14 May 2013

In praise of small cars

When the Up! was first introduced to the world the good folk at Volkswagen decided it would be fun to cram fifteen women and, bizarrely, one man into one of these diminutive cars. It seems a bit of an extreme thing to do - although one suspects the bloke enjoyed it - just to get the message across that the Up! was roomy for its size.

However, the exercise does show that car manufacturers are taking the design of modern cars seriously given the generally parlous ecological and financial state of the world. They believe there is a growing demand for stylish city cars that are, like the Tardis, compact on the outside and spacious on the inside.

Avid readers will recall that I recently extolled the virtues of my own Citroen C1. It is a very good car for the money although it is beginning to lag behind some of the newer competition. The Up! was Volkswagen’s answer to the small car clamour. Yet small and inexpensive does not mean these cars are poorly featured. Many of the usual bells and whistles are available as optional extras although customers keen to save a few bob are opting for the base models. This is amply demonstrated by the Dacia Sandero which is beginning to make its presence felt on the high street.

Engines don’t differ much in these mini-marvels. Usually of three cylinders and displacing around 1 or 1.2 litres with or without turbo-charged assistance they offer peppy performance around town and can hold their own on the motorways of Britain. The seats inside may not be the stuff of a good armchair but they are adequate for the task. So city cars are better than you think but they don’t suit everybody which is why the next step up will likely be the crowded supermini sector with the Fiesta, the Audi A1 or the Skoda Fabia as examples.

Car makers understand their customers and are continually working towards ever cleaner cars. Certainly, they are sometimes poked with a very big stick by interfering bureaucrats but the resulting cars are something both we and the planet can comfortably live with. So consider one of these functional, economical and trendy cars for your next vehicle or as a second car. Small, green cars can sit comfortably alongside their bigger brethren which are also recipients of ever more efficient engines and technology. Everybody wins.

Those with longer memories will remember the golden days of motoring which were, basically, most of the 20th Century but those days are gone forever, alas; but don’t despair. There is still fun to be had on the smooth bits of what’s left of our roads, we just have to do it differently. Get on the small car bandwagon. Less bhp is balanced by less weight and light cars mean driving pleasure. Ask any owner of an original mini and rejoice.

Article by Geoff Maxted. Geoff is a freelance writer and photographer whose works have been published in various print and online sources