Best and Worst Affordable Small Cars
In the U.S. News affordable small car rankings, there's a clear trend: reviewers like small Hondas. The company's products account for three of the top five affordable small cars, while Toyota's youth-oriented Scion division and Mazda round out the top five.
Top Five Affordable Small Cars
The Honda Civic delivers the convenience of a comfortable mid-size family car. Its smooth ride and interior space are favorites with reviewers, who appreciate the availability of uplevel options such as leather seats and a navigation system. However, some are put off by the outlandish two-level dashboard with digital speedometer.
Reviewers say that the compact five-door Fit has the soul of a sports car and the practicality of a wagon. Its fun-to-drive handling, nice appointments and flexible folding rear seat are highlights. Even better, Car & Driver named the 109-horsepower, 38 MPG fuel-sipper as part of its "10Best" list. An all-new 2009 model (scheduled release in the Fall) will gain electronic stability control, a feature not previously available.
Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda's green Civic wins a spot as a stand-alone model thanks to its hybrid-electric drivetrain, which delivers as much as 45 MPG in highway driving. The Civic hybrid earns praise for going about its business with the regular Civic's grown-up car manners and appearance. While the powertrain's driving experience is similar to that of a conventional car, reviewers say that it is most similar to the driving experience of a slow car.
A product of Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" mentality, the Mazda3 wins over enthusiast drivers who enjoy its accurate, direct steering and well-controlled suspension. Testers like the Mazda's adventurous styling, but are less impressed that side airbags don't come with every level of equipment, and electronic stability control isn't available at all.
Love or hate its distinctive exterior, the Scion xB combines plenty of space and a low price tag. When you add in its peppy, fuel efficient performance and the fact that it is highly customizable, you get a hot hatch that most reviewers recommend.
Bottom Three Affordable Small Cars
There's consistency at the bottom of the class, as two of the bottom three cars are from Suzuki and one is a Chevrolet. But the cars share more than just low rankings: all three trace their origins to the General Motors subsidiary that encompasses the remains of former Korean automaker Daewoo.
Well, the Aveo is cheap, but, well, it's cheap. The underpowered engine has to work hard and delivers gas mileage that is disappointing for such a small, slow car. The seats are literally a pain in the rear, and the steering earned criticism. Finally the Aveo has few safety features as standard equipment and side curtain airbags aren't available for any trim level.
Suzuki's European styling gives the Reno a clean appearance, and the interior has good room for the car's tiny size. But its 2.0-liter engine is noisy and slurps down fuel, delivering an embarrassing-for-its-size 28 MPG in highway driving and a ghastly 19 MPG in city driving.
With the Forenza, Suzuki promises a compact car at a subcompact price. Trouble is, while the Forenza is bigger in size than some other affordable small cars, its appeal is considerably smaller -- at least according to reviewers. Most complaints center on the Forenza's lack of power, poor handling and bad scores on some safety tests.
For a closer look at these budget cars, see our slideshow.