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We’re considering getting a little car for my kid when he comes home from university for Thanksgiving. We want to balance affordable – around $7,000 – with practical, safe and reliable. – Cheryl, Mississauga
As far as we can tell, nobody wrote love songs about mid-1970s Honda Civics or Toyota Corollas.
They were meant to be cheap, good on gas and get you where you were going. But, as those 1970s and 1980s econoboxes got bigger and pricier, they left a starter-car vacuum.
Enter Honda’s Fit and Toyota’s Yaris – and their competitors, the Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Scion xD, Ford Fiesta and Chevy Aveo.
Of those, the Aveo might be one to avoid. It’s notably cheaper than many – the average price for a 2009 base hatchback is $4,527. But, J.D. Power gave it two out of five stars for overall quality, performance and reliability.
You may also want to consider the boxy trio of not-quite subcompacts – Scion xB, Nissan Cube and Kia Soul. The average price for a 2010 base Soul is $6,590.
But the main battle is, arguably, Fit versus Yaris.
2009 Honda Fit DX four-door hatchback
Second generation: 2007-2013
Average price for base: $7,731 (Canadian Black Book)
Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, five-speed automatic/front-wheel drive
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.4 city, 6.8 highway (manual); 8.3 city, 6.6 highway (automatic)
It’s called the Jazz in Europe, even though it’s not particularly jazzy. So why do we get the Fit? Well, Honda stresses how much will fit in the Fit – like, with the seats down, a mountain bike.
“Well, maybe a small one,” said then-Globe Drive contributor Bob English in 2012. “What will be harder to fit is the five people it also says will fit in a Fit. It can undoubtedly be done, but you wouldn’t want to be three-up in the back seat for long.”
The Fit wasn’t the “the latest thing in the subcompact class but it’s still a good thing to put on the list if you’re shopping for a small, fuel-efficient and versatile vehicle,” English said.
The engine “launches the Fit across an intersection with enthusiasm and will accelerate you up to highway speeds quickly enough,” English said.
Consumer Reports recommended the 2009 Fit and gave it top ratings for predicted used car reliability. But, it griped about the choppy ride on rough roads and a cabin that is “never quite free of road noise.”
Canadian Black Book has given the Fit its best retained value award for a subcompact car for five straight years. It took over from the Yaris.
In 2011, the 2009 and ’10 Fits were recalled to fix a potential problem with a defective spring that could cause the engine to stall. The 2009-2014 Fit was also part of worldwide recall for potentially explosive Takata driver side air bags – although there’s never been an incident in Canada.
2009 Toyota Yaris base four-door sedan
Second generation: 2005-2013
Average price for base: $7,485 (Canadian Black Book)
Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, four-speed automatic/front-wheel drive
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.1 city, 6.6 highway (manual); 8.2 city, 6.8 highway (automatic)
“Yaris: It’s a car.” That was the slogan for Toyota’s online campaign for its least expensive car.
“We’re talking about a perfectly good car, but nothing special,” said then-Globe Drive contributor Jeremy Cato in 2010. “The Yaris is a perfectly competent transportation appliance, one with excellent fuel economy and a high resale value.”
Like the Fit, it can be a noisy ride, especially at higher speeds, Cato said. “The little engine really needs to work if you want to keep up with the faster drivers and in-cabin storage space for your odds and sods is at a premium.”
There were three versions. A base sedan, which Toyota eventually stopped making, and a two- or four-door hatchback.
“Whichever Yaris you like, this is a pretty decent-sized car for a grocery-getter,” Cato said.
Consumer Reports gave the 2009 Yaris excellent ratings for reliability, but didn’t give a rating for predicted used-car reliability.
“Although reliability has been first-rate, the Yaris scores too low in our tests to recommend,” it said. “The Scion xD, which sells in the same showroom for the same price, is a better package.”
It liked the fuel economy, braking and turning circle. It griped about the seat comfort and fit and finish.
The Yaris had four recalls, including electrical problems with a window switch and air bags, and a spring that could break and allow seats to slide forward or backward in a crash.