Six compact vehicles that provide functional utility

2017 Kia Forte (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

If you ever drive in an urban environment, you may not want a large SUV or truck. But if you drive every day – especially in the snowy winter months – you’re going to want a vehicle that will be both parkable and have the ability to get you through slushy, unplowed streets without getting stuck. That along with ride comfort for highway trips and flexible cargo space are musts for any small-car driver.

As we hit winter’s last gasp, here are six compact vehicles you should consider if you’re ready to buy in 2017.

Kia Forte ($17,495 - $22,195)

Over the past few years, the Kia reputation has been air brushed. I mean, who in a million years thought they’d ever see a Kia that cost more than a Land Rover? But this is 2017, and Kia is making a mean product these days. Case in point: the refreshed Forte. The high-end finishing touches combined with a solid ride and handling make this a classy – yet affordable – ride.

During a recent test, I was amazed at all the high-tech features packed in this compact car. Add leather seats, automatic emergency braking and a sporty 2.0-liter engine, and you have a car that’s ready to take your boss to lunch or make a long road trip. Sure, it doesn’t have all-wheel drive, but the front-wheel-drive platform combined with the bevy of available safety features make this a great car for any driver. More interested in safety than luxury? Opt for the S trim with the Tech Package, and you’ll have all the latest and greatest safety tech for under $22K.

Subaru Impreza ($19,215 - $25,415)

All-new for 2017, the Subaru Impreza is the one of the first vehicles that comes to mind when I think of a utilitarian vehicle. It comes in both sedan and hatchback formats and has standard all-wheel drive. It also has a base price under $20K. The 2.0-liter Boxer engine provides smooth power, and both the sedan and hatch handle really well in some of the more aggressive driving maneuvers. (Read: You’ll easily be able to pass slow drivers who park in the fast lane on the highway.)

Impreza has an impressive array of up-level features, and even if you opt for the top-tier trim and add the most expensive option package, you’ll still cash out under $30K. Plus, the available EyeSight safety system with pre-collision mitigation is one of the best in the industry. Even though Impreza is all-new for 2017, it has already been awarded an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award.

Mazda CX-3 ($20,860 - $27,140)

The Mazda3 has been one of my favorite vehicles for a long time, and the only thing that could make it better is available AWD. Enter the Mazda CX-3, which has slightly larger dimensions and (ta-da!) available AWD.

This compact utility vehicle was all-new to the Mazda lineup for 2016, and it helped usher in the new wave of cute-ute fanaticism with its sporty handling, excellent fuel efficiency and decent cargo volume. The 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine provides plenty of pep, and CX-3 is great in tight city spaces as well as on the highway. It’s fun-to-drive and has an attractive, driver focused interior, plus with the addition of the available i-Activesense safety package, CX-3 rates an IIHS Top Safety Pick + award.

Lexus CT200h ($32,225 - $33,995)

In the land of luxury Lexi, the CT200h is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. As a dedicated hybrid and hatchback, it offers an unparalleled level of efficiency and utility. It also happens to be the least expensive Lexus in the lineup. Packed with standard features such as a telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth audio, dual-zone front climate control, NuLux leather-like seats, voice-activated controls and fold-flat rear seats, the CT200h manages to add practicality to a lux-level vehicle.

During my stints behind the wheel I’ve managed to haul a pair of side tables in the boot as well as make cargo-packed trips to Goodwill, all the while navigating small city alleys and parallel parking spots. Oh, and let’s not forget the near-40 mpg as-tested fuel economy. The hybrid powertrain is quiet and really well suited to stop-and-go traffic. With the addition of the Lexus Pre-Collision System, the CT200h also makes the IIHS Top Safety Pick list.

Chevrolet Volt ($33,995 - $38,345)

If you are an apartment or condo dweller, you might think an electric vehicle is out of reach due to inability to charge. Not so with the Chevrolet Volt. Because of its range-extending gasoline engine, it’s the perfect vehicle for anyone who wants to reap the benefits of an electric ride but might not be able to charge at home on a regular basis. With an EV range of 53 miles, you can get all your daily errands out of the way without a drop of gasoline, but you can still take a road trip because Volt has a total range up to 420 miles. It is compact and quiet, and even though it looks like a sedan it has hatchback cargo flexibility and fold-flat rear seats. Even better: Since the Volt is still nascent in its lifecycle, it qualifies for the full $7,500 federal tax credit. Extra bonus: You can park in all those up-front EV charging spaces garages and parking lots. But only if you’re charging, please!

With optional front crash prevention features, the Volt is also on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list.

Ford Focus RS ($36,120)

This car is for the enthusiast who wants a fun-to-drive, year-round vehicle without needing to carry kitty litter in the trunk all winter. Posing as a practical hatchback, the Focus RS packs a punch with a 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine that delivers 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The Focus RS comes equipped with performance all-wheel drive, which will handle snow as well as the track, and it has standard features such as boost gauges, launch control and Recaro seats.

The Focus RS is fairly well-equipped at a base level, but heated seats, navigation and winter wheels are extra. Add all the winter whistles and bells, and you’ll top out around $42K. One thing to note: This truly is an enthusiasts’ car. If you can’t drive a manual transmission, don’t bother. While the clutch is a bit stiff for stop-and-go traffic, the comfortable ride, compact size, flexible cargo space and all-wheel drive add bonus points in the flexible utility category.


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