Rating some subcompacts

Toyota Yaris

While subcompact cars are praised for being a good bang for their buck, they are also viewed as some of the most fuel economical vehicles around.   It’s no surprise then that most subcompacts score well when it comes to their AutoEcoRating (or “eRating” for short).

Let’s take a look at the eRating for some new subcompact models priced below $20,000.  Even though buyers in this price range often chose manual transmissions, we’ll only look at vehicles with automatic transmissions.  Vehicles with automatic transmissions are typically $600 – $1000 more expensive than their manual counterparts, but we’ll limit our comparisons to subcompact under our $20K cutoff.

We compared the Kia Forte 5-speed automatic, Honda Fit 5-speed automatic, Hyundai Accent 4-speed automatic, and Toyota Yaris 4-speed automatic.  Drivers may think that automatics, with their added driving convenience, hurt fuel economy, but in actuality, some models that now offer an “eco” or fuel economy package included with an automatic transmission upgrade.

Take the Kia Forte’s eco package, which gives you a 5-speed automatic and other fuel-efficiency tweaks over the base versions, which carry the same fuel economy for either the manual shift or 4-speed automatic. The upgraded Forte is priced at $18,290 (MSRP including the destination charge), or $600 more than the base models, while delivering an extra 2 miles per gallon on the EPA combined cycle.  This 2 mpg improvement in fuel economy is worth 5 points on the eRating scale resulting in the 2011 Kia Forte Fuel Economy Package model scoring 125, compared to 120 points for the base Kia Forte, which is priced at $17,690.

In terms of sales, segment leaders have included the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris. Priced at $16,450, the Honda Fit with a 5-speed automatic has an eRating of 126. That comes close to the Kia Forte eco version at a lower price, but there’s a reason: the Honda does have a smaller engine, 1.5 Liters putting out 117 horsepower compared to the Forte’s 2.0 Liter and its 156 horses. The Hyundai Accent also tallies and eRating of 126, with a 1.6 Liter, 110 horsepower engine and priced at $16,145 in its SE trim level.

It’s the Toyota Yaris, however, that delivers a combination of lowest price and highest eRating among this selection. The Yaris 5-door Liftback with an automatic transmission and 1.5 Liter, 106 horsepower engine is priced at $14,755 and its eRating comes out at 129. Why’s that?  It’s not just the better performing combined fuel economy that helps edge out others in this group.  It is considerably smaller in size, with an overall length 11 inches shorter than the Honda Fit, for example, which contributes to its improved score.  In addition to the pollution on the road when the car is driven, we also consider the pollution during manufacturing when computing the eRating.  Therefore, the smaller the car and the less fabrication materials will result in less pollution.

KiaForte5-speed auto2.0 L, 156 HP17,690120
KiaForte (eco)5-speed auto2.0 L, 156 HP18,290125
HondaFit5-speed auto1.5 L, 117 HP16,450126
HyundaiAccent4-speed auto1.6 L, 110 HP16,145126
ToyotaYaris4-speed auto1.5 L, 106 HP14,755129

This is only a sample of the many offerings in the subcompact segment, and we’ll look at some others in an upcoming post.  Note also that all of the eRatings in this post are based on vehicles carrying federal (EPA) tailpipe certifications, which are the exhaust emissions standards throughout most of the country.  There are also models that follow California standards (CARB), which are more strict than federal regulations and thus are cleaner at the tailpipe.  Certain states have started to regulate their vehicles with the California standards.  We’ll look at how much that improves the AutoEcoRating scores in future posts too.


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