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ROAD & TRAVEL Auto News: The Best Thrifty Cars

Honda Fit and Nissan Versa Rank First for Thrifty Best Buys

If you're looking for a thrifty, economical car, you may want to swing by a Honda or Nissan dealership for your best buy. The 2007 Honda Fit and Nissa Versa recently outperformed their competitors in testing of eleven small cars that provide fuel economy second to only a few diesels and hybrids.

Two groups of small sedans were purchased for testing - one group equipped with automatic transmissions and the other group outfitted with manual transmissions. All vehicles were put through a battery of performance and safety tests.

Among the cars with manual transmissions, the Fit easily outperformed competitors, posting a "very good" overall score. The Ford Focus, a large hatchback that sells in the same price range, came in second place overall, also scoring as "very good." Finishing with median ratings for manual transmissions were the Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent and Nissan Versa, all scoring as "good."

Testing of the automatic transmission-equipped group proved Nissan's Versa best, barely edging out the Fit, Rio and Accent which placed a close second, third, and fourth place, respectively. All four vehicles achieved "very good" scores.

The new Toyota Yaris scored mid-pack with an overall score of “Good” in the group of vehicles with automatic transmissions. The Yaris was near the bottom of the pack with a “Fair” score in the group with manual transmissions.

Testing, admininstered by Consumer Reports, is the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication, and resulted in the official reccommendation of both the Honda Fit and Ford Focus. While the Nissan Versa, Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent scored well, reliability information has yet to be provided.

“The Honda Fit is agile and fun to drive, with an impressive amount of interior room,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center. “The Nissan Versa has a comfortable and quiet ride with a roomy interior that makes it feel more upscale than other entry-level cars.”

Honda Fit [Read RTM's Review]
The Fit is agile and fun to drive. Locating the fuel tank far forward frees up a lot of space for rear seating and luggage. But road noise is pronounced, the driver position is flawed, and acceleration is slow when the car is equipped with an automatic. The Fit Sport ($15,245 as tested) is equipped with a 109-horsepower, 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission that provide good acceleration and deliver an excellent 34 mpg overall. Braking performance is very good overall.

Nissan Versa [Read RTM's Review]
The new Versa is based on a platform from Nissan’s corporate partner, Renault, and has a comfortable and quiet ride. Acceleration is good, but fuel economy trails that delivered by the Fit and Yaris, despite the available six-speed manual and Continuously Variable Transmissions. The Versa 1.8 SL ($15,550 as tested) is equipped with a 122-horsepower, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission that delivers 28 mpg; the Versa 1.8 S with the six-speed manual transmission delivers 29 mpg. It’s hard to find a Versa equipped with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) in dealerships. Braking distances in the Versa 1.8 S, which did not have ABS, are poor, while braking in the Versa SL equipped with ABS are good.

Kia Rio
The redesigned Kia Rio is significantly improved. The ride is relatively comfortable and quiet, and overall it is pleasant to drive. Fuel economy is very good but trails the better cars in this class. The Rio 5 SX hatchback ($14,110 as tested) is equipped with a 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five speed manual transmission that provides good acceleration and very good fuel economy. The Rio 5, which lacked anti-lock brakes, had very long stops. The ABS-equipped Rio has very good brakes.

Hyundai Accent [Read RTM's Review]
The new Accent is a significant improvement over the previous generation It is pleasant to drive, with a relatively comfortable and quiet ride. Fuel economy is very good but trails the best in its class. The Accent GS ($12,745 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission that deliver good acceleration. The gearbox has long, vague shifts. Without ABS, the GS hatchback had only fair braking. The ABS-equipped GLS tested had very good brakes.

Toyota Yaris
The Yaris is available as a hatchback and a conventional sedan. Both deliver excellent fuel economy and a very good ride. But handling is sloppy and unforgiving at the vehicle’s handling limits. The Yaris hatchback in base trim was the least expensive car tested in this group, $12,569 as tested. Equipped with a 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, the Yaris provides good acceleration and excellent fuel economy. Braking on the hatchback without ABS are poor on wet and dry surfaces. The sedan with ABS has very good brakes.

(Source: Consumer Reports)

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