Family Car Guide: Five Hot Hatchbacks You Can Afford

October 25, 2010

Consumers love a good deal, especially when it comes to affordable transportation. Sometimes we get lucky and automakers fall all over each other to provide a plethora of stylish and well-performing hatchbacks we’d love to buy – if they were affordable.

The good news is: they are. We’ve got five hot hatchbacks you can afford, even if your budget is small.

What makes these hatchbacks hot? While everyone has their own take on what’s hot and what’s not, automotive reviewers generally single out most of these contenders as right at the top of the must-have list of inexpensive hatchbacks. Of course, they’re all small cars. That’s a given. But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to drive, easy on gas, and great to look at. Some more than others. Here goes.

Ford Fiesta

Almost anyone checking out new affordable hatchbacks agrees that by all measures, the 2011 Ford Fiesta has got it down. Hitting on all fronts, Fiesta claims the uncontested crown of hot 2011 hatchbacks you can afford. I mean, you could opt for a Nissan Versa, which is bargain-basement priced with a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $9,990 – but, let’s face it, the Versa isn’t exactly a hatch you’d drool over (no offense, Versa owners). The Fiesta, on the other hand, definitely is.

In fact, reviewers are unanimous that Fiesta sets a new benchmark for small cars. Priced right – with starting MSRPs ranging from $13,320 to $17,120 – the Fiesta also leads the hot hatchback segment with a projected 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway. That’s near hybrid-like numbers without hybrid-like price. So, saving on purchase price and fuel costs are two pretty compelling factors.

One area where the Fiesta really stands out is its styling. It’s just terrific to look at. Not only that, but it’s a blast to drive, the cabin is comfortable and upscale – especially nice for an affordable compact car – and the Fiesta offers standard or available features uncommon in the small car class. These include Ford’s SYNC system, heated seats, and seven standard airbags (there’s even one for the driver’s knees). And the 2011 Ford Fiesta is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Right up there with styling is how the small hatchback handles on almost any road. The Fiesta is powered by a 120-hp 1.6-liter twin independent variable cam timing (Ti-VCT) in-line four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, although consumers can opt for a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Handling is crisp and responsive, say reviewers, whether in traffic, on the open highway, or on twisty back roads. This is the kind of zippy handling that will give Mazda MAZDA3 owners a run for their money.

The Honda Fit Sport

The Honda Fit Sport

Honda Fit

Honda hasn’t released information about the 2011 model, but the compact 2010 Honda Fit hatchback has certainly racked up a number of accolades, including Kelley Blue Book’s “Top 10 Back-to-School Car” and “Top 10 Coolest Cars Under $18,000,” as well as “Excellent Value” and “SmartChoice” from Intellichoice. Let’s not forget three years running as a Car and Driver “10Best.” Starting MSRPs range from $14,900 (Fit) to $19,110 for the Fit Sport with navigation.

The Fit is fun to drive, everyone agrees. Power for Fit comes from a 117-hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway (automatic) and 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway (manual).

The Fit also is easy to fit things – and people – in, thanks to the roomy interior and especially roomy backseats. The second-row Magic Seat and reconfigurable interior, tons of innovative storage space, and high-quality overall are Fit standout features.

As for safety, Fit has six standard airbags, while vehicle stability control with traction control is standard on the Fit Sport with navigation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Fit a five-star rating in frontal crash testing.

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