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    Some Economy Cars Are Still in the Closet, Others Are Out and Proud

    Now that we’ve all recovered from Pride, we can appreciate how our yearly extravaganza benefits us in the coming-out process. The three economy cars I’ve tested recently struck me as being very much in line with the various stages of that process, with entries from Chevroauto2let, Ford and Nissan.

    Let’s start with the closeted one, the autoChevy Spark EV 2LT. EV means pure electric car, which justifies this tiny hatchback’s $28,570 price. Among its standard equipment: “Very limited vehicle service availability outside California and Oregon.” That’s fair warning: no trips to Vegas with this one. The best you’ll get is maybe a jaunt to a cabin in Portland.

    There would be many recharges along the way, judging from my measured range. Granted, San Francisco’s hills bring out the guzzler in every car, and I ran the Spark in Sport mode with the lights on, but I drove just 33 miles with a full charge before the dashboard darkly warned of imminent depletion. Not an issue if you’re plugging it in after a round of city errands, but otherwise, owning the Spark EV is like dating someone who’s closeted, in that you can only get so far.

    The Nissan Versa Note is a slightly larger hatchback that feels like it’s just getting comfortable with itself, like it just came out. You might choose it for the availability of Nissan’s trademarked “Around View Monitor,” where a shift into reverse turns the 5.8” touchscreen into a clear overhead view of the car and every curb and pedestrian around it. Imagine never having to get out to see if you’re blocking a driveway. The Versa Note offers that for about $20K.

    I’d like to say nice things about the way the Versa Note drives, but the brakes are soft like a limp handshake, and the engine thrashes like the mind of someone who’s churning with self-acceptance. Much is good about the Versa Note, and its technology is advanced, but be prepared for the unvarnished responses of the newly outed.

    And then there’s the $18K Ford Fiesta SFE. It’s sized like the Versa Note, but feels like it has been out and proud for years. Three wee cylinders power the SFE (as opposed to four in the Note), and with the EcoBoost turbo, the SFE generates surprisingly smooth and usable power while notching 36 mpg EPA overall, as opposed to the Note’s 35 mpg. The Fiesta SFE feels seasoned, as if it’s been around the block.

    auto3More interaction is needed to get the benefit: the Fiesta SFE comes only with a manual transmission, and you wouldn’t want it without it, because the shifter helps you rev the engine into a range where you find yourself having real fun with the car, where the Fiesta’s European platform’s handling lets you push further than you thought a typical econobox could.

    That’s how it is when you date someone who’s settled in their sexuality; you end up feeling even more comfortable in your own.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant at Check out his automotive staging service at