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Sub-Sational: 5 Fun to Drive Cars That Won't Break the Bank

We look at 5 options that balance price, features, and driving experience amongst today’s subcompact offerings.
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The compact car scene has grown mature roots, flourishing into an automotive segment that dominates. While its little brother, the subcompact car, continues to find its place amongst the growth of subcompact SUVs , there are a number of solid nameplates for those who need a reliable A to B vehicle that keeps them on the road and their budget on track.

Here we look at 5 options that balance price, features, and driving experience amongst today’s subcompact offerings.

2018 Hyundai Accent | Starts from $14,499

2018 Hyundai accent

The all-new 2018 Hyundai Accent solidifies it as one of the best subcompacts on the market today.

The new iteration of the Accent continues to move towards a level of perfection that has to surprise many—especially those who remember the sub-$10,000 cash-only Accent that was on offer about a decade ago.

Although the drive might feel a little underwhelming at times, you have to remind yourself that this isn’t meant to be a world beater. It’s just a little guy—and it does its job. On top of that, Hyundai continues to deliver one of the most straightforward, easy-to-understand interiors. The layout of infotainment and HVAC controls make sense at first glance, something that can’t be said about many vehicles. Add to that styling cues that have the Accent looking like a classy customer. The cabin could be a touch quieter, but aside from that there’s not too much to complain about here.

 Ford Fiesta | Starts from $16,580

2017 Ford Fiesta

I remember test driving a Euro-spec Ford Fiesta about a decade ago, just ahead of its North American launch. For so long we were inundated with stories and photos of these “European cars” that weren’t available in Canada—and our jealousy was palpable. Based on that atmosphere, an opportunity to drive the Fiesta before it launched felt that much sweeter. The end result left me asking, “That’s it?” I wasn’t impressed. Or, more accurately, the hype around such “Euro” cars was so heightened that I expected it to change my life. I was expecting a supercar hidden under a subcompact shell.

Thankfully, I’ve adjusted my expectations. And thankfully Ford has improved on its in-car experience—from their Sync 3 infotainment system that finally delivers in a way the original Sync system couldn’t, to a drive quality that actually adds a little fun to an econobox. Although the interior quality feels a little clunky, Ford has found their stride with the Fiesta at a dire time in the segment.

Honda Fit | Starts from $15,190

2018 Honda Fit Sport

What the 2018 Honda Fit lacks in styling exuberance—that front-end is pretty bland and its lines do little to excite—it makes up in a refined fit (pun intended) and solid drive. In fact, aside from our outlier below, it probably takes top marks in both categories here.

There’s a feel of being more connected to the earth below you in the Honda Fit than most in this segment. That alone makes it a strong contender. And, while I think Honda generally misses with its dashboard layout, there’s little rattle, the interior noise is at a minimum, and every dial and knob feels as if it’ll last for decades to come. It’s as solid as they come in this field.

 Toyota Yaris | Starts from $15,490

2018 Toyota Yaris

The 2018 Toyota Yaris could be seen as a de facto inclusion. Some of you are nodding your head in agreement. But, have you seen the 2018 model? The grille is eye catching. And not necessarily in a good—or bad—way. I’m still not sure if I like it. But it stands out. This is as bold as the Yaris has ever been and that’s a really good thing for Toyota who is beginning to loosen their tie and add some panache to their vehicles.

The updated interior—with a standard 6.1-inch touchscreen—is modern and up-to-date, unlike past versions of the Yaris. There’s a little jolt of excitement looking at it now, which is a big win for Toyota as the competition continues to grow deeper and stronger.

 Mini Countryman | Starts from $29,290

2018 Mini Countryman

Every good list has an outlier—the Countryman is mine. While it’s not a budget-friendly option like the others, a recent test drive forced my hand to include it. Especially since I’ve never been a fan of the brand. While the drive quality has always been high with Mini, the styling has always come across as gimmicky and thus I completely wrote them off in my mind as a serious contender.

Something has changed, though, and it’s worth mentioning. The Countryman continues Mini’s styling DNA, but the interior is more focused—controls, lighting, fit and finish…they’re all on-point and much more dialed in than before. It took me by surprise. Of course, the drive is sublime. It handles turns at high speeds as if that’s the only way to take them; zipping in and out of lanes never felt so satisfying.

And, yes, while it is the larger of the Minis, its footprint is within the range of the others here.

This is as good as an outlier can get.

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