Chevy Spark Vs. Ford Fiesta Vs. Honda Fit

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

We’re thinking small on this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide, where value reigns supreme. Are cheap and cheerful mutually exclusive traits or can they really coexist in an automobile? We aim to find out and help one faithful reader in the process.

Carlos is our victim person of interest in this post. At 21 years old he’s in the market for some new wheels to replace his 1997 Civic, a fine vintage of Honda to be certain, but the car is knocking on two decades. A new ride is probably not a bad idea at this point.

Naturally, as a young man Carlos doesn’t have a lot to spend; value is more important to him than oxygen to astronauts. Given his situation, you could argue that a new car isn’t the best thing for him to pursue. Certainly, a low-mileage pre-owned model would be a better option. Or perhaps a second-hand police interceptor? After all, they’re indestructible and cheap, plus traffic gets the hell out of your way.

We’ll concede that a used car makes the most sense. But always ones to defy convention we believe there are a few appealing and reasonably priced new models worth suggesting.

However, spending more on a car than you can reasonably afford is utterly ridiculous; it’s like buying a business-class ticket for a flight you don’t want or need just so you can dine on top-notch airplane food.

Accordingly we’re going to try our hardest to keep Carlos from overextending himself, to prevent his finances from becoming like the mythical 13th animal on the Chinese zodiac, depressed and barnacle-crusted. Can you believe it’s the year of the Manatee?

They don’t get much cheaper than the A-Segment Chevy Spark, a five-door hatchback from the Bow-Tie brand. Aside from its deceptively aggressive styling this city car has an appealingly low base price and offers drivers far more than appallingly little content.

With zero options, an LS model with a manual transmission can be had for less than 13 grand, including $825 in freight charges. You could probably drive away from the dealer in one for a song, dance and stack of grilled-cheese sandwiches. How can grizzled salespeople argue with crispy, toasted bread and gooey, melted cheese? They can’t, especially if you throw a folksy ditty and ethnic jig into the mix.

Surprisingly for that modest outlay of scratch you’re far from slumming it. The Spark is equipped with enough standard features to keep you from feeling like you’re riding in the back of a prison van with your ankles dressed in shackles. The car is equipped with things including a four-speaker sound system and auxillary jack. It also has a tilt steering column, power windows, cup holders, an armrest and a four-way adjustable driver’s seat

Outside the Spark features 15-inch silver-painted aluminum wheels, a rear spoiler with an integrated LED CHMSL (center high-mounted stop lamp), body-color folding side-view mirrors and automatic headlights with integrated daytime running lamps. OoooOoooOOOo, fancy!

In the safety department, this itsy-bitsy car has 10 standard airbags, stability and traction control plus hill-start assist for undulating terrain. Proving its strength the Spark earned nearly all “Good” ratings (the highest you can get) from the zealots at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); it received only one “Acceptable” score (the second-best rating) in the new small-overlap crash test. Its performance is strong enough to earn it the coveted “Top Safety Pick” status; it’s the only so-called minicar to do that. See? The Spark’s got pretty much everything you really need, and no superfluous baloney.

And now for the fun part. Under its pug-like hood is a 1.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine that puts out all of 84 hp. Torque tips the scale at 83 lb-ft. Those numbers may sound severely lacking but don’t let them fool you; the Spark is a lot more fun than you might expect.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Chevrolet Spark Review

When teamed with the available five-speed manual transmission, the car is scrappy and entertaining; it kind of feels like a golf cart with doors. Driving on the highway can be a little dicey and crosswinds keep you alert. Overall it’s pretty entertaining for just $12,995.

Fuel economy is commendable as well. The car should be able to hit 31 mpg city and 39 highway, making for a combined rating of 34 mpg. A CVT automatic is also available, but for extra dough.

Add it all up and the Spark is a whole lot more desirable than other “city cars” on the market today. For instance, smart’s fortwo is the punch line to a terrible joke; it’s a car that’s dreadful at just about everything. Event the “brand-new” Mitsubishi Mirage is at best a half-baked effort. GM’s global team hit their mark with the Spark.

Stepping up one rung on the size ladder, Ford’s B-Segment Fiesta is considerably larger as well as more powerful and spacious than the Chevy. Where the Spark is reminiscent of a clown car, the Fiesta actually feels like a real vehicle.

This Blue Oval subcompact is offered in two flavors: sedan and hatchback. Now as much as we love the versatility of the hatch body style, we’re going to suggest Carlos opt for the four-door model instead. *Gasp* What is the meaning of this automotive heresy?! How dare we?! Well, there’s a damn-good reason for making this recommendation: the sedan model is 500 bucks cheaper.

