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Motoring: Quick tests of three economical cars

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 10th, 2011



The last month has been very busy with car launches, and so there are lots of products to inform about. This week, rather than just one test, we will look at a few cars that we recently tested.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic
We start off with the brand new Chevrolet Sonic. This vehicle replaces the Aveo in Chevy's line-up, and while it might look like a refreshed Aveo, it is in fact an all new car. Two body styles are available: a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback.

You also get a choice of two engines. Base models get a 1.8- litre, four-cylinder that produces 138 hp, while the upgrade motor is a 1.4-litre, turbo-charged, fourcylinder that also produces 138 hp. So if they produce the same amount of power, why is one an upgrade? Simple: the smaller, turbo motor is smoother and more fuel efficient. Transmission choices are limited to a fivespeed manual or a six-speed automatic.

I tested both models over a two-day test period and found that this car is very good, regardless of the engine you choose. For a sub-compact, it is very quiet and comfortable, so making long trips is not an issue. Fuel economy- wise, I averaged 7.0 litres/100km on a city and highway run with the turbo, and 7.5 litres/100km on a similar run with the regular 1.8-litre motor — gas expense is not an issue.

Looking good is not an issue either, since this car looks great inside and out. Its styling is inspired by sport bikes, and it shows — everything from its projector beam headlamps to its halfdigital, half-analog instrument binnacle. It all looks very sporty and it works. This car will attract a younger clientele for sure.

Pricing for the Sonic sedan starts at $14,495, while the hatch will cost a little more at $15,495.

While the hatch is sportier to look at, my pick is the sedan. It is more spacious and therefore more practical, plus you save some money at purchasing time also. If you are looking for a sub-compact, the Sonic is worth a very close look.

2012 Kia Rio
Another sub-compact worth a very close look is the new Kia Rio. At the start, this model is just being offered as a hatchback, but trust me, a sedan is on its way. This Rio is designed by famed automotive designer Peter Schreyer, and hence is a very elegant and beautiful little car.

As good as it might look from the outside, the interior is even better. This sub-compact has an interior that will shame cars costing twice as much based on its design and quality of the fit and finish. Most people will end up buying one of these for its interior alone.

It also comes very well equipped. This is the first car in its segment to offer a heated steering wheel, and when you combine that with heated seats, a wonderful UVO infotainment system designed by Microsoft specifically for Kia, power folding mirrors, four-wheel disc brakes and Idle Stop & Go technology, this is more like a shrunken luxury car than a little city runabout.

Powering this sub-compact is a 1.6-litre, four cylinder unit that produces 138 hp (a popular horsepower number these days, I guess). This unit has direct fuel injection, which should make it cleaner and more efficient than its previous generation engines. However, I can't figure out why they labeled it GDI, because to the average folk, it might look like a diesel unit. It's not, so no hesitations there.

This motor can be mated with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. I have only tried the automatic version of this car and found it to be just fine. This engine is not the smoothest I have ever come across, but with an average city and highway fuel economy of just 6.5 litres/100km, it is very efficient thanks to its active ECO system.

Combine its efficiency with a generous interior and a very usable trunk, and it will serve well as a family car for those on a budget. With prices starting at $14,095, Kia is very serious about taking a big chunk out of this segment.

2012 Kia Soul
The Soul was the first of the new generation of Kias. However, while it has only been in the market for a little over two years, Kia felt it needed a facelift, so it got one. The new face has bigger headlamps and fog lights, although the rest of the car looks very much like the old one, which is not a bad thing.

The two new engines are also a good thing. You can either get a 1.6-litre, four cylinder producing 138 hp (which is 16 hp more than its previous engine), or a 2.0-litre, four cylinder producing 164 hp (22 hp gain over the last motor).

Both engines have similar fuel economy figures, which means an average of about 7.2-litres/100km thanks to its active ECO system which manages revs and shift points for efficient motoring. The new Soul also gets the Idle Stop & Go system to keep pollution down to a minimum.

Like the Rio, the Soul also gets a new UVO infotainment system too, only this unit has a seveninch touch screen navigation system and an up-market Infinity sound system.

Driving-wise, the Soul felt little different from last year's model, so while it is carrying some new technology (and got rid of the disco speakers), it is just a refresh.

If you're interested, prices start at $16,595 and go up to $25,395.

So there you have it, three economical cars you could consider if you're in the market for a small car. Next week, we will look at a few more cars, only at a higher price bracket.
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