Even in the Eighties, the heyday of the Japanese econobox, the likes of today's Chevy Sonic, Kia Rio, and Fiat 500 were nowhere on the horizon for America's drivers. So, if you're a fan of small cars with big gas-mileage numbers, there's never been a better time to shop new.
Today, two of the most popular subcompacts on the scene are the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent. The pair couldn't be more different: the tidy, pert Fiesta is pitched with enthusiasts in mind, and has a boatload of higher-tech features to lure buyers down in size from bigger vehicles. The same's true for the Accent, but in terms of actual size, it's almost a compact car.
Which one should take up less room than usual in your garage? Let's start with fuel economy, usually the first reason people turn to this class of cars. The Accent's the undisputed winner, as far as the EPA is concerned. No matter which transmission you choose, its four-cylinder engine sips fuel to the tune of 30/40 mpg, without any special packages or aero add-ons. It's just long enough to avoid the very-small-car syndrome, where a blocky shape actually costs a car miles per gallon. The Fiesta knows that well; though it's noticeably smaller than the Accent, its top highway gas mileage checks in at 38 mpg.
The slight margin in fuel economy could be worth it to some drivers, as the Fiesta's a dynamo, compared to the capable Accent. The Fiesta's steering and handling are impressive; even if it's never truly quick, it's maneuverable above and beyond most of the vehicles in its class. The Accent has a light touch and fairly good ride control--it's just not as intimately connected to the road as the Ford.
Ford's subcompacts also score better in safety tests than the Accent, earning the IIHS' Top Safety Pick ratings and four stars overall from the NHTSA. The Accent's not far behind, with just an "acceptable" side impact score separating it on the IIHS charts and a side-impact star distancing it from the Fiesta's line-by-line NHTSA scores.
The Fiesta also asserts itself with more available connectivity features than the Accent, though we think that's an advantage it won't enjoy for long. The Fiesta can be fitted with SYNC voice controls, a dual-clutch automatic, leather trim, and ambient lighting; the Accent offers some of these, and can be better equipped in base form, with a USB port, satellite radio, and power features.
Where we can appreciate the Accent most strongly is in the back seat. In both the sedan and hatchback models, the Accent's maxed-out dimensions make it a much more useful proposition than the pint-sized Fiesta. Especially as a hatchback, the Accent just has more interior space, and can seat four full-sized adults comfortably. That's not going to happen in the Ford. Both vehicles are more attractively styled as hatchbacks than as sedans; we'd give the edge to the Hyundai for interior styling and execution, as its fit and finishes look more expensive than those in the Fiesta.
Both the Accent and the Fiesta have tough competition in all directions, not just from other subcompacts, but from cars within their own lineups. The Fiesta's barely less expensive than the fluidly styled, frisky-handling Focus; the Accent's next step up is the Hyundai Elantra, a North American Car of the Year Winner for more reasons than we should list here in a conclusion. But for those occasions where you're eager to show off a smaller body, there's ample reason to choose either of these entries--the Fiesta for its flavorful driving feel, or the Accent for its wider appeal and stronger value.
The 2016 Ford Fiesta has been significantly changed--with not just a new front-end appearance, but new interior trims--although our advice hasn't changed. Very late in the model year, a new 1.0-liter EcoBoost three-cylinder should arrive, returning mileage ratings higher than 40 mpg on the highway. Meanwhile, the racy Fiesta ST, with its 197-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four and various performance upgrades, adds up to a true 'hot hatch' that's far from anything you'll find in the Accent lineup.
|from $14,645||from $14,100|
|from $14,248||from $13,571|
|Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway|
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|Read Full Specs||Read Full Specs|