2013 Scion iQEnlarge Photo
Scion, Toyota's urban-focused small-car brand, pitches the iQ as a premium city car with a more sophisticated driving feel (and more noise insulation) than other budget-priced minicompacts. For the most part, this 10-foot-long hatchback stands up to that, with its 94-hp four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) offering plenty of perkiness around town; it's surprisingly safe and stable on the highway, too—although we're by no means going to say that it feels in its element there. It's hardly a gas-mileage champ either, but its unique '3+1' seating layout makes it way more useful than the two-seat Smart Fortwo.
2013 Ford FiestaEnlarge Photo
Among this cheapest-to-own set, the Ford Fiesta, even in its base S form, is easily the most enjoyable to drive, if not the quickest. Considering its modest 120-horsepower engine and five-speed manual gearbox (skip the available PowerShift transmission), and basic econocar roots with rear drum brakes, the Fiesta is simply better than the sum of its parts—albeit a little loud inside at times. Although you might like the look of the Fiesta hatchback a bit better (we tend to think it's sportier and more cohesive), we can't ignore for the purposes of this list that the sedan costs $1,000 less. There's also a $795 Super Fuel Economy package that boosts the highway rating to 40 mpg.