three contestants in this comparison test will always make you a wise shopper. We loved the Nissan Versa Note when we drove it at its launch near San Diego and its interior cleverness is the only car this size that comes close to the Fit for all around utility. Also, whereas the cheaper Versa sedan has a coarse feeling ride, vague steering and handling along with a noise issue the hatchback Versa Note suffers from these issues on a far lesser scale. In fact, even with its CVT automatic gearbox (which usually is annoying and noisy) we enjoyed driving the Versa Note around town and even found the power from the 109 horsepower 1.6 liter 4-cylinder to be perfectly adequate.
The 2014 Nissan Versa Note also boasts a 31 city/40 highway EPA fuel economy average and a five speed manual transmission is available only on the most basic trim levels. Prices start at just $13,990 but we recommend at least the $15,990 SV trim which adds air conditioning, higher quality seat fabric and a front seat armrest, the CVT auto, Bluetooth, steering wheel mounted audio and cruise control, power windows and locks as well as the option to add other extras. You can’t beat the $540 convenience package which adds a back-up camera, AM/FM/CD audio system with screen, USB/i-Pod integration, satellite radio, a rear seat center armrest and a false floor in the cargo hold.
For real luxury Nissan also offers navigation, alloy wheels, heated front seats, a “Birds-Eye” around view camera monitor that helps you park a tiny car, foglamps, a rear spoiler and Pandora radio. Still, adding all of that in only bring the price to a little over $18,600 which undercuts the current 2014 Honda Fit feature for feature. Cargo hauling ability is very good with 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats with that number growing to 38.3 when the seats are folded. Overall, a terrific effort from Nissan.
For more detailed information and where to buy these vehicles locally in your preferred trim and color check out iSeeCars.com. To find out who came in first and second place, check out part two!