It used to be that “subcompact” denoted a cheap, stripped-to-the-basics econobox whose only attraction was price—and maybe fuel economy. That kind of subcompact is almost extinct. Most now come standard with a host of features that weren’t even offered in the segment ten years ago, accompanied in some cases by surprising levels of refinement and available amenities.
Though the added comfort and convenience features mean these cars are a bit more expensive than they used to be, they are still among the most affordable vehicles on the road. The lowest-priced subcompact starts at about $14,000 including destination charge, and most start in the $16,000–$17,000 range.
Though the low-buck vehicles in the subcompact class typically aren’t the first to receive cutting-edge technology features, a number of important safety features have trickled down to this segment in recent years. As required by law, rearview backup cameras are now standard in all 2018-model-year vehicles, and antiskid systems have been mandated since 2012. Most cars in this class also include front-side airbags and curtain-side airbags (also important safety features), and sophisticated forward collision mitigation systems—some with autonomous emergency braking—are becoming more commonplace as well.
The Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio are both redesigned for 2018. The Accent loses its hatchback version and now comes solely as a 4-door sedan; the Rio continues to offer 4-door-hatchback (which Kia calls 5-Door) and 4-door-sedan versions. Both the Accent and Rio are powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine (horsepower is 132 in the Accent and 130 in the Rio), and both are available with forward collision-mitigation systems. The Accent offers niceties such as heated front seats, proximity push-button start, and a hands-free trunk-release feature. The Honda Fit gets a significant refresh that includes new front and rear styling; retuned suspension and steering; additional noise-reduction measures; and the availability of the Honda Sensing suite of safety features, which includes Collision Mitigation Braking and Road Departure Mitigation. The Smart ForTwo loses its gas-engine powertrain; it is now offered only as a pure-electric vehicle for the American market. The Toyota Yaris gets restyled front and rear fasciae, as well as expanded availability of the Entune infotainment system. The remainder of the subcompact-car class is carried over unchanged, or receives minor revisions such as additional standard safety equipment, updated trim, and/or a shuffling of standard equipment and option-package content.
Although subcompacts are—by definition—small on the outside, the Honda Fit is surprisingly roomy on the inside. Its tall build and mini-van-like profile result in passenger and cargo space that’s second to none in this class, and rivals that of some subcompact SUVs.
Good fuel economy is expected in this class, and few entries are going to disappoint in that regard. But with unpredictable gas prices, it takes on more importance than usual. The lone hybrid in the subcompact class is the Toyota Prius c, introduced for 2012 as a smaller, less-expensive stablemate to the original Prius. As expected of hybrids, fuel economy on the Prius c is far better than that of any other car in this class. On the flipside, Ford’s Fiesta ST boasts a 197-horsepower turbocharged engine and an invigorating driving character that puts it closer to the sporty/performance car category.