Some cars with low ratings deserve a look, under limited circumstances. Chevy's Spark is a cute little hatchback that has lots of virtue as a second or third car, particularly for city use--and particularly in its battery-powered Spark EV form, currently on amazing lease deals in three states. The Spark loses its charm outside of that realm; for most drivers, the bigger, quieter Chevy Cruze offers so much more, for not much extra cash.
2015 Toyota Yaris SEEnlarge Photo
We might actually enjoy driving the Toyota Yaris more than the larger Corolla; it has a certain wringable, flingable driving feel that's easier to nail in small cars. At best, though, the Yaris is relentlessly average, even where it tries to reach for higher ground in styling.
2015 Nissan JukeEnlarge Photo
The Juke crossover SUV is divisive, and it doesn't need to be. It's Nissan's only small ute, but it's styled too aggressively for mainstream success. That by itself might be fine, but the Juke's also tuned as more of a performance vehicle--it has a thrilling but peaky drivetrain and a relentlessly brittle ride. Safety scores and equipment are lacking. It's neither a competitive, mainstream crossover nor the finely honed MINI alternative it seems to want to be.
2015 Toyota Prius CEnlarge Photo
The Prius C wears the enviable family name, but like the Scion iQ, the chief logic behind buying a C is for its size. If you truly need a vehicle that will fit into certain spaces, it's an excellent choice, with decent interior space and features to boot. If you can stretch out a bit more, and stretch your spending, the hallmark Prius liftback is a better choice, and gets better fuel economy as well.
2015 Fiat 500eEnlarge Photo
Fiat's European-sized hatchback is a family of vehicles, and a couple of them have our undivided attention. The 500e is one of the most entertaining electric vehicles you can buy (or lease)--provided you live in a place where they're available. The Abarth variants turn the 500 into a snarling Hellrat, full of guttural noises and sharp-edged thrust that's almost unbelievable in its niche. The rest of the lineup lacks those charms, and is compromised by a very small interior with an awkward driving position, good but not great fuel economy, and very poor safety ratings.