Affordable, Cute Rides

By Don Armstrong

Even COVID-19 cannot stop Bay Area car buyers from shopping sensibly priced transportation. We recently drove a couple of contenders, a cute, small SUV and sedan, both attractive players in extremely competitive categories.

Fiat 500X

Off-roadable is all the rage these days, but did you know the Fiat 500X is an all-wheel drive off-roader too? Just to be perfectly clear, the 500X is a first cousin to the Jeep Renegade, yep, a Jeep, so you know that rock crawling and beach running are in its DNA.

The 500X competes in the sub-compact arena of 4-door SUVs, but it wins hands down in the “cuteness” category. Like most vehicles from FCA, options define the brand and this Fiat is no different. Paint color can make or break a car and the new black roof paint option is one to check out. It is available on all trim levels; Pop, Trekking, Sport and Trekking Plus.

No matter which trim you choose, the interior is inviting and well thought out. Seating is comfortable and supportive and there are plenty of storage nooks and crannies. Technology is abundant too.

A 9-speed automatic transmission manages power from its 1.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. A disconnecting rear axle helps fuel economy.

Fiat 500 X pricing starts at $24,590.

Nissan Versa

Completely redesigned for 2020, the Nissan Versa may be the best bargain in the sub-compact sedan category. Even though this new rendition is $2,000 more than the outgoing model, a $14,830 starting price still rings our bell.

The Versa is lower, longer, and wider than before and bears a striking resemblance to its larger sibling, Altima. Trunk space is much larger than you’d expect and with the rear seats folded down you can sneak a bunch of friends into the drive-in.

The interior has grown up too, with more pizzazz in design and contrasting color options. The infotainment system is intuitive, making it easy to use. Front collision warning with emergency braking, automatic headlights, rear view camera and Bluetooth is standard. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available.

The 1.6-liter engine ekes out a mere 122-horsepower through a manual transmission, but an optional continuously variable automatic is the best we’ve driven, and helps return a 35-MPG average fuel economy rating.

About 20-large will get a nicely equipped, top-of-the-line SR version.

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