Ask AutoGuide No. 8 - Comparing the Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent and Mazda2

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

It’s Friday and another work week is slowly… drawing… to… a… close. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic musical CATS, this string of five days feels like it’s never going to end. At least people aren’t prancing around the AutoGuide offices in leotards and leg warmers. Meow!

The sweet aroma of freedom is wafting through the air as Saturday beckons from the other side of midnight. Normal business hours may be dwindling but like a Nevada brothel the Oracles never sleep. They on call ‘round the clock to provide car shoppers in distress with desperately needed assistance. A pitcher of espresso and a fistful or NoDoz are their only companions. Yeah, it’s lonely work but nobody said being an expert was easy.

This week Pat is in search of an affordable vehicle for her teenage daughter. Basic transportation is the order of the day but of course her offspring wants something with a little pizzazz; the girl’s been eyeing a Jeep Wrangler but momma says no. A high-riding four-by-four is verboten, just like access to the liquor cabinet or that high-school quarterback from the adjacent cul-de-sac.

Pat is considering a six-to-eight-year-old used vehicle, something reliable, safe and cheap to insure. An example she gave is the Honda Civic. That’s a fine choice but like a second-hand EpiPen pre-owned cars can be risky. Even with a CARFAX history report and a thorough inspection from a trusted mechanic they can still harbor hidden problems.

The Oracles have insisted on a new vehicle for Pat’s daughter who they’ve been referring to as “Abby.” They cannot be swayed on this issue. Attempted bribery with cream-cheese Danishes didn’t even work.

SEE ALSO: Need Advice Buying Your Next Car? Just “Ask AutoGuide!”

Factory-fresh vehicles feature numerous benefits over their used counterparts. They’re backed by impressive warranties, they’re equipped with all of the latest safety and convenience features plus they’ve never been slept in by a pack of weather-beaten drifters. Of course affordability is important and AutoGuide’s experts believe they can deliver a list of new vehicles that won’t break the bank. Here are some of the most inexpensive cars available today.

Suggestion #1: Nissan Versa 1.8 S Hatchback – $15,460

When price is the No. 1 priority it’s hard to beat the Nissan Versa. This B-Segment offering from the Japanese archipelago is a grand-slam value. The sedan version starts at just $12,000; most people probably have more loose change in their couch cushions than that.

The entry-level model is equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers a strapping 109 horsepower. It’s matched to a five-speed manual transmission. Of course value is important in this week’s episode of Ask AutoGuide but driving like a pauper is not. The entry-level Versa is about as stark as the menu at a Soviet gulag.

Stepping up from there the Oracles are actually suggesting the Versa hatchback, specifically the 1.8 S. The lowest price for this car is about $15,500, which is still a steal by today’s standards.

Even with such an affordable base price the car is equipped with some surprising standard features including power windows and door locks, air conditioning with an in-cabin microfilter as well as a thumpin’ four-speaker sound system. Really, it’s everything you need in a car… and little else.

Under its nondescript hood the Versa hatch is powered by a 1.8-liter four-banger that delivers 122 horsepower. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but an abjectly antiquated four-speed automatic is an extra-charge option. The audacity! Higher-end Versas (that’s an oxymoron if we’ve ever heard one) are offered with Nissan’s fuel-saving but annoying Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).

SEE ALSO: 2012 Nissan Versa Review

In the economy department Versas equipped with a manual gearbox deliver a recession-busting 26 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 31 on the highway. That’s ok fuel economy, but not great.

The Versa also comes with a “Good” safety rating, literally. The danger watchdogs at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the vehicle an overall “Good” rating in their rigorous offset crash test, which isn’t too shabby for a small car.

Suggestion #2: Toyota Yaris 3-Door L – $15,165

Toyota’s Yaris hatchback is the only vehicle on the road today that makes you talk like a pirate, yarrrr matey! Park one in your garage and everyday can be September 19th.

