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 $15,000, 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 2020
This class has been waning in popularity as buyers shift toward subcompact crossover SUVs, which has caused some manufacturers to shift their focus accordingly. The Ford Fiesta and Toyota Prius C (which was previously the sole hybrid model in the class) have been discontinued. The Chevrolet Sonic and Spark, both of which were reportedly slated to be dropped for 2020, hang on for another year at least; the Sonic loses its available manual transmission, and the Spark carries over unchanged. The future of the Honda Fit is uncertain at this point as well. A redesigned Fit is expected to launch as a 2020 model—possibly with a hybrid powertrain—but as of this writing it is unclear whether the new Fit will be sold in the United States.
Our subcompact car class loses one more member this year, as we have moved the Kia Soul to our Subcompact SUV class with the Soul’s redesign for 2020. With its tall, upright body structure, the Soul straddles the line between a subcompact car and subcompact SUV, but as the latter class has grown and developed, the Soul is now a better fit there.
There is one new entrant in the subcompact car class: The Toyota Yaris gets a new Hatchback model that, like the current Yaris sedan, is a restyled, rebadged version of the Mazda 2. Toyota sells these models here via a partnership with Mazda —Mazda no longer offers either body style of the 2 for sale in the U.S. The 2020 Yaris Hatchback is equipped with Apple Car-Play/Android Auto functionality, a touchscreen infotainment display, and low-speed forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking as standard equipment.
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. Should the new-generation Fit find its way to the U.S. market, we expect it to continue to offer standout space efficiency.
Good fuel economy is expected in this class, and few entries are going to disappoint in that regard. However, bargain prices are also expected, and the extra cost of sophisticated hybrid powertrains pushes up the bottom-line price significantly. With the discontinuation of the Toyota Prius C, there are no hybrids in the class, and unless the redesigned Honda Fit comes as one, we doubt there are any on the horizon.