Tech Trends: Sub-Subcompacts

Inexpensive and efficient, the smallest cars are finally available in the U.S.

by Courtesy Toyota Motor USA

Toyota Yaris, $10,950; toyota.comCourtesy Toyota Motor USA

Small streets and pricey fuel have shaped the European car market to favor smaller cars. In fact, what we call a compact car is a midsize on the continent. But now that Ameri- cans are feeling the burn of expensive gas, automakers have responded by bringing a fleet of smaller-than-subcompact vehicles to our shores. Unlike previous stripped-down econoboxes, these will be equipped to appeal to both the budget-minded and the car-savvy consumer.

The Trend
A new crop of well-equipped sub-$14,000 cars that are even smaller than last year´s entry-level model

Why Now?

Gasoline prices are on the rise, and these cars are fuel-sippers-making them an inexpensive alternative to hybrids.

How You´ll Benefit

They´re small and cheap but by no means low-rent. These cars will sport premium features such as Bluetooth, satellite radio, MP3 jacks, elegant interiors, a full range of airbags, and sophisticated engines.

MOST POWERFUL

The burliest and most spacious of the three, this Nissan sub-Sentra entry offers an optional continuously variable transmission to squeeze even more mileage out of the fuel-sipping 1.8-liter engine. Arriving this May.

Dimensions: 169 x 67 x 60 in.

Weight: 2,800 lbs. (est.)

Fuel Economy: 38 mpg (hwy)

Engine: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 120 hp; 125 lb.-ft. torque

MOST COMPACT

Replacing the ho-hum Echo in the U.S., the diminutive Yaris will come here this spring as a three-door hatch and four-door sedan-a complete redesign of the first-generation car that has been by far Toyota´s best seller in Europe.

Dimensions: 150 x 67 x 60 in.

Weight: 2,326 lbs.

Fuel Economy: 39 mpg (hwy)

Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 106 hp; 103 lb.-ft. torque

MOST FIT TO BE TUNED

Called the Jazz in Europe (which hints at Honda´s youth-directed approach), the five-door Fit is already a tuner favorite and has its own enthusiast Web site, fitfreak.net. Though smaller than a Civic, it has more interior room and versatile seats that fold into the floor to form a bed. On sale this spring.

Dimensions: 157 x 66 x 60 in.

Weight: 2,514 lbs.

Fuel Economy: 38 mpg (hwy)

Engine: 1.5-liter 4-cylinder

Power: 109hp; 105 lb.-ft. torque