Starting price for the three-door version of this salty cur is 15,165 buckaroos out the door, including destination and delivery fees. It undercuts the municipal-grade Versa by a couple hundred dollars. Clearly Toyota’s chumming the waters to attract ravenously value-conscious shoppers.

Still, even at that price the Yaris comes with some nice features. Air conditioning is standard as are fabric-trimmed seats (hopefully they’re not covered in burlap); power door locks, nine air bags and a fold-down back bench for extra luggage space are also included

Curiously, power windows are not offered on the base model, so limber up your wrists for a whole lot of crankin’. It’s like starting a Model T every time you head to the drive through.

Powering the Yaris is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and it only puts out a measly 106 horsepower. If Abby has ADHD this is the perfect vehicle for her as there’s nothing to get overly excited about. It’s the automotive equivalent of the Dewey Decimal system, functional and nothing more.

The Yaris L features a five-speed manual transmission for shift-yourself engagement. If three pedals are as off limits as a Jeep Wrangler then a four-speed autotragic gearbox is also available for an additional fee. Dig up your buried treasure chest because it’s $725.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Toyota Yaris Review

Like the Versa this little Toyota also earned a “Good” rating from the IIHS folks, but pushing the envelope one step further the car also drove away with “Top Safety Pick” honors, meaning it’s an even better choice if you have too much grog and drive off the gang plank.

Additionally fuel economy is a Yaris strong point. The car delivers 30 miles per gallon in the city and up to 37 on the highway.

Out and about the Yaris handles like a car, meaning it accelerates, stops and steers. Don’t expect driving excitement in any of these half-pint hatchbacks because you won’t find it. It’s a fruitless quest akin to searching for Amelia Earhart or trying to purchase booze from a Vatican City vending machine. At the end of the day just remember one thing about this Toyota: The Yarrrris is a carrrrr!

Suggestion #3: Hyundai Accent GS 5-Door – $15,590

If Nissan’s Versa is the DMV and the Toyota Yaris is a Social Security Administration branch office what low-level governmental building would the Hyundai Accent be? Answer: The post office, because stuff is always in motion. This spunky little five-door brings a healthy dose of passion and emotion to the segment without going totally off the deep end by bringing a scattergun to work.

Where the Versa and Yaris are strictly business the Accent is stylish and fun; it’s an attractive vehicle that a young person shouldn’t be embarrassed to drive. It beats the crap out of a hand-me-down ’94 Chevy Lumina.

Trouncing its Japanese competitors every Accent ships with 138 horsepower courtesy of a 1.6-liter inline-four. It’s postage-paid and insured; the car even clears customs without a hitch. The GS trim is delivered with a standard six-speed manual gearbox but an automated six-shooter is $1,200 extra.

As for creature features the Accent comes with much the same stuff its competitors do. Air-con is standard, as are luxurious body-colored exterior door handles. Protecting what matters most – its occupants – the car also earned a “Good” rating from the safety zealots at the IIHS. It’s not a “Top Safety Pick+” but an A- on the final exam is nothing to sneeze at.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Hyundai Accent GLS Sedan Review

Like a first-class letter arriving at its destination for a measly 40-something cents the Accent is equally thrifty at moving its cargo. Passengers and their parcels may not be hand-delivered by a uniformed representative of the U.S. federal government but you could do a lot worse than this South Korean subcompact. With a manual transmission the Accent should be able to stretch a gallon of unleaded 28 miles in the city and 37 on the highway.

Suggestion #BONUS ROUND: 2013 Mazda2 – $15,515

Betcha didn’t think of Mazda, didya? The company’s offering in the B-Segment is the Mazda2, a smiling little pumpkin-seed of a car. It’s competitively priced compared to its rivals and offers similar fuel economy and safety ratings.

