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 $13,000 including destination charge, and most start in the $14,000–$15,000 range.

One of the biggest impacts on the subcompact class occurred in 2012. That was when government regulations kicked in that required all cars sold in this country be equipped with an antiskid system—an important dynamic safety device that includes traction control and antilock brakes. As such, it leveled the playing field, as some entries in the subcompact class already had those features (which boosted their price) while others didn’t. This was a huge step in our opinion, as insurance-industry statistics show overwhelmingly that these features help save lives. Most cars in this class also include front-side airbags and curtain-side airbags, also important safety features.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2017

There are no major changes in the subcompact car class for 2017, but plenty of updates nonetheless. The Chevrolet Sonic gets new styling and a freshened interior, along with available forward collision warning, keyless access and starting, heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, and rear park assist. The Kia Soul is refreshed with updated styling, newly available safety equipment, and an available turbocharged engine. The Kia Rio SX trim level is now available only as a hatchback; the four-door sedan continues in LX and EX form. The Mitsubishi Mirage line adds a “G4” 4-door sedan body style and gets a 4-horsepower bump (to 78); revised suspension, steering, and brakes; and available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. After its redesign last year, the Smart ForTwo sees the return of its convertible body style and the BRABUS sport package. With the demise of Toyota’s Scion division for 2017, the Scion iA is rebadged as the Toyota Yaris iA. The remainder of the class is carried over unchanged, or receives minor revisions such as additional standard safety equipment or a shuffling of trim levels.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

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.