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 subcompacts start at under $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 virtually all vehicles as of 2018, 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 warning systems—some with automatic emergency braking—are becoming more commonplace as well.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2019

This class has been waning in popularity somewhat as buyers shift toward subcompact crossover SUVs. Accordingly, there are no major revamps here, just minor updates and trim changes. The Chevrolet Spark gets a restyled front fascia with available LED running lamps, as well as a new infotainment system, two illuminated USB ports, and available Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking. The Ford Fiesta gets an ST-Line model that adds sporty interior and exterior trim features. The Mitsubishi Mirage gets a Limited Edition hatchback model with heated front seats, red interior accents, and 15-inch alloy wheels. The vehicle formerly known as the Yaris iA has been renamed simply Yaris; it gets revised front-end styling, a new rear spoiler, and a new steering wheel design, among other minor revisions. There are now three trim levels instead of just one; the top-line XLE model offers previously unavailable features such as leatherette seats, automatic climate control, and rain-sensing wipers. The Yaris Liftback has been dropped for 2019, but a redesigned model is expected for 2020. The remainder of the subcompact-car class is carried over unchanged, or receives minor revisions such as additional standard equipment and/or updated trim and paint colors. The 2019 model year is reportedly the last for the Chevrolet Sonic and Ford Fiesta.

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 minivan-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 class is the Toyota Prius c, introduced for 2012 as a smaller, less-expensive stablemate to the original Prius. As expected of a hybrid, 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.