In the Sara Bareilles hit “Love Song,” she tells a paramour that she will never write this person a love song just because it was expected of her. Now, we have a very similar ethos in that we won’t give a car a good review just because it may or may not be what is expected of us. In that sense we may take cars other sites rave about like the Kia Rio and not treat it as politely as we would a Soul, Sportage, Optima or one of our other myriad faves from that automaker. Sometimes, even some of the best wind up in last place. The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team may know a thing or two about that.
Now these three compacts (only the Rio EX came as a sedan, the rest were hatchbacks) are among the cream of the crop of affordable, fuel efficient and in many cases rather fun drive minicars. There really isn’t a car in this trio that is as lazily executed as a Toyota Yaris and despite our recent raves about the 2014 Nissan Versa Note we still love the current Honda Fit (which gets replaced soon) and the upcoming 2014 Ford Fiesta. Whoever wins here faces some tough battles ahead.
3rd Place: 2013 Kia Rio EX Sedan
We admit it, we liked driving the Rio SX hatchback (it’s sexy and doesn’t look like a hunchbacked dwarf as does its sedan sibling) because of its looks and the EX was a letdown because it really felt like a stripped out, featureless econobox. The Rio hatchback has style, charisma and in SX trim you really can get a lot of features you wouldn’t expect for its highly reasonable sticker price. Sadly, the Rio displays in EX trim a serious need for some additional suspension control over bumps which adds to a lack of refinement from the 138 horsepower 4 cylinder which could use some sound deadening measures. Lastly, order an EX decently equipped with appealing options and it costs more than an SX which we found to make no sense at all. .
2nd: 2013 Chevy Sonic LT Hatchback
We were quite surprised at how enamored we were with the 2013 Chevy Sonic especially given the fact that we drove a highly affordable yet supremely well equipped $18,335 LT model. There are trim levels above it but the LT features air conditioning, Bluetooth with audio streaming, AM/FM/CD with 6-premium speakers and USB/i-Pod integration, alloy wheels, a 6-speed automatic, Sirius XM, On-Star, Remote Start Technology, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, power windows, locks and mirrors as well as the option of Chevy’s easy to use IntelliLnk Infotainment system. Cargo room impresses at 19 cubic feet behind the rear seats expanding to 47.7 when you fold down the rear seats. Quite an impressive American made compact hatchback. A definite must to test drive.
1st: 2014 Nissan Versa Note
What can we say about the new Golden Child of the compact hatchback class circa 2014 that we haven’t already gushed over already? The just edgy and cool enough exterior styling, the super comfortable and roomy interior or the way it drives? Okay, it is still 2013 but Nissan is already selling the 2014 Versa Note at dealers so no worries about having to wait too long for yours to arrive. Pricing is a very strong point here with our recommendation being the $15,990 which has Bluetooth, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, a leather wrapped steering wheel, an AM/FM/CD 4-speaker audio system, durable cloth seat fabric with a driver’s armrest and interior chrome accents. Fuel economy is 40 highway/31 highway from the surprisingly peppy 1.6 liter 109 horsepower 4-cylinder motor mated to a newly revised and hugely improved CVT automatic.
Now, one last note if you’ll pardon the pun. There is of course the Versa Note SL which adds alloy wheels, fog lights, a touch screen audio system head unit, back-up camera, USB/i-pod integration, push button start, keyless entry and heated front seats for $17,690. Add in the Tech Package you get in-dash navigation, around the view camera technology, Bluetooth audio streaming and a hands free text message reader for a total of just $18,490. That’s a lot of hatchback for the money. Cargo volume is 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats but that doesn’t count the hidden compartment under the floor or the impressive total of 38.3 cubic feet. Looks like the target to beat is still the 2014 Nissan Versa Note.