Gas prices are hovering just under $2 a gallon (depending on where you live), and that – as you’d guess – is influencing how car buyers shop. When fuel is this cheap, EPA estimates take on far less significance when looking for a new ride, which is one of the reasons why SUVs, crossovers and – of course – pickups are all the rage. The popular rides may not have more interior room then the subcompacts, but because they sit up higher, they’re naturally less fuel efficient. That big, heavy SUV that gets – realistically – no more than 20 mpg has grown in popularity because gas is cheap. So, who cares?
If there ever was a time to go against the flow, now is the time to check out the subcompact crop. These are not the ‘econoboxes’ of yesteryear, when small cars were cramped, bare and only good for getting from one place to another cheaply. I owned a 1979 Ford Fiesta – a classic econobox – but it got me where I needed to go.
The current crop of subcompacts needs to be given another look, as they are surprisingly roomy and fun to drive. And because they’re collecting dust on most dealer lots, they can be had for a steal; you should look to pick one up for thousands under sticker. Since they’re all start way under $20,000, you might buy a new car (a NEW CAR) in the mid-teens.
I had the chance to test drive five subcompacts: Toyota’s Corolla iM and Yaris iA; Kia Rio and Forte; and Hyundai’s Accent. All had roomy front seats that my 6’8” frame had no problem fitting into, or once in staying during a lengthy road trip. They all were stylish, handled beautifully and had enough technology to satisfy anyone looking for the latest in infotainment.
2018 Toyota Corolla iM
The 2018 Toyota Corolla iM has just been replaced with the newly introduced 2019 Corolla Hatchback. However, a few iMs are still available from local dealers. And since it’s no longer officially in the Toyota lineup, now’s the time to make an offer since that dealer wants it off his lot. The iM is built in Japan and is the most expensive of the five cars listed above, but should be one where you can swing the best deal. It was also my favorite of the five, probably because its 168 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine was the most powerful, and the iM’s long wheelbase gave it a planted feel. It had the highest starting MSRP of $18,850.
2018 Toyota Yaris iA
The 2018 Toyota Yaris iA has been rebranded; in the 2019 model year, it’s simply the Yaris. It’s offered as both a two-door and a four-door hatchback, as well as a 4-door sedan, but there’s but one engine choice: a 106 hp, 1.5-liter engine. And it comes with a starting MSRP of $15,635. This is one of the holdovers from Scion, now absorbed into the Toyota brand. From both a design and feature standpoint the Yaris is more than a step below the Corolla, and was my least favorite of the five.
2019 Hyundai Accent & Kia Rio
The Kia Rio and the Hyundai Accent share a lot of basic features, including a 130 hp, 1.6-liter engine. However, the Accent is only offered as a four-door sedan, while the Rio is available as both a sedan and a hatchback. Other than that, there really isn’t a lot to distinguish between the two, although the Accent did seem to offer an updated interior. Also, the Accent’s starting MSRP is a bit lower $13,995, compared the Rio’s at $15,300.
2019 Kia Forte
The Kia Forte, with a base MSRP of $17,690, was my second favorite of the five. It has a strong 147 hp, 2.0-liter engine and it is also available as a sedan and a hatchback. The hatchback trim is a little more expensive, but the extra utility is worth the price.
Don’t pass up the opportunity to pick up a real bargain from your local dealership, especially before the end of the year. These are fun cars to drive, and you won’t be disappointed, with either the drive…or the drive out price.