Cute and comfy compacts. They may not be as snuggly as teddy bears, or leather bears for that matter, but they handle well, fit anywhere and are surprisingly spacious. Priced around $20,000, these pint-sized rides are a bargain, especially when the average price of a vehicle today is, gulp, $33,500.
MPG: 28 city/33 highway
Zero-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
Forget the “Fix It Again Tony” stigma, I think there’s still something sexy about a Fiat 500. Produced from 1957-1975, this minicar was resurrected in 2007 and landed on U.S. shores five years later.
Like the modish Mini Cooper, the Fiat’s funky design has staying power. There also are nifty color packages to offset the standard black, white and red. What the 500 lacked was an engine with enough oomph, which is why a frisky turbo is now standard across the lineup. For more zip, there’s the sportier yet pricier Abarth model.
The base-model Pop comes with rearview camera, voice controls and heated side mirrors, while the mid-level Lounge adds a blast of bling: chrome shift knob, chrome-heated side mirrors, heated seats and auto-dimming rearview mirror with microphone. The Lounge also has a fixed glass roof, making the cabin feel larger than it is.
And for audiophiles, the optional Beats premium stereo is a must. But there are a few downsides, such as so-so fuel economy and — horrors! — no smartphone capability. The retro interior dash is playful but limited, especially with the dinky infotainment screen. Still, the 500 is a fun fashion accessory, even if it showcases a bit more style than substance.
KIA FORTE EX
MPG: 30 city/40 highway
Zero-60 mph: 8.2 seconds
If the definition of “forte” means best and brightest, then the completely redesigned Kia Forte fits the bill. Well, almost.
The raves include a knock-out design, wonderful gas mileage and an unexpectedly zippy engine in the top-end EX model. Ride and handling are akin to a base BMW, with feather-light steering, level cornering and grippy tires. And the breadth of features is mind boggling: heated/ventilated seats, windshield wiper de-icer, nav system with voice controls, lots of USB ports, a wireless device charger and more.
Oh, and the trunk is ginormous. Yet there are a few rants, such as the infotainment system that conked out more than once during my week-long test drive. Yes, those Harman Kardan speakers created spectacular sound. But being held hostage to one radio channel for 10 minutes and not being able to turn the volume down was a bummer.
Also, insulation is obviously sparse in the noisy interior. And yet, at this very affordable price, you get much more than you pay for including smartphone integration, remote start, blind-spot monitor, collision-avoidance system and lane-departure warning. The Launch Edition package adds a power sunroof, wireless phone charger, graphite-finish alloys, sexy rear spoiler and other goodies. As if all this wasn’t enough, Hyundai boasts a stellar 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, with a basic warranty (and roadside assistance) for five years or 60,000 miles.
TOYOTA COROLLA HATCHBACK XSE
MPG: 28 city/37 highway
Zero-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
While the Corolla has been one of the best-selling cars in the world, a bevy of competitors has elbowed in with cheekier, racier rides. So Toyota rejiggered the design, tossed in the latest tech doohickeys and voila!, this staid, dependable workhorse now looks and handles like a ramped-up tuner car.
Adding to the glitz, some Corolla colors are the same vibrant shade as those eye-popping pastel wigs in a RuPaul drag race. The cabin is full of faux leather and aluminum trim, with glossy black accents. And the modern dash is intuitive to use, with a raised eight-inch touchscreen to help keep eyes on the road.
Toyota didn’t skimp on safety features, which include pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, an external camera that reads road sings and a lane-assist feature to keep the vehicle centered in its lane. This hatchback (to be followed by the 2020 sedan) is lower, wider and shorter than before, with plenty of headroom.
Alas, rear-seat legroom is tight, with seatbacks that don’t recline. And cargo room is fairly limited. But this is a