Used-car prices are going up, and gas prices remain high.
Over the 2011 and 2012 model years, more than a dozen new small cars will, or have been, released. They range from the traditional — like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent — to the quirky Fiat 500.
We decided to add another factor into this comparison that we haven't included in the others: the cost of gas. For each model, we also included a year's worth of gas to the total cost of the car — 15,000 miles' worth of traveling in a mix of city and highway at $3.96 per gallon.
Each model must come equipped with power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; air conditioning; an automatic transmission; and electronic stability control. The lack of electronic stability control on the 2011 Chevrolet Aveo and Kia Rio disqualified each model from the comparison.
Adding the cost of gas causes an interesting twist for some models, as cheaper but less fuel-efficient cars get beaten by traditionally more expensive and fuel-efficient ones. Ultimately, the most affordable budget car will be fuel efficient and will offer an array of features for a good price.
For this comparison, we looked at the 2012 Hyundai Accent, 2011 Mazda2, 2011 Ford Fiesta and 2011 Honda Fit while including a cost comparison on the rest of the field.
2011 Honda Fit
The Honda Fit is often regarded as the original premium budget vehicle and the benchmark for which all other new entries are often judged. The model's base trim comes well-equipped, getting all the interior amenities we required for this comparison. For the 2011 model year, Honda made electronic stability control standard on all models.
The base Fit also gets cruise control, remote entry and a USB interface standard, too, for the model year. The Honda's five-speed automatic transmission costs only $800, and it increases the vehicle's gas mileage to 28/35 mpg on the evaluated base trim. (Gas costs $1,919 for a year).
Total cost for a Fit is $18,569, which is more expensive than any other vehicle in this comparison, but only by $400.
Despite the slight price premium compared with the other models, the Fit comes better equipped than the Mazda2, Fiesta or even the new Accent. In a twist, the Fit is cheaper than models like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Kia Soul – those vehicles are often priced below the Honda, but poor fuel economy and/or feature availability contributes to this about-face.
Notable Features You'll Get: iPod/USB controls, 10 cupholders, active head restraints, drive-by-wire throttle system, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel
2011 Ford Fiesta sedan
The Fiesta is Ford's first foray into the subcompact realm since the Aspire quietly died in 1997. Unlike the Aspire econobox, Ford has given Americans a product equivalent to the same entry car sold in Europe. The Fiesta feels substantial and has engaging handling, and it offers high-end features, such as automatic climate controls and push-button start.
Despite the niceties, the Fiesta has a relatively cheap starting price — it costs less than the Fit and Mazda2. The S trim comes with power mirrors with integrated blind spot mirrors and a 4-inch LCD screen. Unfortunately, you can't get power windows on the base trim, so you'd need to opt for the SE, which also gets you remote keyless entry and some exterior updates.