Value is king this week and the fun little Fiesta four-door starts at a totally affordable $14,925, including $825 for shipping and handling. This is the most basic version of the car, though you can step up to SE and Titanium models; beyond these offerings the hatch is available as a sporty ST version as well.

With the entry-level car you get some fairly basic equipment including 15-inch steel wheels, six-way adjustable driver’s seat, a CD/MP3 audio system and Ford’s SYNC technology. Intermittent windshield wipers as well as a tilt-and-telescoping tiller are also included at no extra cost.

Beyond all of these features three exterior paint colors are available: black, white and, splitting the difference, silver. If you want blue, chartreuse or hot pink you’re going to have to get some Krylon because Ford’s unwilling to help.

Regrettably a power moonroof is not offered on the base S version of the Fiesta; it’s the only feature Carlos mentioned that he’d really want. To get one he’d have to step up to the SE model and then pony up an extra $795 to get a hole cut the car’s lid; the Chevrolet Sonic does not offer one at all, which is why we didn’t bring it up earlier. All told the cheapest Fiesta with a moonroof would cost about $16,504 out the door, roughly $1,600 more than the absolute bargain-basement version. He can decide for himself if it’s worth the extra outlay.

Under its hood the S-level Fiesta we’re recommending is motivated by a smooth-running 1.6-liter four-cylinder that just purrs like a kitten. It puts out 120 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque and is matched to a five-speed manual transmission. A 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine is available in SE models, but it’s an extra $995 above and beyond the pricier trim level.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Ford Fiesta Five Door SE Review

That 1.6-liter-five-speed combo should deliver 27 miles to a gallon of gasoline in urban conditions and up to 38 on the interstate. Combined this Fiesta should return 31 mpg. If you’re curious, the three-banger averages a claimed 37 mpg.

As for safety the Fiesta is “Good” across the board with one exception, that damnable small-overlap test. In that category it’s only rated “Marginal.”

It’s an oldie but a goodie. The current-generation Honda Fit may be at the end of its lifecycle but the car is still a solid product, arguably the best in the B-Segment. Interestingly it’s set to be totally overhauled for the 2014 model year so it should get even better.

In any event the ‘13 version is still an excellent product. The most basic variant with a manual transmission stickers for $16,215, including $790 in destination fees, which makes it a whisker more than the base Fiesta and a few grand richer than the Spark LS manual.

The Fit features a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 117 hp and 106 lb-ft of twist. It can be matched to a five-speed gearbox, either manual or automatic; we opted for the former in a bid to cut costs.

When it comes to fuel economy, this Honda is totally competitive, though according to the U.S. EPA it’s not as miserly as either of its rivals in this comparison. It stickers at 27 mpg city and 33 highway; combined it should deliver 29 mpg.

For your 16-grand investment Honda gives you things like air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, a tilt and telescoping steering column as well as a four-speaker sound system. Additionally the car rides on 15-inch steel wheels and features a full complement of safety equipment.

What’s stability control, dual-stage airbags and all that other stuff worth? Well, the IIHS gives the Fit all “Good” scores, except in the small-overlap test where it’s rated “Poor.” You can’t win ‘em all.

In this trio of value-conscious small cars the Honda is probably the most space-efficient and versatile. It’s flipping and folding second-row “Magic Seat” is an ingenious piece of work. It offers a flat and low cargo floor plus room for both tall and long items. It’s clever to the tenth power.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Toyota Yaris vs. 2013 Honda Fit

Beyond all of this wholesome goodness, the car offers an engaging on-road experience. The Fit is fun to drive and built for the long haul thanks to Honda’s legendary reputation for quality. Aside from this the car also offers a whopping 10 beverage holders – that’s two drinks per passenger! Who’s ready to party?

As always, good luck in your quest for a new family vehicle, Carlos, 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 ask@AutoGuide.com. 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 AutoGuide.com. 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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  • Alex Kozovski Alex Kozovski on Mar 23, 2014

    If he's looking for cheap... how about the Mitsubishi Mirage?

  • ErnieD ErnieD on Mar 28, 2014

    Rented a 2013 Spark last summer, and did some research on them enough to invest in a '14 at the end of the year. That was before all of the great safety ratings started coming in. Put 4,500M on it and am averaging 35MPG overall. No issues of any kind so far, and the only difference I notice is the CVT transmission is smoother, gets better mileage and is a little less noisy than the previous model's 4 Speed AT. The CVT's only true drawback is when you first take it out on the road to start the day, it takes a while to set itself, and then zips along just fine. As far as highway trips go, I felt more intimidated riding in the Ford Escorts we previously owned. It feels similar to one of the early model Toyota Yaris I rented in FLA. Only 6 inches shorter!

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