Car manufacturers are broadcasting one message loud and clear with their newest compact vehicles: good things can come in small packages. Very, very good things.
The 2007 Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Nissan Versa all offer remarkably roomy interiors, responsive handling, efficient gas mileage, and desirable features like MP3 playback capability. With price tags starting under $14,000, all three subcompacts clearly have cost-conscious young buyers in mind.
Don’t Call Them Compact
Since their introduction in the 1970s, compact and subcompact cars have earned an unpleasant reputation for being style-free econoboxes with cramped interiors: basic transportation, nothing more. Not so for these new automobiles, where creative thinking and efficient design have provided for surprising amounts of leg room and cargo space.
Darryll Harrison Jr., manager of product public relations at Nissan, says, "One of the key selling points for Versa is the interior room and space. Versa has the largest interior cabin volume in its class so people of all sizes can sit and be comfortable." Its name was chosen to reflect "versatile space" of its interior, with a length from front to back over 6 feet long, equal to or larger than some full-size luxury sedans.
The Honda Fit’s Magic Seat® flips and folds to allow for four distinct interior configurations. In the "Tall Mode," drivers get over four feet of space from floor to ceiling, while in "Long Mode," surfboards over seven feet long can be slid inside, and in the "Refresh Mode," the front seatback reclines flat for a comfortable lounging space.
Honda spokesman Chris Martin thinks the Fit’s ease of use is exceptional, noting, "The seats fold completely flat all the way to the hatchback pretty much one-handed without removing the headrest. I’ve done it with a bag of groceries in one hand. No one else has that."
The low price tag on these cars will probably be the first thing to get the attention of young buyers. But they haven’t skimped on equipping them with long lists of fun and useful features, from advanced sound systems to standard air bags. With all of these options, every buyer can customize their ride to suit their personality.
For those of us who can’t live without a constant soundtrack, the audio capabilities of the Versa are tempting. Its optional technology is usually found in much more expensive vehicles, such as pre-wired XMI or SIRIUS satellite radio, a Rockford Fosgate-powered subwoofer, a 6-CD changer that plays MP3 CD-Roms, and an input jack for an iPod. It even comes with a Bluetooth hands-free phone system.
The Yaris S Sedan model is outfitted with standard MP3/Windows Media Audio playback capability and buyers can also choose steering-wheel audio controls. The Honda Fit has its unique Music Link for iPod, which connects the iPod directly to the vehicle’s audio system for the best sound quality and easiest location of individual songs.
Drivers will need some rocking tunes to cruise by. Belying their subcompact pricing, these cars boast sports-car-like attitude. While all three have 4-cylinder engines, they range in horsepower from 106 for the Yaris to 122 hp for the Versa. The Yaris also offers accessories like race-inspired, direct-fit aluminum sports pedals and an optional rear spoiler.
A recent Edmunds.com review complimented the Fit’s nimble, responsive handling. The automatic transmission sport model is the only one in its class with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters like those found on Formula One race cars.
Martin points out, "You don’t even have to take your hands off the wheel. It’s like a video game." To keep the driver’s hands safely on that wheel, the Fit also has antilock brakes standard, and all three of these new subcompacts come equipped with front and side airbags.
Low Price, High Value
A cool audio system and sport shifters shouldn’t be the only reason you choose your next car. If you’re not concerned about getting good gas mileage in any new car you purchase, then you haven’t been paying attention. Luckily, the cost-cutting appeal of the Fit, Yaris, and Versa doesn’t end at their low purchase prices.
All three cars average over 30 miles per gallon, with the manual transmission Yaris getting an estimated 40 mpg on the highway. Their high fuel efficiency will keep saving drivers money every time they stop at the pump.
The Yaris, Fit, and Versa all prove that compact cars can be customizable, comfortable, well-equipped and reasonably priced. Finally, building small also means thinking big.
2007 Toyota Yaris Liftback, Sedan, and S Sedan
MSRP: starting at $10,950
MPG: 34 city/ 40 highway for the manual transmission Liftback
Engine: 4 cylinder 1.5-liter, 106 hp
Transmission: Available in manual or automatic
2007 Honda Fit and Fit Sport
MSRP: starting at $13,850
MPG: 33 city/ 38 highway for manual transmission Fit
Engine: 4-cylinder 1.5-liter, 109 hp
Transmission: Available in manual or automatic
2007 Nissan Versa Hatchback
MSRP: starting around $12,000
MPG: 30 city/ 34 highway for manual transmission
Engine: 4-cylinder 1.8 liter, 122 hp,
Transmission: Available in manual, automatic, and continuously variable transmission
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