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  • August 29, 2014

Test Drive: Small Cars - Ladue News: Special Features

Test Drive: Small Cars

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Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2014 12:00 pm

Good things come in small packages. Automotively, small cars can be a great solution for people who don’t regularly have to haul around lots of people or cargo. Small cars can offer a smaller purchase price, good fuel economy and a lot of driving fun.

One excellent example of a small yet practical vehicle is the Honda Fit. Though it casts a relatively small shadow, its efficient packaging gives the Fit a lot of interior room for a small car, with a versatile cabin that can carry multiple passengers, a fair amount of cargo, or a combination thereof. Back-seat room is good for two (three would be a squeeze), but leg room is a bit dependent on the position of front-seat passengers. Its most interesting feature is a second-row seat bottom that folds up to allow storage of tall objects behind the front-row seats—very clever. The rear-seat backs also fold to combine with the reasonably sized rear cargo area to create a large, flat, cargo-carrying compartment.

Otherwise, the interior isn’t fancy, but it’s nice, efficient and very functional. The mildly bolstered front seats are adequate, and combined with a manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel, they make finding a comfortable driving position easy. Three large rotary knobs easily control cabin ventilation, and the radio controls are equally simple and easy to use.

The 1.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine mated to a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic with paddle shifters pumps out 117 horsepower to the front wheels. Though it’s not going to win any races, that’s enough power for most people’s everyday driving needs. Gas mileage is 27 city, 33 highway. Not bad, but could be better for a small car. Handling is good for an economy car with communicative steering, good brakes (front disc/rear drum) and the tossability of a small car.

It’s a lot of car for a relatively low price, and with the legendary Honda reliability, it should be rock-solid dependable. If you’re looking for inexpensive, safe, reliable transportation with decent gas mileage, the Fit is going to be hard to beat.

Martin Kingsbury, salesman at Honda of Frontenac boasts of the Fit, “It’s a great car—it’s very safe for its size, it’s economically priced, very durable and the interior is extremely versatile.”

The Fit Sport starts at approximately $18,000. The base model is at about $16,000.

Another attractive small car is the Toyota Yaris, which can be had as a 3- or 5-door hatchback. The 5-door was tested, and it was a fine little car, but it lacked some of the modern features expected in today’s automobiles. For example, it has a 4-speed automatic transmission. This year Dodge introduced a 9-speed! Rear drum brakes also are reserved for cars built primarily to a price, and a non-split folding rear seat is also a bit anachronistic, though a split rear seat is an available option.

Cloth front seats are nicely bolstered, but they could use inside arm rests. Two-tone trim in the interior looks nice, but is a bit plasticky. Ventilation controls are three-rotary-knob simple and easy to use, as is the radio, which also has controls on the steering wheel. The steering wheel manually tilts, but does not telescope. Cruise control and electric mirrors and windows are nice conveniences. The rear seat is surprisingly roomy, though two would be a lot more comfortable than three back there. The rear cargo area is of moderate size and will not accommodate tall objects due to the slope of the rear hatch. As discussed, the rear seat folds as one piece to expand cargo-carrying capacity.

The 1.5, liter 4-cylinder engine pumps out 106 horsepower to the front wheels through the aforementioned 4-speed automatic transmission. A 5-speed manual only is available on the base 3-door and SE trim 5-door. Gas mileage is 30 city, 36 highway, which is good, but not great for such a small car. Power is adequate for most situations, but a bit underpowered on a steep incline. The transmission shifts smoothly, though a tachometer was noticeable in its omission. It has a comfortable ride, thanks to its softly sprung suspension, which makes handling a little soft, as well. Safety features include ABS brakes, traction control, stability control and nine airbags.

According to Dan Bozzay, sales manager at Lou Fusz Toyota, “The Yaris is the perfect vehicle for city driving; it’s compact and easily maneuverable. It’s also good for students since it’s inexpensive, fuel-efficient, and has Toyota reliability.”

Base price for the 5-door Yaris LE is about $17,000.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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