The choice of subcompact cars on the market has never been better.

Not just better in terms of numbers either, but in quality, reliability, safety, equipment and every other factor the average buyer looks for in a car.

Gas mileage isn't bad either, even if it doesn't match some of the paper-thin Hondas and Geos of a few decades ago--which didn't have to meet today's much tougher safety standards.

But if you're in the market for a subcompact, which should you go for?

Is a shiny new subcompact fresh on the market any better than some of the cars that have roamed the roads for a few years now?

The Honda Fit, for example, has been on sale in largely the same format since the 2009 model year. The Mazda2 launched in 2011, as did the Ford Fiesta.

Toyota's Yaris, Nissan's Versa sedan, Chevy's Sonic and Hyundai's Accent were all 2012 cars, while newest to the market is the 2013 Nissan Versa Note hatchback.

2013 Nissan Versa
From $11,990, 35 mpg combined

If newness is indeed a virtue to fuel efficiency, then the 2013 Versa--the sedan was introduced as a 2012--benefits from that. At 35 mpg with a continuously-variable transmission, it has the best combined mpg here.

Its 40 mpg on the highway matches the best too, while it's also particularly affordable. It's not the most fun though, nor the most thoughtfully-designed.

2013 Toyota Yaris
From $14,370, 33 mpg combined

Another recent redesign, the Yaris, earns a respectable 33 mpg combined. Its highway rating lags behind the best, but it feels like a quality product and remains decent to drive.

On efficiency, its hybrid stablemate, the Toyota Prius C, takes the honors in this class--for a healthy extra sum, of course.

2013 Chevrolet Sonic
From $14,200, 33 mpg combined

The Chevy Sonic is a massive improvement on the old Aveo, and the 1.4-liter turbocharged models are capable of 40 mpg highway with the manual transmission (37 with the auto).

That's not bad at all, since the Sonic is a fun car to drive, and quality is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. They're selling well, and we aren't surprised.

2013 Ford Fiesta
From $13,200, 33 mpg combined

Like Chevy, Ford has really gotten its act together with the Fiesta. Now a few years old, it's soon to get an ultra-efficient 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine for even better economy (and performance), but the 1.6 still matches the class average.

In SFE form, highway mileage rises to 40 mpg. The Fiesta is a real hoot to drive too, proving economy and fun aren't mutually exclusive.

2013 Kia Rio
From $13,600, 32 mpg combined

The Kia Rio's mileage took a dive after an EPA investigation--it was once a 40 mpg highway car. The revised 37 mpg isn't bad, but the neatly-styled Rio is no longer a class leader for mileage.

Its spacious interior will be appreciated though, as will its low purchase price--it undercuts its Hyundai Accent sibling by a useful thousand dollars or so.

2013 Mazda Mazda2

2013 Mazda Mazda2

2013 Mazda2
From $14,720, 32 mpg combined

The Mazda2 is one of the oldest vehicles here, and that's borne out by gas mileage that's not quite up to the competition.

Its 1.5-liter engine is willing and smooth, but can't quite match the others here on highway mileage. Under the skin, the Mazda's chassis isn't dissimilar to the Ford Fiesta's, and it shares that car's agile handling. Fun, but not the most frugal.

2013 Hyundai Accent
From $14,545, 32 mpg combined

Under the skin, the Accent is the same as the Kia Rio, with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. Its styling is a little more striking, but not as cohesive.

Unfortunately for Hyundai, like the Rio, its Accent was one of the models adjusted after the EPA mileage scandal. So despite its relative newness, it lags behind the most efficient cars here (officially, at least).

2013 Honda Fit
From $15,425, 31 mpg combined

The Fit is the oldest here, and it really does show in terms of efficiency. Its 31 mpg combined is really nothing special, and 35 highway only matches the other old-timer here, the Mazda2.

The Fit isn't quite as fun as the Mazda (though it's far from bad through the turns), but it's the best of the group by far on practicality--the cabin is cavernous and highly adaptable. That's really its virtue. We're looking forward to a more efficient variant of the next Fit, though.

As we said at the top, there's plenty of choice out there these days in the subcompact class, and many cars have their own virtues. The Versa is most economical, the Fit most practical, the Mazda 2 and Ford Fiesta the most fun, and the Chevy Sonic has the best mix of performance and economy.

Sadly, no one vehicle yet combines all these traits, but we wouldn't put it past the next-generation Honda Fit, nor the Ecoboost Ford Fiesta.

Here's to raising the bar a little higher in the near future...


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