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8 Best City Cars and Ones to Avoid

Consumer Reports logo Consumer Reports 8/3/2016

Consumer Reports picks the top vehicles for navigating city streets and tells you which cars to skip

© Mazda

Navigating the congestion of city streets requires a car that’s nimble enough to dart into openings in snarled traffic and able to show a pothole who’s boss. Urban driving also requires a car with good outward visibility (to easily spot pedestrians) and an origami-like ability to fit into petite parking spots.

For city dwellers, small cars can be a smart way to make urban driving easier. And small doesn’t have to mean flimsy. Our tests have shown that small cars don’t have to feel like they were built with materials from a 2-year-old’s pedal car.

The mini-utility segment has grown from just one model in 2011 (the frog-eyed Nissan Juke) to more than a dozen—with the addition of snappy so-called cute-utes that prove it’s cool to be minuscule. Most of the vehicles are targeted toward people in the early stages of their careers, doing double-duty as weekday commuter vehicles and weekend escape pods.

The vehicles on our city cars list (in alphabetical order in the gallery below) are about 10 inches shorter in wheelbase and overall length than vehicles in the next-larger class. But their often ingenious design and efficient use of space means you don’t have to endure cramped, spartan interior quarters. The Honda Fit and Kia Soul feel more airy and spacious than you’d think, and the well-crafted interior of the Audi A3 doesn’t make you feel like you settled for a bare-bones car. But that improved packaging of interior space mostly results in more room for stuff than people. Most city cars won’t hold more than four occupants, and those in back often will be cramped.

Every car here is recommended by Consumer Reports. That means they did well in our road tests, with sprightly acceleration and crisp handling that’s rare to find in smaller cars. These mini-mighties have average or better predicted reliability and praiseworthy fuel economy, and they did well in federal or insurance-industry crash-safety tests.

Our great eight city cars prove you can go small yet still drive a car that doesn’t make you feel as if you should have spent more money. After all, in the city, size matters.

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Audi A3 

© Audi

Overall MPG: 27

Price Range: $30,900-$48,650

The A3’s small size makes it a great choice for entry-level luxury in the city. Handling is responsive, and the 170-hp four-cylinder turbo engine has ample midrange power once you pull away at a green light. The cabin is austere for an Audi but well-made. Reliability is good, and a rearview camera is standard. The front seats are comfortable; the rear seats are a bit tight. The ride is firm, but the A3 absorbs downtown’s big ruts well. All-wheel drive is optional.

Pricing information for the Audi A3 on MSN Autos

Chevrolet Sonic 1.8

© Chevrolet

Overall MPG: 28

Price Range: $14,345-$21,495

For basic transportation, the subcompact Sonic feels like a more finished product than most cars in its class. It’s reasonably quiet and evens out the ruts and bumps of city streets surprisingly well. Of the two four-cylinder engines available, the smaller-displacement turbo is quicker. The sedan version has a big trunk, but the hatchback offers more cargo space. Forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning are available.

Chevrolet Sonic news and reviews on MSN Autos

Honda Fit 

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© Honda

Overall MPG: 33 

Price Range: $15,890-$21,165

The Fit is unquestionably one of the best urban runabouts on the market thanks to its tidy size, voluminous interior, and marvel-of-engineering folding/flipping rear seat for a variety of storage options. With a taller profile, the Fit makes cabin entry easy, and tall plants and bicycles can fit upright in the cargo area. Cabin noise is loud and the ride is stiff on longer drives, but handling is fun and responsive. Forward-collision warning isn’t available, but a rearview camera comes standard.

Research the Honda Fit on MSN Autos

Honda HR-V

© Justin Couture

Overall MPG: 29 

Price Range: $19,215-$25,990

The HR-V is based on the Honda Fit. Its diminutive size makes this subcompact SUV a boon for city driving, with easy maneuverability in tight spots, good outward views, and a standard rearview camera. Like the Fit, the HR-V has a rear seat that can fit two adults comfortably or fold in a variety of configurations to accommodate tons of stuff. This cute-ute has a stiff ride and is loud on the highway, but it gets 29 mpg overall.

Explore the Honda HR-V on MSN Autos

Kia Soul 

© Kia

Overall MPG: 26

Price Range: $15,900-$35,950

There’s more to the Soul than quirky-cool styling, such as abundant interior space, upright seats, easy access, and an airy cabin with big windows that afford excellent outward views. Go for the larger of the two available engines, a 164-hp four-cylinder mated to a smooth six-speed automatic. The stiff ride may not be appreciated over bumpy streets. Forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning systems are available, along with a rearview camera.

Learn more about the Kia Soul on MSN Autos

Mazda CX-3 

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© Mazda

Overall MPG: 28

Price Range: $19,960-$26,240

Unlike most wee SUVs, the CX-3 doesn’t make you wish that you were riding your bicycle instead. It sits low and drives like a car, navigating sharp corners with ease. Its 146-hp four-cylinder likes to rev, and acceleration is willing if not overly quick. The car can be loud at highway speeds, and the rear seat is the definition of “snug.” CX-3s come with a rearview camera. Forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring are available.

More news and reviews for the Mazda CX-3 on MSN Autos

Nissan Versa Note 

© Nissan

Overall MPG: 31

Price Range: $14,320-$18,710

The Versa Note hatchback (not to be confused with the uninspiring Versa sedan) offers amazing versatility. Its tall stance and wide doors make it easy to maneuver, park, and hop into and out of—key components of any good city car. The driving position is a bit awkward and interior storage is lacking, but the rear seat is roomy. The ride is more relaxed than most competitors. A rearview camera is an inexpensive option.

Pricing for the Nissan Versa Note on MSN Autos

Scion iA 

© Scion

Overall MPG: 35

Price Range: $15,700-$16,800

The Scion iA (which will be called the Toyota Yaris iA for 2017) is based on Mazda mechanicals—and that’s a good thing. It’s pleasant to live with for a subcompact car because of nimble handling, a civilized ride, and a decent interior décor. It garnered the best overall fuel economy of this group (35 mpg), and has the tightest turning circle. It also comes standard with a low-speed pre-collision system and a rearview camera.

Learn more about the Toyota Yaris on MSN Autos

Skip These Rides

Not every city car is a winner, so we’ve included a list of underwhelming urbanites to avoid. There are alluring markdowns available, but there’s a reason these cars are discounted. We found the cabins snug, the ride jittery, the engines raspy, and acceleration plodding.

© smart

Mitsubishi Mirage: Engine vibrates like a nervous Chihuahua; low-rent cabin; poor IIHS crash-test score. 

Jeep Renegade: Rough shifts; so-so fuel economy; likely to have bottom-feeder reliability. 

Mitsubishi i­-MiEV: Slow and clumsy, with a stiff ride; spare accommodations; meager EV range.

Nissan Versa: Engine drone worsens as speeds increase; cheap interior; unsettled ride.

Jeep Patriot/Compass: Claustrophobic, austere cabin; poor fuel economy for the size.

Fiat 500/500X/500L: Poor reliability; rough shifts; unimpressive fuel economy; uncomfortable seats.

Smart ForTwo (shown above): Buzzy engine; stiff ride; hesitation off line; seats only two people.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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