Subcompact or B-segment cars are prized for its low prices and ability to squeeze out more miles from every gallon of gas. But, they’re oftentimes basic transportation, offering first time car buyers an entry point into the new car market.

New Models

Like the entire auto industry, the subcompact market has been undergoing tremendous change. The Ford Fiesta led the charge in 2010, when this all-new, Mexican made model made its debut. Ford built a model that is stylish, surprisingly well equipped and offering very good fuel mileage. Indeed, the Fiesta is the first subcompact to achieve 40 mpg highway on gas power although the Volkswagen Golf diesel had already passed that threshold in 2009, delivering 42 mpg.

Yes, cars in this segment sometimes come stripped, as in the base Nissan Versa and most offer subpar handling, a harsh ride and lots of plastic touches throughout the cabin. But, not every model is an exercise in cheapness with each of the three European models — the Fiat 500, MINI Cooper and Volkswagen Golf — demonstrating that good things do indeed come in small packages.

Price Points

And pricing is all over the map with the Nissan Versa starting at under $10,000 and with fully equipped MINI Coopers priced as high as the mid-30s. Most subcompacts can be had for less than $15K and at this price point cars will often come equipped with air-conditioning, a basic audio system, numerous safety features including side curtain airbags and traction control, and some offer navigation systems standard.

Fully appointed, most any subcompact can be had for under $20,000, but at this price point consumers may want to look at compact models which are priced about the same, offer more cabin room and, in many cases, tout superior fuel economy.

Equipment Offerings

As with any car, you get what you pay for: if you want best in class handling and ride, than the MINI Cooper or Volkswagen Golf are it for you. If you want good bang for the buck, then the Ford Fiesta is what you want. Some models, such as the Suzuki SX4 are clearly outmatched in this category, but they can also offer a good place for buyers to negotiate. Consider warranties too: Hyundai and Kia offer best in class warranties and the Hyundai Accent offers plenty of interior room.

Hybrid models are not part of this segments, nor will you find a subcompact electric car. The Smart ForTwo is not included here because that model is an A-segment seller, the only one of its kind sold in North America.

B-Segment Models

Chevrolet Aveo2011Last call on the Aveo. Beginning next model year, the Aveo becomes the Sonic and will be built in Michigan.
Fiat 5002012The first Fiat seen in a generation is the 500, a four passenger city car big on looks and offering a style all of its own. A convertible debuts later in 2011.
Ford Fiesta2011After a three decade hiatus, the Ford Fiesta is back. Two body styles are available for this Mexican built model.
Honda Fit2011The Honda Fit doesn't offer the best price or top of the range fuel economy. What this car does offer is reliability, as recognized by Consumer Reports.
Hyundai Accent2011Basic transportation offering a surprisingly large cabin and the cheapest price of any car sold in America. Well equipped, the Accent can be had for under $14K.
Kia Rio2011Underpinned by the same chassis powering the Hyundai Accent, the Kia Rio is priced higher to reflect more standard features. This model is available in sedan and hatchback body styles.
Mazda Mazda22011New for 2011, the Mazda 2 is spirited and economical. May represent best in class value too.
MINI Cooper2011By far the priciest subcompact, the MINI Cooper is in a class of its own. Shop carefully and you can find one for under $25K.
Nissan Versa2011One of the cheapest cars in America. However, cheap means stripped -- choose a Versa with some options instead.
Suzuki SX42011Clearly outpaced by the competition, the SX4 is on few buyer's lists. A crossover model offers some appeal.
Toyota Yaris2011Stellar quality keeps buyers coming to the Yaris. However, newer models offer more amenities and better fuel economy.
Volkswagen Golf2011The VW Golf, sometimes known as the Rabbit, is an unusual small car. Five cylinder gas and four cylinder diesels power this model.