There used to be a day when bigger was better—or at least some people seemed to think so—but increasingly, customers are finding that less is more. While some may still see those land barges as a status symbol, there’s a new trend hitting the highways and byways across the country. There are numerous benefits that come along with trading in a gas-guzzling SUV for something smaller. But what are the best choices for someone looking for a versatile car that won’t break the bank? Patchetts Ford has an answer—and it may surprise you.
Rising gas prices mean that manufacturers are releasing plenty of these micro-sized fun machines these days. While Toyota has been on the subcompact scene for quite some time with its Yaris sedan and hatchback, the Ford Fiesta debuted for the 2011 model year in the same body styles—and it’s already turning heads.
When looking at these two models, we first have to consider what most people are going to buy. Unless getting into a car for strictly the bottom line and nothing else, few will probably spring for the base levels, even though they still include a pretty impressive standard features list. If you’re looking for the choice of a sedan or hatchback, only the Fiesta has you covered—Toyota has dropped the Yaris sedan for this redesign. A fair share of buyers will also spring for the top-spec Fiesta SES Hatchback and Yaris SE, yet we’ll stick to the middle-of-the-road hatchback versions for this comparison.
To get pricing out of the way, the 2012 Toyota Yaris 5-door LE hatchback starts at a $16,100 MSRP. Pretty good value, but the Ford Fiesta gives you even more bang for your buck, with the SE Hatch starting at only $15,670. If you’re looking for luxury, though, the higher-trimmed Fiesta models can be outfitted with nearly any feature you’d find, including leather seating. That’s right: you can get leather in a subcompact—but only if you choose the Fiesta….
Both the Fiesta SE and its Japanese counterpart offer power windows and door locks as standard spec, but that seems to be where the similarities end. If you want a sporty steer, look no further than the Fiesta. In the Fiesta SE, a 5-speed manual transmission is standard for those looking for excitement. You won’t find a manual transmission on the Toyota Yaris LE, which is only available with a 4-speed automatic transmission in the Yaris. Even if you opt for the automatic in the Fiesta, you’ll be pleased to find a PowerShift™ 6-speed transmission.
Ford’s little Fiesta also gets the nod when it comes to all-important power. Its 1.6-liter Duratec four-cylinder pumps out 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque. While that may not sound like much, remember that the Fiesta is quite a small car and, with a curb weight of only around 2,500 pounds, gets plenty of scoot. Scoot is something a bit lacking in the Yaris LE, with only 106 horsepower and 103 pound-feet of torque. That 4-speed automatic hurts performance, too, as wider gear spacing struggles to make the most of what little power is available.
You’d think that less power would give the Toyota a nudge in the fuel economy department. After all, the main draw of these small hatches is to get all the versatility of a larger vehicle without paying for it at the pump. However, Ford once again impresses in its Fiesta, returning 29 mpg during city driving. Hit the highway with the manual transmission, and expect 38 mpg, with 39 mpg when paired with the automatic. An optional SFE package on automatic Fiesta SE models bumps highway fuel economy up to a whopping 40 miles per gallon. Just to show the differences, Toyota’s Yaris LE sports a comparable 30 miles per gallon in the city, but can only muster 35 MPG on the highway, with no chances to do better.
So by choosing the Yaris LE, you give up power, driveline refinement, excitement, and fuel economy. Did we mention you have to rely on only one wiper to keep your windshield clear? Plus, the Ford bests the Yaris in dimensions such as front leg and hip room.
Little cars are back in a big way. If you’re looking for the ultimate subcompact experience, the Ford Fiesta is the only way to go. The Fiesta shows that Ford knows more than a thing or two when it comes to small car value.