If you’re in the market for a new car, there are many smaller models that deliver exceptional gas mileage. This feature may be important to you as elevated gas prices have forced consumers to consider how much it costs to fill up their gas tanks in addition to all of the other costs associated with owning a car.
Easily, we spend thousands of dollars annually to drive, maintain and pay off our vehicles, money that cannot be recouped, but a necessary expense for most Americans. The smallest cars deliver the best gas mileage, however not every vehicle merits a buy based on the following factors:
Fuel Economy – Achieving 30 mpg on the highway is common to all vehicles in the subcompact and compact classes. However, those numbers alone are not laudable. Today’s newest crop of small cars including the compact Hyundai Elantra, subcompact Ford Fiesta and minicar Smart ForTwo each get at least 40 mpg on the highway. Size matters, but more often than not a thrifty engine paired with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission makes the difference. A handful of small cars barely top out at 30 mpg; can you live with so-so gas mileage?
Safety Ratings – All cars are equipped with airbags, but not every vehicle has side curtain canopy bags, an advantage offered in most larger vehicles and only in some smaller vehicles. Smaller cars are lighter and much more likely to sustain major damage in a crash, given their size in proportion to other vehicles on the road. Occupants need an extra level of protection to reduce accident damage and personal injury. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at IIHS.org rates all vehicles for front, side, rollover, and rear tests and for the presence of electronic stability control. Knowing how your vehicle rates can go far in determining which vehicle to buy. The Chevrolet Cruze, Kia Forte sedan and Toyota Corolla are among the better performing cars in this class.
Passenger Room – Other than the two-seat Smart, most small cars offer room for at least four, sometimes five occupants. But, this can be misleading. Front occupants usually have enough head, should and legroom, but that often comes at the expense of rear seating passengers. Small children usually can occupy the outboard seating positions just fine, but few cars offer a comfortable ride for the middle seat passenger. Cars with the roomiest interiors and most expansive rear seating compartments include the Volkswagen Jetta, Hyundai Elantra and the Chevrolet Cruze.
Storage Capacity – Small cars mean small trunks. One way to get around this problem is by choosing one of the few hatchbacks on the market including the Kia Rio5, Hyundai Accent and the Honda Fit. When more room is needed, the back seat can be folded down to carry additional items, but the trade off here is fewer people can ride in your car. One alternative is to select a sedan featuring a 60/40 fold-down rear seat. Here, only one part of the rear seat folds, giving you enough room to carry one person in the rear and that lamp or section of lumber that won’t fit in your trunk.
One important consideration when purchasing any car is to contact your insurance agent to obtain a rate quote. Insurers base new cars rates on the same IIHS crash test performances mentioned earlier and other factors including repair costs, where you live, age, gender, credit rating and other factors. The differences between models can be startling; adding hundreds of dollars to your costs annually if you choose a high cost, small car.
Matt Keegan is editor and publisher of “Auto Trends Magazine” and is a freelance writer. Please visit his site for the latest in automotive news, car reviews and industry analysis.