Behind that toothless grin is perched a 1.5-liter engine that turns out just 100 horsepower, less than the asthmatic Yaris and far behind the athletic Accent. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual or a four-speed autobox that’s shorter on gears than Verne Troyer is on inches. Heel, Mini-Me! Heel! A feather-light curb-weight of right around 2,300 pounds makes up for a lot of that power deficit. Now if only Mazda would make a Mazdaspeed version of the Mazda2.

Standard features are more bountiful than the first Thanksgiving. Power mirrors, windows and locks, air conditioning, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat plus a USB port are all included in the base price, which is right around $15,500.

Joyless insurance mongers even like the car. At the risk of sounding like a sounding like a sounding like a sounding like a broken record the Mazda2 also earned a “Good” overall rating from the IIHS.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Mazda2 Touring Five-Point Inspection

If there’s any one particular downside to this vehicle it’s fuel economy. The 2 is not particularly thrifty, even with pitiful horsepower and a trim waistline. Uncle Sam says the car will do 29 miles to the gallon around town and just 35 on the highway when equipped with the manual transmission.


So far the AutoGuide Oracles have started something of an Asian offensive by only recommending Japanese and South Korean cars. To be fair that’s a bit skewed but it’s still better than an offensive Asian.

For some home-grown flair the Oracles decided to briefly touch on a couple other vehicles before pushing their final recommendation. First up is the Chevy Sonic. Base MSRP for a five-door model is $15,595. For mechanicals it offers a 1.8-liter engine and a five-speed stick. A 1.4-liter turbo with tons of torque is optional. Fuel economy is 26/35 for an average of 30. The Chevy Sonic feels sturdy like a big car and that’s a good thing.
The Oracles can’t mention the Bow-Tie brand without bringing up its archenemy, the Blue Oval. Ford vs. Chevrolet is a classic rivalry that dates back more than a century. Today the Sonic and the Fiesta face off in the B-Segment. Ford’s festive hatchback starts at $14,995 and comes with a 1.6-liter engine and a five-speed row-it-yourself trans. Other than that there’s not much to say. According to the EPA Fiestas of this configuration should deliver 29/39 MPG, which makes for an average of 33. As always your mileage will vary, probably significantly.

And then there’s the Honda Fit, the third of this trio of add-ons. They’re all of the sportier sort and generally a better buy if you want to spend a bit more.


So, what’s the right new vehicle for Pat’s daughter “Abby”? Well, a Jeep Wrangler of course, but since that’s not in the cards, here are her options.

The Versa is affordable and that’s about it. Nissan’s subcompact offering feels decidedly like something generic and that’s never a good thing. It’s safe and solid but about as dreary as waiting in line for jury duty. Next!

Aye-aye, it’s Yar-us versus them, matey! Toyota’s B-Segment car is arguably a step up from the Versa; at least it has a small dash of personality. Additionally it’s significantly more efficient and comes in a quasi-sporty three-door configuration. But ultimately crank windows and pirate talk are enough to keep the Yaris from running aground.

Of this quartet the Mazda2 is easily the most fun to drive, after all it has “Zoom-Zoom” DNA. It’s light, scrappy and offers a rather nice interior for the class. Unfortunately it’s not as efficient as some of the others, meaning there’s one other vehicle that’s a better overall choice… the Jeep Wrangler…

This week the AutoGuide Oracles are recommending the Hyundai Accent. It’s pretty, powerful and efficient, plus it’s a great value. It’s an automotive jack of all trades, which makes it the perfect vehicle for a budget-minded young driver. And if there are any doubts about longevity, the car is backed by a 5-year, 60,000-mile new-vehicle warranty as well as 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain coverage. Cha-ching!

As always, good luck in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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Join the conversation
  • James LaBarre James LaBarre on Apr 30, 2013

    I much prefer my 2011 3-door Accent. It's a good thing I bought it when they still had 3-door/hatchback models, don't care for the current oversized 4 & 5-door versions.

  • Justin Justin on May 14, 2013

    Love my 2013 versa sedan. Perfect mix of comfort, fuel economy, and in red I think it's awesome looking :-)