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Car and Driver: Chevy Sonic vs. Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris - Comparison Tests
Appetizers: Life in the automotive B-segment can be piquant, almost zesty. Choose wrong, however, and you’re in for beans on toast.
BY JOHN PHILLIPS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY CJ BENNINGER September 2011
In the automotive time/space continuum, life first pokes its head out of the primordial pea soup in the B-segment. Some of its denizens are slowpoke slugs with nubs for legs. Others are beginning to sprout wings and dazzling plumage. It’s a mixed bag, with the brightest of its Darwinian candidates evolving at light speed and with the dullest apparently content to linger listlessly in dodo-dom. Selection of the fittest, here, means that shoppers do the selecting, and—as we found out—they’d better do it pretty damned carefully.
We’ve spent time aplenty sampling the bargain Bs. In 2006 (“$15,000 Cheap Skates”), we droned around Ohio celebrating the Buckeye state’s seven dead and oft-maligned presidents. On that trip, the Honda Fit easily won. We revisited the segment in 2010 (“Ego Shrinkers”), only to elect the Fit again to the segment’s highest office, nudging out the Mazda 2 Touring and Ford Fiesta SES. As a result, those two weren’t included in this competition. Yeah, we know, maybe they should have been. We’ll confess that neither would have finished anywhere near last in this face-off. But we gotta draw the line somewhere. Have you seen our restaurant tabs? There’s the food, the alcohol, the pre-arraignment hearings, the occasional small hotel fire.
Our destination was Drummond Island offMichigan’s Upper Peninsula, 700 miles there and back. The island is usually a sleepy place with largely deserted humpy roads that kink through forests inhabited by malevolent-looking pileated woodpeckers. But the island is also home to Drummond Island Resort’s Bayside Dining, renowned for its artful and aromatic appetizers, woodpecker under glass not on offer.
“You spent $135 on lamb hors d’oeuvres?” asked our T&E minder.
“Well, sort of. At first we ordered just one, but a fight broke out.”
When the resort’s executive chef, Frank Jones, heard we’d be touring the environs in econoboxes, he vowed to enliven our travels by fashioning six tasteful and photogenic appetizers, one per car, supplying some gusto where, for instance, the Nissan Versa offered none. Jones promised two appetizers of his own contrivance, with sous-chefs Scott Bousson and Zachary Schroeder contributing likewise, no doubt hoping we’d decree their creations superior to their boss’s. We did not. Chef Jones runs a disciplined kitchen—no hijinks, no insubordination, and, unlike us, no fires.
Folks who buy these B-segment cars usually do so because they can’t afford the entrée. That’s okay. These are apps that will satisfy on their own.
6th Place: 2012 Nissan Versa SL
Highs: A back seat that actually accommodates three adults—briefly.
Lows: You want us to start alphabetically?
The Verdict: Here, again, is that age-old argument for buying used.
Full write up;
5th Place: 2012 Kia Rio5 SX
Highs: Laden with features and amenities, above-its-station interior styling.
Lows: Imprecise handling, automatic trans sucks the life out of the twin-cam.
The Verdict: A value-packed ’round-town scooter that looks the part more than it plays the part.
For the full write up;
4th Place: 2012 Hyundai Accent SE
Highs: Silky idle, an accelerative standout, useful long-distance cruiser.
Lows: Mystery Hill steering, obscured rear sightlines, pogo-stick body motions.
The Verdict: A terrific value that, dynamically, remains too fair-to-middling in all of its moves.
For the rest of the write up;
3rd Place: 2012 Toyota Yaris SE
Highs: Enthusiastic styling inside and out, light, agile, willing.
Lows: Needs a sixth gear, driver’s seating position is seriously compromised.
The Verdict: Stick with the SE’s sport-tuned suspension, and the Yaris finally leaks some fun.
For the rest of the write up;
2nd Place: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo
Highs: Pugnacious styling, 138 turbocharged horses, serious grip, satisfying ergonomics.
Lows: Could already go on a diet—both for its weight and for its price.
The Verdict: Elegantly and easily relegates the awful Aveo to distant-memory status.
For the rest of the write up;
1st Place: 2011 Honda Fit Sport
Highs: No-secrets steering, amazing cargo capacity, fun shifter, airy cockpit.
Lows: Wants a sixth gear, buzzy at freeway speeds, could do with some interior texture upgrades.
The Verdict: Since 2006, Honda’s been the judge, jury, and prosecutor in this segment.
A trifecta of goodness, the Fit still owns the B-segment. As mobile appetizers go, this one's a corker. Buy two, and you'll have a full entrée.
Like bruschetta, the Fit is a familiar favorite, returning to its third B-segment comparo and again strutting off with trophies and attaboys. Climbing into the Fit is like strapping on a greenhouse. This is the tallest car in the group, and its minivansized windshield (aided by big portholes under the A-pillars) delivers 180 degrees of glorious worldview. When you can see way, way down the road, driving like a madman takes far less concentration.
With its informative steering, quick shifter, and stern roll control, the Fit devoured our slalom at the highest speed, and when it came time to whoa, its brake pedal was the easiest to modulate. That the Honda won fun-to-drive kudos surprised no one. Of course, fun is often the enemy of usefulness, but with its folding rear seat dropped to the load floor, the Fit also managed to swallow the most cargo in this group.
The chief fault, here, is that, like the Yaris, the Fit needs a sixth gear. At freeway speeds, the engine isn’t exactly screaming, but it’s definitely calling urgently at 3500 to 4000 revs. It’s a shame because the engine is otherwise an angel—quietest at idle, quietest at full throttle. Of course, our test car was a 2011 model. The 2012 Sport promises additional sound insulation, thicker front quarter-windows, new upholstery, and a few classier cabin surfaces.
Best fit and finish, tied for best ergonomics, tied for the quickest to 30 mph... well, we’ve listed all these character proficiencies before. The Fit is a spicy and tasteful little runabout that knows exactly what it needs to be, then delivers the pesto, presto.